The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is being widely perceived as the precursor to the advent of the third world war. Though an objective analysis of the war portends ominous signs for peace and development in the region and beyond, the event leading to the onset of a greater war, sounds highly exaggerated. However, the war has considerable implications for the emergence of a new world order along with impact on the global geopolitics that is certain to affect the diplomatic and strategic orientations of major powers, including the US, Russia, China, India, Australia, Japan and the western Europe along with the Eurasian states of erstwhile Soviet Union.
Starting with the impact of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, in the strategic terms, the likelihood of a short, easy and comprehensive Russian victory is certain to put Russia in the limelight of global geopolitics in the near-to-medium term. On the one hand, it would reveal the weakness of the US global leadership and the inherent contradictions and limitations of NATO. While on the other side, it would make it clear to the world that Russia continues to be the predominant military power of the world, close to the US.
By openly initiating a decisive military action against Ukraine, Putin has called the bluff of the US. The significant aspect of this operation is that Russia did not attack Ukraine suddenly and took the world by surprise but the war tempo was building up for quite some time. The US-led western media though has projected and hyped it as a naked military aggression of a powerful Russia against the weak Ukraine but it could well be compared with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
The then Soviet Union’s military activities in Cuba in the 1960s, close to the American borders were seen as a military threat to the country by John F Kennedy and subsequently US strategic-diplomatic action followed. Today, virtually the same rationale is being offered by Putin on Ukraine’s gradual proximity and its possible inclusion into the NATO, installation of advanced military systems there as perpetual threats to the security of Russia.
If one goes by the logic of international relations concept of state sovereignty thatsurmises each state to be sovereign and entitled to take decisions on its external relations, based on its own notions of national interests. However, in reality this is impractical and non-implementable since each major regional/global actor tries to ensure that its territorial security and sphere of influence remains intact or gets enlarged.
No wonder, we have seen the US getting involved in the Korea and Vietnam wars, Soviet Union getting entangled in Afghanistan in 1980s, getting replaced later on by the US while Americans get into Iraq and Libya in futile search of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) ultimately leading to regime changes in respective countries. Very closely, China trying to extend its sphere of influence in India’s neighborhood through the pearl of strings policy and south-east Asia, are clearly aimed at halting the geopolitical and strategic growth of India and the US.
It thus becomes apparent that talks of state sovereignty and its respect, is more of a political rhetoric rather a reality. Might is right, dictum plays very well on the global platform that can be overlooked by countries at their own peril. In the case of Russia-Ukraine conflict however, the simplistic assessment of President Zelenskyy that the US-led NATO will come to his rescue, seemed fallible from the very beginning. US getting aggressive against Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan are understandable but it taking on Russia militarily, is very difficult with unpredictable consequences for the world. Hence, such a miscalculation on part of Ukraine government is more likely to merely prolong the conflict but not result in a NATO membership or big US-led western support.
As of now, in spite of popular criticism of Russia apart, the western block has failed to come up with a pragmatic, face-saving solution for itself or Ukraine. US-led NATO has amassed almost 1, 75,000 troops close to Russian border and offered a big military support but beyond that no effective diplomacy or military action is in sight. Also, the military support in terms of weapons, need to be seen more in context of commercial benefits rather a open hostility against Russia.
While provoking Russia and not entering into a negotiated settlement with it, Ukraine’s actions belie any tactical, strategic foresight, Russia on the other hand, has certainly put itself in a bind. With declaration of a war, it needs a swift and comprehensive victory against the perceived western ally President Zelenskyy. The more the war lingers and if results in a stalemate, global image of Russia will take a severe beating. Hence, anything sort of a comprehensive victory or a negotiated settlement, mostly on Russian terms, including Ukraine’s backtracking on NATO, will not help Putin.
The US another major actor in the conflict, is fighting from the sidelines for saving its face. A short, decisive military victory for Russia will be humiliating with greater disturbing consequences for it. After the recent humiliation in Afghanistan, it will project the US as a declining superpower and unreliable ally. The global image and power of Russia, its closest adversary will increase manifold. It will also embolden China to try out the same strategy against Taiwan, believing that the US will keep condemning, threatening but an all-encompassing attack on it could result in a decisive military win and conquest of Taiwanese territory for all times. It must also be contemplating that the west, including UK, Germany, Canada with greater economic stakes in China will remain confined to issuing statements rather than actually getting involved in an all-out war against it to protect Taiwan.
India that is under significant diplomatic pressure to take sides in the ongoing war, so far has handled the situation with aplomb. While calling out for peace and negotiations, it has not explicitly supported Russia but realizing the significance of politico-strategic relations, did not condemn the invasion and abstained from one after another, three UN meetings. At the same time, it has maintained diplomatic-political communications with Ukraine at the highest levels and continue to play a role in defusing the situation.
Economically, the fragile Russian economy could be facing a big hit on account of various sanctions imposed by the west. Both countries are big exporters of wheat and oil, especially Russia and the world could be bracing for yet another era of economic uncertainty, low growth, high inflation and unpredictable oil trade. Capital markets across are already facing a southward movement and it is likely to continue for some more time.
* Rajesh Kumar Sinha, MA, MLISc, MPhil, PG Diploma in Journalism is a serving Librarian with the Indian Railways. He has worked in print and web media for eight years and writes for Foreign Policy News (US), South Asia Journal (US), South Asia Monitor, Modern Diplomacy (Germany), Eurasian Times, Eurasian Review, Indian Defence News, Indian Railways, Global Railway Review, Rail Journal and OPEN Journal (India).