The Nato dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the creation of Kosovo in 1999 demonstrated the weakness of international law and of the United Nations as the big powers could get by within an international order which is essentially anarchic where might is right.
It was a humiliating experience for the Russian Federation as there was no Security Council resolution endorsing an action with a trumped-up charge of genocide. A relatively weak Russia could realise that the USA-led Western Alliance would treat it more as a defeated country rather than as an equal respecting its interests and acknowledging its great power status.
The Westernization project that Boris Yeltsin and a young Vladimir Putin endorsed went for a drastic course correction, the cornerstone of which was a reassertion of Russian greatness exemplified by Yeltsin’s angry remark that Russia was not Haiti.
The initial euphoria of the Russians also evaporated, and the nation moved towards adopting the Primakov doctrine that accepted Russia’s relative weakness, preparing itself with a longer term-plan for resurrecting intricate alliance formation and taking cognizance of two invaluable assets that Russia enjoyed, the huge nuclear arsenal as a formidable force and its veto power in the Security Council.
The present unipolar world being inherently unstable, destabilising and aggressive, the emergence and consolidation of a multipolar world would be more just, peaceful and stable. The suspicion of Nato being an aggressive organization was strengthened by its foray into the nonWestern world. Its expansion up to Russian borders in phases and regime changes that were attempted in Georgia and Ukraine and an open proclamation that both these countries would be made members of Nato led to the promulgation of a Russian redline stating it would not tolerate any further expansion of Nato.
The critical elements in this evolution are the EU expansion and the West’s encouragement and direct involvement in the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine which began with the Orange Revolution in 2004 culminating in the illegal removal of a democratically elected pro-Russian government and its president through a coup that had the support and involvement of western powers.
Putin considered the overthrow of a legitimate regime as crossing the redline. Immediately he took control of Crimea which he thought justifiably would become a Nato naval base. This was the beginning of the Russian determination to create a buffer between Nato and Russia with Ukraine being neutral.
The Clinton administration policy of eastward expansion of Nato, contrary to its predecessor’s firm commitment, emboldened the George H W Bush Administration to attempt further consolidation of the Western Alliance.
Alexander Grushko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister commented that “Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have the worst serious consequences for Pan European security”. Putin did not mince words by stating that this would represent a “direct threat” to Russia. He took advantage of a weak and divided Georgia and in the midst of a civil war, assisted South Ossetian separatists and took control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Astonishingly the USA and its European allies ignored these Russian moves. Croatia and Albania became NATO members in 2009. Even EU expansion continued. Ukraine being a huge landmass is of great strategic importance to Russia. Contrary to Western propaganda any Russian leader would have done what Putin did on 24 February. John J Mearsheimer comments, “great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory”.
The Munro doctrine and Cuban missile crisis are good examples of such American intolerance. The Russian reaction was predicted by George Kennan in 1998 when he said during the first phase of Nato expansion that it was a ‘tragic mistake’ as there was no perceptible threat from anywhere. He added and prophesied that “the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and will gradually reset their policies”.
One very important impulse for American policy to support Ukraine and force Russia to go to war was a cherished desire of practically all Presidents, except for Donald Trump, in the post-Cold War period; they wanted a regime change in Russia with help of draconian sanctions. But they forgot that sanctions in Cuba of over 60 years did not lead to regime change.
The same was true of Iran and Venezuela. If smaller economies could endure sanctions, then how could a huge, rich, self-sufficient and surplus economy fall into the trap? Ukraine, one of the poorest nations of Europe, is also one of the most corrupt nations in the world.
Far from being a shining example of democracy, many nefarious acts are regularly performed here. There is a strong undercurrent of lingering fascistic instincts in an influential segment of the population; they provide substantial support to populist and anti-Russian sentiments in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s government did not implement the Minsk agreement (2015) which envisaged a reasonable power sharing arrangement which would include Russians and the Russian language as that is spoken by 30 per cent of the population.
In 2019, the Ukrainian legislature instead of taking steps towards resolution reiterated its desire to be part of Nato which was unacceptable to Russia. John Maccine once remarked that whosoever controls oil controls the world. It is vindicated by the fact that the USA even approached highly sanctioned nations like Iran and Venezuela for oil to offset sanctioning Russian oil.
Paradoxically Germany and a few others in Europe refuse to sanction Russian oil and the rising prices of gas and petrol would largely offset the shrinking Russian economy to 7 per cent, much less than what many advanced economies suffered during the Covid 19 pandemic. The upper limit of inflation in Russia would be 20 per cent whereas in the case of others, which includes the USA, it would be 10 per cent.
The Russian economy with an undervalued rouble and a high purchasing power parity would achieve normality by 2024. Inflation would come under 4 per cent. Near normality would be achieved by 2023. For the larger players in continental Europe, France and Germany, the project of a United States of Europe is increasingly looked at suspiciously as differences between West and East Europe are fundamental and unbridgeable. There is no common ground between liberalism and illiberalism, which both Hungary and Poland have by now imbibed.
For the Russians, it is hard to swallow the genocide in Donetsk as 14,000 people were killed in the last 8 years. This act is comparable to events in Georgia that happened 14 years ago. Georgia is not part of the bandwagon of sanctions against Russia. Western double standards stand exposed by the earlier allegation of genocide in Yugoslavia and creation of Kosovo.
Nato in the Cold War days adhered to the first strike doctrine because of the imbalance in conventional forces between the Warsaw Pact countries and Nato. But in the post-Cold War phase when there were no such threats, an emergence of an offensive Nato beyond the shores of Europe in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria led to security considerations for Russia. If this elementary demand was accepted, war would have become avoidable.
Eighty per cent of Russian gas and oil are transported to Europe through Ukraine. The latter siphons off a large chunk which will now stop and would largely offset the loss of cancellation of Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Donetsk and Luhaksk also have substantial deposits of shell gas and Crimea has deposits of gas in Black Sea. The water shortage in Crimea would end as the local river would be opened up with blockages removed. The denazification of the Azhov militants would possibly end racial and ethnic killings. For all practical purposes, Ukraine would face dismemberment and split virtually into two. Denazification and demilitarization would be achieved. It would also end Ukrainian attempts with Western assistance to produce bio and nuclear weapons.
Both Germany and France tried their best to avert the war but lacked the courage to veto the US project which inevitably led to the war. The long-term loss of Germany from sanctions would be severe. Angela Merkel brought about a healthy trading relationship which benefitted both and was crucial for Germany’s growth and central role in the EU. With a higher cost of inputs and increased defence expenditure, German growth rate would suffer. In contrast, Russia’s loss would be minimal as both gas and wheat could be diverted to an ever-growing Asian market.
Apparently in the important strategic relationship between Russia and China, the latter would have more manoeuvring space. However, Russia would continue to be strategically autonomous and a key player in a balancing coalition. Eventually with a weaker Nato there could be a larger partnership between Germany, France and Russia. The overuse of sanctions and especially its use against Russia since 2014 has led to a self-reliant Russian economy that is eighty per cent self-sufficient in consumer goods and impressive technological advancements in gas and oil sectors. It has also greatly benefitted from Chinese cooperation enabling it to offset the impact of sanctions.
Russia and China have already started to question the continuation of the dollar as a reserve currency and are searching for alternatives. A large portion of Chinese and Russian trade is now conducted bilaterally. Asean too has started to increasingly trade in their own national currencies.
Saudi Arabia which singularly helped the US by setting up petro-dollar may move towards Yuan which assumes significance because the Saudis have 25 per cent of oil trade with China. This along with US unilateralism and the rise of digital currency are indicators of the process of change that has already started. It is significant that the entire continents of Africa and South America have no role in the conflict.
The close allies of the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE along with two major economies of South America, Mexico and Brazil, and South Africa along with India and China did not support the General Assembly resolution of the West and abstained from voting. Together they constitute 85 per cent of the world’s population. The unipolar moment in modern times was both destabilizing and full of conflicts. The expectation is that post this war, we would see a return to a firmly established multipolar world which would provide for a stable world order.