INDIAN EXPERTS ON THE WAR
Discussions in India's intellectual spaces on Russia-Ukraine war were initially focused on humanitarian evacuations. Subsequently, most Indian experts appeared more anxious to express solidarity with President Putin led Russia, rather than evaluating the entire issue objectively, even from the perspective of strategic interests of Russian state and its people.
Looking at the entire issue from New Delhi, closer ties with Russia and Israel appear critical for India's own security as well as long-term security and stability of this region and beyond. Simultaneously, India's friendship with the West, and especially the United States, is equally important for India's existential interests as well as strategic security of the United States. However, there has been an apprehension that China's burgeoning economic, military and technological prowess may compel the United States at some point of time to abandon Asia and Indo-Pacific, especially if the costs of defending this region, or even maintaining presence here, could become unsustainable.
China's military and technological surge appears unstoppable at this juncture. Simultaneously, internal fissures in US democracy, including its position even on critical foreign policy and security issues, appears more than glaring. In long run, China definitely threatens the United States and its allies. But in the interim, it is possible that the United States can work out a tactical understanding with China to avert a direct conflict.
On the other hand, India is uniquely positioned to consolidate ties with West Asia and Africa as well, including Islamic nations. It continues to enjoy immense goodwill in the region. The entire equilibrium places India in an unparalleled position to pursue its great power aspirations, if it can optimise its internal governance institutions.
The dividend of better understanding between the West and Russia at one level and Israel and Arab world on the other may harm military industrial complexes of the West but provide an unparalleled impetus to technological and economic upsurge for the entire mankind. India's rise will not only provide the biggest antidote to both Islamist radicalism and Chinese authoritarianism but also act as the biggest catalysts to peace, stability and innovation, benefitting the entire mankind.
I believe that the Russia-Ukraine war is not of mere academic interest to India. A depleted and weakened Russia, dependent upon China, shall be disaster for India. It can multiply military-security threats from China. However, the dynamics of Chinese political system is such that it is bound to breed conflict with both Russia and India. With 10 times more population than Russia and similar advantage in economic sphere, China possesses the capacity to virtually gobble up Russian land and natural resources, at least substantially if not entirely. Though internal systems of China are likely to crumble once the bottled-up pressure of mass oppression explodes. This is inevitable at some point of time.
Such an outcome has potential to generate exceptional instability and volatility in the region. This would dwarf the instability and volatility that we witnessed on fall of Soviet Russia in early 1990s. Though the world has recovered from the same due to stability provided by leadership of strongman Putin. But his de-institutionalization of Russia and decimation of all opponents, besides creation of an army of loyalists through a caucus of oligarchs - at the cost of sustainable progress of his own country- doesn't augur well for future of this great civilisation.
Most discourses on Ukraine war in the intellectual space of the West appear driven by an urge to humiliate and vanquish President Putin and Russia. West has done huge disservice to both democracy and Russia by giving an impression that it was consistently trying to undermine and destabilise Russia. It has also been suspected of engineering colured revolutions in Russian backyard to change regimes. These moves appear more focused on weakening Putin and Russia rather than ushering democracy in these parts of the world. These have backfired and further strengthened Putin and impeded Russia's transition to genuine democracy. In retrospect, the entire approach also appears flawed and tactical. It plays into hand of China. Russia could have been a much lesser danger even to the West than Xi led China.
India has to impress upon the West that an isolated and weakened Russia, dependent upon China, is as much threat to the West as India. Russia has to be weaned away from the Chinese influence and it should be nudged on the path of democracy. This will definitely help stability and security of the existing global order. However, this is not going to be easy. India has ignored provocations and taunts by the Western media that has been least respectful, or even receptive, to Indian sensitivities. But Indian state must harness its goodwill to break the impasse in US-Russia ties.
During yet another discussion on a Hindi channel named APN, I was shocked by observations of a retired Indian diplomat. He insisted that India must stay away from Russia-Ukraine dispute. His words were: "doosre ke jhagde mein hamein kyon padna hai?" (Why should we get into quarrel of others). This is the precise psyche from which India must extricate itself, We are in a different era where any development anywhere in the world impacts us in one or the other form to some degree. The war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine, despite helping us in the interim on oil bills, threatens to shift an already disadvantageous geopolitical equilibrium further against us.
I call an approach of isolation from Russia and the West as strategic myopia. At one hand, we aspire to become global leaders, and at another we are reluctant to engage others or reform ourselves internally, to secure our own existential interests. Our great power aspirations must not rest on goodwill or mercy of the world or discretion of fortunes. We have to pursue it ourselves as a state and society
LOOKING AT THE LARGER PICTURE
Ukraine has suffered enormously in the ongoing war. But Russia too has not been able to escape the devastating consequences. Military losses and setbacks have embarrassed Russia and generated a lot of resentment internally. People have been quiet on economic hardships but loss of youthful population and wasted economic opportunities is going to haunt Russia for a long time.
President Putin has been outsmarted by the NATO strategists this time. Probably, it is complacence that bred overconfidence this time. NATO or the United States seem to be winning the battle for the time being. But a victory here is likely to push them to an imminent loss in a larger geopolitical war.
Ever since pro-Russian Ukrainian President Ynaukovich was ousted through a mass uprising in 2014, the NATO-Russia confrontation had been on the rise. Russian victory over Crimea and its annexation, in a genuinely short, swift and decisive battle bolstered the image of invincibility of Putin. He had successfully avenged humiliation over ouster of a pro-Mocow regime. But his failure to win the current war, despite having initiated the same, appears a self-goal. Many believe that he was provoked into this trap by the NATO strategists.
There are far too many indicators to suggest that President Putin went into the war without adequate preparation. None of his advisors and associates could probably muster enough courage to point this out. Early this year, there was a video that went viral on social media in which the President Putin was seen rebuking his intelligence Chief. The latter had mildly tried to suggest that Russia needed more preparation to win the war.
Inbuilt constraints of the authoritarian governance model of Russia have also been exposed during this war. Russia had also failed to factor in the tough resistance from Ukrainians and alleged covert support that they have received from the West.
NATO's eastward expansion is also something that the West is not able to discuss with candour amongst itself. The West should have tried to push democracy in Russia more through persuasion rather than coercion, deception and clandestine regime changes. A genuine democratization of Russia could have provided bigger safety net for security of the West.
But that appears improbable at this point of time. For persuading Russia or others to democratize, the United States has to fix its own internal democracy, which it appears shy of addressing. Simultaneously, expanding asymmetry of power between China and India is another factor that has been denting desirability of democracy and open societies, notwithstanding appreciation for the same.
It is widely believed that capitalist greed of United States has created a monster in form of authoritarian China. A small cartel of people led by an insane narcissist, domestically accountable to none, but with access to exceptional financial, technological and military prowess, threaten the entire world. They appear capable of marginalising even the United States in few years at least in Asia, Eurasia, Africa and Far East.
TEST OF GLOBAL DIPLOMACY AND LEADERSHIP
An early conclusion of war, at this juncture, appears too distant given the level of distrust between the two sides. Any mediation by any power appears fraught with serious possibilities of failure. Mediation and facilitation more often require complex technical skills, besides trust of contending parties. While India enjoys high degree of trust of both Russia and Ukraine, but it is possible that neither United States nor China could be interested in putting their weight behind India or a bonafide peace deal. Besides, Indian diplomacy's technical expertise and experience of mediation in such complex conflicts is quite suspect. Hence, a progress in this direction is possible but it is not going to be easy.
Many Western analysts have contended that the Russian failures have severely dented the aura of invincibility of President Putin. Some assess that he may have to explore a smooth exit from political space of Russia. Alternatively, there could also be an abrupt end of his regime, which appears difficult the way he has decimated all opponents and even alternatives to himself.
Surreptitious regime changes forcing transition to election process has failed in far too many contexts. Political stability in Russia appears not worth the risk of instability that the West supported coloured revolutions had brought in. Of course, at some point of time Putin has to retire. Someone acceptable to the west and Russia has to assure Putin of a safe retirement and stop comedian turned hero Zelensky to restrain his bravado. But this is not going to be that easy. President Putin has established himself as custodian of Russian pride. West has to act with immense generosity whereas India has to stretch all its potentials and capacities to push peace, not as an act of altruism or charity but a critical necessity for creation of a geopolitical equilibrium that ensures its security.
But as long as Putin remains at the helm, the threat of a nuclear attack, howsoever minor, remains a reality. The world has already paid a high price over Russia-Ukraine war. It will test resilience of global diplomacy and leadership to extricate the mankind from potential threats of a further escalation of this war that has already taken a heavy toll.