The Ukraine crisis can be really summed up in William Shakespeare’s phrase ‘much ado about nothing’. The whole Ukrainian crisis has nothing to do with the Russian possible attack on Ukraine.

This is a by-product of the US-Russia tussle more obviously in Europe and less obviously in Central Asia. After the telephonic talk between Biden and Putin, the former had warned ‘if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.’

At the time of writing this article, diplomatic efforts are continuing, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin a day after his visit to Ukraine and there are reports that Russia has pulled back some of its troops, which had alarmed the US and its allies.

This has been welcomed by Germany and France. Putin is reported to have conveyed that there was still a possibility for a dialogue. However, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov cautioned against the endless negotiations.

A look at the six dimensions of the issue is relevant for an objective assessment of the situation. The most important dimension is whether the efforts to include Ukraine in NATO would be a violation of earlier agreements or not. The answer for this needs to be seen in the agreements made in Istanbul in 1999 and Astana in 2010. The US and 56 other countries in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) signed documents that contained interrelated principles “to ensure the indivisibility of security.” This meant that the parties to the agreement must refrain from doing anything that could affect the security interests of others. This obviously means that establishment of military bases and deployment of missiles must be avoided in new areas that could threaten the security of other members. By admitting Ukraine in the NATO, the US and its allies would be in a position to deploy missiles and troops that would threaten the Russian security. The essence of the agreements was that nothing should be done by the NATO to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others including Russia. Clearly from the Russian point of view, the admission of Ukraine into the NATO would harm the Russian security interests.

Second dimension relates to the President Biden’s creation of war hysteria. Is Russia actually thinking of attacking Ukraine? Russian deployment of 100000 troops along the Ukraine border is given as evidence. Russia is actually trying to forestall any possibility of deployment of troops in Ukraine by the NATO. The telephonic conversation did not work added to the possibility of a war. Biden was reported to have stated that a Russian invasion was imminent. The Ukrainian President Zelensky similarly declared that the situation was dangerous, though downplaying the certainty of a war. However, the current withdrawal of some of the Russian troops indicate that war hysteria was unjustified. This appears to be more of the product of the media and officers of the US and the NATO officials.

Third dimension relates to the Minsk Agreement of 2015. Putin has stated this umpteen number of times said that it was not implemented in letter and spirit. The signing of the Minsk Agreement was preceded by an agreement by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France for a package of measures to end the war in Donbas. In nut shell, it meant a “special status” provision giving de facto autonomy to the Russian-speaking people of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba has ruled out special provision for them. Who is responsible for going against the agreement? Is Ukraine saying this on its own or at the behest of someone else?

Fourth dimension relates to the real Russian security concern. Russia desires to draw Washington into negotiations on the missile sites in Romania and Poland. Russia is more concerned about these sites than anything else. Putin was reported to have stated about six years ago that ‘once the missiles defence system is put in place, it will work automatically with the entire nuclear capability of the United States.’ This deserves immediate attention of the NATO and the US.

Fifth dimension relates to the Russian view of Ukraine. In an article Putin had last year pointed out close links between Russia and Ukraine since the 16 th Century. He wrote that ‘the anti-Russia project’ was created by the Polish-Austrian ideologists and ‘Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia.’

Sixth dimension relates to the US view of Ukraine. The US certainly is wary of the Russian growing economic links with European countries. The US considered Ukraine as the main link between Russia and Europe. Putin’s transformative effect on the Russian economy was coming in the way of US expansion of trade. The US companies began to invest in Ukraine to be able to influence the decision making there. This resulted in weakening the economic linkages between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is considered as barrier between Europe and Russia. Hillary Clinton view that Putin’s attempt to create a free trade zone spanning the continents was actually an effort to “re-Sovietize the region”, explains the US perception. Biden has stated that Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia, would be placed under the sanction indicating the real objective of the US. The US Establishment does not want Germany to be dependent on the Russian economy. Some experts opine that the US policy makers want to “goad Russia into a military response” in order to sabotage Nord Stream.

The impact of the Ukraine crisis needs to be viewed holistically. Russia is pushed to forge closer ties with China, though they have differences. Under the current pressure, Russia appears to have allowed China to develop closer economic ties with the Central Asia, while it retains political linkages with them. In the Far East and Artic China and Russia are cooperating. China’s coercive activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea continue. Only power that is gaining in the current turmoil is China. Support from Russia for the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific is highly desirable. If the US has to maintain strategic balance globally, separation of China and Russia is essential. The US policy makers need to focus on the larger issue rather viewing the crisis only through the prism of NATO. Both Putin and Biden need to revive the spirit of their Geneva Summit of June 2021 to bring up the level of bilateral relations for stability and peace. Biden has to focus on growth at home, Covid related challenges, internal differences, manage China and ensure international stability. Taiwan deserves far greater attention in the current situation. Both Russia and the US have an interest in dealing with not just traditional security issues such as nuclear and conventional deterrence but also newer ones, particularly cyber. Pragmatism demands that diplomatic efforts should focus on these issues.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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