Monday, 31 March 2014

Ukraine Crisis: A Lesson for Global Community and India


By  Narender Kumar

“We are witnessing a huge geopolitical game in which the aim is the destruction of Russia as a geopolitical opponent of the US or of the global financial oligarchy.” – Vladimir Yakunin, former Russian senior diplomat.

 Ukraine is an important bridge for Russia to reclaim the strategic space, which it conceded to the West after the demise of the Soviet Union. Crisis in Ukraine is a serious jolt to the endeavour of Russiato build greater Eurasian Union as Ukraine is a strategic pivot for Russia to control Black Sea, oil and gas supply to Europe, food grain supply to Russia and to keep NATO and US away from the Russian borders. As long as pro-Russian government was ruling Ukraine, Russian interests were safeguarded, but with the departure of Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, EU and US want to liberate Ukraine from Russian influence. Stakes for Russia are far higher to let go Ukraine without paying a heavy price and as a result territorial integrity of Ukraine is likely to have serious implications.

Russia has hardened its stand and is unlikely to step back.Ukraine today is polarised and stands divided in two. Western Ukraine ispro EU and is a breadbasket of Europe; Eastern Ukraine is pro-Russia and an industrial hub centre and energy corridor for Europe with Crimea a dominant ethnically Russian area. Referendum in Crimea has gone in favour of Russia but will have far reaching consequences, since Crimea is dependent on water, electricity and food from Ukraine.(Crimea was part of Russia till 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine. The Russians in Crimea have however never accepted it). The popular perception is that Ukraine is unlikely to exercise such a drastic step to cut water and electricity to Crimea because Ukraine itself is dependent on supply of subsidised Russian Gas. Prolonged turmoilin Ukraine will also impact Baltic nations which have not regained political, economic and diplomat stability. Ukraine has been trapped between the conflict of interests of West and Russia.It is also emerging slowly that Europe has realised that Russia cannot be bullied at this stage till they find an alternative to dependence on Russian gas and resolution to economic crisis of Ukraine.

Conflict over Ukraine is political, economic and strategic in nature and is morphed as West versus Russia. To some extent, this crisis has been ignited by gas export from Russia to Ukraine and rest of Europe. George Friedman has written that the EU and US have eliminated a corrupt and pro-Russian leader but have no answer to the economic crisis of Ukraine. Ukraine has a debt burden ofapproximately $145 billion, and Russia has pledged $15 billion to bail out Ukrainian economy from the present mess if Ukraine align with Russia and reject the proposal for integration with EU. To counter Russian proposal, Germany and other EU nations have proposed that IMF manage Ukrainian economic bail out, but the consequences will be serious since the economy willy-nilly will be manipulated by West and will cause major economic upheaval. Russian proposal still stands if the Ukrainian government agrees to integrate Ukrainian economy with Russia.

The crisis at this stage can be defined truly an exercise by the West to curtail and restrain Greater Eurasian dream of Russia. The crisis is hitting Russia hard since it is slowly losing grip of the buffer states to US led NATO.Ukraine will act as leverage for EU and US as strategic counterbalance to contain the expansion of Russian influence Westward, but that will only happen when Ukraine and EU has a sustained and uninterrupted gas supply, for that EU and US will have to wait till 2020 when shale gas reserves in Ukraine and Europe are tapped.One thing which is apparent from this gridlock over Ukraine is that EU and US has shown how vulnerable Russia is to its surroundings and has been given a signal not to disturb the existing international order. The flip side is that at this stage west does not have the answer to muddled economic and political situation in Ukraine. Another significant aspect is that US and NATO did not expect such a reaction from Russia and many EU members do not want to be party to the escalation of crisis beyond a stage.

Ukraine crisis has shown the signs of return of Cold War, but what is important is which way the “third emerging power China” will tilt. So far, China has shown a tilt towards Russia, which is indicative of the fact that China has a similar predicament with regard to its so called “unfinished unification”, and its conflict of interest with US and its proxies in Asia Pacific region. In return, China would expect similar support from Russia as and when China decides to use military and diplomatic coercion in South China Sea and against Taiwan. The end result of the Ukraine crisis will be a benchmark/ precedent for manipulation of smaller economically weaker but strategically important nations. Global community must take note of the emerging scenario. Russian military intervention, if it unfolds,will encourage regional and extra regional powers to arm twist smaller nations for protection of vital strategic interests through military coercion. This trend will seriously impede the strategic autonomy of nations with least amount of leverages to protect their national interests. China may use this event as precedence to resolve territorial dispute by economic and military coercion. As a result, it will have impact for India and its neighbourhood.

The turmoil is indicative of the fact that global norms of governance and self-determination will be the biggest casualty and smaller nations with least amount of leverages will no more be able to maintain strategic autonomy.  India is surrounded by a ‘belt of instability’, which has already shown the sign of conflict between regional and extra-regional powers. Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and central Asian Republics have the potential to get destabilised in a similar manner. For now, India may be sympathetic to Russian stand over Ukraine due to its strategic relationship, but in the long term,Crimea should not become precedence for strategic, territorial and economic manipulation or a battle space between two power blocks.India should start looking at a scenario what will happen post Dalai Lama when China would endeavour to install pro-China Dalai Lama, who may give voice to China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh.  Even a call for referendum of this nature will be outrageous and a destabilising factor. If we look at the larger picture, the development in Ukraine is indeed a flashpoint for return of cold war, polarisation of nations between empowered and impoverished, manipulation of smaller nations by big and powerful and death of strategic autonomy of smaller nations. In the larger interests, de-escalation of situation is the only way ahead. It is a realty that de-escalation of crisis in Ukraine may postpone a power struggle between US led west and Eurasian Union but ultimate show down cannot be prevented. It is unlikely that Russia will stop at Crimea; it will push back in East Europe including Baltic nations. Foundation is laid for struggle to regain strategic space in fractured Europe, flash point is defined and ignition is what is left.

By Special Arrangement with The Centre For Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) (

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