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Ukraine War: An Update

  • Geopolitics
  • 14 d ago
  • 7 min read
Ukraine War: An Update | Mr Krishnan Srinivasan -  Former Foreign Secretary of India

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (R) react after sitting in a F-16 fighter jet in a Danish airbase in August, 2023 | Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP

Krishnan Srinivasan
Krishnan Srinivasan - Former Foreign Secretary of India

The distancing of the Global South from a pro-Ukraine stance in the war has enabled India and the non-western world to act independently when western nations are unmindful of how their actions adversely affect the rest of the world. These are among the factors that will reset the international order with a new agenda for world stability. For the Global South, restrictions on the use of illegal sanctions which have a damaging collateral effect and action to reduce the dominance of the US dollar on the world’s financial transactions must be considered a high priority.   

Introduction

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar deserve praise for their adroit handling of the Ukraine War, which has placed India in a sweet spot in world affairs. This happened despite intense covert and overt external pressure from the West, and the Indian media with rare exceptions repeating western stories of alleged Ukrainian success while portraying Russian President Putin as a threat to both the democratic value system and world order.

The United Nations Charter’s Article 2.4 urges nations to refrain from the “threat or use of force”, each contingency having equal validity. The deliberate eastwards expansion of NATO after 1990, despite innumerable protestations from Moscow, threatened Russia’s security with encirclement, obliging it to retaliateforcefully, and setting preconditions of Ukraine’s demilitarisation and neutrality.

Initially, both NATO and Russia made grievous errors; Russia’s drive towards Kiev with inadequate manpower and weaponry was wrongly based on the belief that resistance from a fellow Slav and former Soviet state would be minimal, while NATO and the United States underestimated Russia’s economic and military resilience against countless packages of unilateral sanctions, and believed that the rest of the world would unite behind Ukraine.

What is clear, after 24 months, is that Russia will not be defeated, and it is most unlikely that Ukraine will ever recover the almost 20 percent territory it has already lost.1 The longer the war continues, the greater will be the loss of territory by Ukraine.

Western Aid to Ukraine

Ukraine was never to be a push-over for Russia; in July 2022 it had an active military strength of 700,000 and with para-military added, close to one million.2 Ukraine benefitted from billions of dollars of military equipment and training from NATO, operational planning, support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and as yet unknown levels of NATO manpower. At every stage, the USA has escalated Ukraine’s weaponry with controversial depleted uranium and cluster munitions, and lately ATACMS missiles and F-16 aircraft.

America has so far donated to Ukraine over $64 billion in funding the Ukrainian military and civil establishment, including $46 billion in military equipment.3 The EU has expended $96 billion, including military aid, and another $54 billion is promised..4 US President Biden is asking Congress for an addition $66 billion for Ukraine.5 All these efforts for Western aid come in the face of mounting donor fatigue, when Ukraine’s President Zelensky is regarded less a martyr and more an Oliver Twist forever asking for more. 

In Europe, NATO members Slovakia and Hungary are opposed to arming Ukraine, and join Poland in raising trade barriers with neighbouring Ukraine. In the US Congress, many far-right Republicans are voting against more aid, seeking from the Biden administration the estimated costs and length of the war, an audit of money provided, the shape of a possible victory and assurances of European burden-sharing. A poll conducted by CNN suggests that 55% of Americans oppose further funding for Ukraine.6The debate is also informed by noted investigator Seymour Hersh, citing CIA sources, that the Ukrainian president and his entourage embezzled around $400 million last year,7 and according to Forbes, Zelensky himself is worth some $20 million.8

Essential to future support for Ukraine is the progress, since early June 2023, of a Ukraine offensive to regain areas lost to Russia. But Ukraine scarcely dented Russian defensive positions and was nowhere near cutting off Russian land access to Crimea. A blame-game then developed, with Ukraine accusing NATO of inadequate supply of weapons and NATO criticising Kiev’s war strategy. Zelensky dismissed Ukraine’s army commander in February this year.

Human Costs of War

The human cost of the war has been extreme. There are 6.5 million internally displaced Ukranians, 7.7 million refugees from Ukraine and 15.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.9 Roughly 10,000 civilian deaths, 7000 missing and 18,500 wounded are estimated by the UN.10 According to the New York Times, the US places Ukrainian military deaths at 70,000 with 120,000 injured,11 and Russia’s dead and wounded at 315,000.12

Russia itself was relatively untouched by the war, but recently is targeted by Ukraine drone strikes, land penetrations by undefined ‘anti-Russian elements’, drone, missile and maritime attacks on its Black Sea fleet and Crimea. Moscow maintains that any peace deal will have to recognize the “new territorial reality” that the incorporated regions of Crimea (since 2014), Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye will not be returned to Ukraine.13

Potential Future Scenario

Neither a decisive victory for one side nor a compromise peace agreement seems likely in the near future. In the battle of attrition on the 1000-mile front line, Russian forces are lately advancing in certain sectors but very slowly. The Americans and NATO promise Ukraine support "for as long as it takes": in effect this means as long as Washington wants it to continue, because it is able to prolong the proxy war indefinitely due to economic strength and geostrategic invulnerability. However, US public consensus is fraying and the presidential election this year will have a bearing on its attitude. It needs recalling that NATO vetoed a Ukraine-Russia peace deal in March 2022 and a Gallup poll shows 70% of Ukrainians oppose peace talks with Russia.14

What is the likely scenario for the Ukraine War? Ukraine is short of fighting personnel and weapons, and even if the $66 billion held up by Republican Party Congressmen is passed, it is unlikely to make much difference. The only question is where the Russian front line will be when the war ends. The Russian economy in 2023 grew faster than any in the G-7, and the sanctions by the West, illegal and unilateral according to international law, have boomeranged on Europe, which is hard hit economically and divided socially, leading to the rise of right-wing parties.

For the United States, the Ukraine War is a setback for President Biden’s foreign policy, aggravated by Israel’s onslaught on the Palestinians. Facing these two problems, the White House will try to soften the tensions with China to avoid opening another front on Taiwan or China’s maritime claims. If former President Trump regains the White House, he may change track to rebuild relations with Russia and resume his containment policy of China.    

Hypocrisy is intrinsic to foreign policy. State sovereignty and integrity are invoked against Russia in Ukraine, but every UN Security Council member has violated this principle in the interest of security, and so have notable global players like Ethiopia, India, Israel and Turkey. The West has condemned the referendum by which Ukrainian territories have been annexed to Russia, but many European countries and the USA themselves invoke the same principle of popular will for their overseas territories.

The distancing of the Global South from a pro-Ukraine stance in the war has enabled India and the non-western world to act independently when western nations are unmindful of how their actions adversely affect the rest of the world. These are among the factors that will reset the international order with a new agenda for world stability. For the Global South, restrictions on the use of illegal sanctions which have a damaging collateral effect and action to reduce the dominance of the US dollar on the world’s financial transactions must be considered a high priority.   

(Exclusive to NatStrat)

Endnotes:

  1. Lopez, G. (2024). America Pulls Back from Ukraine. The New York Times.
  2. Tucker, M. (2022). Ukraine has one million ready for fightback to recapture south. The Times.
  3. Statista. (2024). Total bilateral aid commitments to Ukraine 2022-2024, by donor and type.
  4. EEAS (2024). EU assistance to Ukraine (in U.S. dollars).
  5. Wise, Lindsay & Hughes, Siobhan. (2024). With Ukraine Aid Stuck in Congress, Supporters Push Fallback Plans. The Wall Street Journal.
  6. Agiesta, J. (2023). CNN Poll: Majority of Americans oppose more US aid for Ukraine in war with Russia. CNN.
  7. Blinova, Ekaterina. (2023). Why Blinken’s Visit to Ukraine is Sign of Trouble in Washington. Sputnik International.
  8. Durot, M. (2022). Here’s how much Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is worth. Forbes ME.
  9. MRS No. 77 - Internally displaced and immobile people in Ukraine between 2014 and 2022: Older age and disabilities as factors of vulnerability - Ukraine. (2023). ReliefWeb.
  10. Civilian deaths in Ukraine war top 10,000, UN says. (2023). Ukraine UN Website.
  11. Cooper, H., Gibbons-Neff, T., Schmitt, E., & Barnes, J. E. (2023). Ukraine war casualties near half a million, U.S. officials say. The New York Times.
  12. US Intel assesses 315,000 Russian troops killed since Ukraine war began. (2023). NDTV.com.
  13. Russia Today. (2023). What does the future hold for the regions of Ukraine now controlled by Russia? RT International.
  14. Ray, S. (2022, October 18). Poll: Majority of Ukrainians support continued fighting. Forbes.

     

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