Ukraine, Uncertain Fallouts

From public statements by both the USA and UK, it appears they are keen to see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine blowing into a war. The war will not only cause economic damage to Russia but could also affect its power. On the other hand, Europe, that has quite a lot to lose in this conflict next door, is keen to find diplomatic solutions. Ukraine itself has been playing down the prospect of war, but preparing for one. For India it seems this is a long way off, or is it?

A war is already on. It may not be a physical war, but it is a mental war. It appears that Russia wants to wear down Ukraine, make it nervous, push it towards economic crises, open up divisions and show it that no western country will physically come to its aid. Russia has enough oil and gas to stay where it is for a few more months. Ukraine on the other hand may have problems if pushed into a long blockade. However Russia may also be coordinating its move with China.

Russia has embarked on 10 days of ‘military exercises’ with Belarus. Enough time to prepare a war with its partner as ally. These will end on 20th February. That is also the day the Winter Olympics end in China. It may be coincidence or a strategic alignment of interests and potential actions. Western countries think Russia will avoid waging a war during the Olympics.

It is also evident from the last two decades of conflicts that the United States and its allies at NATO cannot manage two conflicts concurrently. In fact even a single protracted war seems to drain a lot out of them, financially, physically and in their internal unity. It is quite possible that while UK and US are cajoling Putin to play his card, with statements such as no one knows when Putin may act, or making statements that it could be any minute, both Putin and Xi may be considering a multi-regional war on at least two fronts.

There seems to be some coordination of strategy between Russia and China. Both leaders have made statement of solidarity with each other. Both countries are engaged in meetings at several levels including military Chiefs. Clearly there is something on the agenda other than talking Ukraine and NATO. The two are not best of friends, but are united by their common perception of threat from the United States and NATO to their own security interests.

The United States has been overtly threatening China and to Russia. In the Pacific Ocean, it has formed a ring of allies called AUKUS, to form an offensive coalition against China, should the need arise. Currently its focus is to signal to China to keep off Taiwan. On Russia’s western border, the USA has been actively setting up bases in East European countries and has been supporting the Ukraine leadership even before this conflict. Russia suspects that the USA engineered the recent unsuccessful uprising in Belarus.

Meanwhile China is eyeing parts of Kashmir to ensure its Chinese- Pakistan Economic Corridor can safely go through into Pakistan. India has kept away from the Silk Road project and the CPEC, often criticising it. The USA sees the Silk Road project a threat to its financial hegemony.  

China sees India as a potential military threat to CPEC and a front line offensive partner for United States in American strategy to contain China. China is thought to have designs on creating a wide enough buffer corridor in Kashmir both for defence and to protect CPEC.

If China’s regional policy is influenced by its economic interest to secure a corridor to the Indian ocean, the Russian Government is driven by vision of a Russian-Slavic civilisation separate from Western European and Anglo Saxon civilisations. It wants to create a Russian-Slav power base, hence its interest in Ukraine.

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Russia may indeed wait until after the Olympics to make its substantive move. Increasingly it is becoming obvious that while US and UK are making all sort of threats, they have no intention of sending forces to assist Ukraine. By the 20th February Ukraine may be worn out, shaken and feeling alone against the Russian giant. It may undergo an internal coup or its Government may decide that it is more secure by giving Russia a guarantee that it will accept the terms of Minsk agreement as interpreted by Russia and not join NATO.

However if Russia does attack Ukraine, it is likely to coordinate its attack with China and embark on the invasion when China is ready to move either on Kashmir or Taiwan.

The USA cannot commit forces and resources to Ukraine and concurrently to AUKUS to save Taiwan and at the same time offer support to India to help defend against a Chinese incursion into Kashmir.

NATO and USA may be left standing by as quick and swift moves by both Russia and China change the maps in coordinated moves. Generally it is thought that China may decide to invade Taiwan. However China is more likely to bag Taiwan without a fight in the future. With a key ally in Pakistan and a significant population in Kashmir hostile to the Indian Government, invading Kashmir will be easier and more opportune. The USA support for India is likely amount to megaphone statements and some punitive sanctions.

History has shown as recent as Afghanistan that the USA does not value friendships. It only has time for strategic partners when they benefit its interests. And when the advantage is not there, it also walks away irrespective of the mess left behind.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also likely to be a swift one. Experts are warning that Russia will be drawn into a long war and a persistent insurgency if it does take over Ukraine. Parallels are drawn with Afghanistan and Middle East wars. However there is a difference. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were occupations of a culturally different and culturally hostile terrain. Ukraine on the other hand is almost 40% Russian. They are more likely to accept a change of power and move on with their lives.

Hence both a Russian invasion of Ukraine and a Chinese invasion of Kashmir are likely to be short and decisive wars that will change the balance of power to some extent.

Therefore Ukraine as a land mass may appear to be far away for India to worry, but Ukraine as a pawn in the geopolitical games of Big Powers is on the door step.

The current Indian Government doesn’t get along with its neighbours. Internally it has created enough enemies within with its hardline Hindutva project. The country isn’t all that united and cohesive as it might like to think. Annexation of land in Kashmir by China could work in favour of the BJP to bolster nationalist fervour. However it could also work against it, if a deft opposition emerges attacking its confrontationist policies in the region.

India’s defence and international strategist have a lot to think about and a lot to prepare for. The fall out of a war in Ukraine is likely to reach the borders of India. Ukraine is far but also so near.

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Allan Chung
Allan Chung
2 years ago

excellent analysis.

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