Russia-Ukraine Conflict | War Without a Winner

Destructivism is reigning in Russian-Ukrainian Geospace after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea. The Russian anticipation that the war would not last for even a week ending in the capture of Ukraine has failed but the capital city,  Kyiv, under siege, may fall any time.

By Sankar Ray

INEBRIATED with the greed for power, the President of Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s adventurous invasion of Ukraine pushes Russia towards self-destruction while several cities of Ukraine, including Kharkiv, the second most important metropolis of the country, its former capital, and suburbs are a spectre of debris all around. For many like this writer with a fractured psyche, words of Rabindranath Tagore resonate: ‘The world in wild with the delirium of hatred.’  

The agony of Europeans, near or around Ukraine is engraved in W. H. Auden’s ‘In Memory of W B Yeats’:  “In the nightmare of the dark. All the dogs of Europe bark,/And the living nations wait,/Each sequestered in its hate;/Intellectual disgrace/Stares from every human face,/And the seas of pity lie/Locked and frozen in each eye.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea is the biggest in Europe since World War II. The Russian anticipation that the war would not last for even a week ending in the capture of Ukraine has failed but the capital city, Kyiv, under siege, may fall any time. Those who think that the war will last for weeks together as the German blitz of Poland took five weeks and France was occupied in six weeks during the high-voltage days of Adolf Hitler have a basis as even the US and its allied forces took more than three weeks to capture Iraq despite embarking on a hi-tech war that was unthinkable during the 1930s and the 1940s. Russia will win the war, but the damage being inflicted is beyond the Kremlin’s upper bounds of expectation. And Ukraine has a modern equipped army; unlike Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

Beyond Expectation

Nonetheless, the more the Russian army advances in its bid to force the Ukrainians and the ruling government, headed by President Volodymyr Zeleniskyy, to bend down, the more the Russian economy plunges into the most profound financial and economic crisis after the collapse of the crisis. An all-out strategy of strangulating Russia to cripple its banking and other transactions into the global periphery has pushed the sovereign state into an economic and financial crisis of epic proportions. Putin’s conceited expectation that Europe’s high dependency on Russian energy supply would ensure Russia of substantial economic leverage over the West evaporates as western countries, including neighbours of Russia and Ukraine have forged an unusual unity in support of Ukraine. And Kyiv has been stubbornly recalcitrant to give up the nuclear weapons it had inherited from the USSR — the third-largest arsenal after those of the USA and Russia apprehending Russian aggression.

Russia’s massive international reserve arsenal of USD 630 billion, approximately a third of the size of the Russian economy generated in the mindset of the Russian President a false sense of security as if the reserves would help compensate Russia’s banks and companies for any damage that Western sanctions might inflict, even insulate the economy from any balance-of-payments crisis. Amid the growing number of sanctions, the Rouble touched a record low of 110 against the dollar on 2nd March in Moscow. On the EBS platform, the Rouble ended the day at 100 against the dollar, and at 97.6 elsewhere. 

Putin wrote: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith


Kremlin’s Plan

Article by Vladimir Putin ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians –Vladimir Putin’ was published on 12 Jul 22 on his official website Kremlin.ru in Russian. Putin distorted ethno-nationalism and history of major nationalities of Ukraine. He wrote: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today”. All this is to discover a plea for invasion of Ukraine seven months later.

For eight whole years, the world community did not notice the ongoing genocide of the peoples of these regions, the Western media did not notice lawlessness, violation of the principles of democracy and human rights in general

Dr Serhii Plokhy, Professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University, in an essay in Financial Times of London on 28 January wrote a narrative of the Kremlin’s plan of invasion and a short history –rather a backdrop- of the build-up of Putin empire – a ‘long shadow of the Soviet Union’. Amassing of Russian troops on the approaches to Ukraine compelled beleaguered citizens to brace themselves for war a month ahead. “Emergency kit” is a phrase I hear used more and more among my friends and acquaintances all over the country; the question on everyone’s mind is whether there will be an attack. I have been asked this numerous times over the past few weeks and I cannot provide a satisfactory answer.

The only thing I am sure about is that every bit of moral, political and military support that Ukraine gets from its friends and allies makes an invasion less likely.“ History cannot tell us what might or might not happen tomorrow. But what it can do is provide a better understanding of how we got to the situation we are in today and what is at stake — especially as in this case the discipline of history, or at least a version of it, is right at the heart of the dispute”, he wrote poignantly and indignantly.

Plokhy referred to Putin in a lengthy essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, published in July last year alike his 8800-plus monotonous pre-invasion speech to the nation on 21 February said, “there had been no such thing as a separate Ukrainian nation. It was perceived as a denial of Ukraine’s right to statehood”. Plokhy reminded of the neo-Tsar’s words at a press conference later, “When I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people — a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context.” In mid-December 2021, Russia presented the West with an unexpected ultimatum with demands among which are a commitment in writing to halt any further eastward expansion of NATO and removal of multinational NATO troops from Poland and the Baltic.

The Ukrainian historian read into the Chinese strategy of emerging “as the leading partner in what began as the Sino-Soviet alliance, accompanied by the reduction of the former Soviet Union to the territory of Russia — a state whose economy is not in the world’s top 10”.

Putin’s ambition is to re-establishment of the Soviet Union to lord over ‘the former Soviet space more efficiently by creating dependencies, preferably ruled by autocrats, in place of the former Soviet republics — an imperial power structure with him as the ruler of rulers at the top’. The Harvard academic snapped fingers at Lenin-era converting Ukraine into “a pseudo-federal rather than a unitary state precisely in order to accommodate Ukraine and Georgia, the two most independent-minded republics, whose communist leaders simply refused to join the Russian Federation”.

Neo-Tzar Vladimir Putin’s Obsession For Ukraine

Snapping fingers at Putin alone will not help the global leaders move towards a solution and end the ‘sanguinary convulsion’ (coinage: Sir Winston Churchill on the Great Calcutta Killing 1946). One cannot clap with one hand, so goes a Bengali adage writes American columnist  Simon Waxman,  “The point is not that Putin gets his history backward because he gives Moscow priority over Kiev. Rather, we should take special note of how Russians have built a sense of self on a foundation of grievances against foreigners. Those who accuse the Russian president of seeking an empire have the situation quite wrong. Putin and his supporters are nationalists, not imperialists; what matters is not to encompass others but to encompass Russians and purify them of outside influences. 

The roots of the Russia -Ukraine war stretch all the way back to the start of Putin’s reign and reflect his unhealthy obsession with Ukraine. Putin has never made any attempt to conceal his contempt for Ukrainian independence, which he regards as an accident of history and the most painful of the many injustices brought about by the 1991 Soviet collapse. 

Gorbachev’s plans for a new treaty that would create a truly voluntary federation – a vision close to what Lenin was working towards – were thwarted by a coup against him by Stalinist hardliners in August 1991; the coup was met with public outrage and defeated, but Gorbachev was sidelined and Ukraine, among other Soviet Republics, voted for independence, leading to the disintegration of the USSR.

For Putin and like-minded Russians, Ukraine poses a problem for Russia not just because it is a democracy or because its government holds out the hope of joining NATO but because it is European

The Russian ruler is fond of declaring that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” by which he means that Ukrainians are really Russians who do not deserve a state of their own. Instead, he argues, Ukraine’s entire centuries-long independence struggle is a foreign plot driven by scheming Western imperialists seeking to undermine Mother Russia. In summer 2021, Putin laid bare this conspiratorial vision of Ukrainian history in a rambling and frequently absurd essay that dismissed the entire notion of Ukrainian statehood. 

A report from Atlantic Council states that the 2004 Orange Revolution was a key turning point in Putin’s deteriorating relationship with Ukraine when his bungled intervention in the country’s presidential election backfired disastrously and helped spark a massive pro-democracy uprising which was widely cheered by the Western world. This personal humiliation left Putin increasingly bitter towards the West and determined to punish Ukraine. When Ukrainians once more took to the streets a decade later to defend the country’s fledgling democracy during the Euromaidan Revolution, Putin responded by seizing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine.

For Putin and like-minded Russians, Ukraine poses a problem for Russia not just because it is a democracy or because its government holds out the hope of joining NATO but because it is European: it is an outpost of Europe in the “historical homeland” of the Russian nation. Putin made this point explicit in his February 24 speech. “Of course, the question is not about NATO itself,” he said. “It merely serves as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that in territories adjacent to Russia, which I have to note is our historical land, a hostile ‘anti-Russia’ is taking shape.” For Russian nationalists, the idea that Ukraine might be European is as intolerable as the thought that Mongols might persist in their political, cultural, and literal DNA. 

Tyrannical Personality

Dictators perish when over-complacency plants a megalomaniac psyche in them. Imbibing the bumptious temper of Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin and Lavrenti Beria of the traumatic 1930s, Putin failed to feel the impending financial neurosis as a backlash of this threat to subjugate Ukraine in the tail-end of 2021 when Ruble did lose over 30 percent of its value. Neither did he nor his financial advisers envision that key Russian commercial banks would be shut out of the SWIFT payment system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication- an instrument for international banking transactions). Historically, currency collapses this way and banks suffer. It now happens in Russia where it happened in 1998 when the Russian financial market plunged into a crisis. Now the country confronts a compulsion to adopt a draconian exchange market and capital controls that will cripple the economy.

Russia has been denied access to its USD 630 billion foreign reserves with the West’s sanctions on its Central Bank. But he didn’t seem to have envisaged that within three days, the Russian currency Ruble would suffer 40 percent value in the international exchange ratio. Russia is now almost certain to default on its debts and experience an economic collapse. Whether Russia’s economic free fall will deter Putin’s obstinacy to subdue Ukraine to his will. The dust will settle. But when? The shah-en-shah at the elevated seat of the Kremlin cannot escape a domestic backlash at home due to an economically impoverished Russian citizenry.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that if a third world war would break out, nuclear weapons might be used, according to the RIA news agency of Moscow. He had in mind that Ukraine had been possessing Soviet nuclear technologies and the means of delivery of such weapons, which is why Putin is hell-bent to force the Ukrainian government to surrender.

War Casualties

The Russian foreign minister’s stance is aggressive, sheerly out of desperation. Satellite images taken on 28 February show a Russian military convoy north Kyiv stretchings for about 64 km, substantially longer than the 27 km stretch, according to the USA-based Maxar Technologies that reported about additional ground forces deployments and ground attack helicopter units in southern Belarus, within 32 km north of the Ukraine border.

Until this story goes to print the situation changes too fast on the war front. Casualties of Ukrainian civilians, according to western news reports, crossed over 2000 while over 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, military adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Oleksiy Arestovich, said. Meanwhile, Russia has released far lower figures, acknowledging its casualties for the first time since the war started. Its defence ministry confirmed that 498 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine and another 1,597 were wounded till 2nd March.

Over 450,000 residents of Ukraine crossed over to Poland including non-resident non-Ukrainians. With the fall of the strategic port city, Kherson, thousands more have fled Ukraine- crossing the number of fleeing people to one million. Western media reports claim a 64 km long array of Russian tanks. There are allegations that the Russian armed forces have used cluster bombs and vacuum bombs that are highly prohibited. Cluster bombs are weapons containing multiple explosive submunitions.

 If dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, a cluster bomb opens up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields, while a vacuum bomb is a thermobaric weapon that sucks in oxygen from the surrounding air to cause a high-temperature explosion, producing a blast wave of a significantly longer duration than that of a conventional explosive, thus having the potential of vapourising human bodies. Human rights groups and Ukraine’s ambassador to the USA Oksana Markarova accused Russia of attacking Ukrainians with cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, weapons that have been condemned by several international organisations including Amnesty International. No denial came from Russia to date.

There are reports of civilian resistance through barricades and wrong road directions to marching convoys. Sporadic hurling of Molotov cocktails, prepared by women and thrown by civilians in a guerrilla way. Over a dozen of tanks were reportedly destroyed. The fighting Ukrainian armed japans claimed to have destroyed missile installations through remote systems, But the invading Russian army is disproportionately stronger.

Three members of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament, Duma, representing Russia’s communist party, not belonging to the KPRF, nominally part of the opposition to the governing United Russia party but typically remains loyal to President Putin, criticised the armed intervention, a rare episode of dissent from within

International Court’s Investigation Against Vladimir Putin

Shares in major U.S. defense contractors rose even in Based on referrals from 39 countries, the International Court of Justice, the ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, has announced investigations into the allegations against the Russian Federation and its President Vladimir Putin for committing crimes as per international laws. Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, on the situation: As I proceed to discharge my responsibilities, I will seek to engage with all relevant stakeholders and parties to the conflict, ensuring that investigations by my office are conducted objectively and independently, with full respect for the principle of complementarity. In doing so, we will remain focused on our core objective: ensuring accountability for crimes falling within ICC jurisdiction.”

The International Court  of Justice, the ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, has announced investigations into the allegations against the Russian Federation and its President Vladimir Putin for committing crimes as per international laws

The support of States Parties and the international community more broadly will be essential as we seek to meet the inherent challenges faced in the conduct of these investigations. I will therefore seek the partnership and contributions of all States in order to address our need for additional resources across all situations addressed by my Office.

With an active investigation now underway, I repeat my call to all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law. No individual in the Ukraine situation has a licence to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, he said in his statement. No individual in the Ukraine situation has a licence to commit crimes within the jurisdiction
of the International Criminal Court. 

Reaction Within

But Newton’s Third Law of Motion finds its validity in the new geopolitical kinetics with protests inside Putin’s Russian empire. Muscovites and residents in other cities like St Petersburg came into the street in protest against aggression and over 3000 of them were arrested. Over a thousand scientists and science writers including science journalists wrote to Putin en masse urging the cessation of the aggression. Among them were Physics Nobel laureate Konstantin Novoselov, science advisor to President Mikhail Gorbachev during his time, Roald Sagdeev, ICTP (International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy) and Dirac medalist Vladimir Zakharov as also members of the Russian Academy of Sciences like Valery Rubakov and Sergey Stishov.  

Even the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) with physicist Gennady Zyuganov as the general secretary, that came openly in support of aggression in the beginning realised better late than never. “We sincerely hope for an early cessation of hostilities and a political settlement through negotiations. And we are contributing to this as much as possible,” its recent statement reads. 

Asserting its commitment against bloodshed, Prof Zyuganov expressed hope that ‘ it will be possible to avoid serious losses not only among servicemen of the Russian army but also soldiers and officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, among whom there are many Russian people and deceived Ukrainians’.

Importantly, three members of Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament, Duma, representing Russia’s communist party, not belonging to the KPRF, nominally part of the opposition to the governing United Russia party but typically remains loyal to President Putin, criticised the armed intervention, a rare episode of dissent from within. Of them, Professor Vyacheslav Markhaev, a Senator from Siberia, wrote intrepidly on Facebook “I would like to note that we have ratified the recognition of the people’s republics of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).

The latest in a protest came from top chess players. 44 top Russian chess players published an open letter to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, voicing firm opposition to the war in Ukraine and expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Signees include the most recent world championship challenger, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi; 12th Women’s World Champion and Director of ChesscomRU, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk; eight-time Russian champion, GM Peter Svidler; GM Andrey Esipenko; GM Daniil Dubov; and many more.

Radix of Crisis

For eight whole years, the world community did not notice the ongoing genocide of the peoples of these regions, the Western media did not notice lawlessness, violation of the principles of democracy and human rights in general. The most unpleasant thing about this is that the leadership of Ukraine itself turned a blind eye to this, placing false and distorted accents at the behest of the West. We needed recognition of the independence of the Republics of the DPR and LPR in order to protect them from complete extermination. It seemed that this could develop the possibility of continuing negotiations and searching for new compromises to resolve all acute problems.

To my great regret, the entire Campaign for the recognition of the DPR (Donetsk) and LPR (Lugansk) had a completely different intent and plan, which was initially hidden, and as a result, we ended up in a state of full-scale confrontation and war between the two states. We did not have enough restraint or political will to try, after recognizing the republics of the DPR and LPR, to continue to win back our positions peacefully. Has “denazification” and “demilitarisation” always been decided exclusively by military means?”

In mid-December 2021, Russia presented the West with an unexpected ultimatum with demands among which are a commitment in writing to halt any further eastward expansion of NATO and removal of multinational NATO troops from Poland and the Baltic

Significantly enough, KPRF, a Stalinist party made an appeal to the European Union and the USA to condemn the terror of Bandera’s followers against the Donbas cities, the practice of taking hostages as a human shield and the deployment of artillery guns and mortars in residential areas of the cities under their control.

‘The apprehension about Stepan Bandera, a cult figure of ultra-nationalism in Ukraine and around, is real as the counter-Putin response has an ultra-rightist bent. Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s seminal work, ‘Stepan Bandera – The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist Fascism, Genocide, and Cult’ is a high-class read. It is one of the cults of fascist and other totalitarian leaders that emerged in Europe after the First World War-related to the disappearance of relevant monarchies and of the cults of emperors who had been regarded as the representatives of God on earth, and whose absence caused a void in the lives of many. There is a Bandera monument in the eastern Galician town of Dubliany in southern Ukraine.

A new cold war is on but is likely to be far more aggressive than the Trueman-Eisenhower era. It was deliberated at the Dahrendorf Forum in 2016 under the aegis of LSE IDEAS, an Institute of Global Affairs Centre, a foreign policy think tank- ‘Avoiding A New ‘Cold War’: The Future of EU-Russia Relations in the Context of the Ukraine Crisis March 2016”.

Was there an Anti-Muslim Racism in Putin’s Annexation of Ukraine

Historian and opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov outlines the anti-Muslim racism that accompanied Russian annexation of Crimea, an issue that has been widely ignored. The Crimean Tatars are the ancient, native inhabitants of Crimea.  In 1944, Stalin ordered that all 191,000 of them, all 47,000 families, be exiled to Central Asia. In 1954, Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, but in March 2020 Putin returned Crimea to Russia. Along with Crimea came the Tatars, who were surprised to find that they were part of Russia (once more). They had begun to return to their homeland in droves under Gorbachev in the late 1980s, and by 2001 the Ukrainian census recorded 245,000 Crimean Tatars living on the peninsula. They now number some 300,000 and make up around 13% of Crimea’s population.

The hostility of most Crimean Tatars towards the idea of union with Russia caused a serious conflict with the pro-Moscow authorities. The Tatars’ leaders, Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, current head of the Mejlis, have been barred from entering their homeland for five years and are now living in Kiev against their will. On 18 May 2014, the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, a day when many thousands of people usually assemble in the centre of Simferopol to remember and mourn, the Crimean authorities banned the gathering. The ban was an insult to the Tatar people, for whom the deportation remains the most terrible tragedy in their history.

In 1944, Stalin ordered that all 191,000 of them, all 47,000 families, be exiled to Central Asia. In 1954, Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, but in March 2020 Putin returned Crimea to Russia.

Mosques, schools (madrasas), community centres, firms and private homes belonging to Tatars have been searched and raided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (“anti-extremism” special branch), prosecutors and the Special Purpose Police, as well as so-called “self-defence forces”. The Crimean Tatars’ only independent television station, ATR, has come under heavy pressure and many activists, journalists and bloggers have been forced to leave Crimea. All these violations are set out in a report written by Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, who himself visited Crimea. He pays particular attention to the killing, abduction and disappearance of people in Crimea.

Ukraine was recolonized by Stalin in a process described as ‘the classic example of Soviet genocide’ by Lemkin, who outlined the process in chilling detail. First, the intelligentsia was destroyed by deporting, jailing or killing teachers, writers, artists, thinkers and political leaders; at the same time, the Ukrainian churches were destroyed with hundreds of priests and lay-people killed and thousands sent off to forced labour camps, deliberately separating families and sending children to Russian homes to be ‘educated’. 

Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazine, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad.

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