Europe has been relentlessly complaining within, about it’s inability to force Russia change course or moderate it’s approach towards Ukraine. It has so far seen Russia hammering it’s way with massive power and clear apathy towards European tactics. Lack of real impact on Russia of sanctions, massive military aid to Ukraine of more than $50 billion and even stooping down to sabotage of Nord Stream 1 and Crimea bridge has left entire of Europe deeply stunned. Europe continued trying something new to tame Russia as it’s one after the other trick got botched. Two aspects that it didn’t adequately accounted for – the reverse impact of sanctions on Europe itself and Russia’s resilience to it.
NATO’s continued push for expansion at the peril of Russian security concerns had caused great anguish in Kremlin. Infact US shoulders chunk of responsibility in undermining Russian core interests ever since Soviet broke up. US has unilaterally walked back from CBMs like Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) (1967-1985), Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (1972-2002) & Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (1987-2019). These were corner stones for maintaining power equilibrium and proved it’s worth in providing stability to the global order during larger part of the 20th century. There was a clear realisation that nuclear race in the long run will make both countries go bankrupt and any nuclear war cannot be won by either side.
However, West’s continued indifference for Russia pushed it to the edge. Russian action was neither sudden nor unexpected, it rather allowed it’s firm intent be adequately known. All the flow of so called ‘ground intelligence’ and sequential release of satellite imageries of Russian build up was largely possible because President Putin wanted the message to be very loud and unmissable even to the deaf and dumb! This was the time of Dec 21 when Russia gave diplomacy a final chance, it presented it’s own version of New European Security Framework to EU whose negotiated settlement could have prevented, what we now see, a complete catastrophe.
With the end of Soviet Union, think tanks in US came up with ideas that US is no longer threatened for existence by Russia. This led to unilateral actions by US, the tactical nuclear warhead W-54 of 1KT yield, which US has already taken the lead to build, gave them a sort of confidence that it can be used in the battlefield. US withdrawals from various mutual treaties with Russia was also on pretext of highlighting newer challenges beyond Russia. But their actions spoke louder, US has likely ended up deploying intermediate range nuclear capable hypersonic missile THAAD Eagle in Germany in 2021, something which INF treaty would have prevented from, it can impact Russia within 5-6 minutes of launch. Barely enough time for Russia to authorise a retaliation. A missile in flight is impossible to be distinguished as carrying a nuclear warhead or not, no one can be faulted for working with worst case scenario. It’s US which created the situation of a nuclear confrontation a reality. All this while Russia kept raising red flags one after the other unfortunately each time it was discarded as an insignificant irritant in the great power gamble. Not surprising, Europe too leaned onto these views. Thus, Europe without having a realistic impact assessment followed the American lead and simultaneously acted as lead themselves for a desperate Ukraine. It became an apt case of one blind leading the other.
Very strange but more than an year into this avoidable conflict there is more wisdom and sanity seen than at the beginning of the war. Voices are hushed today but nevertheless rumblings are apparent, Europe is almost in a vertical split. Germany has allowed it’s insurers to activate Nord Stream insurance cover implying now this can be repaired. Countries are adopting policies which are likely to give them better dividends but runs counter to broader EU policy. Similar is the case with France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. France has shown willingness towards a negotiated settlement. During President Macron’s visit to Beijing this month, the conflict resolution agenda was very much on the table. French recognition of likely Chinese role in this conflict indicated French eagerness to have this very unfavourable developments resolved as soon possible. What’s important is, all of them are major stakeholders in EU and now realise that the conflict has done severe harm to their national interest.
For sure overt NATO’s intervention in the conflict is squarely off the discussion and there’s good reason for that. After initial hesitation NATO opened up it’s war reserves to supply Ukraine – state of the art weapons, tons of munitions, communication backbone while training more than 30,000 Ukrainian troops. This did give Ukraine some tactical edge over Russian offensive during Sep – Oct period last year. The development was quickly lapped up by Western media to showcase that Ukraine is going to prevail, Russians are losing troops in droves and Putin will not be able to sustain the war economically or morally any longer. The war through the coloured narrative is probably different from factual ground situation. Tactically Russia inside Ukraine is all bonus, it easily traded ground for troops, it consolidated and launched massive aerial counterattack keeping it’s troops at safe distances. Within a months’ time Russia not only destroyed the heavy weapons donated by NATO but decimated the trained troops operating them. The ground manoeuvres were held back to let Russian supremacy be unmistakable to all. Russian strategy has blasted the modern war theories to be short, swift and hugely destructive. Russia appears to be in no hurry and that’s precisely what has shaken Europe.
Russia it seems is giving some free lessons to European powers who were feeding the NATO war chest about how to fight classic ground battles next door. Europeans have a problem, majority of them has held expeditionary forces designed and organised for operations in distant parts of the globe they never were prepared to fight a close combat and suffer the major troop loss in a border confrontation. Alarmed at the war expenditure by Ukraine when the operational theatre is very restricted, Europe realised it’s beyond military and economic sense to sustain this war. Russia doesn’t have such worries it’s economy has stabilised after initial shock, it definitely doesn’t have any fuel shortages, it’s war industries are still exporting and by all accounts Russia hasn’t yet brought it’s best to this war!
A look at the strategic objectives for Ukraine and Russia highlights a very startling fact; Ukraine has laid down recapture of all it’s territories including Crimea as the end settlement of war, while Russia laid down decimation of Ukrainian war waging capability, destruction of critical infrastructure and liberation of Russian majority Eastern territories. Russia has gone about amplifying it’s intent in the language it could be better interpreted at NATO War Room. Ukrainian resistance can be admirable but it’s no substitute for the harsh realities of battlefield. European capitals are all seized to the development, Ukraine is not in a position to muster more trained troops at the current war wastage rates to support any meaningful counter-offensive and in case it somehow does, this is exactly what Russia is waiting for. Let Ukraine bring in more and then ensure complete annihilation.
Recent Pentagon leak of highly classified spring offensive plans also gave an indication of only “modest gains” as the outcome. Sane voices want Ukraine to survive the conflict with reasonable self-defence assets intact. The alternate option is too scary for the Europe, an outright Russian declaration of victory against Europe’s collective might and inspite of them spending billions of euros for Zelensky. On diplomatic front all Western efforts to isolate Russia in multilateral groupings have fallen on it’s face. Barring expulsion of Russia from Council of Europe, it is being represented at all international forums that matters, it hasn’t stopped speaking. On contrary differences have ensured no joint communique could be worked out in most of the forums, it only shows importance of Russian disagreement. Not the least that Russia now also holds the security council presidency, it’s literally a diplomatic coup. Notably, Russia has demonstrated shades of Soviet aura and as far the war outcome goes, the side which has it’s war objectives better aligned with prevailing ground realities will most likely prevail!
(This article has featured in a National Magazine!)