Sabre rattling over Ukraine

Has the Cold War not ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union? As a consequence, is NATO not an anachronistic vestige of the Cold War?

By Mrinal Roy

The prolonged sabre rattling over Ukraine raises so many germane questions. Has the Cold War not ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991? As a consequence, is NATO not an anachronistic vestige of the Cold War? Have the western powers not yet learnt the crying lessons from the mess and appalling humanitarian crisis left in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the wake of their military intervention in these countries?

Why are military tensions being artificially built around an alleged imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine when it would be foolhardy for economic and multiple other reasons for Russia to do so? Russia will go to war only if Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, is attacked. After the recent failed talks among the Russian, American and NATO representatives in Geneva to find a diplomatic solution to defuse the situation, there seems to be contrived scaremongering by the officials of the U.S. State Department, Pentagon, NATO and the intelligence agencies that the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces massed on its borders is imminent. The media and main news channels are blithely peddling this tension-building narrative.

This tension is exacerbated by the deployment of thousands of US troops as well as those from the UK, Germany and France and other countries to bolster NATO forces in eastern Europe. After the debacle in Afghanistan and the tragic loss of American lives during the evacuation operation, are the US and European countries prepared to send more soldiers into another conflict and callously put the lives of soldiers in peril in foreign lands they have nothing in common with?

After more than two decades of permanent wars in foreign lands in the Middle East and Afghanistan resulting in these countries being in a significantly more disastrous situation than before, there cannot be any delusions that the intent was to spread democracy and free the people from oppressive regimes; the driver has always been the relentless pursuit of geopolitical interests and control over vital strategic resources. Too many soldiers have lost their lives in faraway lands. The wars have left the war-torn countries in shambles causing extensive human distress and massive exodus of people thronging refugee camps or seeking asylum in Europe and elsewhere.

Historical background

We must recall that in February 1990 the Soviet Union was still intact and Germany was divided. The US government asked Mikhail Gorbachev for the Soviet Union’s cooperation to enable the reunification of West and East Germany. As a quid pro quo, US Secretary of State James Baker promised that NATO would not expand ‘one inch eastward.’ This commitment was reiterated by other US officials. Russia withdrew from East Germany and Germany was reunited. However, over the next 27 years, the US broke its promise and the NATO alliance expanded eastward, adding 14 new member states among countries close to or bordering Russia. Over the years, NATO has significantly increased its military forces near Russia’s borders. Western powers have also supported every colour revolution along Russia’s borders causing her neighbouring countries to become pro-West.

These developments and the subsequent installation of American missile defences in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania have raised Russian concerns about its security. The risk that Ukraine and Georgia are inducted as members of NATO therefore represents a red line for Russia.

As a consequence, in December 2021 Russia released two draft treaties formulating a radical new security arrangement which were presented to the US Government and the NATO alliance. The treaties address the aspects of the US/NATO activities in Europe which jeopardize Russia’s security and put forward a series of patently tough demands including a stop to NATO’s expansion and a rollback from Eastern Europe.

Talks were organized in Geneva in January 2022 to discuss these draft treaties. They failed to produce any breakthrough.

Monroe Doctrine

The US should be able to understand the security concerns of Russia as their oft-invoked Monroe Doctrine established since 1823 clearly states that ‘any intervention by external powers in the politics of the Americas is a potentially hostile act against the United States.’ During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was inter alia used when the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) established a Communist government with ties to the Soviet Union. The US also provided intelligence and military aid to Latin and South American governments that claimed or appeared to be threatened by Communist political movements.

We must also remember that Europe is highly dependent on gas and oil supplies from Russia, which supplies about a third of European natural gas consumption and more than a quarter of its crude oil imports. It is the European Union’s largest single energy source. Germany, the largest European economy, imports more than half of its natural gas and more than 30% of its crude oil supplies from Russia. France relies on Russian imports to meet its fossil fuel needs. Plans in Germany and other countries to phase out nuclear and coal power could increase this dependence on Russian gas and oil supplies.

The Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline is an expansion of the original Nord Stream pipeline. It will carry natural gas from Northwest Russia through the Baltic Sea directly to Germany. It was approved by the German government in 2018and construction was completed in September 2021. Once operational, NS2 will allow more Russian natural gas exports to Germany to bypass Ukraine, Poland and other current transit countries and deprive them of billions of dollars in annual transit fees. It will basically set the cat among the pigeons.

Time for good sense to prevail

This is therefore not the time for war mongering and belligerent hawkish stances. A frontal war using cyber weapons, advanced tech firepower, drones and artificial intelligence will make soldiers become cannon fodder. It will have disastrous fallouts on Ukraine which is plagued by serious economic problems. War cannot be an option. Despite the scare mongering about an imminent Russian invasion, this is unlikely to happen unless Kyiv tries to retake the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. There is certainly adequate diplomatic space to accommodate and comfort Russian legitimate concerns about its security whilst obtaining assurances to defuse tensions and invasion fears. There is no other way.

* * *

National Honours list: Lessons from India

An indiscriminate award of the national honours can only devalue them. We need to compare and contrast to benchmark our national awards on the highest norms

National awards conferred by a country are a token of respect and honour to awardees for exceptional achievements. India’s honours list announced on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of the country’s Republic Day celebrated recently is a well dosed exercise of rewarding the highly deserving to highlight outstanding achievements in a wide spectrum of fields. It consistently maintains the high benchmarks and unquestionable choices of awardees of this annual exercise. In the best democracies of the world, the judicious choice of awardees are widely endorsed and acclaimed by the people.

In India’s 2022Republic day honours Iist, the Padma Vibhushan, which is the second-highest civilian award, was conferred only on four awardees. It includes (posthumously) General Bipin Rawat, India’s first chief of defence staff, who died in a helicopter accident in December 2021.The Padma Bhushan, which is the third-highest civilian award, was awarded to a select list of 17 awardees. The list inter alia included Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech’s chairman Krishna Ella and his co-founder wife Suchitra Ella, Serum Institute of India (SII) managing director Cyrus Poonawalla, Satya Narayana Nadella, the executive chairman and CEO of Microsoft, Sundararajan Pichai the CEO of Alphabet Inc and its subsidiary Google as well as a Congress opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The highly selective and carefully thought out list of persons chosen for India’s Honours list is best exemplified by the relatively few persons who have been awarded the Bharat Ratna, which is the highest civilian award of the Republic of India conferred in recognition of “exceptional service/performance of the highest order”. The Bharat Ratna has been awarded to only 48 recipients during the 68 years since the award was instituted in January 1954.

The list of Bharat Ratna recipients awarded because of their exceptional contribution includes Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Indian philosopher and statesman who served as the second president of India, former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, renowned scientists CV Raman who obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 and APJ Abdul Kalam, aerospace and defence scientist and President of India, Mother Theresa, social reformer Vinoba Bhave best known for his Bhoodan movement, ‘Land-Gift Movement’, BR Ambedkar chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Nelson Mandela, renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998, musicians Ravi Shankar. Bismillah Khan, classical vocalist Bhimsen Joshi, singer Lata Mangeshkar, industrialist and philantropist, JRD Tata and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

There are very few politicians in this exclusive list. Thus, not all Presidents or Prime Ministers have been awarded the Bharat Ratna. For example, Atal Bihari Vajpayee who apart from serving as the Prime Minister of India for three terms (principally from 1998-2004) with distinction and an acclaimed poet was conferred the Bharat Ratna only in 2015.

National Honours are the highest honours or awards that a citizen or an awardee can receive from a country for their exceptional service and outstanding contribution in their field of activity. The major democracies of the world also use very lofty criteria to award the various national honours. An indiscriminate award of the national honours can only devalue them. We need to compare, contrast and learn to benchmark our national awards on the highest norms prevailing in the best democracies in the world.

* Published in print edition on 11 February 2022

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