US desperate to cut Russia to size over Ukraine, but odds favour Putin

The real issue goes beyond Ukraine; over the past decade Russia has re-emerged as an obstacle to the global strategy of the Western alliance

Whether Russian Vladimir Putin intends to invade Ukraine, as the West claims, is not known, though he has publicly asserted that won’t happen.

The US-led West is again doing what it does best – sounding the drum beat of conflict. And, this time, the arena: Ukraine. For the last few weeks, not a day has gone by without a missive of some kind from Washington or its allies, warning Russian President Vladimir Putin to lay off Ukraine.

Whether Putin intends to invade Ukraine, as the West claims, is not known, though he has publicly asserted that won’t happen. But the real issue goes beyond Ukraine. Over the past decade Russia has re-emerged as an obstacle to the global strategy of the Western alliance.

Though not yet in the category of Cold War 2.0, the situation is rapidly headed there, given that Russia is standing up against the US-led West that would like to see itself dominating the world.

Until 2014, it was pretty smooth sailing for the US and its NATO allies.  Having done its bit to break the Soviet Union, the western allies took control of the Balkans in the 1990s and, among other things, presided over the breakup of Yugoslavia.


Needless attack on Iraq

A shock attack by the al-Qaeda in the form of the 9/11 strikes on Washington DC and New York proved to be the lone discordant note. Leveraging the attack and ‘misusing’ the world’s sympathies, the US invaded Afghanistan and then went on to needlessly occupy Iraq.

Also read: Crisis in Ukraine a showdown of two world views

Afghanistan may have been a response to a bruised ego, but the invasion of Iraq was completely without justification – possibly the most unfair invasion that the world has witnessed in modern times. The US’ aim was to dislodge Iraq President Saddam Hussein from power and it used subterfuge to achieve its goal.  None could question the US, and a traditional rival like Russia, still suffering the consequences of the Soviet breakup, remained silent.

The situation changed quite unexpectedly for the West in 2014, at the height of the civil war in Syria. A popular uprising which had broken out three years earlier degenerated into a bloody state reprisal against its own people. The rebels were in control and it appeared that President Bashar al-Assad was counting his last days in office.

The Syrian rebels were openly backed by NATO forces and the US with military equipment and training. That is when Russia woke up from its wounded slumber and entered the conflict on the side of al-Assad. The balance quickly tilted in favour of al-Assad and over time the revolt all but fizzled out.

The US-led backers of the civil war were unable to push through their agenda as the rebels themselves split into various factions in a self-defeating development.

Russia’s apprehensions

Simultaneously, Russia turned its attention on its neighbourhood Ukraine, which was rapidly being taken over by the US-led West after similar attempts in Georgia. The ‘US coloured’ revolutions backed by the West unseated the pro-Moscow governments in Georgia and Ukraine and it was but a matter of time before they joined NATO.

Already nursing the ignominy of being dismembered, Russia was determined not to allow its neighbourhood to be overrun by the West. Six years after it waged a war against Georgia, in 2008, to settle a border dispute, Moscow captured parts of the disputed territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine. It capped its reaction by annexing the crucial port city of Crimea.

Also read: Why Soviet cousins Russia, Ukraine are on the brink of a war

By responding aggressively, Russia hoped to tell the West it would not allow itself to be treated like a pushover.  Putin’s fears were not without basis. The Donald Trump administration in 2019 planned to invest nearly $900 million to improve military infrastructure in Eastern Europe abutting the former Soviet states with a view to quickly intervening if a conflict broke out.

Though Washington touted it as a deterrent move, Russia saw it as an act of aggression. Since then, the situation has heated up to a point now when a conflict is in the air. Russia has made known its reservations about the US expansionist plans, and that’s one reason why it categorically does not want Ukraine to join NATO.  It cannot afford to have the US on its doorstep.

A politically dominant Russia

The US is unable to countenance resistance from Russia and is attempting to push it into submission by raising the spectre of war and attempting to justify its moves to pull Ukraine into the Western alliance.

For the West, it is imperative not to allow Russia to grow politically dominant. The result: Ukraine has turned into a tug-of-war between the two conflicting interests.  The US has already had a taste of how things will be if Russia emerges as a big power, going by events in Syria and Iran. Washington has been unable to push its anti-al-Assad agenda in Syria and control Iran’s nuclear ambitions as both are firmly backed by Russia.

To make matters worse for the West, China in recent years has emerged as another major power centre with close ties to Russia, and a simmering hostility with the US-led allies.  Washington and its cohorts have met with limited successes in recent years. Their humiliating exit from Afghanistan last August besides the inability to manoeuvre the Arab uprising to their advantage in Syria have shown there are limits to their power.  The US is forced to challenge Russia, lest Moscow emerges as the power it used to be as part of the Soviet Union.

India caught in a bind

Already, the implications of a rising Russia are visible around the world. India, which in the last two decades had moved closer to the US-Israel axis, is caught in a bind. Having been a traditional ally of the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russia, it continues to be dependent on Moscow for its defence needs.

New Delhi also hopes to use Russian goodwill with China in the event of a crisis across the border. And, if at all there is any chance of India retaining a foothold in Afghanistan, that will come about only with Russian help. At the same time, India is now close to the US – as can be seen by its role to police the Pacific at the behest of Washington and of being part of the US-led Quad.

India can neither antagonise Russia nor the US-led West. No wonder the External Affairs Ministry merely put out a bland statement without taking sides on Ukraine, expressing hope that a peaceful solution would be found to the ongoing tension in the region.

But if the US-Russian tensions worsen and New Delhi is forced to take a stance, it would place the government in an unenviable position – losing out whichever way it takes a call.

Also read: Why India should support Russia in its standoff with the West over Ukraine

In the case of Ukraine, the US and its allies have raised their stakes to a point where they cannot back off. Doing so would hurt the perception of their prowess vis-à-vis the East. At the same time, they cannot move forward with plans to admit Ukraine into NATO without antagonising Moscow and risking an invasion.  The situation is on a knife’s edge. There is talk of extensive US sanctions against Russia if an invasion does happen but that could boomerang on Western economic interests as well.

The only face-saver would be to let the stalemate continue and allow the heat to die down. The centrepiece of action, Ukraine, would want this more than anything else as otherwise it will get embroiled in another round of conflict, something it can well do without.