The Ukrainian counter-offensive against Russian troops in its eastern and southern parts has not gone as it and its Western patrons had hoped for. Ukrainian forces have been unable to dislodge the Russian army from its well defended positions leave alone push them into Russia. This has led Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to keep up the pressure, especially on the US, for more effective weapon systems. The US and its allies have not been willing to provide systems that will enable Ukraine to target internationally recognized Russian territory but have, since the beginning of the war, gradually supplied more and more effective weapons to be used against Russian forces in internationally recognized Ukrainian territory. In this context the US decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions is significant. Its objective is to make Ukrainian attacks against Russian defensive positions more potent. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that if Ukraine uses cluster munitions his own forces will use them too and Russia has sufficient stockpiles which will enable it to do so. There have already been charges that Russian forces have used cluster munitions during the on-going Ukraine war.
An international convention seeking to prohibit the use of cluster munitions was adopted in 2008 by over one hundred countries. These munitions are generally in the form of aircraft released bombs or land-based use of artillery shells. Both contain many sub-munitions encased within them. These explode over a wide area causing collateral damage and also some of these sub-munitions do not explode and become difficult to trace. They are therefore dangerous even after the conflict is over and become the cause of injuries or deaths of civilians. Some NATO countries including Britain, France and Germany are signatories to the anti-cluster munitions convention but the US, Russia and Ukraine are not. Hence, intrinsically there is nothing in the rules of war which prevent them from using them. Yet, their widespread use in the Ukraine war will intensify fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian forces and will also lead to greater harm to Ukrainian civilians. At the same time, it is difficult to visualize that these weapons can be game-changers on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, in a development which has global ramifications and especially for the developing countries dependent on Ukrainian and Russian grain, Putin has pulled out of the deal which permitted the export of Russian and Ukrainian grain. The deal which was hammered out between the Russia, Ukraine, the UN and with the good offices of Turkey allowed grain to flow through the Black Sea. Putin claims that the Western countries did not maintain their part of the bargain. He asserts that they had to lift sanctions on the global systems which allow the movement of funds to enable Russian grain exports to take place. They also had to allow their insurance companies to facilitate the movement on Russian grain on Russian vessels. According to him this has not taken place despite repeated Russian requests. Besides, the Russian authorities state that only 3% of the 30 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain has gone to developing countries which need them. The rest has actually been shipped to Europe. Thus, Russia has had suffered sanctions while the countries which have imposed them have taken advantage of the grain deal.
In order to show the seriousness of his intent Putin has over the past few days authorized aerial attacks on the Odessa port which is most important for the movement of Ukrainian grain. The ports grain handling facilities have been damaged. These attacks have been justified by Russia as retaliatory action for the Ukrainian attack on a crucial bridge joining Crimea with the mainland. While that may be the pretext the impact will be on grain prices in the more vulnerable countries. Putin may now seek to put in place mechanisms that will enable Russian grain to go to developing countries while ensuring that it does not flow to Europe. This shows that Putin is determined to also engage in a propaganda war with the West.
At a time when India is championing the cause of the concerns of the Global South and has been vocal on the impact of the Ukraine war on international food, fertilizer and energy supplies India will be deeply concerned at Russia walking out of the grain deal. On July 18 India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York had told the General Assembly that India was supporting the UN Secretary-General’s efforts to find a way out of the grain movement impasse. Clearly, the UN Secretary General has failed till now in persuading all concerned parties to keep the deal going. Now, India’s concerns will be heightened because it wishes to profile the interests of the Global South at the G20 summit in Delhi in September. Indeed, it has emphasized these concerns all through its G20 Presidency. It would therefore very much like the issue to be resolved before the summit because, if it does not, it may become one of its major controversies. That will be in addition to the formulation on the Russian invasion of Ukraine on which it will be difficult to find common ground.
Putin’s approach on the grain deal demonstrates that a greater intransigence is coming into the conduct of all parties to the Ukrainian conflict. This indicates that it is unlikely to end anytime soon especially as NATO is determined to expand. That has made the Ukraine war central to the making of a new European security architecture and that will not come about easily.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.