Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which was launched on February 24 has gone on for over six months. Clearly, notwithstanding its claims, the initial objectives of Russian military and political moves have not been achieved. It has therefore been forced to accept more limited ambitions. No longer does regime change in Ukraine seems feasible. Nor, does it appear that Russia will be able to have military influence over territories beyond a major part of eastern Ukraine and over parts of the south of the country. At the same time Ukrainian military forces, supplied by long range weapons by the United States have gained a limited capacity to harass the Russian army within Ukrainian territory and also mount counter-offensives in south Ukraine.
The aim of the United States and its allies is clear: keep Russia bogged down in Ukraine and also change Europe’s security architecture. At the same time they wish to deny Ukraine the capacity to take military operations into Russian territory. By doing so they seek to ensure that Russia is not provoked to intolerable limits. It is noteworthy that right at the start of the conflict in February, Russia had warned the West to remain mindful of not provoking a nuclear weapon state to unacceptable limits. The Russian warning was blunt and crude and was uncharacteristic of a P5 country. Initially this appeared confusing for Russia is not an immature state. It is now clear that Russia was drawing red lines on the kind of weaponry which the west could supply Ukraine; it had to be such that the conflict would not be taken to Russian territory. That redline has not been crossed by the US and its allies.
Sanctions against Russia have hit the country hard. Initially, it seemed that an attempt may have been undertaken by the US and its allies to inflict such colossal damage as to compel Russia to rethink its entire Ukrainian enterprise. The sanctions also targeted rich Russians who are closely aligned with the Putin regime so that they would pressure the Russian President Vladimir Putin to change course. However, time has shown that Russia has found ways of dealing with the sanctions especially on the important energy front. India and China have bought Russian oil in large quantities and also made payments arrangements which do not involve US currency. Besides, the Russians too had a card through interrupting Ukrainian and Russian grain supplies to the world. These are essential to feed populations in many countries.
Thus, while the Ukraine war grinds on the world has been able to adjust to a new normal. As always, such adjustments are painful for many countries. They also impact on security architectures and power equations. They also bring about surprises. One such development has been Russia’s overtures to Iran through the Putin’s visit. Reports have recently emerged that Russia has purchased Iranian drones because Western sanctions are denying it some vital defence components too it. Who would have ever thought that the Russian military machine will have to look for military supplies to Iran. This also demonstrates that countries learn to live with sanctions and use their ingenuity and try to become self-reliant.
The world’s capacity to adjust to situations created by unexpected developments and fundamental changes has been demonstrated through history. Naturally, such adjustments can bring about new eras which endure for a long time or be of a transient nature. It is always very difficult initially to distinguish between the two unless it comes through a collapse of a world order which has continued for centuries or sometimes decades. In the 20th century two changes of a fundamental nature were seen. The first was through the end of the colonialism though its after effects have not vanished for the old colonial powers are still the leading industrialised and advanced countries. The second was the end of the Cold War in 1991 because of the collapse of the Soviet Union in December of that year.
More than any person Mikhail Gorbachev who died at the age of 91 on August 30 was responsible for the manner in which the Cold War ended in December 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Gorbachev become the leader of the Soviet Union in March 1985 when he became General Secretary of the Communist Party. At that time the Soviet Union remained militarily powerful though it was bogged down in Afghanistan which Gorbachev characterised as a ‘bleeding ulcer’. However, in other areas especially economic and technological the Soviets had fallen far behind the West. Gorbachev was acutely aware that it was becoming increasingly impossible for the Soviet Union to maintain the burden of the Cold War. This inevitably led to him to seek to reform the Soviet system through the policies of Glasnost (Open ness) and Perestroika (Restructuring).
History has demonstrated that it is very difficult to control the forces unleashed by reform especially in rigid, centralised and authoritarian polities. The ‘law’ of unintended consequences inevitably kicks in. Gorbachev simply found it impossible to manage the internal and external contradictions that emerged. These were naturally exacerbated by the US administrations which gave assurances which were never kept. One of these related to the unification of Germany. The Russians believed and still do that the Kremlin only agreed to the dismantling of the German Democratic Republic because of a US commitment that it would not expand NATO eastwards to come close to Russia’s borders. Indeed, one of the causes of the present Ukrainian conflict can be traced to Putin’s conviction that the West cheated Russia.
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.