A year after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the two adversaries and other main players in the conflict marked its first anniversary by proclaiming that the war would go on. Indeed, there are few signs of de-escalation happening anytime soon.
In a state of the union address to the Russian people on February 21, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was prepared for a long-drawn-out “step by step” war if necessary.
On the same day, US President Joseph Biden was in Kyiv to show continued solidarity with the Ukrainians. He said the war would go on for “as long as it takes” to achieve victory against the Russians. A couple of days later, on February 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in an address to his nation, said the defeat of the Russian forces was “inevitable”; he was “certain” of it.
The US followed up on Biden’s visit with the announcement of another $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also visited Kyiv to mark the first anniversary of the conflict.
A new spring military offensive by the Russians is under way. The Ukrainians, armed with the latest Western-supplied weaponry, have replied with a counter-offensive. The Ukrainian government has reiterated that the war will end only after all lost territory, including the Crimean Peninsula, is regained. The country’s National Security Chief, Oleksiy Danilov, told a British newspaper that the war will only conclude after Ukrainian tanks are parked in Moscow’s Red Square.
ALSO READ: Is this Cold War II?
Military casualties on both sides have been high in what is turning out to be Europe’s most devastating war since the Second World War. At one point last year, the Ukrainian authorities admitted they were losing over 100 soldiers a day.
The scale of suffering caused by the war seems to be heavier on Ukraine’s side. Its economy has contracted by 35 per cent or more, despite $45 billion in aid. The Russian economy has contracted by 2.5 per cent, belying the IMF projection of 8.5 per cent. Civilian populations in Ukraine and the separatist Donbas region have suffered the most in the last one year.
Ukraine, which has been armed and equipped by the collective West at a cost of over $100 billion, is dependent on the West to keep its economy running. Its infrastructure is in a shambles after Russia targeted the country’s energy grid in October following the Ukrainian attack on the vital Kerch bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian mainland.
What led to the war
In the din of war, the root causes of the conflict have faded into the background. Western governments and the media controlled by them project Russia as the aggressor. Yet, the war follows a long history of provocations directed at Moscow. NATO announced in 2008 that the process to admit Ukraine and Georgia in the alliance had started. President Putin responded that NATO membership was a “red line” as far as Moscow was concerned. The “Maidan revolution” of 2014, which overthrew the elected President of the country and installed another pro-Western regime on Russia’s doorstep, also laid the ground for an eventual armed conflict.
Russia’s final straw was the non-implementation of the Minsk I and II accords of 2014 and 2015, brokered by Germany and France. The accords got the government in Kyiv and the Russian-speaking separatists in the east to agree to a ceasefire. The government committed itself to granting greater autonomy to the Donbas region. Even in February last year, weeks before the conflict broke out, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the Minsk II agreement was “the only path on which peace can be built”.
Yet, the West was only using the Minsk agreement to give the government in Kyiv time to rearm and go on the offensive to reclaim territory it had lost since 2014, including Crimea. Angela Merkel, then the German Chancellor, and President Francois Hollande of France were signatories to the Minsk accord. Merkel told a German newspaper in December last year that the Minsk agreement was facilitated to give Ukrainians “valuable time” to build up their armed forces. The US and Britain were busy arming and training the Ukrainian army from 2014. For all practical purposes, Ukraine had become a de facto NATO member, as Zelenskyy has been repeatedly asserting.
Russia’s war goals at present appear confined to integrating the four oblasts in Eastern Ukraine and ensuring that Ukraine remains neutral. Only 1,90,000 Russian troops were deployed initially in February 2022. That was not sufficient for either militarily defeating the Ukrainian army or taking Kyiv. Putin’s military goals from the outset were limited to the Donbas region. Russia is addressing its legitimate security interests in Ukraine.
President Putin’s February 21 speech noted that the “special military operations” in Ukraine were ordered, inter alia, to forestall “punitive action” by the Ukrainian military against the Donbas region. One of Ukraine’s stated goals is the retaking of the Crimean Peninsula, which hosts Russia’s only all-weather naval base of Sevastopol.
Support for Putin
Opinion polls show that the Russian public is solidly behind Putin’s government. Putin has warned that Russia’s military goals will expand if the West provides more offensive weapons to Ukraine. Nationalism has been a force multiplier for both Ukraine and Russia.
Interestingly, Ukraine was prepared for talks soon after the conflict started. But major NATO countries with their longstanding anti-Russian agenda, notably the US, the UK, and Poland, saw to it that there was no early resolution. According to Ukrainian media reports, the surprise visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Kyiv in April last year thwarted a quick diplomatic solution. Johnson, with US support, pressured Zelenskyy into rejecting the mediation efforts that were then under way.
ALSO READ: A virtual NATO-Russia war
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet visited Moscow and Kiev in March 2022 to mediate a ceasefire. According to Bennet, Putin had made “great concessions” after Zelenskyy said he would be willing to give up the bid for NATO membership.
Moscow had no objections if a “neutral” Ukraine followed a pro-Western foreign policy provided that it did not formally join NATO and allow US military bases on its territory.
Talks hosted in Turkey in April 2022 also showed some positive signs. But on April 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that some NATO countries wanted the war to continue despite Russia agreeing to withdraw to its pre-February 24, 2022, lines.
Western unity fraying
However, as the war drags on, Western unity is fraying and calls for talks have become more frequent. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has again called for negotiations, saying that the war has been detrimental to European interests. US public support for the war is also ebbing fast. According to a report in TheWashington Post, even the Biden administration, despite its “as long as it takes” rhetoric, has told Ukraine that there are no guarantees for unlimited military support.
The Biden administration is informally urging the Zelensky government to show some military gains on the ground. Despite the huge Western military aid, Ukraine has been on the defensive since August.
Europe’s economy is expected to grow less than 1 per cent this year. The British economy is set to contract by 0.6 per cent. Countries with large economies that remained neutral in the conflict, such as India and China, have not felt the impact as much as the rest of the global south.
People in major European cities are taking to the streets because of the cost-of-living crisis precipitated by the conflict. Energy prices have doubled in the last one year for European domestic consumers.
The RAND Corporation, funded mainly by the Pentagon, is among the American think tanks pushing for a more pragmatic solution. It feels that a prolonged war is hurting everybody’s interest, including Washington’s.
Some voices continue to be hawkish. Some US commentators say that the only way Washington can help Kyiv win the war is by putting American and NATO troops on the ground. Already, thousands of NATO trainers, contractors and mercenaries from NATO countries are helping the Ukrainian army. The Kremlin and many experts on the region have been saying that Washington’s ultimate goal is to balkanise Russia. The NYT in a recent editorial openly called for the disintegration of Russia: “Russia will not be democratic unless it falls apart.”
Who is gaining?
American oil and gas companies have seen their profits boom in the last one year. President Macron has said that the US is a producer of cheap gas but sells it at a high price to allies in Europe. The other big winners are American arms manufacturers. JPMorgan Chase, the leading US banking company, has signed an agreement with the Ukrainian government to rebuild and develop the country. It is one of the major investors in the armaments company Raytheon, which has raked in immense profits from the war.
Western military and strategic analysts concede that time is not on Ukraine’s side. But top American officials continue to publicly egg on the Zelenskyy government to continue fighting and turn down offers of talks. American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was among those who said that Ukraine would be going on the offensive to retake the breakaway regions of Donbas and Crimea.
Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of Political Affairs, has openly endorsed Ukrainian attacks on targets in the Crimean Peninsula. Her role in the Ukrainian conflict has been well documented. Donald Trump in a campaign video released in late February blamed Nuland for igniting the crisis in Ukraine. He said that Nuland “was obsessed with pushing Ukraine towards NATO” and warned that “World War III has never been closer than it is right now”.
US playing big brother
Macron has said Russia should be defeated in Ukraine but “not humiliated”. Since the outset of the conflict, he has called for continuation of the dialogue process. Germany’s leadership has capitulated to Washington, albeit under duress. Germany was arm-twisted into sending its Leopard Tanks into the Ukrainian battlefield by Washington. Germany and Japan have used the Ukraine war to considerably expand their defence budgets.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who belongs to the nominally anti-war Green Party, actually admitted that Europe was engaged in a war with Russia. The Ukraine war has conclusively proved that the so-called “strategic autonomy” enjoyed by the EU in foreign affairs is a myth. The US calls the shots and controls NATO.
The deathly silence in European capitals after the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline is an illustration. The results of the inquiry conducted by Sweden and Denmark have been deliberately kept under wraps. Seymour Hersh’s well-documented expose has brought the American and Norwegian role in the operation to light. A multibillion-dollar gas pipeline, which till the beginning of the last year provided Germany with the bulk of its gas supplies, was destroyed with impunity.
Now most of western Europe is forced to depend on more expensive gas from the US and Qatar.
Neutral Global South
Despite tremendous pressure from the West, the Global South has preferred to remain neutral. The war has had a very adverse impact on the economies of developing countries. Supply of grain and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine, on which many countries were heavily dependent, has been badly affected.
ALSO READ: An opportunity for the global south?
Juan Manuel Santos, former Colombian President and Nobel peace laureate, said recently that the West’s almost exclusive focus on Ukraine has been detrimental to the developing world’s interests: “Ukraine is sucking all the energy, when there are more than hundred conflicts raging round the world.” Santos said that the dream of Ukraine winning the war was unrealistic “because armies and populations become exhausted and conflicts become unsustainable”. He also said that the West’s constant references to the UN Charter smacked of hypocrisy.
The struggle of the Palestinians, for instance, does not spark the same level of intensity in Washington and Western capitals, he noted. War-ravaged Yemen is facing even more hunger and malnutrition as a result of the Ukraine war, which disrupted food supplies. Fifteen African countries imported half of their wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine. Western sanctions are still hampering Russian fertilizer exports to drought-affected sub-Saharan Africa.
- There is no end in sight to the war in Ukraine as the two adversaries and other main players in the conflict mark its first anniversary (February 24) by proclaiming that the war will go on.
- The US is still egging on Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to keep up his belligerent posturing and propping up his regime with aid and armaments, but Western unity is starting to fray and calls for peace talks are becoming more frequent.
- Amid the din of war, it is often forgotten that the conflict started as a move by Russia to address its legitimate security concerns in the region.
- Meanwhile, American oil and gas companies and armaments companies are profiting from the war, but European populations are restive as the conflict pushes up prices of energy and essentials.