World Affairs: Ukraine

The U.S.’ actions prolonging the conflict in Ukraine

Print edition : June 03, 2022

U.S. President Joe Biden signing the “Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022” in the Oval Office on May 9. This will allow the U.S. to speed up the delivery of more sophisticated armaments to Ukraine. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg

Russian President Vladimir Putin giving his Victory Day speech at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9. Photo: MIKHAIL METZEL/Sputnik/AFP

Despite growing international calls for peace in Ukraine, the brutal conflict drags on, with the U.S. doing more to sustain the hostilities than bring an end to them. The West still harbours hopes of inflicting a military defeat on Russia in its own backyard.

Even as the conflict is escalating in Ukraine, the United Nations Security Council, in a rare show of unity, unanimously adopted a statement in the first week of May expressing “deep concern” and “strong support” for the diplomatic efforts of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to find a peaceful solution. It was the first time since the conflict in Ukraine began in February that the Security Council was able to issue a statement on the subject. Russia did not cast its veto because the statement, released on May 6, described the conflict in Ukraine as a “dispute” and not a “war”, as the West has been trying to portray. Russia continues to insist that it is only conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The statement, co-authored by Norway and Mexico, stressed that all member states “have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligation to settle their disputes by peaceful means”. Speaking after the adoption of the statement, Guterres said that it was the first time that the Security Council had spoken with “one voice” on Ukraine. He said that he would continue to “spare no effort” to find a path to peace to end the conflict.

Juan Ramon de la Fuente, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.N., said that it was an encouraging sign to see that diplomacy was being once again given importance in the Security Council but stressed that the adoption of the statement on Ukraine was only an “initial step”. T.S. Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the U.N., welcomed the statement and said that New Delhi was always “on the side of peace and therefore believes that there will be no winning side in this conflict”.

The release of the statement coincided with more damaging revelations about the deep involvement of the U.S. in the Ukraine conflict. Investigative reports published in the U.S. media in the first week of May confirmed the widely held view that the major factor in prolonging the conflict has been the growing involvement of the U.S. military. A report in The New York Times quoted serving U.S. military officers as claiming that it was intelligence provided by the U.S. that was used to target and kill Russian Army generals inside Ukraine.

Also read: Ukraine conflict begins to resemble virtual NATO-Russia war

“The United States has focussed on providing the location and other details about the Russian military’s mobile headquarters, which relocate frequently,” the newspaper said. This has helped the Ukrainian Army to “conduct artillery strikes and other attacks that have killed Russian officers”. The intervention by the U.S. has had a “decisive effect on the battlefield”, according to senior Biden administration officials quoted anonymously in the report. The report said that the “actionable intelligence” input the U.S. provided had few precedents in recent military history. The U.S. media has also reported that the U.S. military was very much involved in the attack on the cruiser Moskva, one of the biggest ships in the Russian naval fleet and the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet. The Russian military continues to claim that it was an accidental fire that sank the Moskva, but most military analysts tend to believe that the ship was hit by Neptune missiles supplied by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). According to reports, U.S. intelligence supplied the location of the ship to the Ukrainians. The increasing attacks inside Russian territory targeting refineries and industrial areas by Ukrainian forces are said to have been planned by U.S. and NATO military commanders.

The latest revelations only further substantiate the allegations that the U.S. and NATO are now directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine. U.S. President Joseph Biden continues to insist that his country is not involved in either a “direct” or “proxy” war in Ukraine. “The administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield intelligence secret, out of fear that it will be seen as an escalation and provoke President Vladimir Putin into a wider war,” The New York Times said. But the fact that senior generals and officials chose to advertise the depth of the U.S. involvement in the conflict at this critical juncture sends a different message to Russia.

Many security analysts believe that the aim of the Biden administration is to goad Russia into retaliating against NATO member states in its neighbourhood. The U.S. columnist Thomas Friedman, otherwise known for his hawkish take on foreign affairs, said: “The staggering takeaway from these leaks is that they suggest America is no longer in an indirect war with Russia but rather edging towards a direct war—and no one has prepared the American people or Congress for that.”

Russia has not taken the bait from the U.S., choosing instead to focus on the immediate task of securing the two Donbas republics in the east and the southern part of Ukraine. U.S. officials admit that the Russian military has taken a restrained attitude in its assault on the east. It has gone out of its way to ensure that the minimum of damage is caused to infrastructure in the region. Even when the Russian military had surrounded the capital, Kyiv, none of its important architectural monuments or government buildings, including the parliament, were attacked.

Also read: U.S. training Ukrainian troops in Germany

Anyway, it was the U.S.’ refusal to negotiate with Russia on the Ukraine issue that led to the current conflict. All that Russia had demanded was that Ukraine not join NATO and remain a neutral country. It was mainly due to the U.S.’ encouragement that the Ukrainian government adopted a non-flexible negotiating position on NATO membership and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which would have given genuine autonomy to the Russian-speaking Donbas region. The Russian government made it clear way back in 2008 that under no circumstances would it allow Ukraine to become a NATO member.

Even as the brutal conflict drags on, the Ukrainian side shows little interest in negotiations with Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is busy reiterating that the complete liberation of Ukraine and the military defeat of Russia is the goal. On March 24, Zelensky signed a document “pledging to implement measures to ensure the de-occupation and reintegration of the Crimean Peninsula”. This means that the Ukrainian government in tandem with the U.S. wants to continue with the war indefinitely. The Crimean Peninsula is now fully reintegrated into the Russian Federation.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former two-term President of Brazil and the current front runner in the presidential election to be held later in the year, is among the growing number of leaders from the global South who have been critical of both sides in the Ukraine conflict. “I see the President of Ukraine speaking on television, being applauded, getting a standing ovation by all European parliamentarians,” Lula told Time magazine. “This guy [Zelensky] like Putin is as responsible for the war.” Zelensky, Lula said, should have taken Russia’s opposition to Ukraine joining NATO seriously and held negotiations with Putin to avoid a conflict. Lula also said that Biden could have avoided the conflict instead of “stimulating it”. Biden should “have taken a plane and gone to Moscow to talk to Putin”, Lula said.

Pope Francis blames the West

Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, also apportioned a substantial portion of the blame for the Ukraine conflict to the West. Speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra in the first week of May, the Pope said that Putin “may have been reacting to NATO’s barking at Russia’s gate”. He went on to say that the West may not have provoked Moscow’s ire “but perhaps it facilitated it”. The Pope on earlier occasions said that the war had provided the armaments industry a giant opportunity to make profits. He underlined the fact that Ukraine was being supplied with huge amounts of weaponry. “The clear thing is that weapons are being tested there. The Russians now know that tanks are of little use and are thinking of other things. That is why wars are being waged: to test the weapons we have produced,” he told Corriere della Serra.

But despite growing international calls for peace to be restored, the West is still harbouring hopes of inflicting a military defeat on Russia in its backyard. The Ukrainian government is being encouraged to keep on fighting despite the bloodletting and widespread suffering of its populace. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives, and Jill Biden, the U.S. President’s wife, join the list of Western leaders making unannounced visits to Ukraine, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau was also in Kyiv on the day the First Lady made her visit. The high-profile visits took place just before the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. Nancy Pelosi told the media in Kyiv in the first week of May that the only outcome that the U.S. wanted was “victory” against Russia.

Also read: Deepening crisis in Ukraine

The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations issued a statement after a virtual meeting in Paris on May 8 that said: “We remain united in our resolve that President Putin must not win his war in Ukraine.” In their statement, the G7 leaders announced that they planned to completely stop imports of Russian oil and gas in the near future but did not give a specific deadline, only stating their “commitment” to phasing out or banning the imports.

Western Europe continues to be the biggest importer of Russian oil and gas. The European Union (E.U.) had already announced that it would stop importing Russian oil and gas completely by the end of the year. The E.U.’s proposals on banning Russian energy imports have not gone down well with many member states, including Hungary and Slovakia, who protested loudly against the move. German industry is critically dependent on Russian gas. All over Europe, gas and oil prices have risen sharply. Any replacement for Russian gas will come at a costlier price. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that stopping the import of Russian oil would be akin to dropping an “atomic bomb” on the country’s economy. He said that Hungary needed at least five years to transition to the import of oil from other countries. For any E.U. proposal to be implemented, there has to be unanimity. For all practical purposes, the E.U.’s efforts to wean itself off Russian energy, at least in the short term, is an unachievable goal.

In his much-awaited speech on the occasion of Victory Day, which is held to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany, Putin said that ordering the limited military action inside Ukraine was “inevitable” and the “only correct decision” under the circumstances. He reminded the Russian people about the sacrifices the country had made during the last war and the great victory they had achieved. He mentioned the Ukrainian and Belarusian cities like Kyiv, Minsk and Kharkiv that the Soviet army liberated from German occupation. He emphasised that the Russian soldiers fighting in eastern Ukraine were fighting “on their land”. The Russian military has already established a land corridor connecting the Crimean Peninsula to the Donbas region. “You are fighting for the motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War, so that there is no place in the world for executioners, punishers and Nazis,” Putin said in his message to the soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

Also read: New challenges for NATO as Finland, Sweden inch closer to membership

Putin described the U.S. as “the true aggressor”. He said that the U.S., especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, had started talking about “its exclusivity” in international affairs “thereby humiliating not only the whole world but its satellites, who have to pretend that they do not notice and meekly swallow it all”. Putin’s defiant speech is an indicator that the conflict in Ukraine may not end any time soon. Despite predictions to the contrary and in the face of continuing provocations from the West, Putin did not make any moves to widen the conflict. Many Western commentators and pundits had predicted that Putin was on the verge of declaring an all-out war against Ukraine. Russia, however, remains focussed on further consolidating the military gains its forces have made in eastern and southern Ukraine.

And on the day the Russian President made his speech from Red Square, his American counterpart signed a Lend-Lease agreement to speed up the delivery of more sophisticated armaments to Ukraine. It is only the second time that a U.S. President has signed such an important agreement. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the last one 81 years ago at the height of the Second World War. Under the agreement, the U.S. sent huge amounts of armaments to the major allied powers fighting Nazi Germany. Biden has proposed an additional military aid package of $33 billion for Ukraine. The U.S. Congress wants to add on another $7 billion to the package. This is yet another concrete signal that the U.S. does not want the conflict in Ukraine to end any time soon.