The Ticking Clock - The Statesman

The Ticking Clock

Ukraine war, Russia, Middle East, United States, Russian Defense Ministry

Representational image [Poto:SNS]

The first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine War has come and gone ~ with horrifying promises of escalation by the main players ~ Russia, USA, and NATO. Sadly, public opinion, the world over, has become inured to the war, and more disturbingly, to the human tragedy behind the war. Outside Ukraine and Russia, no one seems to care even if the war lasts till kingdom come. Deaths have become statistics trotted out by TV anchors; the public is hardly moved when towns with unpronounceable names change hands between Russians and Ukrainians. If the war was a TV show, one could say that viewer fatigue has set in.

The reality is depressingly grim; according to reliable statistics, though disputed by the warring parties, around 200,000 soldiers of each side (including Wagner mercenaries on the Russian side) have died or have been wounded. Sadly, 30,000 civilian deaths are reported from Ukraine and 8.1 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland and 7 million have been internally displaced. Ukraine, once a prosperous, picturesque country, has been reduced to rubble.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine impacted countries all over the globe ~ many of whom had nothing much to do with either combatant. The global economy suffered; before the war, both Russia and Ukraine, were major exporters of wheat, barley, corn and cooking oil, particularly to Africa and the Middle East. Russia was also a major exporter of commodities like gas, petroleum products and fertiliser to most countries in the world. With Russia and Ukraine blocking each other’s ports in the Black Sea, prices of food, petroleum and gas skyrocketed. Some of the poorest countries in the world, that were dependent on World Food Program (WFP) for food grain supplies, were the worst hit, because WFP sourced half its wheat from Ukraine. Combined with a drought in the Horn of Africa, 80 million people stared at an impending famine. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that if the war continued, food inflation would degenerate into food shortages, the world over.


The West did not remain unaffected; EU countries, dependent on Russian energy, faced energy shortages, significant GDP contraction, and double-digit inflation. The US economy was similarly affected, with recession looming in the background and inflation raging at 8.3 per cent. However, with time, most rich countries have worked around the economic crisis brought about by the Russia-Ukraine War.

Initially, US sanctions had crippled Russian energy exports but ignoring US sanctions, India and China benefited from the sanctions by purchasing Russian oil at highly discounted rates; that also prevented a Russian economic collapse. European countries made alternative arrangements for their energy needs, like purchasing processed Russianorigin petroleum products from neutral countries, like India. In fact, as on today, Western economies have broken the cycle of runaway inflation and are doing much better than before. Poor African and Asian countries, like India’s neighbours, continue to suffer untold hardships, but that is not a priority for the developed world.

Arms manufacturers, the world over, are in clover. A year-long high intensity war, which shows no signs of ending, has sent the profits of arms manufacturers soaring to stratospheric levels. Plus, there has been the unexpected bonanza of testing hardware in live battlefield conditions.

Oil companies have recorded windfall profits. The US has benefited by capturing the energy market in Europe from the Russians. Mercenaries, like the Wagner group are rolling in money by supplying convicts and other cannon fodder to the warring countries.

There have been unexpected benefits also. Initially, in the wake of the Ukraine war, many countries re-opened polluting coal gas plants, others subsidised high gas prices, so that their citizens could face the winter.

But, realising that fossil fuel supplies are finite and controlled by many imponderables, most countries have hastened a switch-over to renewable energy.

The US Inflation Reduction Act provides US$369 billion subsidies for renewable energy, the European Commission plans similar subsidies of US$270 billion, India is committed to a goal of 500 GW renewable energy capacity by 2030, which would be 50 per cent of its installed capacity, China has overcome its fascination for coal powered power plants, setting a goal of 33 per cent for renewable energy in power generation, by 2025.

According to the Economist, the Ukraine war has accelerated the transition to renewable energy, by an unbelievable five to ten years.

But there can never be a beneficial war; a good war is a contradiction in terms. So convincingly has Western media portrayed the Russia-Ukraine War as a dharmayudha ~ a war between good and evil ~ that many traditionally neutral countries have joined the fray; Switzerland has shed its more than two century old neutrality to facilitate arms supply to Ukraine, and Scandinavian countries are lined-up for NATO membership. On the other hand, motivated by a desire to displace US as numero uno in the world order, China is wholeheartedly supporting Russia and according to NATO, is on the verge of supplying arms to Russia. More and more countries are being drawn into the conflict, with only a handful like India remaining steadfastly neutral.

Undoubtedly, the spectre of the entire world divided into two opposing camps, does not augur well for world peace. Peacekeepers are rightfully concerned; since the day Russia invaded Ukraine, on 24 February 2023, the UN and its bodies had voted on 38 resolutions pertaining to the RussiaUkraine war, the last one being a resolution in the General Assembly on 23 February 2023, demanding that Russia “immediately” and “unconditionally” withdraw its troops from Ukraine: 141 countries voted in favour of this resolution, 32 abstained, including China and India, and seven ~ Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, Mali, Nicaragua and Eritrea ~ opposed. The UN could not take any concrete action because Russia twice vetoed resolutions ~ on 25 February 2022 and 30 September 2022 ~ in the UN Security Council. Notably, India abstained on both occasions.

The statement of the Indian envoy to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj on 23 February 2023, beautifully sums up the futility of the myriad UN resolutions: “Has the UN system, and particularly its principal organ, the UN Security Council, based on a 1945-world construct, not been rendered ineffective to address contemporary challenges to global peace and security? Are we anywhere near a possible solution acceptable to both sides? We will always call for dialogue and diplomacy as the only viable way out. While we take note of the stated objective of today’s Resolution, given its inherent limitations in reaching our desired goal of securing lasting peace, we are constrained to abstain.”

Even while coming together against Russia, NATO members, like France, are asking India to use its good offices to end the war. Such a stand is farcical, NATO is spearheading the Ukrainian war effort; NATO countries are feeding the fire, supplying the latest weapons in their arsenal to Ukraine; the war could end tomorrow should NATO wish so. After repeatedly talking of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine, on 21 February 2023, President Putin announced suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 2011, that had placed verifiable limits on intercontinental-range nuclear weapons. This is a dangerous portent; with US President Biden visiting Kyiv and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi visiting Moscow and promising unstinting support to their proxies, the Russia-Ukraine war looks set to escalate, and God forbid, go nuclear.

But, maddened by their hatred of Putin and Russia, and wishing for a Russian defeat, Western media is deliberately playing down the threat of nuclear war, going to the extent of running headlines like “Putin’s Hollow Nuclear Threat” (US News); such brinkmanship bodes ill for the rest of the world. Russia is no ordinary adversary, it has 890,900 active personnel, 250,000 paramilitary personnel and at least 250,000 reserve personnel. Additionally, Russia has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Probably, all parties to the conflict have forgotten Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan’s joint declaration: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Significantly, this declaration was re-affirmed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Biden and the leaders of China, France and UK in January 2022.

The world waits with bated breath while superpowers decide its fate, because a nuclear war anywhere, can wipe out the entire human race. As Noam Chomsky had said: “There are two problems for our species’ survival ~ nuclear war and environmental catastrophe ~ and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly.”
(The writer is a retired principal chief Commissioner of Income Tax)