On 24 February, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, announced that his country was under threat from its neighbour, Ukraine. Following this, Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. This is the first time since the end of World War II in 1945 that a nation has tried to expand its borders through military conquest.
In his ‘Invasion of Ukraine’ speech, Putin questioned Ukraine’s statehood and asserted that it had always been an integral part of Russia’s ‘history, culture and spiritual space’. He drew references from imperial Russia under the Tsars and blamed the Bolsheviks and their leader, Lenin, for creating Ukraine as a separate country. His speech echoed Hitler’s March 1938 ‘Anschluss Österreich’, where Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany because it had a German-speaking population. That invasion had pushed the world into World War II, which cost more than 50 million lives.
After the end of WWII, the world has seen proxy wars where two ideologies have collided often: US- led democracies vs non-democratic regimes. The Korean war (1950-1953), the Vietnam war (1955-1975) and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) were examples of these proxies where two ideologies had collided. But when Saddam Hussein tried to annex Kuwait in 1990, the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members took firm action, dissuading other nations from using military power to expand their borders.
Russia’s veto against its invasion in the UNSC and the abstention of the world’s two largest populations – India and China to condone this war crime, has left the world skeptical of the effectiveness of the United Nations as an arbiter in international conflicts. Surrounding Ukraine are Western-affiliated states, namely Germany, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, who are voicing their discontent over this event but doing little to help the nation under attack.
India is fighting the expansionist ambitions of China under Xi Jinping – at Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Just like Putin, Xi has been advocating the redrawing of borders with frequent reference to the ‘Chin dynasty’. But still India abstained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN. The lack of solidarity with Ukraine can be understood through the strong strategic position Russia holds: India is one of the largest purchasers of military hardware from Russia.
In addition, sixty five percent of Germany’s gas and 40 per cent of the EU’s gas comes from Russia’s hydrocarbon reserves in the Caspian and Volga basins. Half of India’s overall military assets are of Russian origin. Ninety percent of India’s tanks are from Russia. India’s air force consists primarily of Russian-made planes. India depends on Putin’s Russia to maintain and operate its military machine. This effectively illustrates why India chose to sideline human rights concerns at Ukraine in favour of its own security.
In major wars Russia or the USSR was India’s ally. At the time of Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, when Nixon’s USA was ready to send its fleet to defend Pakistan, USSR was the only support India had in the UN Security Council. Thus, India is reluctant to sideline its long alliance with Moscow.
The failure of US interventions in Afghanistan and previously in Vietnam have raised doubts about the extent of the country’s commitment to protect other democracies. The current dilemma is even more bleak. The US’s apparent unwillingness to help Ukraine, and the reluctance of EU powers to act with hard power, seem to question the current role of the US and EU in global geopolitics.
If international agencies do not take a strong stance soon on the Russia-Ukraine issue, the situation can spiral out of control and prove institutions like NATO and UN to be ineffective. The world may not be able to maintain its hard earned peace, as military giants will begin a game of control, to satiate their imperial ambitions.
(The writers are, respectively, Associate Professor and Dean at Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.)