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Ukraine vs. Russia

Ukraine has suffered grievously in the war. Aerial bombardment and land battles have reduced a beautiful, picturesque country to rubble.

Devendra Saksena |

More than one hundred days have passed since the first Russian tank rolled into Ukraine. So far, there is no clear winner, and unless better sense prevails, the war may drag on for the next hundred days also. Asked what goal Russia had achieved by warfare, Dmitri Peskov, the Russian spokesman claimed that many populated areas had been liberated from the ‘Nazi-minded’ Ukrainian military. On the other hand, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that things were returning to normal, with more than fifty foreign embassies re-opening in Kyiv. Mr Zelensky bravely went on to assert that ‘victory will be ours. 

Both parties have, however, turned a blind eye to human suffering brought about by the war. According to UN estimates, more than four thousand civilians have been killed (Ukrainian estimates are much higher), 6.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country and more than eight million have been internally displaced. 

According to Western estimates, Russia has lost 15,000 soldiers along with 40,000 wounded. Apart from battlefield losses, Russia has suffered a serious loss of face; a country that claims military parity with the US has been unable to win a war against a much smaller foe, that too in its own backyard. 

Though, on paper, Russia has overwhelming air superiority, with an air force fifteen times that of Ukraine, so far, the Russian Air Force has not made much headway, losing more than 250 aircraft to US-built shoulder-fired Stinger missiles and USSR-era S-300 sur- face-to-air missile systems. Such losses have made Russian pilots risk-averse; they now launch missiles and rockets, hovering over the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea, without ever entering Ukraine. The baseline is that the Russian Air force does not control the Ukrainian air space, which would have enabled it to intervene strategically in land battles. The Russian Navy has also taken loss- es; in addition to the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Russians have lost at least five Raptor-class patrol boats, one Tapir-class landing ship and one Serna-class landing craft. Despite such losses, on the 104th day of the war, Russia controls only about 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory, which too, is confined to the Donbas region. 

However, it would be wrong to view the Russia-Ukraine strife as a David vs. Goliath battle. The entire Western world stands behind Ukraine, which has been supplied with the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry that Nato has. Beginning with easy-to-use weapons like assault rifles, howitzers and hand-held missiles, Nato has provided next-generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWs). Britain is sending M270B1 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) which use a 200lb warhead to hit targets as far away as 70 km, and Germany is sending four of its multiple rocket launcher Mars II systems and Diehl’s Iris-T air defence system, the most modern in Berlin’s arsenal, while the US is sending an undisclosed number of M142 high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARs), with a range of 80 km. By not supplying heavy weaponry to Ukraine, Nato countries have tried to avoid a war with Russia, still, they have done their utmost for Ukraine, subject only to preserving their own defence capabilities and ensuring that their advanced technology does not fall into Russian hands. The Western position was explained by Chancellor Scholz, in the following words: “Our goal is for Ukraine to be able to defend itself and succeed in doing so,” which is not the same as saying that Ukraine must win the war. 

Much of the success of the Ukrainian army is due to the excellent intelligence provided by the United States and other Nato countries. Not entering Ukrainian airspace, U.S. spy planes hover over the skies of nearby countries, monitoring Russian radio communications and troop movements. Worryingly for Russia, as a result of US intelligence inputs, a number of top Russian generals have been killed. 

In addition to the loss of military personnel and military hardware, the Russian economy is poised to fall into a deep recession, with GDP falling by 7.5 per cent. Rating agencies have downgraded Russia’s risk assessment from B (fairly high) to D (very high). Additionally, Western countries have sanctioned 5,000 entities including major Russian banks as well as the Russian central bank and selected Russian public officials and oligarchs. Combined with export control of high-tech components to Russia, these measures led to surging inflation and the fall of the rouble to a historic low of 158 roubles to a dollar on 7 March (it is back at its usual level of around 60, now). 

The world economy has also suffered; Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of wheat, barley, corn and cooking oil, particularly to Africa and the Middle East. Russia is also a major exporter of commodities, gas, petroleum products and fertilizer to most countries in the world. With supply lines disrupted, food, petroleum and gas prices have sky-rocketed the world over. EU countries, dependent on Russian energy, face significant GDP contraction, as also inflation of 5.3 per cent. The US is also affected, with inflation touching 7.7 per cent. The ill-effects of the Russia- Ukraine conflict entered Indian homes when Indian students started returning from the war-torn country. Initially, the Indian establishment, including PM Modi, saw the war as an opportunity to step into Ukraine’s shoes and push up the export of wheat and other agricultural commodities. However, a deficient wheat crop and the spectre of rising food prices have dampened our enthusiasm. 

Rather, runaway inflation, fuelled by rising petroleum and commodity prices, threatens the Indian economy and has brought the rupee to its lowest level against the dollar. 

The continuance of the Sino- Russian ‘no limits’ strategic partnership, signed just before the Ukraine war (on 4 February), shows that India cannot bank on Russian support in case of a confrontation with China. Some strategists have gone so far as to suggest that China may again embark on a misadventure in Ladakh and the North-East. Dubious as this hypothesis may appear, it may be best to keep ourselves ready for the worst China can do. More so, because Indian PMs, from Nehru to Modi, have been remiss in divining Chinese intentions. 

The Russia-Ukraine war gravely threatens the established world order because security guarantees given to a non-nuclear State have again been flagrantly violated. To explain: Ukraine surrendered Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its territory in 1994, in exchange for under-takings from Russia, America and Britain that it would not be attacked. By seizing Crimea in 2014, Russia broke that promise and by non-interference in the said conflict, America and Britain, also broke their promises. The most disturbing dimension of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is its probable consequences because at the time of the Russian invasion, President Putin clearly warned of an imminent nuclear strike. Putin went on to threaten countries tempted to interfere with consequences “such as you have never seen in your entire history.” We can only hope that Mr Putin does not put his threats into practice. 

Ukraine has suffered grievously in the war. Aerial bombardment and land battles have reduced a beautiful, picturesque country to rubble. Sadly, the Russian army has used explosive weapons like missiles, rockets, heavy artillery shells, and airstrikes in populated areas. Many dwelling places, medical and education facilities, water stations and electrical systems have been destroyed leading to grievous shortage and indescribable misery. For example, explosions in Chernihiv killed 50 civilians, and on 9 March, an air attack destroyed Mariupol Hospital No.3, killing 20 civilians, including children and pregnant women. 

Presently, according to UN estimates, 13 million Ukrainians live in the hardest-hit areas, suffering from shortages of food, medicines and shelter. Speaking at the UN Security Council, Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, noted that more than a quarter of Ukraine’s total population has been forced to leave their homes in little more than seven weeks — a speed and magnitude of displacement not seen in Europe since the Second World War. Expressing concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation, particularly that of women and children, Mr Vitorino called on both Russia and Ukraine to uphold their international-law obligations of protecting civilians, their homes and also civilian infrastructure. 

Despite the imminent probability of even greater suffering for Ukrainians, none of the Big Five, is working for peace in Ukraine. It is time the war-crazed human race remembers Mahatma Gandhi’s immortal words: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”