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Published on: Jan. 19, 2022, 2:35 p.m.
Europe’s nightmare
  • Growing tension: Putin has massed roughly 100,000 troops and heavy weapons near Ukraine’s border

By Brij Khindaria. The author is an international affairs columnist for Business India

Europe is on the brink of another war, this time between Russia and Ukraine, which could turn into long proxy war between the United States and its European allies against Moscow on Ukrainian territory.

India would inevitably suffer massive economic, trade and financial losses since it has very longstanding economic, cultural and business ties with Europe, the US and Russia. It may not be able to sit on the fence if a Ukraine war expands into a great power conflagration. That is a real possibility.

Current prospects of avoiding a war inside Ukraine are slim because US domestic politicians are strongly influenced by Russia hawks. A confident Moscow is ignoring President Joe Biden’s threats of arming Ukrainians against Russians and slapping draconian financial sanctions against Russia.

A proxy war would utterly devastate Ukraine and turn it into another Syria on the edge of Europe. It will also weaken Russia but not enough to make it toothless. Tension is growing daily because President Vladimir Putin has massed roughly 100,000 troops and heavy weapons near Ukraine’s border, which the West fears could signal an imminent invasion.

Russia is also preparing military exercises with Belarus, which has a border close to Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev. Moscow denies any plans to attack Ukraine but is piling on the pressure because Washington has rejected its demands that NATO, the US-led military alliance, stop its expansion close to Russia’s borders and stop placing military advisors in Ukraine.

India will find itself under intense pressure to take sides even if the war does not spill out of Ukraine. Europe has been largely peaceful during the past 70 years but could become frozen in a new Cold War with Russia and another one with China as the venom of hatreds spreads. A bigger conflagration would be a very short step away.

Europeans have already visited upon humankind the two most dreadful wars ever, the First and Second World Wars of the 20th century’s first half. The wars caused the deaths of more than 3 million Indians and millions of other non-Europeans. An unprecedented Holocaust was visited upon Jews and a genocide upon gypsies and homosexuals.

President Joe Biden’s people seem to be treating the massing of Russian troops outside Ukraine as a cry by Putin for Biden’s attention. This is a mistake. What Putin wants now is to ensure that the US no longer arms NATO members against Russia and will never use Ukraine, a non-NATO country, as a proxy to threaten Russian security.

Russia looks weak to some in Washington because its economy is just 10 per cent of America and 5 per cent of the 30 NATO allies. Its annual military spending is around $70 billion compared with a combined $1.2 trillion spending of NATO members, including more than $800 billion by the US.

But Russia’s weapons and war fighting technologies are not far behind those of the US, France, Britain, Italy and Germany, which are NATO’s main military powers. It is also formidable in asymmetrical warfare combining conventional weapons with cyber, propaganda, espionage and other methods.

  • If Putin occupies all or parts of Ukraine and the US and NATO arm rebels to push Russia out, a new Syria or Libya devastated by proxy warfare would emerge in Europe

NATO was created to deter and, if necessary, fight the former Soviet Union, which collapsed 30 years ago. After that, NATO lost its reason for existence but continued to expand by incorporating former Soviet states. Now, modern Western missiles could conceivably reach Moscow in less than 10 minutes.

Putin has put Biden in a bind over Ukraine. Whatever Biden does, he runs the risk of creating divisions among his European allies, all of whom fear pushing Putin’s back too far against the wall. Even severe economic sanctions well short of war could do that.

Biden would be wise now to give written legally binding assurances to Putin that NATO is not aimed against Russia. He should also agree to not arming any country for hostilities against Russia. Verbal assurances are no longer enough. In exchange, Russia should make similar pledges.

There is no need to change the entire security architecture of Western Europe. The need is only to reassure Russia in writing that the US-Europe military alliance is not aimed against it.

If Putin occupies all or parts of Ukraine and the US and NATO arm rebels to push Russia out, a new Syria or Libya devastated by proxy warfare would emerge in Europe. Millions would flee to Germany, Austria, France and Britain creating unprecedented refugee crises, which are a nightmare for European leaders. 

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