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Published on: March 4, 2022, 2:48 p.m.
No space to manoeuvre
  • The West is offering so many sophisticated weapons to Ukraine that Putin feels beleaguered enough to raise the spectre of nuclear war, if squeezed further

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

India is facing profound new challenges arising from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the aggressive reactions of the US, European Union and NATO. In barely a week, the situation has gone beyond the point of no return. The peace of the past 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is gone probably forever. Indian policy makers will have to return to their drawing boards to figure out a pacific space for India in the security architecture that will emerge in Europe and among the US, NATO, Russia and China.

Ominously, Putin has placed his nuclear forces on high level alert. In principle, that means some nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles will be wired together to be shot at a few minutes’ notice. Long range bombers and submarines may also put their nuclear weapons in activation mode.

This was Putin’s riposte to Western decisions to cut Russia off thoroughly from their economies. It has been banished from European banking systems, which will stifle Russia’s trade and investments. Its Central Bank has been blocked from transactions in dollar and euro currencies, which could cause a collapse of Russia’s rouble, because they dominate world trade, debt, loans, credits and national monetary reserves.

Russian access to key Western technologies is prohibited and Moscow will no longer be able to raise money in European banks or stock and bond markets. Major western investors like the BP oil company and Norway’s sovereign fund are already divesting out of Russia.

The reach of the US and the EU acting together is truly astonishing. Russians find themselves banished even from operas and football matches. European teams are refusing to play against them and musicians are refusing to play alongside them, although ordinary Russians have no influence over Putin’s decisions.  

So far, there is no risk of the US and NATO going to war against Russia to protect Ukraine. That would cause World War III. But the West is offering so many sophisticated weapons to Ukraine that Putin feels beleaguered enough to raise the spectre of nuclear war, if squeezed further.

The 27-country EU, which is a civilian trade and economic group, will finance exports of weapons to Ukraine from member countries. Amid these changes, America holds the winning hand. The 30-nation NATO alliance will become a captive market for its weapons, as frightened Europeans increase their defence budgets. Germany has already announced unprecedented expansion. America will also become the main supplier of oil & gas to Europe, especially Germany and Italy, by expanding its fracking industry, which is a larger producer than Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Fracking is harmful to the environment and natural underground water reserves. It also worsens global warming by releasing methane but, all these considerations, which were so much in the forefront at the COP26 climate conference just five months ago, are now being brushed aside. Coal industries in the US, Europe and Australia will also be expanded because drastically reducing energy imports from Russia is a major path to weakening its economic power and making it poorer.  France will build six new nuclear reactors for electricity.

  • Putin may have seen his violence against Ukraine as a limited matter to settle bilateral disputes, but it has already overturned the world’s security and economic architectures

India will not have much space to manoeuvre when the wide-ranging and deep economic sanctions come into force after the preparatory period. Delhi will have to rework trade, finance and security policies when the precise details are known, because penalties imposed by both Washington and Brussels will be severe for violating sanctions.

Putin may have seen his violence against Ukraine as a limited matter to settle bilateral disputes, but it has already overturned the world’s security and economic architectures. That is because the US-led West sees his war as an unacceptable challenge to its primacy and violation of global economic and security rules in the post-Soviet world. 

China’s Xi Jinping may continue to be Putin’s main supporter, because he distrusts Biden and the EU to the point of hostility. Faced with Biden’s determined economic warfare, the only way that Putin can survive a humiliating defeat is to delink his economy from the West and partner with Beijing. Xi is already on that path.

Delhi will not be able to sit on the fence for long. It will have to decide soon whether to be in the group of democracies, led by the US, or defy the West to preserve its traditional relations with Russia, even when Putin may end up being subservient to a hostile China.

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