One year of Ukraine conflict: Changing geopolitical realities

How the world has changed since Russia decided to act in response to NATO-EU’s series of betrayals on Feb 24 last year.

| Updated: 17 February, 2023 7:59 pm IST
Russia launched special military operation in Ukraine in Feb 24 last year.

This month completes one year since Russia decided to act in response to NATO-EU’s series of betrayals.

Is ‘betrayal’ too strong a word to use? That would depend on which end we stand as we observe the landscape of the Ukraine crisis. From America’s end, expanding NATO ‘club membership’ gradually eastwards closer to the Russian heartland is realpolitik – the Atlanticist West is expected to behave in a manner that any globalist power would: expand. The Russians on the other hand, right from the time of Gorbachev until 2008-09, had their hopes propped high about a workable relationship with the West. Not friendship or special consideration; only legitimate association and a practical partnership wherever their interests aligned. In a nutshell: unfortunately after about a hundred years (from Bolshevik Revolution till 2010) of being used as and when they finally realized that Russia and Russians would never be equals in the eyes of the West. Betrayal as an expression sits just fine to describe how they might feel.

When Moscow realized that NATO would continue to orchestrate regime changes and install puppet governments or hide behind formalities like the Minsk Agreement to bolster their military roots in new territories while mass murdering ethnic Russians wherever they could, Vladimir Putin decided to act decisively. February 24 would mark one year since Russian Special Operations Forces marched into Ukraine, and knowingly or not have catalyzed a shift in the global dynamics by redefining the different rules of engagement.

Out of the many reasons, the changes are finding themselves reliant on facts like:

The partial failure of Western sanctions: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has quickly readjusted its forecast about the Russian economy. It has been accepted that the Russian economy is poised for growth in 2023 and 2024.

The complete failure of the Western propaganda industry: From Putin dying, Putin losing support, or Putin facing a coup, there has been no dearth of trials by the media to paint Putin as a failing feudal dark lord in front of the Russians. Going by Putin’s domestic ratings, it is safe to assume that Russians have junked Western mainstream media en masse.

Signs of Russian preparation for a war of attrition: Russian defence industry has been prompted to go on overdrive. There are some issues there, sure, but if successful, this might end up propelling Russia to the levels of the USSR at its peak – as one of the two most formidable militaries might in the world.

Ukraine/NATO’s inability to recover lost territories: 30% of Ukraine is gone, perhaps for good. Not only are the referendums a testimony to that, or the frenzied reconstruction – infrastructural and institutional – in the new areas under the Russian federation aimed at bringing life back to normal, but now even a section of the Western analysts have begun acknowledging and expressing the same. Recent reports have also begun communicating the Ukrainian/NATO war losses more realistically; the numbers are quite startling, to say the least.

It is beyond the scope of a single article to trace the global shift; let us just look at two of the blocs that the West considers vital to its interest with respect to Russia: the Middle East and West Europe, as they readjust their priorities.

Middle East – Israel’s changed approach became visible immediately after Netanyahu came back into power. Russia has become a major player in the Middle East since Putin decided to unleash his air force on ISIL in September 2015. Since then (and more during the phase Netanyahu was absent), Moscow’s relationship with Tehran has only gotten stronger, something that was bound to make Israel act sooner than later.

[Of special interest is Naftali Bennett: The former PM of Israel, who was fairly cold towards Russia during his tenure, has now come out and disclosed that his initiative to broker a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, which was going fairly well, was bulldozed by the Western backers in Ukraine.]

Now technically, Shia Iran’s animosity towards Israel is of an inorganic nature – one that came into being perhaps more out of political necessity first (when Israel-Lebanon trouble started), and compulsion later (with the creation of Hezbollah and their foray into Sunni Palestine). Today, while Israel has ironed out most of its differences with the major Sunni patrons like UAE or KSA, the Iran-Israel enmity stands out like an irrelevant appendage. Netanyahu is an old hand. He understands that the days of unlimited US power projection are over. He has thus taken Israel-Russia talks and engagement across a number of platforms almost on a priority basis. Some analysts think this could be to nudge Russia to roll back its defence-tech ties with Iran. If that is actually so, one remains interested to see what Israel has to offer.

While Russia has consolidated its military ties with Iran at the one end and business ties with UAE-KSA-Bahrain at the other and has been handling these two extremities within the Islamic world alright as of now, the relationship with Turkey still remains lined with issues that dwell in the grey areas – even by today’s geopolitical standards. Turkey, though thoroughly displeased with the US-EU duo, remains a NATO member; thus it has little choice other than remaining aligned with the West’s position on Ukraine. On the other hand, it is Ankara’s feeling of being backstabbed by Americans with respect to the Kurdish issue, which now witnesses Erdogan taking cautious steps towards bringing Turkey’s relations with Syria back on a walkable path based on the Adana Agreement. Russia remains the broker in this one, as Turkey remains a hopeful conduit to the Russia-Ukraine ceasefire talks when that happens.

West Europe – Of special interest is Germany. With the Seymour Hersh investigative report about how the US blew up the set of Nord Stream pipelines, and how it enlisted the help of an opportunist Norway for the same, it is amply clear to Germany about the limits of their ‘friendship’ with the USA. Equally crucially, the Nord Stream fiasco also proves that the US is happier to let Norway sell its gas to the EU, over Germany resupplying Russian gas to the mainland, just so the Moscow-Berlin axis does not consolidate. Unfortunately, statecraft has its own compulsions, and a nondescript political leader like Olaf Scholz has little choice but to comply with the larger guiding forces.

So Olaf Scholz is seeking a working alliance with President Macron of France – a statesman who has proven to be more assertive than any of his European counterparts, during the present Ukrainian crisis. Macron is having some additional help from Spain too; at the heart of which is the fact of billions of dollars of subsidies that Joe Biden is providing specifically to the US companies under the Inflation Reduction Act to make a ‘green transition’ at the expense of European companies – an issue that many think might be taken up seriously by France. In Macron, a weak leader-driven Germany perhaps sees the reflection of Charles De Gaulle – a leader who had the pluck to stand up to the USA, while Spain and Portugal perhaps are being plain hopeful about a more independent EU in the near future.

It would be a tall task for West Europe – firmly lodged within the influence zone of the USA – to afford even partial autonomy. But with the current crisis and the resultant American orchestration of an economic semi-collapse of West Europe, there are below-the-radar movements among the states. The famous Pat Buchanan once mentioned, “An economic union like the EU is not a nation. An economy is not a country… A nation is organic… For a nation to endure, its people must… share higher values than economic interests.” Europe remains, for better or for worse, a continent of nation-states, so it is only fair to expect the states to behave accordingly. Analysts and pundits that I follow and respect, are of the opinion that Europe – now fairly experienced in America’s ‘friendly’ arm twisting – needs to realize that a geographical axis between itself and Asia via Russia could be the key to its future.

Put in another way, that also means a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis first, before that extends to Beijing or New Delhi. With Algeria, Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Türkey, Egypt, Indonesia, or Afghanistan showing active interest in joining, for the hopeful there is always the BRICS.

So these are a few of the global highlights at the end of the first year of the Ukraine crisis. Whether the Western media – and that includes a major portion of the Indian mainstream media too – tom-toms it as a victory for the West or as a stalemate to Russia’s disadvantage, the manner in which key members of the globe engage with Russia these days is a sign of Moscow-Kremlin emerging as a key player in global politics. If that is the case, then little could stop New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, or Tehran from wanting to assert themselves on the global stage of the future.

[Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.]

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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