The Crimean war -- 21st century version

Apr 03, 2014, 08:14 IST | Vikram Sood

Among the many principles in international politics, there are a few that remain unchangeable

Among the many principles in international politics, there are a few that remain unchangeable. The first principle is, do not Grandstand if you do not have the ability to stand by those claims. The second principle is that hope is not policy. The third is that before you take on an adversary, please have a clear idea of what he thinks of himself and his nation. The fourth is that being in the right depends on how loud the voice is, and how powerful a state is. Finally, bringing about democracy is not usually the real goal; the real motives are strategic and corporate/commercial interests in a country.

Cri-mea river: Pro-Russian activists hold a placard, as they take part in a rally against the US in front of the Lenin monument in Kharkiv in Ukraine recently. Pic/AFP

The Americans have made the mistakes in Ukraine as they have made elsewhere, assuming that they could fly out, a la Superman, to rescue a hapless country from a big bad monster. The US and Europe led the campaign to interfere in Russia’s neighbourhood in the strategically and commercially vital Ukraine. The US itself invested US $5 billion to support Ukraine’s EU aspirations, which means pulling Ukraine away from Russia, encouraging the Ukrainians to take a stand against Russian interests.

When the Ukrainians did precisely that and the Russians reacted, the Americans issued loud statements which Europe faithfully echoed. They could do precious little else. The grandstanding had failed. The hope that the Russians would cower under Americans pumping the air was misplaced. The Russia of today is not the Soviet Union of Brezhnev or even Gorbachev. It is also not the Russia of Yeltsin, humiliated by a triumphant West behaving as victors and masters of the world. It was to be a New World Order where the US was the unquestioned boss. We saw American triumphalism in Iraq and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, until Iraq began to unravel, bit by bit. 

Today’s Russia is Putin’s Russia that is bold, resurgent and triumphant and, therefore, self-confident. The Americans have not fought ugly, expensive, long- drawn-out wars on their soil, for their soil, in the last 150 years, unlike the Russians have for their fatherland. A nation whose people can fight for 872 days in the Battle of Leningrad against Hitler’s famed war machine and defeat it, is not a nation that is going down, now or ever. So, when the Russians marched in and claimed Crimea as theirs, with Eastern Ukraine already pro-Russia, all the west could say was thus far and no further.

Putin did not care because for the moment, he had no intention to proceed further; but the message to Ukraine was clear, which is that Russia was the resident power that will look after its national interests, while the US was only a distant power with little stomach to put boots on the ground. Sanctions can barely work if half the world is opposed to this and some friends are sceptical about this. Sanctions are seen as a policy of exasperation, not as a policy of assertive action. Syria is the most obvious examples of how threats and red lines did not work. Russia is a far bigger adversary to take on.

The US and the rest of the rich West must understand that today there is a world beyond G-8, reduced in petulance to G-7.

There was the usual propaganda overdrive, with most of us having easy access to English language versions and much less was known about what the Russians had to say. We saw this in Iraq shortly after the invasion and during the invasion. The tune changed when it was time to withdraw. The same theme was followed in the case of Afghanistan.

American interests in Ukraine are led by US commercial and corporate interests. On January 12 this year, 50,000 “pro-Western” Ukrainians marched to Kiev, and on the same day, the US giant corporation Cargill signed a deal worth US $200 million to buy a stake in Ukraine’s UkrLandFarming. Other American mega-corporations like Monsanto, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Raytheon have substantial interests in Ukraine.

Obama’s warning to Putin that there would be costs for the invasion of Crimea was not only empty, but the real cost in all this was to American credibility, once again. One can, therefore, expect both the US and Russia to assert their rights regardless of international law. For the present, the two will work out a win-win situation for themselves until the next round, somewhere else. The End of History is going to be re-written, and sooner than later, China will also be a part of this re-writing.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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