1. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caught the fancy of the world and especially the Indians who are gluttonously gorging on the info buffet being offered by Indian media houses who for a change have transcended from domestic to international events. The present is always a reflection of the past and this conflict has its roots in the past and the past goes back to Tsarist Russia and not Soviet Union. The aim of this piece is to enunciate the casus beli for the present imbroglio, understand what drove Russia to take the ultimate step of a kinetic conventiona l operation and finally the effect on India. The Tsarist Russian Empire was the first expression of Russo-Germanic supremacy over Anglo-Saxon influence in Europe. The transition of Russia from an Asian medieval kingdom to a modern European nation was driven by Peter the Great.

2. Tsarist Russia began with the reign of Ivan IV “The Terrible” and ended with Nicholas II (1894–1917). What was meant to be ‘Russian’ went through changes during those years with prevailing complexes of cultural inferiority felt by the people. Russian culture has been to a great extent attributed to its unique geographical location, somewhat of a middle ground between Europe and Asia. This awareness has led to a profound ambivalence in the national psychology, assuming the form of an existential indeterminacy between Asia and the West. The geopolitical entity of the Russian Empire was fully formed by the nineteenth century. A dominant portion was located in Asia, and Russia’s imperial identity was deeply permeated with the awareness of its position in the East. Since the establishment of Muscovy as the geographical heart of a new political entity during Ivan the Terrible’s rule, the isolated and xenophobic Russians saw foreigners negatively as they failed to acknowledge the one true faith of Orthodoxy. However, the revolution brought on by Peter the Great (1682–1725) dramatically changed attitudes by the ‘Europeanization’ of Russian society, meaning Russia was or ought to be a European country. Russia’s self-image as European furthered the imperial mentality of intrinsic cultural superiority over the East. The reluctance of Europe to accept Russia as one of its own contributed to Russia’s belligerence towards Europe. This rift further exacerbated with the Russian Revolution wherein the debate about Russian national identity had no real place in the uniform communist ideology of the Soviet Union. The relationship to the West no longer mattered geographically but rather in Marxist terms; it was the progressive workers’ state against the reactionary capitalist world.

3. Russia has the unique location of being the middle ground between Asia and Europe. Geography is one reason why Russian stands to some extent alone and isolated when compared with the history of other empires. The vast, low-lying Russian plains make its geography more Asian than European. Despite having a stark contrast to Europe’s geography, the fact that Russia is on Europe’s borders makes it also a part of Europe. The Russian land was a poor base for an empire as its heartland could not sustain a great population and was remote to international trade routes, both maritime and land. However, this meant that Russia was a region that did not have a prevailing threat of conquest, but instead, the region as a whole initially experienced little resistance to its advance. The expansion in the European western and northern borderlands grew out of a fear for the security of the empire’s political and economic heartland. This heartland of Russia be it for the Tsars or the Bolsheviks centered on Moscow and St. Petersburg.

4. However, when geopolitical influence is considered, Tsarist Russia did not come close to match the control exercised by the Soviet empire. During the Second World War, Stalin and Hitler agreed on secret protocols of August-September 1939. Thus, by June 1940, the USSR’s rule extended further and new Soviet Socialist Republics entered the USSR: Karelia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova. Northern Bukovina and eastern Poland were also absorbed in the Ukrainian and Belorussian Republics. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had an array of rentier states, that is, a country that is economically, politically, and/or militarily dependent upon another state, usually a great power (USSR vs. USA). Such a relationship is bilateral and normally beneficial, with mutual though different obligations. Ukraine and Russia share a heritage that goes back more than a thousand years to a time when Kyiv, now Ukraine’s capital, was at the center of the first Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, the birthplace of both Ukraine and Russia. In A.D. 988 Vladimir I, the pagan prince of Novgorod and grand prince of Kyiv, accepted the Orthodox Christian faith and was baptized in the Crimean city of Chersonesus. From that moment on, the Russians and Ukrainians were considered “one people, a single whole” as stated by President Putin too.

5. Yet over the centuries, Ukraine has repeatedly been carved up by competing powers. Mongol warriors from the east conquered Kyivan Rus in the 13th century. In the 16th century Polish and Lithuanian armies invaded from the west. In the 17th century, war between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Tsardom of Russia brought lands to the east of the Dnieper River under Russian imperial control. The east became known as “Left Bank” Ukraine; lands to the west of the Dnieper, or “Right Bank,” were ruled by Poland. More than a century later, in 1793, right bank (western) Ukraine was annexed by the Russian Empire. Over the years that followed, a policy known as Russification banned the use and study of the Ukrainian language, and people were pressured to convert to the Russian Orthodox faith. These legacies of history created lasting fault lines. Eastern Ukraine came under Russian rule much earlier than Western Ukraine, people in the east have stronger ties to Russia and have been more likely to support Russian-leaning leaders. Western Ukraine, by contrast, spent centuries under the shifting control of European powers such as Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire — one reason Ukrainians in the west have tended to support more Western-leaning politicians. The eastern population tends to be more Russian-speaking and Orthodox, while parts of the west are more Ukrainian-speaking and Catholic.

6. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation and is one of the largest successors, by territory, population and economy, to Soviet Union. But uniting the country and developing a sense of nationalism in Ukraine has proven to be a difficult task. For one, the sense of Ukrainian nationalism is not as deep in the east as it is in west and since transition to democracy and capitalism was painful and chaotic, and many Ukrainians, especially in the east, long for the relative stability of earlier eras under the Soviets. This divide became more pronounced in 2004, a popular movement known as the Orange Revolution thwarted the efforts of then-President Leonid Kuchma with Russian support to fraudulently elect Viktor Yanukovych as his successor. Infighting and poor governance led to disillusionment with the “Orange Government” that followed and eventually to Yanukovych’s return to power in 2006. In 2013–14, protests erupted over Yanukovych’s decision to postpone concluding an association and free trade agreement with the European Union. This uprising was known as the “Revolution of Dignity”. In the protests that lasted for months, thousands took the streets and around 25,000 people camped out in Maidan, Kyiv’s central square. The protesters were beaten and shot at by the government security forces. Around 100 activists were killed by special police snipers, whom many Ukrainians refer to as the Heavenly Hundred; almost 20 police officers also were killed. In February 2014, Yanukovych’s government collapsed.

7. President Victor Yanukovych fled Kyiv and the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) appointed an acting president and prime minister who made clear their intention to draw Ukraine closer to Europe by signing an association agreement with the European Union. Almost immediately thereafter, armed men began occupying key facilities and checkpoints on the Crimean peninsula. Clearly professional soldiers by the way they handled themselves and their weapons, they wore Russian combat fatigues but with no identifying insignia. Ukrainians called them “little green men.” President Vladimir Putin at first flatly denied these were Russian soldiers, only to later admit that they were and award commendations to their commanders. The sizeable Ukrainian military presence in Crimea stayed in garrison. By early March, Russian troops had secured the entire peninsula. On 06 March, the Crimean Supreme Council voted to ask to accede to Russia. The council scheduled a referendum for 16 March which offered two choices: join Russia or return to Crimea’s 1992 constitution, which gave the peninsula significant autonomy. Local authorities reported a turnout of 83 percent, with 96.7 percent voting to join Russia. The numbers seemed implausible, given that ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars accounted for almost 40 percent of the peninsula’s population. On 18 March 2014, Crimean and Russian officials signed the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia. Putin ratified the treaty three days later.

8. Moscow maintains a historical claim to Crimea which they had colonized during the reign of Catherine the Great; they founded Sevastopol the peninsula’s main port and largest city to be the homeport for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Following the establishment of the Soviet Union, Crimea was a part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic until 1954, when it was transferred administratively to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It is also true that Crimea in 2014 had an ethnic Russian majority of about 60 percent — the only part of Ukraine where ethnic Russians constituted the majority. But it is equally true that, when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, the resulting independent states recognized one another in their then-existing borders. The Russian government justified the referendum and annexation as an act of self-determination, though it appears that well less than half of the Crimean population actually voted to join Russia. Unknown to many Russia also has sought to establish greater control over maritime regions adjacent to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, including in the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait, which connects the two seas (see Figure below). In 2018, Russian President Putin opened a 12-mile-long bridge over the Kerch Strait linking Russia to occupied Crimea. The bridge was designed to accommodate an existing shipping lane, but it imposed new limits on the size of ships that transit the strait and enables Russia to prevent passage to and from the Sea of Azov. Russia also bolstered its maritime forces in the Sea of Azov. Russia interferes with commercial traffic traveling to and from Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov in Mariupol and Berdyansk, which export steel, grain, and coal and using the same as a tool of coercion.

9. Although the Russian government denied military involvement in eastern Ukraine, Russia had 100% command and control of what was happening in the occupied areas there, armed forces, political entities and direct economic activity. Unlike Crimea, Moscow officially recognized the areas it controlled in eastern Ukraine as independent nations and quickly signed a decree making it official. The reasons for Kremlin’s actions are aimed at ending NATO expansion, a rollback of previous expansion, a removal of American nuclear weapons from Europe and a Russian sphere of influence. However, Putin may accept less. The Kremlin’s primary goal is a guarantee that Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia will never belong to a military or economic bloc other than the ones Moscow controls and that Russia will be the ultimate arbitrator of the foreign and security policy of all three states. In essence, this conflict is about whether 30 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, its former ethnic republics can live as independent, sovereign states or if they still must acknowledge Moscow as their de facto sovereign. Ostensibly, the demand for an exclusive sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the south Caucasus is to meet Russian security interests. The Kremlin has portrayed NATO expansion to the east as the original sin of post-Soviet international relations with the West that now must be rectified. Facts, alternate interpretations, and the security concerns of equally sovereign nations notwithstanding, Moscow claims that without such guarantees, it was forced to use military force to protect its security interests. Geography of Russia presents a challenge to its West, with most of its populous cities are in close proximity to NATO while the Siberian desert behind the Ural Mountains and to the East don’t provide it the much needed strategic depth from NATO. To put it in perspective the distance from Warsaw to Moscow is approx. 1250km while from Kyiv is 840km and from Donbas to Volgograd is 550km while from Kyiv it would be 1300km. Rhetorically speaking NATO is closer to Moscow and Volgograd than ever before if Ukraine jumps on to the NATO bandwagon.

10. However, five days into the conflict, the basic factor which would decide the future course of action would be morale of Russian troops as this conflict gets prolonged. The longer the Ukrainians resists the Russians, the greater its confidence may grow as well as its institutional knowledge of how to fight this enemy. In addition, the longer the war continues, the greater may be the level of international support and the greater the chance of increased arms transfers to help turn the tide on the battlefield. For Russia, the longer the war continues and the greater the casualties, the greater the chance of undermining Russian morale from the level of the basic soldier to Russian society writ large. Approximately one-third of Russian ground forces consist of one-year conscripts. These conscripts serve alongside professional soldiers, or kontraktniki, under a system of hazing known as the dedovshchina. This system is infamous for its abuses up to and including murder, which can erode unit cohesion. Additionally, heavy casualties will need quick replacements, and reservists brought to reinforce frontline units have received little recent training. As the number of professional soldiers decreases due to casualties, and reservists and conscripts increase on the front line, the chance of poor unit cohesion at the soldier level will rise. If casualties and even defeats mount, problems of cohesion at the front could be reflected in public unrest at home.

11. Every Kremlin ruler knows that one of the quickest ways to end a Russian dynasty or regime is to lose a war. While early Soviet assessments of the war in Afghanistan were hopeful, they eventually turned gloomy. As the Soviet war in Afghanistan dragged on, the costs including in blood and money were too high and outweighed any geostrategic benefits. Over the course of the war, nearly 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed, and another 35,000 were wounded. Russian families are sure to resent their soldiers being used as cannon fodder, and the ubiquitous presence of cell phone cameras and videos in today’s world will expand soldiers’ complaints beyond their units. Therefore, the question for the Kremlin will be: the longer the war grinds on and society reacts to casualties and economic duress, how much are their initial objectives worth to them?

12. United States and NATO it seems as of now prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine’s resistance no matter what form it ends up taking. There has already been public debate about unconventional warfare support to Ukraine should part or all of Ukraine be occupied. However, this option must be approached with a clear understanding of what is possible to achieve and what is not. Russia has historically proven adept at destroying armed resistance movements, and given enough time, it can do so again. Its methods against a Ukrainian resistance will be swift, direct and brutal. Any sanctuary that the resistance uses, whether it is in Ukrainian or NATO territory, could be subject to Russian overt or covert attack. Therefore, it would require the protection of substantial conventional forces to deter Russian actions in NATO territory. Furthermore, whatever portion of Ukraine’s border Russia may occupy could quickly resemble the Iron Curtain of the twentieth century, featuring heavy fortifications. The Berlin Wall was a heavily-guarded concrete barrier, which included anti-vehicle trenches, mesh fencing, barbed wire, a bed of nails, and other defenses. It will be hard to establish supply lines for a resistance across such an obstacle from any sanctuary.

13. While the Russians have been adept at anti-resistance operations, they are not adept at extinguishing nationalism. Any support to occupied Ukraine should also include means to maintain Ukrainian’s national identity, history and language among its citizens. While armed resistance would hearken to the 1980s support provided to the Afghan mujahedin, this type of support to preserve the Ukrainian nation would be more in keeping with the help provided to Polish Solidarity during its struggles for freedom. As it seems after fifth day of conflict, Ukraine it seems will potentially prevent Russia from seizing and holding all or most of its territory with U.S. and other international aid. For example, Ukraine could keep most of its maneuver forces back far enough from initial Russian breakthroughs so that they are not encircled. As Russian forces advance west, Ukraine should gain intelligence to determine Russia’s main thrusts, conduct deep strikes against its supply lines to force them into an operational pause and once they are stopped, envelop and counterattack them. Cities are holding out as in the case of Kharkiv and the capital Kyiv. Ukraine’s goal is to prevent Russia from making any significant advances before the onset of the Rasputitsa, or thaw. Once mechanized movement is ground to a halt by mud and supply problems, airborne and amphibious pockets can be eliminated, and Ukraine will have had enough time to mobilize and deploy its approximately 900,000-man reserve force. Hopefully, international aid will persist in the form of weapons systems to prevent Russia from achieving air superiority over Ukraine and allowing it to continue to strike deep into the Russian army’s rear to attrite reinforcements and supply lines. As weeks turn into months, international economic and financial sanctions should begin to take effect. The Kremlin would then be faced with a long war, on the battlefield and off it, with little end in sight. Hopefully, reason will prevail in Moscow and Russia and the talks between the warring states being held at Chernobyl would allow Russia to cut its losses and redeem a situation which has the propensity to exacerbate.

14. Where does India stand in this imbroglio is a million dollar question and wherever you view it from the hedging strategy of India and this effort to tight rope walk between Russia and USA is going to be the toughest foreign policy challenge India has faced for quite some time. The challenge is that there are no right answers and not even right questions to ask. To put it perspective India’s challenges are geo-strategic in nature where to take sides in this conflict is fraught with risks. While at the more basic level, India has no love lost for Ukraine. The proximity of Pakistan with Ukraine does color the lens with which the country is viewed by India. For a military mind Ukraine is a close ally of Pakistan. an and Ukraine established bilateral relations on 16 March 1992. According to Ukraine’s embassy in Pakistan, the relations are described as ‘dynamic, with collaborations taking place in political, legal, military-technical, economic and humanitarian domains’. There are multitude of opportunities for joint ventures between Pakistan and Ukraine. The range of possible collaboration goes from depths of sea to the extents of space.

15. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in 2017 for joint production of tanks in Pakistan. In this regard, Al-Khalid Main Battle tanks are being upgraded with the help of Ukrainian expertise. Pakistan and Ukraine have been collaborating in various defence-related projects for a considerable duration now; therefore this MoU did not come out from the blue. Dduring International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) 2018, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence Production known as UkrObronProm entered into negotiations with Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production. Talks were undertaken to expand military-technical cooperation in the field of armoured construction, particularly logistical support, maintenance, repair and supply of equipment for modernization. In addition, agreements were planned for aircraft and naval equipment, ammunition and high precision anti-tank weaponry. In the same meeting, the Deputy Secretary of National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine also informed the Federal Minister for Defence Production of Pakistan about regional geo-political developments.

16. in 2019 Pakistan’s Air Chief also stated that repair of aircraft, training of Pakistani maintenance specialists and upgradation of PAF helicopters could possibly be contracted to Ukraine. The Ukrainian delegation at the time stated that the country was ready to provide the widest possible range of aircraft repair services to Pakistan. According to defence-related news website Quwa, UkrOboronProm is working with Turkish Aerospace for upgradation of An-188. As Pakistan and Turkey are jointly collaborating on multiple projects, a tripartite agreement can be reached between the three countries for co-production and sale of an upgraded version of An-188, which Pakistan can itself later be interested in buying. Recently, Ukraine won the tender for repair of IL-78 air-refueller. Speculations were also ripe regarding purchase of an upgraded version of An-70 as a long term successor to C-130 (with co-production rights to Pakistan Aeronautical Complex). In this regard, Ukraine can aid Pakistan in establishing wide-body aircraft manufacturing facility and help the country establish the technical capacity for production of An-70 (Medium Range transport aircraft) indigenously.

17. Analysts have also postulated that the two countries can work in collaboration and look for 3rd party markets, particularly in the defence sector. If Pakistan co-funds Ukrainian programs such as manufacturing of An-77 and An-188, it will get ownership equity and a share in manufacturing for Pakistani and Ukrainian use alike. These development strengthen existing Ukrainian-Pakistani ties in the aviation industry and point towards a positive trajectory where future opportunities can be jointly taken advantage of. The result of such a cooperative venture will prove beneficial for the economic and diplomatic growth of both the countries.

18. In the sphere of economics, there is great room for collaboration between Pakistan and Ukraine and both states can work towards infusing dynamism in each other’s economy. Strong economic foundation provides the bedrock upon which developments in defence sector can be funded further. The two countries can cooperate in the field of agriculture, industry and services. Cutting-edge ventures can be undertaken in new fields and joint research undertaken to spur novel developments in the fields of artificial intelligence, quantum computing and space. In this regard, it helps that Ukraine has the 4th highest number of IT professionals and an extensive space program. It has launched six self-made satellites and developed 101 launch vehicles. It continues to further design spacecraft for export as well as domestic use. A neo-liberal model of cooperation will ensure that there are relative gains and both countries benefit in a win-win situation. This can be done by exploring each other’s strong areas. In this regard, Pakistan’s strength is in its abundance of manpower and expertise in defence sector such as development of fighter jets such as JF-17, tanks and ordnance. Ukraine’s expertise lies in medium- to long- range aircraft. Moreover, it has a strong heavy-industrial base in commercial and private vehicles. There are also opportunities for the two countries to undertake exchange visits of members of chambers of commerce and industry in order to gather a nuanced understanding of each other’s economies. These exchange visits can help in developing cooperation in respective fields. Moreover, the Pakistani diaspora in Ukraine can play a pivotal role in solidifying ties between the two countries. Recent developments demonstrate that Pakistan and Ukraine are collaborating in the spheres of economy, military-technical, politics & diplomacy and exploring joint new ventures and avenues. Expertise of both the countries in respective fields can be pooled for collaborative projects, as stated above. This will pave the way for further opportunities in various domains. The volume of bilateral trade between Ukraine and Pakistan for nine months of 2020 amounted to USD 237.5 million, which was 2.3 times higher than in 2019 and the trajectory of the relationship is North bound.

19. India and Russia share a special strategic relationship is not a secret but the Russian appreciation of India’s stand even during Crimean crisis has endeared India to the common Russian whom I spoke to while in Moscow for six months. The Russian military despite its angst on India cozying with Israel and USA for defense imports is willing to turn a blind eye just because we abstained from the UNSC vote in 2014 for UN memorandum on Crimea. The present stand on Ukraine has also found favour with Russian which have termed it ‘balanced and independent’. However the story with America is not so rosy and the Indian stand is bound to irk the US to no end. In October 2018, when India inked a US$5.43 billion deal with Russia to procure four S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, while ignoring the CAATSA. The U.S. threatened India with sanctions which have not fructified but this may be the proverbial last nail in the coffin. At a time when the United States has chosen to lead the charge against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and India has chosen not to take sides publicly, US President Joe Biden said the US and India were in consultations but indicated that differences were not resolved completely . US has impressed upon India the need for a “collective response” against what he termed as a violation of the “rules-based international order”. While we have castigated China for trying to unilaterally alter the status quo on LAC as an act of belligerence and international norms, India has stood more or less with the country which has thrown all international norms and protocols to the wind, quite a duplicitous stand one can say.

20. India has asked “all sides” to intensify diplomatic efforts to reach for an amicable solution at the earliest. This is again a time-tested line of India’s, where it doesn’t blame one side or the other. West has blamed Russia for starting the tension, and has put the ball in Putin’s court, whereas the Russian President has blamed NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat. India’s track on such occurrences has been that of balance and bipartisanship with appeal to all stakeholders to bridge divergent interests and while negotiating take legitimate security interests of all parties into account. India has consistently advocated at the United Nations the need for peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and with agreements entered into by parties concerned. So, to sum it all, it is a debate within the Indian establishment is about what to choose principles and values on one side, and pragmatism and interests on the other side. And, as a new conflict in the 21st century breaks out, India has a tough strategic choice to make with it presently caught between the rock and the hard place and no easy escape routes.




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