Saeed Naqvi | Ukraine doesn’t expect invasion; but Biden, Boris build hysteria…

The image of the Western alliance in lockstep, ready to go for Mr Putin’s jugular, isn’t borne out by the facts on the ground

It would be bad form to describe Boris Johnson as a fugitive when he materialised suddenly in Ukraine the other day to see for himself how battle ready was President Volodymyr Zelensky to cope with Vladimir Putin’s massing of troops on his border. Yes, the British PM is so embarrassed with his “Partygate” scandal that his appearance in Kiev seemed a weak, comical effort to look engaged when the British Parliament, civil servant Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police were all on his case. Funnier still is his Anglo-Saxon cousin across the Atlantic. US President Joe Biden’s chant that should Russia invade, the retaliation (quoting Lear) “shall be the terrors of the earth”! This as Mr Zelensky implored Mr Biden: “Please don’t create panic”.

What is the problem in Ukraine all about?

Keep in mind Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II. The first brings gas from Russia to Germany; the second, when complete, will double the volume, bypassing Ukraine. Ukraine will thus be denied transit fees. This will give Russia the hold on Europe which a depleted America does not want. This may well be the nub of the matter.

Nato and subsidiary regional military alliances came into being during the Cold War. When that ended, the Berlin Wall fell. Germany had been in the eye of the storm. Note Germany’s understated centrality even in this crisis. German naval chief Vice-Adm. Kay-Achim Schonbach’s statement at a New Delhi seminar on Ukraine revealed Germany’s understanding of the crisis. He debunked US anxieties that Russia wanted to invade Ukraine. “That was nonsense”, he said. “It is easy to give President Putin the respect he really demands… and also probably deserves.”

There may have been some cheer as the Cold War ended but the West’s victory also reunified Germany, that was at the heart of two world wars. In the post-Cold War redistribution of global power, Germany possibly having a larger share of the pie was an anxiety. Japan’s economy too was at its peak. The “Axis” again? Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to Finland, was asked by a reporter: “Does Britain need its nuclear deterrent now that the Cold War is over?” She responded: “We still have a problem in the Middle East.”

The “coalition of the willing”, into which an unwilling Francois Mitterrand was dragged at the last minute, launched Operation Desert Storm to pulverize Saddam Hussain, of course, but also to put the West’s imprimatur on victory over the Soviet Union. The status quo was maintained in the global power structure. A reunified Germany was not given any space.

Similar fears again lurked in the background when the former Yugoslavia broke up. Croatia’s Cardinal Franjo Kuharic met the Pope in Rome. German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher went one better: he “recognised” Croatia, a wartime German ally, before his European allies. That set the cat among the pigeons.

The UN system was utilised to back friends like Serbia, who were with the Allies during the war. We had British Gen. Sir Michael Rose’s daily briefings from the Serbian side, until the ghastly events of Srebrenica occurred. Eight thousand Bosnian Muslims, boys and young men, were shot and buried in mass graves by Serbian soldiers.

That tragedy once again came into the limelight recently as Germany withdrew an award to Israeli historian Gideon Greif, known for his work on the Holocaust. He did not consider Srebrenica a “genocide”. Germany held back the award.

Again, on Ukraine, Germans demonstrate their own exceptionalism. Some 170 tonnes of US “lethal equipment” reached Ukraine last week. When the media mentions “several” Nato members sending arms, is France among them? Why then has Emmanuel Macron been suggesting that the EU must talk to Mr Putin? He himself is making plans to meet the Russian President.

Germany has been the most straightforward: no weapons will be sent. In the name of goodwill, it sent a full-fledged field hospital. Germany also blocked Estonia from sending German-origin weapons, according to the Wall Street Journal. This immediately invited an angry response from Ukraine.

The image of the Western alliance in lockstep, ready to go for Mr Putin’s jugular, isn’t borne out by the facts on the ground. Much of Western coherence on Ukraine is media hype. The consequences of a hurried supply of arms to Ukraine, where soldiers’ salaries are meagre, may spur an arms smuggling bonanza in the region.

Look at the other side. President Putin has China by his side now as it was in Kazakhstan earlier. When 2,500 Russian troops marched into Kazakhstan to restore order, Washington was cross. US secretary of state Antony Blinken thought he was at his invective best when he picked on Russians as guests who never leave. But Xi Jinping supported them.

Russia having moved 120,000 troops to Ukraine’s border is the prime Western grouse. This is a precursor to an invasion, regime change in Kiev and worse, proclaims the media. The Russian argument is that since 1991, 14 new members were added to Nato, mostly from the former Soviet bloc. Now Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s chief, has said Georgia and Ukraine could also be added as members.

This, for Russia, is a red line. Supposing Russia were to position nuclear weapons on America’s borders. What would Washington’s response be? Meanwhile, remember Nord Stream II which, the US state department says, will be blocked “should Russia invade Ukraine”.

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