The post World War-II rivalry between the United States and the erstwhile USSR inaugurated a Cold War or rather an icy peace in Europe that became the principal battleground of this confrontation that soon enveloped the rest of the world as well. (Representational image/ AFP)
Europe witnessed unprecedented devastation during both the First and Second World War. It grappled with the spectre of the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinist Terror in the interregnum between the two Wars. It bore mute testimony to the holocaust in which millions of Jews were put to death with clinical efficiency in the most horrendous manner possible.
Post 1945, the victorious Western Allied Powers, principally the United States and Great Britain, set about creating a new international system with the founding of the United Nations in October 1945. No sooner had this process commenced that an Iron Curtain descended across Europe. In the words of Winston Churchill, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."
The post World War-II rivalry between the United States and the erstwhile USSR inaugurated a Cold War or rather an icy peace in Europe that became the principal battleground of this confrontation that soon enveloped the rest of the world as well. However, with the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as the key theological foundation of a nuclearised world, the peace in Europe, by and large, held. While there were conflicts like the one in Northern Ireland that were violent, things generally remained tranquil.
This calm was shattered from 1991 to 2001 by what is loosely referred to as the Yugoslav Wars or the Balkan Wars. However, the horrors of this conflict got drowned in the larger euphoria of the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and East Europe. Even as wars and conflicts continued to rage across large parts of Asia, Africa, Latin and South America, the Europeans concentrated on building institutions that would integrate the nations of Europe much more closely with each other. Beginning with the European Economic Community in 1957, it soon led to a range of structures, the European Union, European Parliament, Euro as a currency and the European Council, to name but a few.
However, what was missing was a common and unified European Security architecture. The North Atlantic Treaty organisation (Nato) brought into existence in April 1949 with the United States as its fundamental linchpin continued to be the security guarantor of the first and last resort even after the Soviet threat temporarily receded post its dismemberment in 1991.
Buoyed by the end of history rhetoric penned by Francis Fukuyama in which he stated "what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government", Nato started expanding eastwards and in three large waves accommodated within its ambit many of the erstwhile Soviet republics and satellites that Moscow once regarded as its own sphere of influence.
While Germany retained membership of Nato post its reunification, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined the alliance in 1999. In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia hitched themselves to this treaty organisation. In 2009, Albania and Croatia were assimilated, in 2017, Montenegro was accommodated and in 2020, it was also North Macedonia which jumped onto the bandwagon.
Way back in 2008, when Ukraine and Georgia’s Nato aspirations were formally recognised by the Alliance at its Bucharest summit, Vladimir Putin had warned, "No Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward Nato membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia." Russia reiterated its concerns repeatedly and far more emphatically ever since Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko replaced a Moscow acolyte Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych as President of Ukraine in the wake of the Maidan revolution of February 2019.
Moscow’s misgivings got further exacerbated when Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy replaced Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko as President in 2019. It, in part, also had to do with the rather sharp satire that Mr Zelenskyy used against Mr Putin in his very popular sitcom, Servant of the People, aired between 2015 and 2019 that propelled him to power.
However, the West chose to ignore these warnings, the latest one articulated very publicly in the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable development issued in Beijing on February 4, 2022. With a hundred and fifty thousand odd Russian troops backed by a formidable war machine surrounding Ukraine on three sides Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping warned explicitly, "The sides are gravely concerned about serious international security challenges… The sides reaffirm their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests, state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose interference by external forces in their internal affairs."
Then came the nailer: "The sides oppose further enlargement of Nato and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologised Cold War approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilisational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other States."
However, the European Powers were unwilling to invest in their own security, a fact that Donald Trump repeatedly reiterated at the cost of much opprobrium. They rather chose to rely upon an exhausted and depleted United States, opting to overlook the warnings imprinted on the wall. They collectively believed that Mr Putin would, notwithstanding his portentousness, not disturb the long peace of Europe.
As a consequence, they, too, to a great degree, do also bear responsibility for the unbridled human catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine. This, in no manner, should be construed as absolving Russia that would for a long time bear the cross for its reprehensible conduct qua Ukraine. A new world order has stated evolving rather rapidly. Underpinned by the autocratic and authoritarian regimes of Russia, China and Iran and supported by their myriad proxies, this world order has thrown the gauntlet to the liberal and, to a certain extent, rules-based global order that has held sway for the past seven decades.