Saeed Naqvi | Ukraine war: How perspectives differ in the West & rest of the world
Deccan Chronicle.| Saeed Naqvi
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Photo: PTI)
Which of the two incidents at the recent New Delhi G-20 meeting was more important: the 10-minute Antony Blinken-Sergey Lavrov exchange or what stood in the way of a joint communique? Both give diverse signals on whether or not there is a buzz in the air about peace in Ukraine?
In the 1970s, well-known Rand Corporation strategist Fred Ikle wrote: "All Wars Must End". The salient point was that the national leaderships entering a war generally plan, in any depth, only about the first act, not on the ending. In any war, circumstances often change which could alter the outcome.
A new Rand survey gives examples of possible shifts: wild cards, a major nuclear incident at Zaporizhzhia, another Middle East war, an invasion of Taiwan or another deadly pandemic. "The longer a war continues, the greater the likelihood that such events will occur."
The study by a think tank close to the Pentagon isn’t terribly optimistic of Ukraine’s chances on the battlefield: "Ukrainian ability to defend itself could also be undermined by Russia’s continued attacks on Ukraine’s civilian population and infrastructure."
Another real possibility of Ukraine being undermined is by a reduction of Western military and financial support. This is a possibility if there is a decline in European unity. Much of this unity was a media build-up. Stories of clear differences between European countries weren’t played up. I have earlier mentioned French President Emanuel Macron’s talk with his officials and diplomats. He felt strongly that the 300-year-long Western dominance of the world order was coming to an end. This is just one of the many examples.
Western hegemony may be ending, but Cambridge University research has produced copious data to confirm an accelerated global divide after Ukraine: between what it calls the "liberal democracies of the West" and the authoritarian states more inclined towards China and Russia.
This study says of the 1.2 billion people who live in liberal democracies, 75 per cent hold a negative view of China and 87 per cent of Russia. Only some of this must be credited to the way the Ukraine war was reported in the West. It only builds on the bias already there in the West, particularly since the rise of China 30 years ago. The growing dislike for Russia is both more intense and more recent.
What must disturb liberal democracies is that a majority of the world’s population, the 6.3 billion outside the West, have a different attitude towards China and Russia: 70 per cent of them are positive towards China and 66 per cent towards Russia. Large populations polarised in this way will have a huge effect on global politics, business and trade.
On the margins of the New Delhi G-20 meeting, as in Ukraine-related writing elsewhere, an expression commonly used to speculate on the end of the war is "frozen conflict". In such a situation, according to Rand’s Brian Jenkins, Russian forces will keep the territory already held, while Ukraine "lies in ruins, still under threat of renewed attacks". Clearly, Jenkins continues, "few refugees are likely to return under these circumstances". Investments will simply not come because the risks of renewed fighting would be high.
All this would be a big disincentive for Western unity in support of the sanctions against Russia, as well as financial and military support for Ukraine. Is that the scenario for the endgame?
In my Ukraine catalogue, the incident that gives a clue to President Joe Biden’s mind is his press conference on December 30, 2022. This took place after a three-hour meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Obviously, the meeting had been contentious, with Mr Zelenskyy asking for arms more lethal than Mr Biden was prepared to part with. The initial yen to defeat Vladimir Putin and carve up his country had yielded to a more realistic appraisal of the ground realities. This appraisal of the war was revealed quite inadvertently in a White House press briefing. Mr Biden was elaborating on the weapons being shipped to Ukraine, including Patriot batteries. One of the reporters chipped in: "At an earlier stage of the war, a US official had told us the Patriots were not on the table because their induction will be seen as unnecessary escalation. And now the Patriots were on offer."
The reporter then asked: "Let’s make it brief: Why can’t you give Ukraine all the capabilities it needs to liberate its territories sooner rather than later?" Mr Biden was tongue-tied. In his nervousness, he pointed to Mr Zelensky, saying: "He will say yes to your proposition." Clearly Mr Biden had said "no" to Mr Zelenskyy’s persistent demand for lethal arms.
Mr Biden explained his caution. The US wasn’t giving Ukraine "everything" with reason: an entire alliance was sending arms which harmonised. If we gave equipment not cleared by Nato, the entire alliance coordination would come under strain. "We are going to give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself."
It has been clear to me, at least, since the December press briefing that Washington wasn’t going to place in Mr Zelenskyy’s hands anything more lethal than was required to keep the Russians tied down with the ability for battlefield gains.
This is a war the Russians cannot afford to lose. Survival is an existential necessity with Nato crouching around Russia. More firepower in Ukraine and use of nuclear weapons by the Russians in Ukraine would become a real possibility.
The Americans too can’t afford to not emerge looking victorious. They do not wish to have a seal stamped on the end of the unipolar world. When the stakes are so high, the 10-meeting between the US secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister in New Delhi cannot be sniffed at.
The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi