Abhijit Bhattacharyya | Ukraine: What lay behind Russia’s unprovoked war

Russian President Vladimir Putin is entirely culpable and can’t run away from his avoidable and deplorable decision to attack Ukraine

What really lay behind Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour Ukraine on February 24, 2022? The massive land, sea and air assault, with the latest lethal hardware operated by thousands of soldiers, has led to heavy casualties on both sides, a massive exodus from Ukraine to East European countries and beyond and the capture of substantial chunks of territory by the invaders. This, of course, besides the chronic shortages, price rise, inflation and prospects of starvation around the globe.

So why did the Kremlin launch its “special military operation” when it did? Didn’t anyone, anywhere, have any inkling of what lay in store? Of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin is entirely culpable and can’t run away from his avoidable and deplorable decision to attack Ukraine. It will be in the fitness of things for the Russian President now to find ways to bring about a ceasefire, to stop inflicting further all-round misery, including on Russian citizens themselves. Even if defeated, Ukrainians won’t be the only losers, the victims of this war will be the people of Russia and the rest of the world. A prolonged war is a sure recipe for long-term loss all around.

But today, the “why” factor is a far more relevant and important issue than the “what”. The “why” is the indisputable long-term cause leading to the present crisis. As the initiator of present war, it reveals the bigger picture regarding the suffering which originates from its own past sins.

This factor has been in the background ever since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. It has regrettably been a combination of complex acts that have come back to haunt and hurt all agent provocateurs with compound interest to once again set the white Christian European stage on fire, and is threatening to uproot the very foundation of globalisation, assiduously nurtured and propagated as the saviour of mankind by the US-led West. This creator-destroyer role has touched common ground, having become indistinguishable.

Today’s situation, one might suggest, is close to the one that prevailed in the period between the two world wars. When the First World War ended and the victors and the vanquished met to resolve issues, wittingly or unwittingly, the victors sowed the seeds of the Second World War in just another 20 years, leading to the bloodiest conflict of all times.

But it appears that human folly and foolishness learnt no lessons. The victors’ conspicuous lack of wisdom only ensured a repetition, given their greed for power, resources and land and for inflicting avoidable humiliation on the vanquished.

Nevertheless, what is happening today – after all the lofty propaganda about globalisation and how it would end all conflict -- was neither desired nor anticipated by the West itself, as it unscrupulously began to take unethical advantage of Moscow’s post-1991 misery to prey on its vast land mass in a bid to break it into several pieces. This was the dream of Dick Cheney, US defence secretary (1989-1993), who later became US vice-president (2001-2009); oversaw “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991 and under whom the US attacked tiny Panama with 20,000 troops in December 1991 in a bid to decimate it. Former CIA director Robert Gates recounts in his memoirs how Dick Cheney “wanted the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world”. This startling revelation further listed various “Russian regions, from Komi Republic/Tatarstan to Udmurtia and Sakha, that proclaimed their ‘sovereignty’ as the Soviet Union broke up”. Ironically, this “process unfolded partly in response to Russian President (Boris) Yeltsin’s invitation to the regions in 1990 to take as much sovereignty as you can swallow”. If true, it was a treacherous and catastrophic act on the part of the (then) Russian President. Was he in cahoots with the West to score a same-side goal?

Three decades have elapsed since the USSR’s demise; and innumerable documents exist to understand what’s been cooking that has led to the 2022 conflict. The broad Western strategy was always to leave Russia broken, battered and humiliated. There’s also a striking similarity with the 103-year-old Treaty of Versailles (signed June 28, 1919), under which Germany was the “sole war criminal”, thus a pariah, for all time to come. Visualise the moving procession of the Paris victory march: a vanquished Germany was not even given a seat at the table. The German delegation at Versailles was allowed to submit one set of written comments on the draft treaty presented to them, and the revised text was handed to them with the threat that war would be resumed if it were not signed within five days. No member of the German delegation met Allied delegates face to face except on two formal occasions -- presentation of the draft and signature of the treaty. At the signature ceremony, the two German signatories were not allowed to sit with the Allied delegates, but escorted in and out of the hall like criminals conducted from the dock. Many other similar examples can be cited.

And today? Hear the language of the “sophisticated, suave” democratic leaders of the West’s G-7 and Nato platforms. A suggestion: The leaders of the West could take a look at how Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the 96-year-old British monarch who just completed 70 years on the throne, has conducted herself with class and grace, often under severe provocation, with hardly a single mis-step. An unelected sovereign has lessons to offer elected PMs and Presidents on how to conduct State business with courtesy, civility and diplomacy.

Just consider the open, gleeful talk about Russia’s dismemberment? Is it because of the huge Russian land mass which has been unconquered till 1991, for over 350 years? But how will Russia break? From within? Civil war? Revolution? Or sabotage through irredentists or minorities on the wrong side of the border? With “sanctions as grand strategy”? Through weapons supplied by the West to Russia’s neighbours?

The reality is stark. The post-1991 events created a lifetime opportunity for the West to try its luck where Napoleon and Hitler had failed, despite Moscow’s colossal wartime losses.

For 30 years, as Nato steadily expanded and Europe began creeping into Russia’s underbelly, the bubble had to burst. The Russians cracked at last, and launched a brutal invasion in February. But the shadow warrior was the West. Ukraine, regrettably, is paying the price of a war between the Nato-EU combine and a cornered and wounded Moscow.

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