Manish Tewari | Gloves off as New Iron Curtain falls on world

In his rather rambling walk through the park of history Vladimir Putin tried to lay out his much flawed case for the aggression on Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has neither a cause nor a justification. It is a plain and simple invasion of a sovereign democratic nation whose pro-Western tilt has been raising Russian hackles ever since its very inception. It is a crude attempt to reorder not only the European Balance of Power but the global neo-liberal political and economic led order that has been led by the United States since the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc in the 1990s.

In his rather rambling walk through the park of history Vladimir Putin tried to lay out his much flawed case for the aggression on Ukraine. He commenced by negating the right of Ukraine to even exist as a sovereign and independent nation by stating “Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began immediately after the revolution of 1917...” As a result of Bolshevik policy, Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine”. He is its author and architect. This is fully confirmed by archive documents... “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood”.

That Mr Putin was trying to create his own truth is evident from the fact that his assertions are not borne out by historical facts “What today are the nations of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus were between the ninth and the 13th centuries a part of the Kievan Rus’, a medieval superpower that also subsumed huge swathes of eastern Europe in its embrace. All these three countries trace their cultural ancestry to the Kievan Rus’. However, Russians and Ukrainians parted ways linguistically, historically aeons ago and politically once again in August 1991 in the death throes of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Russian nationalists, however, claim ad-nauseam that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” — an integral part of the “Russian civilisation”. They also take within their cuddle adjoining Belarus. However, Ukrainians are not too enthused by this embrace of the Russian bear”, I had opined in an earlier piece in these columns.

The formal demise of the erstwhile Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, and the collapse of its satellites in Eastern Europe hit Soviet apparatchiks very hard. In another piece in these columns published in August 2014, I had stated, “The rout in the Cold War brought in its wake disastrous consequences for the former Soviet Union. Not only did it lose all its satellite states in eastern Europe, but it also had to shed its own territory. It was consumed by a crippled economy and an anarchic internal political situation where oligarchs, warlords and the mafia, not essentially in that order, ruled the roost. As a consequence, not only did the ideological construct of Marxism-Leninism lie in ruins, but also the majesty of the Russian continuum that pre-dated the October Revolution of 1917 by many a century. Russia seemed destined for oblivion in the emerging global order.”

However, this collapse also gave birth to a fantasy, to resuscitate, resurrect and restore Russian prestige to its former glory. As the kleptocratic era under President Boris Yelstin ended at the turn of the twentieth millennium the building blocks of this aspiration slowly started taking shape.

The accession of Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency was the starting point of this quest for both global dominance and renewed legitimacy. Not only did the Russian State start reasserting itself but fuelled by generous oil and gas revenues, it increasingly started mirroring the Soviet Union of earlier.

Its totalitarianism was inventively presented as a democracy. However, the charade was lost on no one. The new template was indelibly stamped by a crackdown on all forms of civil liberties but, more importantly, driven by an uncontrollable fixation to repossess the now absent exaltation of the intoxicating days of both communist-led bipolarity and, even beyond, the earlier giddier days of the Russian Empire.

The first iteration of this desire was operationalised in what Russia considers as its near abroad in the Caucasus. In the August of 2008, it occupied/liberated Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, depending upon the narrative one would like to buy. In January 2009, it halted gas exports to Europe accusing Ukraine of siphoning gas from the pipelines without paying for it. However, both the US and other European powers looked on supinely at this ominously evolving situation in Russia’s neighborhood.

Emboldened by the lack of a Western response to its actions in Georgia towards the end of February 2014, pro-Russian forces began infiltrating into the Crimean peninsula and after a disputed referendum a treaty of accession was signed on March 18 between the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol and the Russian Federation to initiate the process of its formal absorption into the Russian State.

On March 21, 2014, the Russian Parliament approved this accession from the date of the signing of the treaty. Similarly, since early March of 2014 pro-Russian elements became active in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine. What is playing out today has its genesis in a process that commenced eight years back.

Russia’s aggressive approach even back then had foreboding implications for other frozen disagreements on the periphery of the former Soviet Union like Transnistria in Moldova. However, Nato still sat on its haunches and did practically nothing.

This was notwithstanding the fact the three Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that had been a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union and now as independent states had become a formal part of both the EU and Nato kept flagging Russia’s imperial ambitions time and again.

From 2001 till 2021, the United States, the military linchpin of Nato, was distracted with wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and its attempts to reorder the frozen geography of the Middle East post the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire circa 1918. It came out as a loser in all these endeavours. The Europeans obtusely not wanting to spend on their own defence did not invest in creating a credible European security architecture and are today left wringing their hands.

These two decades gave both Russia and China time to consolidate themselves and now in the global power vacuum that manifested itself especially post the ignominious US withdrawal from Afghanistan a new world order is taking shape.

It is no coincidence that Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping issued a joint statement on international relations on February 4, 2022, and Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Moscow on the day of the invasion. A new iron curtain is descending on the world and behind it will lie the ancient capitals of Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and some other satellite states like Pakistan.

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