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Ukraine: Putin 'fails to realise', world sympathy for Russia will decrease further

By Bharat Dogra* 

The most obvious aspect of the Ukraine war just now is that it should end immediately, or as early as possible. If this lingers on, possibilities of new ways of spreading conflict can emerge. This has to be checked. This war and its violence should not spread. If all sides see reason, clearly it is possible for the conflict to cease very quickly. But there is this big ‘If’, which applies to all sides.
Putin and his colleagues should realize, even if belatedly, that invasion was not the best course of action for them even in limited terms of protecting their narrow security concerns. Russia’s concerns for protecting its essential security interests had more world-level sympathy and support, stated and unstated, than these have now after the invasion.
With more violence and deaths, which is bound to be reported in highly exaggerated ways in most influential sections of world media, world sympathy and support for Russia’s invasion will decrease further. Hence taking a wider view of its own self-interest, Russia should be looking for ending the conflict as soon as possible, taking care to avoid prolonging and spreading it, acting with restraint and avoiding altogether the arrogance that comes with military might.
However even if Russia rather belatedly agrees to adopt such an enlightened attitude and tries to end the conflict very quickly, there remains the no less important question of whether the US and NATO will facilitate or hinder such a conduct of restraint on the part of their adversary.
One hopes for the sake of peace and sanity that they will facilitate a policy of restraint. But taking a real world view, this hope may not be fulfilled, as dominance and aggressive pursuit of narrowly perceived self-interest rather than world peace are likely to be the motivating force of US and NATO policy, in keeping with past trends.
In fact US and NATO policy towards Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union has never been one of peace towards Russia and accommodating its legitimate security and other interests. Rather it has been one of always creating new problems and worries for Russia.
One of the important planks of this policy has been to intervene in the affairs of countries bordering Russia in such a way as to increase the inroads of NATO and US and to make Russia feel more and more insecure. It is the relentless pursuit of this policy by the US and NATO over the years which has played an important role in creating the present crisis, although of course Russia too shares a big part of the blame for accentuating the crisis with its invasion, not exploring fully the potential of a diplomatic and non-violent response.
If the US and NATO persist with their policy of only trying to increase Russia's problems, they can do this in various ways. For example, even if Russia takes immediate steps to end the invasion by reaching some sort of agreement with Ukraine, the more aggressive and persistent opponents of Russia can be sheltered in a neighboring country and armed to harm Russia in various ways.
Following the pattern under which militants were collected from several countries to attack Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the neo-Nazi militants of not just Ukraine but perhaps even some other countries can be mobilized to harm Russia, leading to a perpetual source of conflict escalation for years in a volatile part of the world.
So it is time for both the big powers to restrain and recede, allowing the people of Ukraine to live in peace. They should both respect the rights of Ukraine to have peace and democracy on their own terms without undue interference from big powers. Let the people of Ukraine have a democracy and a government which is dominated neither by the US nor by Russia but instead is guided only by the welfare of its own people. But for this to happen first the conflict and violence should stop. Both Russia and the US should accept this.

Old, outdated views

The ongoing highly unfortunate conflict and violence in Ukraine , causing much distress and tensions to millions of innocent people, should of course end as early as possible, but in addition the basic cause which led to this conflict needs to be understood very clearly, for unless this cause can also be tackled effectively, enduring peace will not emerge even if a temporary truce or cease fire can be managed quickly.
This basic cause relates to the pursuit of narrowly perceived strategic interests by big military powers ( in the present case the US/NATO and Russia) at a time when crucial world realities have changed in such ways and to such an extent that such attitudes and planning based on them have become completely outdated.
The invasive actions of Russia have been motivated largely by the increasing threat Putin and his colleagues perceived in terms of Russia’s security being endangered by the excessive interference of US and NATO in its neighboring countries. The sympathy which this perception of Russia had at world-level has declined considerably after the invasion.
Russia should have considered longer-term and diplomatic means of protecting its security interests which were available and certainly had not been exhausted yet. While deciding in favor of the option of invasion, Russia has neglected wider concerns of world peace which is now more important than ever before.
Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the US has pursued a policy of creating new problems for Russia. While this has been very troublesome for Russia, what has the US gained from this? Clearly an entirely different policy of embracing Russia in a new relationship of friendship and peace would have been more beneficial for the US in increasing its world-level influence at a lower cost.
At more obvious levels, it appears very hard to find a justification for the persistence of US hostility towards Russia in the post-Soviet phase. However some analysts believe that the ultimate aim may be to weaken Russia to a point where there can be a US-led grab for the huge natural resources of this region and its vicinity.
Other analysts say that the military-industrial complex dominating US policy has a compulsion to highlight enemies all the time in highly exaggerated ways. Both aspects may have some factual base, but the result anyway has been that of continuing hostility towards Russia, with many efforts to promote anti-Russia regimes in Russia’s neighbouring countries, arm them, mobilise them as NATO members or allies.
This would be wrong at any time. But at the present juncture of human history such attitudes can prove much more costly than ever before. Humanity is at present faced with an unprecedented human-made survival crisis in the form of about a dozen very serious, worldwide environmental problems and accumulation of weapons of mass destruction.
The biggest challenge, a very difficult one in the present highly divisive state of the world, is to get together to resolve this crisis before it is too late and the highly diverse life on our once beautiful, plentiful planet is damaged beyond the reach of efforts to protect it.
Seen from this perspective, clearly the existing attitudes of both the US and Russia in terms of pursuing their very narrowly perceived narrow strategic interests have been very wrong. Similarly the aggressive attitudes of China on the one hand and some US allies (leading NATO members) in terms of pursuing their narrowly perceived strategic interests are wrong and will ultimately worsen the survival crisis and make it even more difficult to resolve it within the rather short time limits still available to humanity to resolve this crisis.
Hence what needs to be emphasized by all those people who value peace is not just the resolving of immediate issues in the Ukraine crisis but also the much wider issues. In order to resolve the survival crisis we today have more need for worldwide united action than ever before. We need all nations to come together for such actions, most of all we need the big powers to come together for this.
We need them to work together in a highly constructive way, but they are still unable to come out of their old groove of behaving in destructive and divisive ways. If this continues humanity and in fact all life forms of our once beautiful and plentiful planet are doomed. All nations, particularly the big powers, must give up these outdated dangerous attitudes and embrace a new agenda of peace and protection.

Role of non-alignment

Behind the immediate, important issues of conflict and distress, the Ukraine crisis has also significantly enhanced the threat of the world getting even more divided than before in two major power blocks. There was a time about three decades back when there were hopes that the cold war is ending and a new period of world peace, cooperation and unity may dawn.
This had raised further hopes of several hundred billion dollars being diverted from military expenditure to development budgets, wiping out hunger, deprivation and disease to a very large extent. Unfortunately such great hopes soon proved to be false hopes.
Why? It appears that there are very powerful forces which want conflicts and wars to continue to at least some significant extent, so that hundreds of billions of profits made from the arms race, military contracts and related expenditures can continue for them, even if this is at a cost of many human lives and immense distress to innocent people, including children.
Due to this and other reasons, some form of division between power blocks has continued, with NATO being the most obvious military symbol of the most powerful one. However this division was at one stage becoming much weaker compared to the peak cold war days.
Now, in the build-up of the Ukraine crisis, the division between two major power blocks may become stronger as before its invasive actions, Russia had taken care to cement further its already strong relationship with China. At the same time, the US has been exerting more pressure to keep its flock together, sometimes even at the cost of increasing resentment of its close allies, including European allies.
Aggressive US actions have led to denial of cheaper Russian sources of fuel to several countries of Europe, even after substantial investments for this had been made, while they have to purchase much costlier fuel from the US and suppliers friendly to it, while Russian oil and gas will be directed more towards China. So trade for the most crucial commodity (as well as for other items) may also take place increasingly within the two power blocks, adding further to the political and military divide.
A big danger of this of course is that the chances of a bigger conflict increase on a more permanent basis. This is extremely dangerous with both sides having huge arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.
But in addition there is another big problem. The most predominant reality of the present day world is that it faces a very serious survival crisis in the form of several environmental problems, led by but certainly not confined to climate change, plus the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction.
So how can the world divided in two power blocks take timely decisions to resolve the survival crisis? For effective action to be taken in time, various nations, particularly big powers have to act with unity, cooperation and mutual trust, and the chances for this will recede much further in a world where the big divide has been strengthened.
US has been exerting more pressure to keep its flock together, sometimes even at the cost of increasing resentment of its close allies
Another serious issue arising from this is that many countries of the world do not want to be a part of either power block, and would like to be left alone to pursue the welfare of their people in a peaceful way. But the two power blocks may pressurise them to take sides in various ways. Several countries are indebted to one or both of the two power blocks, some can’t afford to lose their exports, some have a foreign exchange crunch, some have other pressing needs.
Some of these countries, small as well as big ones, face the very uninviting prospect of being watched two closely by one or more big brothers regarding a host of their decisions. They may be badly caught between conflicting demands by both sides. They may get caught up in a regime of sanctions and denials imposed by the power blocks, particularly by the US with the dominance of its dollar and its control over international payments and finance.
Hence first of all important initiatives are needed to avoid or at least weaken the divide between power blocks. However if such a divide remains strong, then the non-alignment movement must assert for itself a new and more important role so that most countries of the world which want to remain free from the pressures of the major power blocks can unite to protect their interests as members and promoters of a major movement and collective of non-aligned nations. 
This movement of non-aligned nations must also, at least in broad terms, commit itself to justice, democracy, peace and environment protection.

A future without war?

People all over the world have been shocked at how quickly the Ukraine crisis escalated into a bloody invasion and war. While the already deeply troubled world would like to keep open its hopes that this violence does not escalate beyond a point, what has already happened is serious enough. 
Perhaps the most worrying aspect has been that while they may not be directly confronting each other, the two major military powers of the world are clearly perched on the two sides of this terrible conflict.
While many areas of conflict also exist elsewhere in the world where the big ones are placed on opposite sides, more or less, it is in Ukraine, perhaps because of its closeness to Russia and leading European allies of the US (also NATO members) that the confrontation has appeared in its most worrying version.
It is shocking that the world peace situation was allowed to deteriorate so rapidly even in the middle of a pandemic. The United Nations could not do anything effective to check this escalation, nor could anyone else. This will have a very adverse impact not just on united action to check the pandemic or for other immediate tasks, but also to take effective longer-term, worldwide action in such critical areas as climate disruption and related serious environmental problems.
The most urgent need of stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will now be neglected even more. In fact there may now be an increasing drift towards even more destructive weapons as increasing insecurity will be felt on both sides in times of increasing hostility and tensions.
This just cannot be allowed to continue. In order to resolve the many-sided serious threats that humanity faces, a future without war and invasions is now needed more than ever before in human history.
This is true because of the unprecedented destructiveness of present-day and future weapons, but also because wars and invasions take us further and further away from the real tasks of protecting the environment and the future of our children.
Hence some means of completely avoiding wars and invasions and civil wars and settling all differences peacefully have to be found now very quickly, and if the existing world leadership cannot achieve this, then clearly a very strong peace movement with continuity is needed to make the world leadership move in this direction.
In order to achieve this the peace movement should become much stronger as a mass movement, gaining strength from spreading peace and non-violence in daily life at local levels and using this grassroots strength to also advance world peace and disarmament. 
In addition a coming together of the people’s movements for peace, justice and environment protection is really needed as they can contribute so much to strengthening each other and to complementing each other.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Protecting Earth for Children', ‘Planet in Peril', ‘Earth Without Boundaries' and 'India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, (2022). Visit: bharatdogra.in

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