A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, it is still unable to tame its relatively small neighbour. Ukraine has put up a brave resistance with the arms and ammunitions supplied by the United States and the European nations. Failing to wean Ukraine away from the close clasp of the West, Vladimir Putin had hoped to inflict a sharp and crippling blow on it in what he thought would be a short and decisive military action. Led by a comedian-turned-politician, President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine repulsed the early aggression aimed at capturing the capital Kyiv, forcing Russians to retreat to the relatively safer eastern Ukraine. Notably, the regular Russian armed forces had in addition about 50,000 mercenaries of the Putin-patronised private army of the Wagner group to aid them. But the two together failed to break the will of the Ukrainians, an apt comment on the quality of men and materials the Russian autocrat relied on. The war has bestowed a halo on Zelensky, turning him into a hero for his people, whereas the invasion turned Putin into a pariah abroad while making him unpopular at home.
Admittedly, the US-led sanctions did not cripple Russia’s economy. Nor did it end its export of energy. India and China massively increased imports of crude from Russia. Neither China nor Russia joined the US-led countries in the UN general assembly to condemn the Russian aggression, but in a nuanced message India said the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation ought not to be violated. India also called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The newfound assertiveness in India’s foreign policy found general acceptance when, heedless of sanctions, India increased manifold its import of energy from Russia. However, India did not mince words in ticking off Russia, repeatedly asserting that in the modern era war is not a solution to resolve disputes. But on the first anniversary of the war, the two sides seemed to be preparing for further escalation of fighting with President Putin threatening to launch a bigger offensive. On its part, Ukraine’s demand for sophisticated equipment was partially met by the US and the European Union which together have committed to send more lethal weapons.
The longest armed conflict in Europe post-Second World War has caused the 27 members of the European Union to increase their defence budgets, persuading its leaders to devise their own collective defence instead of relying solely on the US to underwrite their security. A renewed arms race in the West thanks to Putin’s ill-conceived aggression can plunge the world into another Cold War. Meanwhile, setting at rest speculation that the West’s resolve to support Ukraine may be weakening, President Joe Biden at great personal risk paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday. Not only was it a morale-booster for Zelensky and his armed forces, but it also sent a signal to the domestic audiences in the US that there was to be no let-up in arming Ukraine to defeat the Russian tyrant. Thus far, barring a few stray voices, the bipartisan unity in the American Congress on enabling Ukraine to defeat Putin still holds strong. The asked-for tanks and other sophisticated and highly expensive weapons are to be supplied to Ukraine. Biden announced a special package of an additional $500 million on his visit to Kyiv. The US President said in his address: “Kyiv stands. And Putin was wrong.”
On the first anniversary of the war, Putin cannot claim victory. Nor is it in sight. Putin might be seeking a face-saver before agreeing to a ceasefire. In 2014, he had a relatively easy time annexing Crimea. Since then the Ukrainian armed forces have equipped and trained themselves better. And the West has surprised Putin by showing its resolve and doggedness to fund and arm Ukraine despite suffering hidden and not-so-hidden costs such as higher energy prices and the resulting inflation and pressure on their budgets. Opting to let Putin crush Ukraine would have brought the Russian bear closer to their own borders. Meanwhile, China has denied that it is contemplating supplying arms to Russia. Instead, President Xi Jinping, whom Putin is no position to ignore, ought to use his good offices to get the Russian dictator to call off a war which he cannot win, cannot be allowed to win, and which if continued much longer threatens to escalate into a much bigger conflict engulfing the US and Europe into it. Of course, the US would rather trust India to try and bring about an end to the war. Maybe the forthcoming G-20 meetings in New Delhi will throw up a workable solution.
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