Victory Day prophecies turn out to be wrong, writes KC Singh

Western nations expected Putin to either throw in the towel, declare pretended victory, or stay content with whatever parts of Ukraine Russian forces still occupy. Alternatively, they feared the announcement of general mobilisation and a ratcheting up of the war effort. Putin did neither.

K C SinghUpdated: Thursday, May 12, 2022, 09:17 AM IST
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Russian RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles roll during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 9, 2022, marking the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II | Photo: AP

May 9, celebrated as Victory Day, commemorates the German Instrument of Surrender on 8 May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The initial surrender was signed in Reims, the previous day. But Russian leader Joseph Stalin objected saying, “The main contribution, however, was done by the Soviet people and not by the Allies, therefore the capitulation must be signed in front of the Supreme Command of all countries of the anti-Hitler coalition." A second surrender was organised near Berlin on May 8, which due to the time difference fell on May 9 in Moscow.

The explanation captures the differences in how the East and the West interpreted even the victory in 1945. Russian President Vladimir’s revisionism takes it to another level. Framing the “special military operation” by Russia in Ukraine as a struggle against “Nazism” is anachronistic and absurd. Russia is, he implies, merely carrying on WWII as it is re-fighting Nazism reborn.

Western nations were bracing for the May 9 celebrations as if “Armageddon” was approaching. They expected Putin to either throw in the towel, declare pretended victory, or stay content with whatever parts of Ukraine, Russian forces still occupy. Alternatively, they feared the announcement of general mobilisation and a ratcheting up of the war effort. Putin did neither.

According to the BBC, celebrations were held in 28 Russian cities and involved 65,000 troops, 2400 items of military hardware, and 400 aircraft. President Putin alleged that Russian action was provoked by the West. He surmised that “All the prepared plans are being implemented”. Further that “The result will be achieved. There is no doubt about this”. Significantly, despite the fear of the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, he issued no such threat.

The restrained Putin message indicates a desire to reassure his nation that military operation is faring well. He also signalled that he was not yet ready to accept ceasefire and dialogue. There was concern about retaliation as US sources had irresponsibly leaked that US intelligence was helping Ukraine target Russian generals, killed in much larger numbers than expected in such wars, as well as identify Russian naval targets.

This was the backdrop to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s European visit on May 2-4. There were bilateral discussions with Germany via the 6th round of Inter-Governmental Consultations (IGC). It was important to engage the post-Angela Merkle leadership under Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Similarly, the prime minister met the five members of the Nordic nations i.e. Denmark (where the meeting was held), Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. On his return, PM Modi dropped by in Paris to facilitate President Emmanuel Macron and review excellent Indo-French ties.

India wanted to signal that despite its neutral stance on the Ukraine War, principal European nations were eager to further their bilateral ties with it. But hidden in the joint statements is the angst of the Europeans over Ukraine and Russia’s human rights abuses. It is rare in a joint statement to find one side strongly condemning a third country while the other remains silent, though by implication agreeing. In Ukraine, the joint statements of India with Germany and France have this feature.

The European Union, with a population of 500 million, has a huge market that India needs for trade, technology, and investment. Likewise, besides China, which European investors are beginning to view sceptically, India presents a huge prize in economically growing Asia. A comprehensive Indo-German agreement on Migration and Mobility Partnership recognised India’s demographic dividend. The agreement between Kerala and the German Federal Employment Agency (BA) to recruit skilled health and care workers underscored this.

In all the nations engaged focus was on climate change, technologies to enable sustainable development, and agro-ecology, etc. The effect of the premature heatwave on the production of wheat, especially in Punjab, shows the need to prepare agriculture for exceptional weather events.

The India-German joint statement emphasises the need for a rule-based international order and multilateralism. This is normally a euphemism for Chinese behaviour in the Indo-Pacific. But increasingly, the question being asked is - why India is happy to champion the principle where China is concerned but dodges when it comes to Russia attacking Ukraine? As the Ukraine war gets protracted, the Indian position will begin to get progressively less defensible.

Related to that is the stated desire of India and Germany for “shared values of democracy, rule of law and human rights”. Because of this Germany has invited India for the June G-7 meeting, along with three other important democracies of Asia and Africa i.e. Indonesia, South Africa, and Senegal. This is where, what nations do at home and preach abroad, bisect. It is good the Union government has told the Supreme Court about its willingness to review the colonial-era law on sedition. But there is still a huge gap between BJP’s actions at home and pronouncements in joint statements abroad. That gap needs bridging.

(The writer is former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs)

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