Russia has invaded Ukraine, causing a major European war, coming immediately on the heels of a global pandemic. While different countries have taken different positions based on their alignments, there has been a general consensus against the war. Individuals have taken different positions too, depending on their political alignments and influences of the social media. I am a keen student of history and being an Indian and an American, I stand somewhere in the middle.
Although wars have been fought ever since mankind evolved, the nature of wars has been changing. This war for one is the most photographed war, thanks to the cell phones. And the photos, along with some fakes making it to the media. To my mind, there are three parallel wars going on. First is the military invasion causing extensive destruction to civilians and infrastructure in Ukraine. Second is the economic warfare unleashed by the western nations due to their stronghold on the global financial network. As a result, the Russian economy has tanked and all the currency stashed away by Putin and his cronies is basically toilet paper.
Third war is relatively unknown. In the last decade, Russia has mastered the art of Cyber warfare. By using the internet to inflict damage on the remote infrastructure as well as social damage by spreading rumors. The same warfare they unleashed during the elections in the western nations in the past few years. The West is more prepared now. Microsoft, the tech giant is very active in combating the Russian Cyber attacks.
Let us revisit history a bit. The erstwhile Soviet Union collapsed in early 1990s with the symbolic tearing down of the Berlin wall which divided East Germany and West Germany. The two Germanies united. A young KGB officer was working in the Russian embassy in Berlin. He saw the fury of the crowds when the wall came down and along with it the Soviet empire. All the Soviet republics including Ukraine became independent. The cold war was won by the West. But then there are no permanent victories or defeats as history often suggests.
Russia became weak for a while under Mikhail Gorbachev and later Boris Yeltsin. At the beginning of the 21st century, the KGB officer became the Russian President. Putin was subdued in the first decade as the West expanded NATO, the military alliance by including the erstwhile Soviet allies like the East European countries like Hungary and Poland and even the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania. This was clearly a mistake on part of the West. One of the key lessons from history is that you should not humiliate a defeated enemy. Once the war is over, let graciousness return back.
Irked by expanding NATO, surged by financial gains from oil and gas of which Russia is a major producer, and having visions of historical grandeur, Putin started chipping away at the independent republics. He fomented unrest in regions like Chechnya, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the West did not oppose much except issuing a condemnation. It resulted in Putin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and still no reaction. Emboldened by the sudden and chaotic US withdrawal in Afghanistan, he decided to stake his future on a military adventure in Ukraine.
Well Ukraine is not Afghanistan. It has a lot more natural resources which both Putin and the West covet. Ukraine is closer to Europe. Ukraine has become Western leaning with a request to join NATO. Putin did not need any more fuel. He must have been surprised by the global reaction. Condemnation all around, economic sanctions by several countries, cutoff from International banking network called SWIFT, stoppage of business by Amex, Visa, Mastercard, McDonalds, Fedex, UP, Boeing, Airbus, BP, Shell, Exxon etc. Google, Twitter, Facebook are on high alert for possible misuse of their platforms. Russia is banned from world cup soccer this year. The US has banned Russian oil and gas. Russia’s credit rating is downgraded to junk status.
How will the war end ? One cannot be sure. But occupying a country, like the British did to India for 200 years, is not possible now. America learnt the hard way in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And the Soviet Union itself in Afghanistan. Installing a puppet and leaving Ukraine will lend itself to unrest and severe opposition. They cannot stay back in full numbers to control the situation either.
Many in the media claim that if NATO will not accept Ukraine’s membership, then the problem is solved. It is not that simple because the problem is not about Ukraine or NATO. This is a chessboard of international relations. Putin wants a puppet in each of the Soviet republics.Like he has in Belarus. The republics gave away their nuclear weapons in the aftermath of the cold war, which would have been a great deterrent for Ukraine. Regardless, Putin may learn a lesson from this debacle. The military scars on Ukraine and the economic scars on Russia will remain for years. He may remain subdued for some time. And Xi Jinping may delay his intentions on Taiwan for a while.
The long standing dictators are there for life while the American Presidents and the western leaders come and go in the cycle of elections. That is what the long term dictators bank upon and try to influence the elections to get favorable candidates in place. From a history lesson perspective, I would recommend the book “Thirteen Days” written by President Kennedy’s brother Robert Kennedy about the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s when the West and Soviet Union almost came close to a nuclear war.
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