By Air Cmde TK Chatterjee (Retd)
A recent comment caught my attention “Wars are started by choice, but they are ended by USA”. Even if that were to be true, what destiny holds for Ukraine, Russia or Europe is becoming progressively unclear in this deadly game that is being played out on either side of the Dnieper River. Right now, it is not clear to any European as to who the real decision makers are. Will the decision to escalate or to come to an amicable settlement be taken at Moscow? Kiev? Washington DC? Or Brussels? Neither is it known how victory or defeat will be defined by either side; annihilation of one party or an amicable barter of territories? For an average European they can only get ready to face more and more miseries because of a war they did not want and can ill afford.
Inflation has already hit them hard, an energy crisis looms ahead in the coming winter, and the influx of displaced people due to the war adds to the already existing migration problems from Asia and Africa. The post WWII generation in Europe have never experienced shortage of anything in their lives, so though they do anticipate that something serious is about to happen, they do not quite know what!
When the war started, anger among the Europeans towards Russia, Putin in particular, was overwhelming. Russia was the attacker and hence must carry the cross for having attacked a sovereign nation for territorial gains. They also had a critical view of India’s position on the war. In France a common person is not quite sure whether India is closer to France or to their historical rival UK due to ties through the Commonwealth. After the AUKUS deal on nuclear submarines, that scuttled the existing French contract with Australia for conventional submarines, France has become wary of this new axis that includes the UK.
In social circles the war is a consistent topic for discussion. So, after every game of golf, over a drink, when this topic invariably comes up, slanted remarks are made, towards India’s position on the war. Being an immigrant, one must be careful not to hurt the sentiments of the host country. But it is not possible to explain the situation from an Indian’s point of view without being a bit undiplomatic.
As far as Russia is concerned, I explain, India’s neutrality in UN and elsewhere comes from two facts: one, unlike now when the largest democracy with the fifth largest economy can take independent decisions, when free India’s history started after 1947, with empty coffers, no deals were available from the so called ‘developed’ West. Soviet Russia extended that support and allowed payments in Rupees, and sometimes in shiploads of bananas or shoes or whatever, in exchange for much needed hardware.
Also, with the Chinese on our northern borders, it was worthwhile being friendly with Russia since Russians and Chinese did not exactly have much bonhomie between themselves. Secondly, even today a lot of our military hardware comes from Russia, and it is in our strategic interest to have no animosity with them. So, when one does not support the war, but will not condemn the belligerent, the best one can do is to stay neutral.
On the question of Russia being the invader, I normally confess that I find the naivety of the Ukrainian government more distressing than the Russian greed for Ukrainian territory. That raises European eyebrows way high. Here I quote Henry Kissinger’s opinion piece in the Washington Post of March 5, 2014, where he clearly defines the road Ukraine should follow. Never join NATO. Be a bridge between the West and Russia and follow a neutral policy.
Geography can be very cruel; you must learn to live with your neighbors however much you may not like them. If changing neighbors were possible, Palestine would have exchanged places with New Zealand France lived with Britain on one side and Germany on the other, neither liked the French and vice versa, political marriages notwithstanding. India could not have Pakistan on its either side so Bangladesh was born. But Russia is not East Pakistan which the Ukrainian government should have taken into account before falling for the temptation to join NATO. And neutrality is certainly possible, a bright example of it being Switzerland, which remained neutral through the two world wars and continues to be so.
Another logic that Europeans find difficult to counter is this: with all the existing think tanks on either side of the Atlantic, could they not predict that continuous eastward expansion of NATO at some point will force the Russians to react? Moreover, Putin has been an autocratic ruler of a pseudo-democratic Russia for more than two decades and certainly enough psychometric analysis has been done on him by the intelligence agencies all over. Was his behavior so unpredictable, that NATO and the EU were to get caught unprepared as was the case with Covid-19? Or was it a deliberate attempt to provoke so that a conflict region is created where the military industrial complex of the West can prosper? An average European does not want to believe this.
It is a known fact that the military hardware exporters of the world need continuous existence of conflict zones in this world, so that demand for military hardware does not drop. They sell poison to one and its antidote to the other. War is big business. France being a prolific military exporter, my friends do not contradict my views very loudly. I asked a source in one such company if all this military ‘aid’ being given to Ukraine is gratis? He just smiled. He confessed that though he is not privy to such information, he could not imagine that it is purely a one-way traffic for love and solidarity, by countries that can ill afford to be so generous.
Now that a nuclear dimension has been added to this already messy affair makes the matter more complicated for the hapless Europeans. I can imagine pharmaceutical industries making anti-radiation effect medicines smiling ear to ear, thumbing their noses at the anti-viral vaccine manufacturers! Their good days are coming up. “Never waste a good crisis”, said Winston Churchill; he was not wrong.
One thing everybody however realizes is that Putin cannot win the war, because the West will not allow him to. It may degenerate to a protracted war of attrition at the cost of Ukrainian tenacity, perseverance, lives, and property. Neither can Mr. Putin lose the war, for then he is done for good in his own country. Given these devil’s alternatives, one can only hope that the unthinkable does not happen, for then Europe will pay far too heavy a price,that it does not deserve, and of course, it will offer the gentlemen across the Atlantic a larger canvas to paint their version of world order, once the mushroom cloud settles.
Author is Retired pilot of the Indian Air Force.
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