The world’s desperation over the unending conflict between Russia and Ukraine has become worse as it reached its first anniversary on February 24, 2023.
Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine
Joe Biden became the first US President ever to visit a war zone which is not controlled by the American forces when he made a visit to Kyiv just a few days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was by no means a peace mission. In a daring trip, he went on a hazardous journey, shrouded in secrecy by air, car and train.
The visit poured fuel to the fire and made the situation even more dangerous than before. He not only announced that Washington would stand by Kyiv “for as long as it takes”, but also announced more funding and supply of lethal weapons to the country at a meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
He expressed the confidence that Ukraine would prevail over invading Russian forces and that Vladimir Putin would be defeated.
The US made it clear that it was not exploring peace anymore, but planning intensification of the war. It did not favour even a ceasefire because Russia would use any such opportunity to regroup the forces and mount fresh attacks on Ukraine.
Putin suspends nuclear pact
President Putin raised the rhetoric saying that the West was using Ukraine as a base to attack Russia. He boasted that the Russian GDP had fallen only by 2.1 per cent after western sanctions were fully in place. He said that the effort by the West to weaken Russia strategically has failed. The people of Ukraine were being held hostage by Zelensky to wage war against Russia in collusion with the West. he said.
In a sign that the very basis of the relations between the West and Russia was breaking down, President Putin made a surprise announcement of the suspension of Russia’s participation in the New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the United States, which was extended till 2026. It was part of a threat that Russia was willing to use tactical nuclear weapons, if the need arose.
However, Putin indicated that Russia would still honour the ceiling on the warheads and military systems agreed under the Treaty. The US simply called the Russian threat as irresponsible and unacceptable without announcing any counter measures.
China, which had remained neutral in the UN votes like India, made certain moves to indicate support for Russia in recent days. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Moscow some days ago. It was also made known that President Xi Jinping might be visiting Moscow in the spring on a peace mission. The US immediately warned China against supplying any lethal weapons to Russia.
No escape route is available either for Russia or NATO to attempt a ceasefire or negotiations. France tried to move a resolution in the UN General Assembly, hoping India and China to support it. But the resolution did not get additional support as India and China did not budge from their positions.
China is concerned about the impression that it was supporting Russia to prepare the ground for a war on Taiwan. China may, therefore, take a mediatory role. But the formula suggested by China is nothing but a list of principles that should dictate the policies of any country. Russia has cautiously welcomed the Chinese move, but it has no other takers as of now. It will be difficult for China to seek supporters for a mediation effort.
No solution in sight
There was some expectation that the G20 meetings in New Delhi might begin a process for a solution. This was based on the Bali Declaration adopted by the heads of State of G20 countries. A draft prepared by India on the position of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that this was not a time for war, but for peace, was accepted by the summit.
But the two meetings of finance ministers and foreign ministers could not agree on a formulation. Finance ministers did not have a joint statement as Russia and China maintained that the situation had changed after the visit of President Biden. When the foreign ministers met, the situation was worse and the ‘Chair’s Summary and Outcome Statement’ had an unusual statement that “all G20 foreign ministers agreed to paragraphs 1, 2 and paragraphs 5 to 24”, which meant that Russia and China objected to paragraphs 3 and 4.
The anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine does not bode well for an end of the war, however desperate the world may be to avoid a collapse of the global system altogether. The widening chasm between the old order and the new makes it harder for a new world to emerge from the ashes of the old world.
(T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Indian diplomat. The views expressed here are personal.)