Prof. Ramnath Narayanswamy*
What is leadership? Leadership is about moving away from being smart or clever to becoming prudent and wise. The West has outsourced its role in the war in Ukraine to President Zelensky who makes new demands on them every week. He has even asked the US to wage pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Russia (something that is ominous and dangerous) which has invited a sharp response from Russia. It has since increased its attacks on Ukraine.
Russia began its special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. One year later, there is still no end in sight. The 27 countries of the European Union came together along with the United States and NATO to condemn the Russian operation in Ukraine in the name of saving democracy. Arms and ammunition began pouring into Ukraine mostly on appeals from President Zelensky. Unfortunately, it intensified the war. The United States began a program of generous military and humanitarian assistance that continues to this day. Zelenski is now asking for American citizens to sacrifice their sons and daughters by sending them to Ukraine to continue its war against Russia.
A lot of posturing, moralizing, and self-righteous preaching followed. We were told President Putin must go. He is an evil genius. President Biden described the war as a fight between democracy versus autocracy. It is emphatically not. It was certainly theatrics that led Boris Johnson, Britain’s former Prime Minister, to fly to Kiev thrice, making an exaggerated show of his country’s support to Ukraine with promises of arms and other kinds of support.
On the face of it, Ukraine has little to do with the UK. It was ironic to discover a British Prime Minister who was elected on a mandate to exit the European Union encouraging Ukraine to join the European Union, fight the Russians, and refuse to come to a settlement. Only much later did it become clear to Ukraine that EU or NATO membership is no cakewalk. Neither is it a realistic option for the present. But the damage was done.
The mainstream media presents a heavily biased and distorted view of the conflict. According to the West, President Putin represents the “evil empire” (a phrase coined by President Reagan) and Russia needs to be destroyed. He is mentally unstable, physically ill, and if he is unchecked, his aggression will spread, posing a serious threat to the Western world. This is its bare substance. It is also completely false.
Despite infusions of military equipment and hardware, the conflict is getting nowhere. Ukraine is the poorest country in the region. It is also the most corrupt. It is hard to describe Ukraine as a democracy. It stretches the imagination. Several thousands of ethnic Russians have been killed in southern Ukraine. President Zelensky has not hesitated to put his opponents into prison and impose curbs on the media. Eleven opposition parties are banned. He has fired people who were appointed to high positions and known to be close to him for no ostensible reason. Like Pakistan, there are reports of huge embezzlement of foreign funds, large-scale looting of American food and humanitarian aid that have simply disappeared, and the appearance of deadly arms and ammunition in the secondary market.
One year into the war it is amply clear that this war is not about protecting democracy in Ukraine. It is a ruthless proxy war waged by the EU, NATO, and United Kingdom to cripple the Russian economy and bring the Russian President to his knees. It is not succeeding. Mass protests are erupting across Europe against the rising cost of living, inflation, the energy crisis, and NATO’s war-mongering. Calls to leave NATO are on the rise. The economic outlook for Europe is actually cold, dark, and bleak.
Clearly, what the West needs now more than ever is for wisdom to come to its rescue. For this to happen, peace must be put on top of the agenda. Something that neither the US nor the EU has done. Secondly, Russia has to actively participate in finding a solution. Finally, the West needs to pressurize Ukraine to seek a diplomatic solution. Europe will have to develop a backbone to resist NATO’s war-mongering and build its independent relationship with Russia. It will have to learn to accept and respect the will of its electorate which desires that their governments serve their collective national interests first before bending backward on causes that are likely to result in severe repercussions on their economies, societies, and security. Europe needs visionary leaders.
Sanctions simply do not work. As Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who heads the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University expressed it: “These sanctions are not going to really change the course of events in the war. They’re not going to change the regime in Russia, they’re not going to stop the war machine. They’re really not even going to be enforced in large parts of the world. And they do a lot of damage to economies that are imposing the sanctions and even more than that they are doing a lot of damage to economies over the world that say we are not part of this war and yet we are suffering the consequences of higher food and energy and fertilizer and other prices… look how much we are doing to hurt Russia, I am astounded. I just don’t think they are changing much of anything except creating a lot of pain in a situation that was already painful because of COVID and in a context that was already inflationary because of a more fundamental, underlying set of decisions of the major central banks over many years.”
“The world,” continues Sachs in a reflective yet insightful vein, “is falling into fragmented groups. Our foreign policy strategy towards China and Russia has been provocative for many years. We’ve divided the world and now we are paying a cost for that.”
“There should have been negotiation in 2021 when Putin said NATO should not expand to Ukraine and Georgia. We should have been prudent. The United States has been provocative towards China. We are paying an economic cost.”
“What is absolutely remarkable is that at the end of March negotiations were advancing for a neutral Ukraine and for an end to the war. And then Ukraine walked away from the negotiating table at the end of March. The reason is that the US and UK pressed them, and you can win on the battlefield. You do not have to negotiate non-enlargement of NATO. This was a big mistake.”
“We need this war to end,” concludes Sachs, “with Russia leaving Ukraine. And NATO saying we are not going to fill in the void. Ukraine is going to be neutral. This is how we could also save the world economy and also save Ukraine. Russia needs to leave. But the US does not need to fill in afterward.”
Enlightened public opinion all over the world wants this needless and futile war to end, supply bottlenecks removed, elimination of food and fertilizer shortages, restoration of regular supplies of gas and crude, and establish stability in international trade. The whole world gains in such a scenario. Nobody loses. Europe needs to get off its high horse. Its leaders need to reinvent themselves to make that happen. It is time to cut loose from NATO.
In the wake of the recent visit by Chancellor Scholz to India, the one country that needs to ask itself some hard questions is Germany. Its government and its people need to be reminded of the fact that it was the Soviet Red Army that liberated the dreaded concentration camp in Auschwitz. Europe should also remember that it was the Soviet Union that liberated the continent from Nazism: the erstwhile Soviet Union suffered more than 25 million casualties. Not even the casualties of all the Allied armies put together came anywhere close to this figure. Thirty years of German industrial growth were fuelled and paid for by cheap imports of Russian gas and oil. Germany, as much as the rest of Europe, have in reality, nothing to do with this war. This is NATO’s war to dismember Russia.
Instead of mindlessly supplying weapons to a regime in Ukraine that depends on the support of neo-Nazis that have been responsible for butchering 14,000 ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, the West has shot itself in the foot. Europe’s clueless leaders need to grasp the truth that what is needed in Ukraine is peace and not war. A negotiated settlement that maintains the current status-quo could be one possible option.
The Western narrative on Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine is taking a severe knock and the voter in Europe has begun to realize it. The Russian military intervention in Ukraine is not without provocation, a truth that is slowly dawning upon the rest of the world. Mass protests have become the norm in Europe and indeed, the United States. Who is to say they are wrong?
There is no question of Russia giving up Crimea because it historically belongs to Russia. Ukraine will have to give up all the territories that it has lost, address Russia’s security concerns by maintaining its neutrality and learn to get its feet upon the ground. No NATO membership. The country made the costly mistake of not reaching a peace agreement one year ago by heeding the senseless and dangerous advice of Boris Johnson. It has since paid a heavy price. There is no other way.
*The author is a Distinguished Professor at FLAME University. He is also a former Sovietologist.