By Jagrit Singh
When President Putin declared Donetsk and Luhansk independent polities, President Biden remarked: “who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right”? The answer to Biden’s question lies in the nature of global politics which is not a Rights-based arena but a place where might is right in most if not all cases. Since Second World War, there have been attempts to alter this reality with UN Charter and UN’s satellite organizations but liberal internationalism which dictate the governance of the free world has made the status quo unchangeable. International affairs has, therefore, remained a place where the strong do what they can and the weak endure what they must. Putin then derives his right from same source as US did during its invasion of Iraq.
President Biden probably forgot this momentarily before he was quickly but indirectly reminded of it by President Putin who, in his own defence, said he was forced to take such action so as to achieve de-nazification of Ukraine and secure Russia’s own security interests against an eastward ambitious NATO expansionism. If it sounds similar to the doctrine of Pre-emption that George Bush was hanging the invasion of Iraq, then the reader has got it. By the way, Mervyn Leffler tells us that Pre-emption has been the standard practice undergirding US foreign policy. As the editor of the massive Cambridge History of the Cold War, Leffler is absolutely believable.
While president Putin’s justification of military action in name of fighting neo-Nazis carry a questionable moral legitimacy, Russia’s security concern with Ukraine courting European and/or NATO membership is not recent. NATO eastward expansion over the years has produced unease in Russia’s defence establishment and also sustained historical mistrust between Russia and the West. Sergi Larov, Russian Foreign Minister had a press briefing March 3rd, 2022. It was a serious activity but with a very entertaining dimension when he quoted John Mearsheimer to buttress the Western betrayal of Russia on this before asserting Russia’s apprehension on eastward expansion of NATO and Ukraine soil being used to threaten Russia should that happen in a world in which the western alliance is strengthening its security interests at expense of its Others.
As most Heads of States and Foreign Affairs Ministers across Europe and the US contemplate this new security situation which has arisen with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is now their turn not to miscalculate as their opponent appears to have. Western response is shifting from deterrence to defence as foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, UK, Estonia stated yesterday. The last one week has seen several watershed decisions being made across Europe: Germany committing to 2 per cent defence spending; Sweden and Finland supplying arms to Ukraine and even neutral Switzerland agreeing to impose sanctions on Russia; NATO redeploying 22,000 additional troops to Eastern Europe along with their military equipment to add to Russia’s discomfort. Even the popular opinion of European public has turned in favour of NATO, what with 40 per cent Swedes or 60 per cent Ukrainians in favour of NATO membership.
While some strong measures are necessary and even encouraged to prevent present and any future use of military force by one powerful country against another, prolonged militarization of Eastern Europe via a strategy of fighting violence with violence could leave the world a much messier place than the existing mess. It doesn’t require any extra wisdom to see that attempts at expanding the Western alliance eastward will only add to the fault lines between Russia and West, with implications for further escalations.
Both sides need to be accommodative each other’s security concerns and national interests. Ukraine as no man’s land, as a self-governed, autonomous polity, free of either the West or Russia is not only a way out but would appear to be in the best interest of Russia, the West and the world at large.
New Delhi based Jagrit Singh, the author, studied International Relations at the University of Warrick in the UK.