Factum Perspective: Ukraine – A lone democracy fighting a nuclear state
By: Dr Ranga Kalansooriya and Omar Rajarathnam
As of yesterday, nuclear state Russia for the third day bombarded sovereign and less powerful state Ukraine. The powerful Western democracies and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) states who vowed to stand with Ukraine are standing, not the way Ukraine and its people expected, but by issuing empty statements. The US and EU are pressing ahead with targeted and wider economic sanctions which may not deescalate the conflict given Russia’s energy, mineral and fertilizer supplies and its experience withstanding similar sanctions in the past. The lesson is not ideal but clear, smaller nations flexing military muscles against regional powers, must brace for debilitating outcomes. When the tanks roll-in, the UN and the international system turn spectators and issue warnings likened to toothless snakes.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy – the former Ukranian comedian who made his ascent to Presidency has rejected a U.S. offer for evacuation saying ‘’I need ammunition, not a ride.’’ Zelenskyy deserves praise, unlike his counterpart such as Afghanistan’s Ashraf Gani who abandoned his people as Taliban took Kabul. Zelenskyy is sticking with his people, on the ground, as he should because of his heroic speeches of how unafraid he was of Russia perhaps due to a warped sense of security the US and powerful EU state leaders provided him. Zelenskyy’s US and EU cheerleaders are mum over his request to deploy troops in Ukraine. ‘’This is the last time you may see me alive’’ he reportedly told EU decision makers only to receive quiet or ambiguous responses. In a televised address Zelenskyy said he telephoned Russian President Putin and was treated to the same silence.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has admitted it is possible for Russia to extend the military operation beyond Ukraine. He warned however that an attack on a NATO state is considered an attack on all and affirmed a fight to defend NATO territory. This statement also provides clue to the re-ignition of tension between Russia and Ukraine. In January 2021, Ukraine’s President urged US President Joe Biden to let Ukraine join NATO.
This was against Russia’s national interest as it considers NATO as the western collective or embodiment of containing the USSR. Russia treats any eastward NATO advancement as a threat to Russia’s security. President Putin who previously oversaw the annexation of Crimea in 2014 has termed the latest military operation on Ukraine as one made on the request of the ‘’People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk’’ of the Eastern Ukraine’s Donbansk region that is home to predominantly Russian speakers.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the Russian attack the ‘’saddest days of his tenure’’. He was also the head of the UN when US unceremoniously withdrew from Afghanistan putting thousands of lives at risk, when the Myanmar junta took over the country which has cost over 1500 lives andwhen the US took over 7 billion dollars of Afghanistan people’s money to be used for 9/11 justice and many more. The claim that this was the ‘’saddest’’ is proof that even for the UN, all lives may matter but European lives matter more.
Octagenarian US President Joe Biden has posed many a questions before media querying Putin’s action of invading another independent country while warning of sanctions including on President Putin are on the table. Biden has suffered multiple media gaffes recently and his warnings to Russia may be hard to take serious given the shiver in his voice. White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki however set the record crystal clear with when a reporter this week asked her how confident the Biden administration is that there won’t be any need for a military engagement with Russia. ‘’US is the biggest provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine but what the President will not do is send US troops to Ukraine and put the US public and its citizens in a position they are fighting a war with Russia’’ an assertive Psaki confirmed. There is no ambiguity in US stance. Ukraine must find its way out of the war, on its own.
Although unwelcome by Ukraine, the US decision against military intervention negates the threat of a World War. What it should have done with Ukraine was not provide false assurances. In any case, it was down to the President of Ukraine to weigh the pros and cons of seeking accession to NATO against the will of Russia – one of the world’s most powerful security states and home to the most destructive nuclear arsenals on earth.
India, the world power has already dampened the threats of economic sanctions announcing that it may consider trading in rupee accounts with Russia. Just off the heels of farmers’ protests that caused concern for the Narendra Modi administration, a disruption to Russia’s fertilizer supplies owing to sanctions could be problematic for India. India imported $6.9 billion worth of goods to Russia in 2021 and exported goods worth $3.33 billion. India has also abstained from the US-sponsored resolution on Russia at the UN Security Council. These are indicators that Russia may not be hit as hard as expected by the sanctions.
A Ukraine human rights lawyer who was fleeing Kyiv on a bus to Warsawtold Factum that ‘’this was not a US-Russia war. Ukraine is a proud democracy fighting an authoritarian empire’’. The lawyer also appealed to the policy community world over “not to be fooled by Russia’s narrative of the reasons for this war’’.
Ukraine’s fate in the hands of Russia is yet another wake up call to small nation states who suffer the misfortune of being located next to big power neighbors. Sri Lanka as a small island nation has experienced this phenomenon with India and learnt the bitter lessons. Ukraine is a chilling reminder that elected leaders have a duty to protect people who elect them, even if that means tolerating conditions of bigger neighbors until negotiations, no matter how long they take can facilitate amicable settlements. Drum rolling to extra-regional powers – in most cases the US, to the point of being deceived that international military coalitions will come to the aid of smaller nations with small bargaining power at the expense of their [international actors] national interests is down to weak political acumen of state leaders who eventually become pawns in big power rivalry.
(Dr Ranga Kalansooriya is a media analyst in Asia, former Director General of Information of the Department of Government Information in Sri Lanka and a former diplomat. He can be reached via email@example.com
Omar Rajarathnam is the Co-Founder of Factum and the former Head of Communications at the U.S. Embassy to Sri Lanka and Maldives. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org)
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