The confrontation over Ukraine between Russia and the United States has reached a decisive stage with President Putin recognizing the two breakaway regions Donetsk and Luhansk and soon after President Joe Biden announcing strong sanctions aimed at crippling the leading Russian banks and the financial institutions. The U.S. and the NATO aim at the moment is to drastically weaken the economic power of Russia so that Putin is forced to scale down his demands.
President Putin is no diplomatic fool. He certainly has his own calculations because it has been known since the beginning of the current crisis that President Biden will be imposing stricter sanctions to adversely affect the Russian economy and its energy interests in Europe once the Russian President takes some unilateral decision precipitating the crisis. The Russians may have worked out their emergency plan since the nature of the economic sanctions announced on Tuesday by the US president were already the talking points in the diplomatic circles last week.
It can be recalled here that in 2013-2014, there was a similar crisis when President Putin ordered annexation of Crimea ignoring the warning by the anti- Russian Ukraine President. This was done after the referendum in which the majority of the Crimeans voted in favour of acceding to Russia. The US government and NATO allies also at that time stood with the Ukraine President who took power after overthrowing the pro-Russian president earlier. The crisis intensified but the Russian control of Crimea continued. Neither the Ukraine government nor the NATO could alter the position.
The two NATO members France and Germany were worried at the deterioration of situation in Ukraine and due to their efforts an agreement was signed first on September 4, 2014 in Belarus capital Minsk. Significantly, the signatories were also the unrecognized republics of two separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk who have got official recognition by Russia on Tuesday. The draft agreement stipulated cease fire and devolution of powers to these two regions by Ukraine Government. Unfortunately, the agreement collapsed as the pro-Russian separatists suddenly took over Donetsk airport. This was some unexpected development, it was not in the Russian plan, but it happened and torpedoed the understanding.
But the gravity of the situation was such that France and Germany which had vital interests in the concerned areas dominated by the separatists as also energy reserves in other areas of Ukraine continued their efforts and with concurrence of the US President Barrack Obama arrived at an understanding in February 2015 again on a more elaborate agreement stipulating ceasefire and holding of elections for local governance. This agreement is still valid though no major initiative was not taken in the last seven years to implement this 2015 Minsk 2 accord.
If the US thinks that the latest sanctions, though more severe, compared to the sanctions imposed in 2014, are adequate to bring Putin to the negotiating table, they are wrong. Russia has gone through many such sanctions earlier. The western media is talking of crumbling Russian economy and Putin arousing Russian nationalism through war mongering against Ukraine and NATO, but that does not depict the real picture. Moscow was far more weak in 2014, 2015 compared to now 2022. The Russian foreign exchange reserves and gold totalled more than 600 billion at the end of January this year and the Russian central bank has already taken precautionary measures to deal with the sanctions including the stoppage of transactions by the Russian banks in Europe. While Russian economy will certainly be hit for the time being, the European countries like France and Germany will also have to be prepared for a volatility in their exchange and economy. France is going for presidential elections in April this year. President Macron who is most prominent leader of a NATO nation in working for a peace formula, cannot afford to invite a turmoil in France on the eve of elections. He will do his utmost to continue diplomatic initiative.
Interestingly Putin, though a strident anti-communist now, is getting support from the official Communist Party of Russia which has gone all out to support Russian moves against’ fascist Ukraine Government’. This stance has something to do with Russian nationalism and nothing to do with anti-imperialism. It seems that the Soviet CP also shares Putin view of bringing back the great days of Russian domination in Eurasia. China, however is keeping some distance from Russia regarding the latest move of President Putin. China has talked of negotiations calling both sides to show restraint. China has a 30 year oil and gas agreement with Russia and right now, Putin is depending to a great extent on the support of Chinese supremo Xi Jinping who is an astute leader concerning geopolitics. China has shown no interest in following Russia in recognizing the two separatist states. Next few days will show whether China extends full support to Russia or takes an independent position.
As regards India, the foreign ministry has taken the correct position in not rallying with the U.S and others in condemning the Russian decision. India should make efforts for a diplomatic solution and can mention the Minsk 2 accord of 2015 as the starting point of a dialogue. Neither Putin nor Biden are ready for a war in Ukraine. President Putin is depending on the fissures in NATO as both Germany and France have lot to lose if the situation deteriorates further. President Putin is a good chess player. He has taken a gambit. Now he is waiting for the scale of response from his rivals. (IPA Service)
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