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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Feb 2023  Manish Tewari | Has Putin shot himself in the foot over Ukraine?

Manish Tewari | Has Putin shot himself in the foot over Ukraine?

Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari
Published : Feb 26, 2023, 1:46 am IST
Updated : Feb 26, 2023, 1:46 am IST

Ukraine’s independence unfortunately became problematic for the Soviet Union’s successor state Russia from the day go itself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)
 Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)

February 24 marked the first anniversary of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Gen. Mark Millay, chairperson of the US joint chiefs of staff, stated in November 2022 that the number of combatants killed as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine could well be in the range of 200,000 with the number split evenly down the middle between Russia and Ukraine. Over 40,000 Ukrainian civilians or even a higher number were perhaps also dead.

The rape, torture and other atrocities ostensibly perpetrated by the invaders is another grisly fact that warrants an impartial international criminal investigation to establish the truth and prosecute the perpetrators at some point in time.

About five hundred thousand or perhaps even a higher number of people have also left Russia either because of their opposition to the aggression or to escape being mobilised and sent to fight a war that they do not believe in.

It would be instructive to recall that Ukraine was once a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union from December 30, 1922, till August 24, 1991, when the Soviet Republic started unravelling and the constituent units went their own separate ways.

Ukraine’s independence unfortunately became problematic for the Soviet Union’s successor state Russia from the day go itself. First it was defanged by the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 when it was stripped of its nuclear arsenal. Ironically, one of the guarantors of Ukraine’s territorial sovergnity when it acceded to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was Russia. The very first article of the Memorandum on Security Assurances, known as the Budapest Memorandum, in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, stated as follows:

“The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE [Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe] Final Act, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

The second article solemnly undertook “the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”.

The battering of Ukraine’s sovereignty has unfortunately been now an aggression in continuum since 2014 commencing with the illegal occupation of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea.

In 2014 and 2015, another set of agreements known as the Minsk Protocol and Minsk-2 were signed to end fighting between Russian backed separatist groups aided and abetted by the Russian state and the Ukrainian military in the Donbas region where the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk are situated. One of the salient terms of the Minsk-2 agreement was the “restoration of full control over the state border of Ukraine by Ukraine’s government throughout the whole conflict area…”. This, of course, was to be based upon certain prerequisites to be implemented by Ukraine. Unfortunately, continued support for the Russian-backed separatist elements by the Russian military and deep state became an impediment leading to the collapse of the Minsk Process.

There was, of course, not even an explanation offered by Russia for the forcible annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014 that could be viewed with  any kind of legitimacy vis-à-vis the annexation in the court of either international jurisprudence or public opinion.

Coming back to the current situation at hand the aggression has actually tilted the balance of power against Russia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) has consolidated as never before. The deep chasm that had emerged following President Donald Trump’s repeated demands from Nato members to pony up and pay their dues have been healed by the Russian action on Ukraine. Weapons, finances, logistical support and other supplies are freely and openly flowing to Ukraine from the Nato countries.

The Bucharest-9, the group of nine countries that form the eastern flank of Nato consisting of Romania, Poland Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, are the most impacted and insecure about the invasion of Ukraine. Their defences are being strengthened and consolidated with Nato troop deployment and weapon systems being upgraded. Finland and Sweden that were neutral during the Cold War with Sweden’s ostensible neutrality extending even further back to World War-2 have both applied to join Nato.

In fact, throughout the Cold War, Finland’s foreign policy was in congruence with the erstwhile Soviet Union’s in terms of the Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Treaty Soviet Treaty signed between the two nations on April 6, 1948. Though the treaty was repudiated by a political one signed between Russia and Finland on January 20, 1992, Finland was still mindful of Russia’s concerns notwithstanding its diminished standing after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, the invasion of Ukraine has forced both of them over the edge.  Thus Russia is boxed in by Nato allies from all sides.

Even Russia’s other allies and friends in that order, and nations traditionally antagonistic to the American-controlled status quo, have been hedging their bets, including and not limited to China and India. There is a general sense of consternation with the Russian aggression and even the most charitable “friend” of Russia finds it impossible to rationalise, much less justify, Russian actions.

With President Biden’s latest visit to Kyiv and even other European leaders standing firm behind Ukraine, it does not seem that European unity would crack anytime soon. In fact, the battlefield itself is now a mixed bag with many non-state combatants in action on both sides.

What then has the Kremlin or specifically President Vladimir Putin really achieved by this year long aggression and transgression into Ukraine? Have any of the strategic or even tactical objectives with regard to the security of Russia been fulfilled by the senseless human suffering that this unprovoked assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty has unleashed? The answer is emphatically in the negative.

President Vladimir Putin would do well to reflect back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that paved the way for the eventual collapse of not only the Soviet Union but the Soviet empire itself. Is there a danger of history repeating itself all over again?

Tags: russia-ukraine crisis, vladmir putin, manish tewari