Geopolitics

Why Biden wants to confront Russia over Ukraine but not engage in combat
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Feb , 2022

During the last two decades, the world has witnessed the waning power and influence of the US. The 9/11 was seen around the world as the failure of the sole super power- the US to prevent an attack on its territory. The many long years of pursuit and the disproportionate resources committed to bringing to justice Osama bin Laden- the main plotter and ideological driving force behind the 9/11 can be seen as an attempt to regain that lost national pride and international prestige.

The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan did further damage to the armipotent image of the US military. Joe Biden is trying to reclaim that lost global influence, the leadership of NATO…

During the presidency of Donald Trump, the US had come to be viewed as an inward looking and isolationist economic power. This stance was also the main theme of the Trump election campaign- America First. While national interest is always the force that drives and determines the contours of any foreign policy, the implementation of the America First policy during the Trump administration was seen by various international experts as a policy of isolation reminiscent of the interwar period when the Americans, disenchanted with the progressive policies of Woodrow Wilson, chose three conservative presidents in succession to address, exclusively, the various domestic issues. It was, thus, a US policy of reneging on its Global leadership role.

Trump’s tenure as president also witnessed differences between the NATO members coming to the fore, primarily due to the America First policy of Trump. The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan did further damage to the armipotent image of the US military. Joe Biden is trying to reclaim that lost global influence, the leadership of NATO and a pre-eminence in the European affairs.

Russia has appeared as a potent competitor to the US interests in Europe. Russia, after the balkanization of the USSR, was predicted to soon become a failed state. However, today, Russia is not only militarily strong but technologically as well economically at a sound footing.

Economic management and the management of its natural resources has led Russia to have the highest number of per capita foreign exchange reserves. Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas to Europe. Germany, after its decision to close down its nuclear power plants is dependent on natural gas from Russia to power its mammoth industrial complex and to heat its homes. The soon to be operationalised Nord Stream II from Russia would further deepen the dependence of Europe on Russia. This would lead to closer economic integration of Russia with the European economy.

Rise of Russian influence in European affairs can displace US from its high perch in the transatlantic polity.

As economic integration strengthens, it diminishes distrust and promotes socio cultural integration and with this the possibility of conflict also reduces. Deeper Russian -European integration would certainly reduce the US influence in Europe. This could very soon not only put a question mark on the relevance of NATO- essentially a vestige of cold war but sustained in post-cold war era by apprehensions of Russian expansionism.

Rise of Russian influence in European affairs can displace US from its high perch in the transatlantic polity. It would further put into irrelevance the requirement of NATO military bases across Europe and undermine significance of the US military industrial complex.

There are other economic compulsions too for President Biden. The US GDP growth in 2015 was the highest in recent years and since then fallen to a negative 3.4 in 2020. The US economy has suffered significantly during the covid pandemic, but it recovered sharply in 2021. Biden wants to sustain this and further boost it to higher levels.

The military industrial complex plays a significant role in US economy. Nothing helps the US economy grow faster than armed conflicts. Remember, the great depression of 1930s ended with the US entry into the WWII in which the military industrial complex played a prominent role. In addition, during recent years there has been a reset in the energy economy of US.

Since 2016, US has emerged as crude oil exporter to Europe.  The export of US crude to Europe has increased from 10.8 million tonnes in 2017 to 29.2 million tonnes in 2018 and continues to grow. This makes the US and Russia competitors vying for the same energy market in Europe. This explains why the rhetoric of Russian invasion for major part of this month was coming from US media and think tanks, when all this while the Russian and Ukrainian leadership was cautioning everyone against such war mongering and repeatedly placing their faith in diplomacy.

The export of US crude to Europe has increased from 10.8 million tonnes in 2017 to 29.2 million tonnes in 2018 and continues to grow. This makes the US and Russia competitors vying for the same energy market in Europe.

It was the US media which was giving out timelines of the Russian invasion and then continuously revising them. It was apparent that someone was trying to incite the invasion. It was not until the Munich Security Conference that President Zelinsky spoke about the impending invasion.

Russia and Ukraine have had a chequered history of love and hate, of ethnic unity and secession. Presently Russia and Ukraine are like estranged cousins but Russian president sees them together in a cordial fraternal relationship in future as evident from his impassioned appeal to the people of Ukraine in a recently penned article.

Every nation has security concerns and a sphere of influence which it doesn’t want breached by others. During the unification of Germany, certain commitments and assurances were given by US to the then Soviet leadership. These commitments have been conveniently brushed aside. The Baker – Gorbachev protocol is one such commitment that has been conveniently ignored.

Russia has borne the eastward expansion of NATO with unease, but the case of Ukraine’s admission was probably too close for Russian comfort. Therefore, Russia has been asking for Ukraine’s neutrality and safety assurances for itself. The NATO embrace of Ukraine would lead to the permanent alienation of Russia’s estranged Cousin Ukraine. This would also permanently put to rest the Russian quest for access to the global warm waters through the port of Sevastopol while the US and other NATO members continue to reinforce their bases in Eastern Europe. NATO is, in addition to diplomatic support, providing armament and equipment to Ukraine.

However, US, per President Biden, will not involve itself in direct combat. The US public has strong and visceral aversion to US military body bags and the messy US military involvement in Afghanistan is still fresh in domestic consciousness.

Therefore, any review of this US policy of involvement in direct combat will have domestic consequences in US. So, US can only come out with economic sanctions against Russia. The impact of US economic sanctions has reduced considerably due to use of mechanisms other than the US controlled SWIFT for international transactions. More so without the steadfast support of Germany and France the impact of these sanctions will prove further ineffectual.

India should continue to maintain this nuanced approach to the situation and promote diplomacy as a way forward to resolve this vexed issue.

What should be India’s stand on this issue? India has long had cordial and friendly relations with people of both Russia and Ukraine. It also has trade relations with both. As part of its nuanced diplomacy, India has steered clear of taking sides as is evident from India’s abstention from the UN vote on the issue of Ukraine.

India should continue to maintain this nuanced approach to the situation and promote diplomacy as a way forward to resolve this vexed issue. The important dramatis personae in finding resolution to this crisis should be Germany and France who have considerable economic leverage with Russia as well as have eminent position in the NATO and the European Union. 

As for India, maintaining autonomy in strategic decision making without joining any of the camps will be the right strategy as supporting Russia’s forceful annexation will set a dangerous precedence for China vis a vis Taiwan and the South China Sea and supporting US would mean deserting an old trusted and reliable friend.

For now, Presidents Biden and Putin have agreed to meet for negotiations to resolve the developing crisis. While no one can accurately predict the course of events and the resultant prognosis of Indian approach, as of now the policy of contextual multi alignment serves the national interest well.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Deepak Kumar

is an artillery officer. He has operated in counter insurgencies in Nagaland, Assam and Jammu & Kashmir and also in Line of control environment. He has vast command, staff and instructional experience in technical and tactical aspects of surveillance systems and long range vectors. He been the Chair of Excellence for Defence Services at Observer Research Foundation. The officer has an M.Phil degree in Defence and Strategic Studies.

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17 thoughts on “Why Biden wants to confront Russia over Ukraine but not engage in combat

  1. Nicely written article wherein compulsions of Russia (due to increasing influence on Ukraine of USA and NATO) and USA have been highlighted.India’s stand is also brought out appropriately.
    Very nicely presented.
    Well done Col Deepak

  2. “As for India, maintaining autonomy in strategic decision making without joining any of the camps will be the right strategy as supporting Russia’s forceful annexation will set a dangerous precedence for China vis a vis Taiwan and the South China Sea and supporting US would mean deserting an old trusted and reliable friend.”

    Self-reliance was the basis on which Nehru’s non-alignment was built.
    Self-reliance in high-tech weapon’s design and manufacturing has not been achieved even 6 decades after Nehru’s passing.

    Putin did not “Consult” India before invading Ukraine. But India has to “Consult” Russia before selling Brahmos 🙂

    Client states don’t have the luxury of “maintaining autonomy” 🙂

  3. The comprehensive views encompassing the intricacies involved in the prevailing situation involving the US, Russia, Ukraine and Europe is very thought provoking. Why the US wants to abstain from direct combat, yet confront Russia is clearly brought out by the author. India’s desirable stand on the issue, is highlighted amply and logically.
    Kudos to Col Deepak Kumar for this insightful article at the most appropriate time .

  4. A very well articulated article covering all pertinent and relevant aspects of the current Russia- Ukraine conflict. A must read for all persons who are following this issue.
    Congratulations to Col Deepak!!

  5. A well articulated piece having balanced view. The author has kept in view interest of all parties involved and has made a fair evaluation. India’s options have also been spelt unambiguously. We are all waiting for a solution to this logjam.

  6. A well written article . The standpoint of India should be neutrality in this case but it needs to understand that any steps taken by US in imposing sanctions on Russia in case Russia invades Ukraine are indirectly affecting it self also as it will become difficult for India to sustain its legacy equipment bought from erstwhile USSR and also to walk the tight rope of managing relationships with US and Russia simultaneously.

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