The origins of the Russia Ukraine war and its Lessons
Carl Von Clauswitz, the great Prussian General and thinker, wrote in extreme detail over warfare. He bifurcated war into two types – Absolute and Real. According to him, the absolute war is irrational and illogical as it prohibits political mediation while the real war is both rational and logical, as the real war is fought to achieve the political objectives. He further added that in a real war there is no winner as the defeated prepares for the next imminent battle. Clauswitz’s distinction of warfare is of seminal importance, even today as we are reading and analysing the Russia Ukraine war.
The war actually began in 2013, when then Ukrainian President Vickor Yanakovich rejected the Association agreement with the European Union(EU) and went ahead with economic partnership with Russia by joining the Eurasian Economic Union with inward investment of $15 billion. This move was despised by the west and resulted in the ousting of President Yanakovich. The ousting was made successful by the colour revolution. The Russian response to this interference in Ukrainian domestic affairs and its ‘sphere of influence’ was by annexing the Ukrainian oblast of Crimea which Russia captured with little resistance. The annexation of Crimea led to a renewed peace process spearheaded by Germany and France. Two new agreements were signed in September 2014 and March 2015 called as Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 respectively. The agreement laid out a detailed plan to reduce geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Minsk 2 specifically referred to ‘Constitutional reform in Ukraine including decentralisation, with specific mention of Donetsk and Luhansk’ along with ‘elections in Donetsk and Luhansk on terms to be agreed with their representatives’. The Minsk postulates were never implemented as both – Russia and Ukraine – interpreted them differently. This difference of interpretation led to ‘minks conundrum’.
Around the same time a significant amount of narrative was also carefully built by external powers such as the US and UK. This narrative was led by think tanks and leading newspapers with intention to portray Russian President Vladimir Putin as an avaricious ruler, who has little regard for democracy. The media also claimed that Putin does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty. Even though President Putin himself accepted that he “respects Ukrainians desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous”.
Several media groups started to claim that Russia under Putin desires to re-establish the erstwhile Soviet Union, which is indeed preposterous. It is no brainer that Russia has no capability either militarily or economically to do so. President Putin has himself said that “Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.” However, the first line of Putin’s statement was enough for hysterical western media houses to portray Putin as imperialist and a war monger.
The invasion of Ukraine which started in February 2022 was expected to be finished by now, but the war is still lingering. Russia has physical control over at least 20% of Ukraine’s territory but the western arms, intelligence and mercenaries bought by western money are blocking further Russian advances. Most recently, the Russian troops have captured the City of Bakhmut. This is the existing situation on ground.
The truth behind the war
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 several shocking revelations have been unearthed. Angela Merkel, former Chancellor of Germany in an telephonic interview with Russian pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov (Vovan) and Alexei Stolyarov (Lexus) said, “Then (in 2014 – TASS), in order to prevent even worse things, everyone signed this agreement. Was it possible to stop the war then? This question is no longer relevant. I believe that the Minsk agreements gave Ukraine more time to develop between 2014 and 2021. Now Ukraine can both make a response and also to get the necessary support”. Former French President François Hollande espoused similar sentiments and reaffirmed Merkel, “The Minsk agreements stopped the Russian offensive for a while. What was very important was to know how the West would use this respite to prevent any further Russian attempts”. He further added “Since 2014, Ukraine has strengthened its military posture. Indeed, the Ukrainian army was completely different from that of 2014. It was better trained and equipped. It is the merit of the Minsk agreements to have given the Ukrainian army this opportunity.” Similarly, the 2014 coup installed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke emphatically and said “We had achieved everything we wanted,”, he was referring to Minks agreements and Normandy Format talks. He further adds, “Our goal was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war – to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces.”
These testimonies of former heads of states of France, Germany and Ukraine are enough to get an impression that a major part of this invasion war was also planned with great detail in Washington and European capitals, not only in Moscow as the media suggests. This war also takes us back to Clauswitz’s distinction, in which a real war is fought to achieve political objectives and it can never be won completely as the defeated prepares for the next imminent battle. Following the Ukrainian military rout of 2014, the US filled Ukrainian military depots with humongous amounts of ammunition along with training special forces and regular troops. The basic idea in supplying such amounts of weaponry was to ensure that Ukraine has enough with itself to defend and repel russian troops.
However ever since the war began, the US has tried to use Ukraine as a decoy to weaken Russia. This tactic of the US is greatly summarised by the US Army Veteran Gen. Jack Keane, “We have a $6 trillion budget; it is actually larger than that by a few hundred billion. We’ve invested, and I mean invested, $66 billion in Ukraine this year and that is like 1.1% [of the budget]. What are we getting for that investment? We have Putin, who we dismissed for years, and were not taking seriously despite Georgia in 2008, despite Syria, despite Crimea, and eastern Ukraine in 2014. Because he is a declining power, his economy is in the tank, he’s a one-commodity economy, and we had a tendency not to take him seriously.” The General candidly went ahead and told his audiences that, “And also, and this is the important part, his design to bring back under the umbrella of Russia the former Soviet republics that are now in NATO, and that is largely the Baltics, particularly Poland, lesser degree Romania. We dismissed all of that, but I believe Putin has never given up on that. So for $66 billion what we’re getting is Ukraine is doing the fighting, they are literally destroying the Russian army on the battlefield, which would set them back for years and deny them the ability to ever accomplish under Putin any of his ambitions in terms of taking back some of the Soviet republics. By the way, if that would happen, that would mean war between NATO and Russia. The scale of that would be much greater than what it is right now.” This is the true nature of partnership which the US claims is to save democracy against autocracy.
Whether it was President Hollande or Gen. Jack Keane, along with several others, have supported the narrative that President Putin wants to re-establish the former Soviet Union. These leaders shall be asked how can an army of 1.5 lakhs and a nation with GDP less than that of Nordic nations can sweep Europe? Doesn’t Europe have an economy equivalent to that of the US, which is far more resilient and multifaceted than Russia? Doesn’t Europe have Nuclear weapons, to be used as a last resort? If Yes, as it indeed is! Then, why has Europe lost all its brains? Don’t they contemplate that this policy of Vigraha, one of hostility as per Sadguna Sidhanta of Kautilya, is hurting Europeans more than anyone else? Do Europeans really think that by letting the US calling shots on European territory, they can bring lasting peace and stability? If Europe thinks this way, then it is on the path of self destruction.
The west should negotiate instead of turning hostile.
The former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had warned the US after the NATO bombing of Serbia, “This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders. . . . The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe”, but back then the US was enjoying the rich days of unipolarity. The US was not willing to concede any ground to Russia. In 2007 President Putin made a key address at the Munich Security conference(MSC). Upon reading the transcript of that address one would get an idea that Putin desired to have a conversation with western leaders over European security issues in particular and global issues in general. Putin initially said in the address, “unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not solved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tensions.” This was said in the light of the invasion that the US has made in Iraq and Afghanistan. He talked about the importance of international law and arms control, the rise of new economic centres led by India and China, inducing multipolarity, over the status of the treaty of conventional armed forces in Europe and asked for assurances from his Western counterparts over the status of NATO. However, his address met with western cold shouldering and was called by then NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, as “disappointing and not helpful.” The US’s NSC described it, “surprised and disappointed” and then US defence secretary Robert Gates said Moscow is working “against international stability.” An address which should have been followed by discussions, negotiations and deep deliberation, unfortunately was labelled as an obstruction to international peace. Had the US led west, were accommodative with Russia we could have averted this war in Ukraine.
Upon reading over the US sophistry of portraying Russia as ‘unstable power’, one would find the epiphanic explanation of offensive-realism by John Mearsheimer. Mearsheimer has consistently underlined the importance of respecting the great powers. He often says you don’t poke great powers in the eye, if you do so then they respond disproportionately. This war is partly a reaction to the American ‘poking’ in the Russian sphere of influence.
In 2015 Mearsheimer wrote a detailed paper, “Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault: The liberal delusion that provoked Putin”. Mearsheimer in the second paragraph writes, “the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis”. According to Mearsheimer, the West adhered to a three pronged strategy in Ukraine. First, expand NATO eastwards, second, bring Ukraine into Europe’s sphere of influence by building economic partnership and third by promoting democracy and western values. These three steps formed the main reason for the existing war in Ukraine.
Take an example at the investments of the National Endowment for Democracy, in Ukraine between 2010-13, just before the coup, the NED had funded some 60 projects and Since 2014, the NED had invested in 334 projects. The NED has now deleted all data of the investments since 2014. In 2020, the NED also invested $4.6 million just for the purpose of “raising awareness against Russian human right abuses”. But who gets to decide what constitutes human rights abuses and what not? And what about the human right abuses of Afghans which ICC tried to investigate but the US forced them to shut down the investigation? What status does NED have to interfere in a sovereign nation?
It is worth mentioning here that former President of NED, Carl Gershman who was also a former US ambassador, referred to Ukraine as “the biggest prize”. His article published in the Washington Post in 2013, supported regime change in Russia and today reading the western press and leadership, it is indeed true that regime change is exactly the number one western priority.
The western leadership needs to bring its house in order and smell the coffee and decide over the future actions on the basis of realpolitik devoid of any other attachment. There is no point in labelling President Putin as ‘killer’ and waiting for a supposed regime change to happen before opening negotiations with Russia. Putin is not going anywhere he has brought Russia from the economic and political perils following the collapse of the USSR. He is not feared, as west claim, rather he is respected in his nation and enjoys greater approval ratings than any other western leader. The way ahead for Europe and the US lies in negotiations and not in hostility.
Lessons of war
This war is neither the first nor it would be the last conflict of the 21st century but it would be read, discussed and analysed for a significant amount of time. It has offered some great lessons to all the nations, notwithstanding their involvement. The First lesson is that all nations shall maintain inviolability of internal affairs. The Ukrainian political leadership proved to be greedy as they actively collaborated with the US to orchestrate the coup and then, as expected, they became US lackeys. The leaders were hell bent on creating an “anti-russia” environment. Instead, had they been of balanced opinion and approached both Russia and West on equal footing, the war would never have occurred.
Once again underscoring the importance of Clauswitzian distinction of real war with political objectives, defined by a competent political leadership. But, as history shows us, when the leaders sell their souls, the general populace witness cataclysm and today Ukrainians are facing the same.
The second lesson from the war is that all aspiring powers shall have their own narrative. Today, the Western media has disproportionate control over the flow of information across the globe. Within western media, it is a few families who dominate or rather control the dissemination of information. For instance, the New York Times has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family for more than a century. Another media cartel head is Rupert Murdoch who controls 120 newspapers in five countries, along with Wall Street journal, Fox News, Harper Collins, a publishing house and 21St century Fox, Hollywood movie studio. These few elites decide what the ordinary citizens shall read and watch. In the beginning of this war, western media houses carried reports that Putin is ‘very ill’ and recently these media groups claimed that the military is revolting against Putin. All these claims have proved to be fallacious but have proved successful in creating a negative perception over Putin and Russia.
Similarly, before the onset of the war a narrative of Russian greed was built for by leading media groups. Even web series such as Tom Clency’s Jack Ryan season 3, has directly portrayed Russia as fundamentally responsible for all troubles of Europe, disregarding the complex history of Europe. This sort of weaponization of information has become critically important for all nations.
The third lesson from this war is, all aspiring powers shall be ready to face economic sanctions, political isolation and diplomatic cold shouldering. Russia, which has the largest nuclear arsenal and is one of the few nations to have the hypersonic capabilities can be placed under sanctions then without an iota of doubt, it can be synthesised that we all shall continue to invest in our capabilities and be ready to act in proportionate measures when the need arises. This is also important for India, as her rise is not going to be welcomed by all.
The fourth and last lesson is that, this war has once again made us to believe that we all shall continue to read the ancient wisdom of Kautilya, Sun Tzu, Hobbes and Mechievelli to act in a realist manner while deliberating over the technological developments of this modern era. This holds true for military officers, civilian scholars and students. This war has reaffirmed that conventional wars are still the most significant threat that may alter the trajectory of a nation. However, this statement should not be read in contradiction to prepare for the next generation wars employing sophisticated technologies such as AI, IOT, Quantum computing and others. They are essential elements of evolving warfare but due to our preparation and discussion over these new horizons of warfare we can’t miss to contemplate the importance of conventional wars.