A Changed World Part 2 – Ukraine: An Unstable Paradigm Starts To Shift

Jai Menon

May 11, 2022, 05:53 PM | Updated 06:02 PM IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • The United Nations is at the end of its useful life, and Ukraine has exposed its fault lines in full measure.
  • The Ukraine war, in reality, represents the last phase of NATO’s inorganic transformation after the Soviet collapse.
  • Three things stand out in stark contrast against the backdrop of the ongoing churn in world affairs, intensified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    1. The first is the sheer pointlessness of the United Nations.

    2. The second is the startling alignment, un-coordinated and self-interest based, of much of Asia over the Ukraine crisis and the remarkably coordinated but highly unstable “group-interest” based alignment of NATO.

    3. The third is the seeming inability of the European Union (EU) to recognise its own predicament, let alone define its interest and defend it.

    In Part 1 of this series, there was a broad description of the current state of play arising from the Russian Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine. It addressed the question of what the Russians are likely to settle for, what the US and Britain declare as their preferred outcome and what the Ukrainians will eventually be forced to accept.

    As that tragedy unfolds, a new world is coming into existence outside of the immediate theatre of operations. What will play out on that front as the structures built after the Second World War totter precariously at the brink of the Third?

    The United Nations is at the end of its useful life. Ukraine has exposed its fault-lines in full measure, although its uselessness has been a subject of discussion for some years now. It is unlikely that the UN Security Council will be able to agree on anything substantive in the foreseeable future.

    At best, it might be used as a face-saving mechanism to end the Ukraine fiasco by the parties involved. Granted, even this may be wishful thinking of a high order.

    It is safe to predict that the UN is headed the way of the League of Nations, its predecessor, disbanded after World War II because it was dysfunctional. Only the pace is uncertain. It will likely be a process that may take a decade.

    Or it may happen suddenly. One or more of the Permanent Five members may opt to withdraw from the organisation. From outside, they can exercise the equivalent of veto power by leaving their nuclear holster open for all to see.

    In other words, a de facto veto rather than the de jure one provided by permanent membership in the Security Council. As North Korea has shown a few times already, this is sufficient to survive, even thrive.

    The way most Asian countries have handled the Ukraine crisis is remarkably sane. Except for Japan, where support for the US position is a matter of constitutional reflex, most countries have decided to sit this one out.

    There is no automatic backing for the dominant Western narrative, let alone the sanctions regime imposed by the US. There are differences in nuance, expectedly, but nothing so drastic as to raise eyebrows among other Asian states. No major co-ordination was required.

    The Asian posture was best encapsulated in the response of the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador TS Tirumurti, who told the Dutch Ambassador to the UK, Karel van Oosterom: “Kindly don’t patronise us, Ambassador. We know what to do”.

    This was in response to a hastily deleted tweet by van Oosterom, which addressed India, stating: “You should not have abstained in the GA (General Assembly). Respect the UN Charter” (content in brackets added by this writer).

    Now consider NATO, created to defend against the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the USSR, in the early 1990s, it was enlarged and transformed to include former East Bloc countries (14 of them).

    Lacking a worthy enemy, it then carried out “out of area” illegal or quasi-legal operations in Serbia, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. Millions have been killed in these countries with no questions asked.

    To many observers, NATO might appear to have received new purpose after Russia began its military campaign in Ukraine. This appearance is deceptive. In reality, the Ukraine war represents the last phase of NATO’s inorganic transformation after the Soviet collapse.

    What comes next is anybody’s guess, but it is surely not greater unity within NATO. It is important to recall a key aspect of its transformation: expansion into East Europe and the Baltics through the 1990s – a move that changed NATO’s posture from defence to offence.

    This happened broadly at the same time as the EU integrated the same countries into its structure. Unlike the core EU states (Germany/France/Italy/Spain/the Netherlands), these former Warsaw Pact countries have a visceral hatred of Russia, drawn not just from the Soviet experience but the imperial Russian past.

    It is this sense of eternal enmity that has been exploited by the group within the US which is pushing the “overextend and unbalance” Russia line. (RAND, a US state-supported thinktank, has recognised that its policy prescription from 2019 is not helping the Western line on Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. So it issued an explanatory editorial note in April 2022).

    This approach has been confirmed by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and more colourfully elaborated upon by the UK Defence Minister Liz Truss. The prescription itself only describes what has been happening since NATO expansion started – the strategic encirclement and steady isolation of Russia through sanctions.

    The end of Russia as we know it has been, and continues to be, promoted sympathetically by many people in the US strategic community who are/were of east and central European origin – the late strategy stalwart Zbignew Brzezinski, former Foreign Secretary Madeleine Albright, neocon mentor Robert Kagan (married to Victoria Nuland), and several others.

    Therefore, it should not be surprising that an overwhelmingly American NATO leadership failed to consider the interests of the core EU states. Not because they were unaware of the implications, it seems, but because these were not seen to be of much importance.

    The “F**k the EU” comment by Victoria Nuland (then US Assistant Secretary of State, since promoted) and the “Yeah, exactly” reply by US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt shows what seems to be an acceptable-in-private attitude to these core states. Such realities underpin what is playing out in Ukraine, despite every effort being made to keep up the show of unity.

    Key NATO members would be foolish not to wonder why this morally couched crusade against “Putin’s Russia” appears mainly to benefit the Anglosphere and its East European dependents from a strategic point of view.

    In case of the latter, these benefits are likely to be temporary. They will still have to live as physical neighbours of the core EU, and within the constraints of EU membership rules.

    It is safe to predict an increasingly fractious and disagreeable mood within the union, going forward. Diplomatically, such things may be fixable. But a weakening of the overall foundations of trust within NATO and the EU is certain.

    The current US administration, given its seeming adherence to realpolitik, will not seek to change that dynamic. Expect years of trust deficit implicit in every major discussion between and within these groupings.

    The core EU states have been left high and dry. These countries, somewhat understandably, jumped on the sanctions bandwagon only to find out they did not have any instruments to play with. That basic reality is sure to unfold in the media, social and otherwise, in one form or another.

    Where does that leave the EU? This question will be examined in Part 3.

    Also Read: A Changed World Part 1: The Fallout From The Fiasco In Ukraine

    An EU citizen of Indian origin, Jai is based in East Africa and is a keen observer of Eurasian and South Asian developments.

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