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Europe's problems and the world's problems


Europe's problems and the world's problems

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke for many nations around the world when she recently demanded that the sanctions imposed on Russia be lifted. It was a bold move, one that should be equally voiced by especially those countries which have seen a steep rise in costs of living, indeed in an exacerbation of their economy-related issues since President Vladimir Putin decided to send his forces into Ukraine.

A chink of light has appeared with Ukraine finally being able to send out its grains to countries in desperate need of them. But with western sanctions yet in place, the food grains issue promises to linger. The Russians are determined to prosecute the war, as their advances deeper into Ukraine have shown.

But there is too the question of whether the United States and indeed Europe could not have been more circumspect in handling the situation when the conflict broke out in February. In global conditions where a conflict anywhere has immediate ramifications everywhere, the absence of foresight in western capitals has been mind-boggling.

One does not need a soothsayer or a wise man to predict that the war in Ukraine and indeed over Ukraine --- seeing that NATO, the EU and the US have been arming Kyiv to the teeth with weaponry --- will end anytime soon. Of course, President Putin's actions cannot be condoned. He should not have precipitated the crisis. But there are too a good number of reasons why his complaints, if not exactly grievances, as expressed before February merit consideration. He did not want NATO to come to Russia's frontiers, a point the West simply ignored.

That should have been enough for the West to sit back and consider its options carefully. Instead, the urge, almost tribal in nature, to have newer members roped into the NATO alliance has begun to muddy the waters. With Finland and Sweden, for long countries respected for their neutrality, welcomed as new members of NATO, the polarization between the West and Moscow widens, to the detriment of the rest of the world.

International relations and the crises they engender in our times are conducted best through means of diplomacy. In the Ukraine conflict, diplomacy has been absent. French President Emmanuel Macron initially tried his hand at it, but that was about all. In the face of the hardline attitude adopted by his fellow Europeans, he was compelled to retreat. This absence of diplomacy has now thrown up circumstances where European nations as well as the United States have been forced to go for austerity measures where the use of energy is concerned.

They are all scaling down their use of gas, given that Moscow has tightened the squeeze on the energy pipe at its end. The European Union has cried foul, calling the Russian move an instance of blackmail. That is rather odd when one considers that the very act of sanctions against Russia was a far more blatant example of blackmail.

Energy prices have been escalating in Europe and the United States. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, battling former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, has been telling the Conservative Party faithful that she has stood up to Putin and will do so again if she gains the keys to 10 Downing Street. Away in Washington, the Democrats are threatened with electoral losses at the mid-terms in November. The energy issue can only have weakened the Biden administration further.

The world is in turmoil. President Putin's singling out the US as Russia's foe in these times is a mark of how far apart Moscow and Washington have moved away from each other. The sanctions have only emboldened the Russians into more of defiance and, additionally, have had Moscow reach out to nations affected by the crisis. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's overseas travels are proof. The feeling is one of Moscow's now sitting back and watching its adversaries stew themselves in the fire they have ignited themselves.

There is little doubt that global politics is an intense proposition these days. A resurgent China --- the West had thought Beijing would condemn Moscow over Ukraine --- is a new headache for Washington. The two-hour phone conversation between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden had little of niceties coming into it.

Xi's stark warning that the US should not play with fire over Taiwan is a hint of how the Ukraine crisis has broadened out into areas the West probably did not imagine would happen when it cheerfully went for the sanctions against Moscow in February and later.

The crisis engendered by Putin's Ukraine adventure and the western response to it have been reshaping geopolitics, in however chaotic a form, nearly everywhere. The Indians, to the relief of other nations and especially in their neighbourhood, have refused to toe the western line on dealing with Russia. Not even the Saudis, whose royals President Biden met not long ago, have fallen in line with the US and Europe.

The Saudis have ignored Washington's appeal for a pumping of more oil by the kingdom, the appeal being a sign of the fears enveloping the West in light of Moscow's retaliatory methods. That the French President has been effusive in welcoming Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Paris demonstrates the consternation which now grips governments in the West.

Overall, the Ukraine crisis has thrown the world into mighty confusion, one in which countries will wallow in for a number of years. The world, it is safe to suggest, will not be the same again --- as it was not the same after the two world wars. With China squarely placed to overtake the United States in economic power by 2030, global politics has inexorably begun to shift to Asia.

The problem with western politics today is that politicians in the West have closed off all doors to a negotiated end, if not a settlement, to the Ukraine crisis. In post-modern times, that is an unfortunate happening. Russian military might is slowly choking the life out of Ukraine; and by arming President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with all matter of military equipment, by expanding NATO, by giving Ukraine the opportunity to be part of the EU in the coming days, the West has demonstrated an attitude that now has the planet twisting and turning in ever agonizing speed.

And so the world suffers. Prices of food go up, gas is a luxury, cooking oil is a mirage. But the armaments industry is in buoyant mood. The EU has pledged to hand over to Kyiv arms worth 375 million pounds; the US has arms to the tune of 350 million dollars for Ukraine. Till this point in time, Washington and NATO have supplied 17,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv along with 2,000 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

War is good business, as Lockheed, Raytheon and BAE Systems know all too well. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, in large tracts of Africa, across Asia, economies are crumbling because of Putin's belligerence and the determination of the West to teach him a lesson.

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar puts it well: " . . . Somewhere Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe's problems are the world's problems but the world's problems are not Europe's problems.

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