a year ago

The evolving quagmire in Ukraine

A view shows an armored convoy of pro-Russian troops on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 28, 2022 — Reuters File Photo
A view shows an armored convoy of pro-Russian troops on a road leading to the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 28, 2022 — Reuters File Photo

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After a year, the search for peace, partnership and accountability has resumed in Europe. The world has watched how NATO, the European Union, USA and Canada have taken upon themselves the role of partnership and failed to find the least common denominators that can result in peace and safety for millions of people from Ukraine and also for those living in the adjoining territories of Ukraine. Evolving developments over the past year have also seen countries in other parts of the world- including Africa and South Asia together with Bangladesh- continuing to suffer the after-effects of this ongoing disagreement.

The world has also watched how the latest UN General Assembly (UNGA) in its eleventh emergency special session responded to calls for Russia's immediate withdrawal from Ukraine. The Resolution was adopted as 141 Members voted in favour; seven against (Belarus, DPRK, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria) and 32 countries (including Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, and Pakistan) abstained from the voting.

This was a tactical departure compared to what Bangladesh did in October last year when it voted in favor of the EU sponsored UN Resolution in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity.

It must however be understood that the Bangladesh government has repeatedly remarked that they want peace to return to the region. Sehli Sabrin the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry spokesperson has clarified that Bangladesh had abstained from voting the latest UNGA resolution on "Just Peace in Ukraine" as "an important practical point- intensive diplomatic engagement and dialogue between the parties involved in the conflict is missing in it. The ultimate objective of the current resolution is to seek a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine. We believe that any meaningful and sustainable solution to the current conflict needs intensive diplomatic engagement and dialogue between the parties involved in the conflict. In our opinion, this important practical point is missing in the resolution. Therefore, we were constrained to abstain".

In addition to this vote, the unfolding scenario over the past two weeks has seen a few other interesting developments-- the visit to Ukraine of US President Joe Biden, the visit of the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to the UK and some other countries in Europe, the visit of some European leaders to Ukraine and their meetings with the Ukraine leadership. The unfolding drama has also been taken forward through complex vibrations resulting from Russian President Putin's recent speech in Moscow.

It may be recalled that President Vladimir Putin announced Russia's decision to suspend the New Start nuclear arms treaty on February 21 in his annual address to the nation. The deal, signed in 2010, limits the number of US and Russian nuclear warheads and gives each the power to inspect the other's weapons.

Signed in 2010 by two then presidents - Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev - the New START treaty was designed to prevent nuclear war. It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that both sides can deploy, and gives each country the power to inspect the other. The arrangement came into force in 2011 and was extended 10 years later - although weapons inspections were disrupted by the Covid pandemic. Each side's limit is 1,550 long-range nuclear warheads, a lower number than under the previous START deal. It may be noted here that between them, the two former Cold War rivals account for almost all of the world's nuclear weapons.

Putin's decision to suspend involvement in the nuclear treaty was officially pushed through by both houses of Russia's parliament. However, Russia's foreign ministry later said that Moscow would continue to comply with the New START treaty's restrictions with a "responsible approach". A senior military official has also informed Russia's lower house of its Parliament that the country would continue to observe agreed restrictions on nuclear delivery systems -- meaning missiles and strategic bomber planes.

US President Joe Biden had called Russia's decision to suspend the Treaty a big mistake and reiterated the US commitment to the military alliance. Biden's comments came as he met a key group of NATO allies in Poland where a number of eastern European states, known as the Bucharest Nine, reiterated their condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly a year since its start.

Speaking ahead of the meeting with leaders from the Bucharest Nine nations - which make up NATO's eastern flank, he observed that "Article 5 is a sacred commitment the United States has made. We will defend literally every inch of NATO." Article 5 stipulates that an attack on any member state is treated as an attack on all and requires a joint response. At the meeting he also observed that the assembled leaders were the "front line of our collective defence". In a joint statement after the meeting the group said they were committed to increasing NATO's military presence on their territories.

It may be noted here that Russia's remark that NATO which could soon see Sweden and Finland become new members, if Türkiye agrees, represents an existential threat. Mr Putin, speaking at a rally in Moscow to mark a year of Russia's engagement in Ukraine, has observed that Russia was present in parts of Ukraine to recover its "historical territory for our people".

It may also be observed here that Russia's decision was met with widespread international condemnation, though Russia's foreign ministry later said Moscow would continue to comply with the treaty's restrictions in a "responsible" way until it expires in February 2026. The world generally knew what would result out of the UNGA effort but they paid a lot of attention to see how China would react to the evolving process.

This was so because the US and NATO had recently expressed concern that China might provide arms or other support to Russia's war, although China had denied having any such plan. Wang Yi, the Chinese leader entrusted with international relations and foreign policy, visiting Moscow, has  subsequently emphasised that Moscow and Beijing both support "multi-polarity and democratisation of international relations" - a reference to their shared goal of countering the perceived US dominance in global affairs.  He also added that "Chinese-Russian relations aren't directed against any third countries and certainly cannot be subject to pressure from any third countries."

In fact China on February 24 has also called for a ceasefire in Ukraine and the start of peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow. It was included as part of a 12-point peace plan to resolve the armed engagement through political means. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked up Moscow's nuclear arsenal, China's peace plan has observed that "nuclear weapons cannot be used, and nuclear war cannot be fought. The threat or use of nuclear weapons should be opposed. "All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control," the document added.

This proposed Chinese initiative has led Ukraine President Zelensky to observe that he is willing to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss Beijing's proposals on ending the conflict in Ukraine.

In another observation US President Joe Biden while being critical of Russia's suspension of a key nuclear treaty, has stressed that there was no indication Moscow was moving closer to actually using an atomic weapon. "It's a big mistake to do that, not very responsible," Biden has told ABC News in Poland on the sidelines of a meeting with NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg and eastern European leaders in Warsaw.  "But I don't read into that that he's thinking of using nuclear weapons or anything like that," the US president added, noting that he had seen "no evidence" of any change in posture on nuclear arms use by Moscow.

Nevertheless, recent developments do not mean that the future national security threats to the US from Beijing and Moscow are the same.

At this point before concluding one also needs to draw attention to the resources being made available by some NATO Member States to Ukraine- a non-member of NATO- to assist that country in being able to overcome the evolving fiasco.

According to available data from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think tank, NATO members have committed at least 75.2 billion Euros (equivalent to US Dollar 80.5 billion) in financial, humanitarian and military aid between January 24 and November 20, 2022. At 47.8 billion Euros (US Dollar 51.2 billion) in commitments, the US is Ukraine's biggest contributor, with at least 22.9 billion Euros (US Dollar 24.5 billion) going towards military pledges, 15.05 billion Euros (US Dollar 16.1 billion) in financial aid, and 9.9 billion Euros (US Dollar 10.6 billion) in humanitarian assistance. Military assistance includes weapons, equipment and financial aid for the Ukrainian military. Humanitarian relief covers medical, food and other items for civilians, while financial assistance comes in the form of grants, loans and guarantees. The UK is the second-highest NATO member contributor while Germany is third at 5.4 billion Euros (US Dollar 5.8 billion).

One has to also see another facet of this drama. Ukraine has long expressed interest in joining NATO. In 2019, it adopted a constitutional amendment to pursue membership of the alliance. Nevertheless, while Ukraine is not expected to join NATO soon, in December, last year, NATO's Stoltenberg had observed that "Russia does not have a veto" on countries joining and that the alliance "stand[s] by that, too, on membership for Ukraine".

One has to wait and see what happens over the next six months. In the meantime the ripples resulting from osmotic effects are creating shadows all over the world within the socio-economic dimensions.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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