No Talks, No Peace

As the G-20 leaders endorsed Narendra Modi’s statement in the context of Russia-Ukraine conflict that “today’s era must not be of war” at the just concluded Bali summit in Indonesia the saffronites and their media backers are jubilant enough to project it as a grand diplomatic success of India. They are reading too much between the lines. Modi made this observation while talking to Putin at the sidelines of the SCO meeting in Uzbekistan in September. America and Europe found in it a little bit of anti-Russia stance of India and so they highlighted it through their world-wide propaganda machines. Peace will not return to war-torn Ukraine because of Modi’s tight-rope walking in international politics. This war is not going to end soon unless Biden asks his proxy Zelensky to halt and stop supply of sophisticated arms. The Bali declaration condemned war as it was causing immense human suffering and constraining growth, increasing inflation everywhere, disrupting global supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity and endangering financial stability across the globe. That was all. No firm appeal for peace talks!

Right now both Russia and Ukraine are in no mood of negotiations. In truth Ukraine is more adamant than Russia because Zelensky and his Generals think they are winning this war anyway. Zelensky is desperately trying to escalate tensions and drag NATO into war directly as his troops would fire a Soviet-era missile on Poland, a member of NATO, killing two people and blame it on Russia for the misdeed. But Poland finally made it clear that it was not fired by Russia. Ukraine did it to show the world that Moscow was now attacking NATO. Quite expectedly for Zelensky it backfired.

The hard fact is that Biden, of late, has softened his anti-Russia rhetoric, particularly after winning the mid-term poll. And European Union doesn’t want another war on their soil. Zelensky apprehends that western military assistance is likely to dwindle in this winter which is already taking its toll in Ukraine in a big way. More and more people are without electricity and water—some parts of Ukraine are living hell. So Zelensky is frantically trying to involve NATO in this war. He wants NATO forces on Russian territory. As a result both Russia and Ukraine are far from negotiations. Despite euphoria at the G-20 conclave, at the end what will decide the early prospect of peace initiatives between Russia and Ukraine, is shifting position in the battlefield. Also, winter will dictate both sides’ strategic calculus.

Russia and Ukraine have made several public statements apparently to re-engage in dialogue, blaming one another for stalling a negotiated settlement after nearly nine months of bloody fighting. With Russian retreat in some regions, earlier occupied by Putin’s army, Ukraine will seek to achieve more territorial gains before agreeing to head to the negotiating table. And Russia after losing so many combat soldiers and weapons is unlikely to go empty-handed. If anything, the Kremlin strategists are relying more on the impact of winter on the allies of Ukraine, NATO countries to be precise. As the fracture in NATO is widening with popular unrest erupting in a number of European countries due to high inflation and energy crisis Western military ‘aid’ to Kyiv will not be as robust as it was four or five months ago.

Zelensky had made a clear departure from a softer position adopted in March when he had demanded Russian troops to withdraw to the pre-February invasion borders. But after the annexation of four regions by Russia, he is asking the Russians to pull out from the whole of the country---Crimea and eastern Donbas included. After Biden’s victory in Senate, US officials are talking in multiple voices, indirectly urging Ukraine to signal an openness towards talks.

It’s too soon to speak about peace as both sides at this stage have too much to gain or lose. Zelensky is still adamant because more than 85 percent of Ukrainians insist their men in uniform should continue fighting rather than negotiating, a recent survey indicated. Putin may be internationally isolated but in his country he commands majority support in continuing the war until Moscow’s declared objectives are fulfilled. Germans once tasted the depth of Russian nationalism and ‘winter ordeal’; now Ukrainians are feeling the pinch. The tragedy of Napoleon the great is not a forgotten chapter!

As temperatures fall more people will flee Ukraine, putting pressure on Europe. The economic and energy crisis will worsen further should Russia weaponise gas flow to Europe or threaten to sabotage underwater cables and pipeline connection. Russia is banking more on a political rather than military strategy. So far there is no possibility of a revolt or coup against Zelensky though civilians are paying the price. At one point Zelensky may go down in history as the worst enemy of his own people, notwithstanding his bold resistance against Russian aggression.


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Vol 55, No. 23, Dec 4 - 10, 2022