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India must follow dangerous developments in Ukraine

A crisis in the heart of Europe may seem far away to India, but South Block must keep up with the dangerous developments in Ukraine that promise to end either with a full-fledged military confrontation between Russia and the West, or with a long-awaited mutual political compromise. Either turn would have great consequences not only for India’s relations with the United States, the European Union, Russia and China, but also for the broader dynamics of Asian geopolitics. The crisis has spilled over in recent days with massive Russian military mobilization on the border with Ukraine. Moscow says it is only responding to provocations from the West. But the current military tensions are a symptom of a deeper structural conflict in Europe.

Moscow never really came to terms with the breakup of the Soviet Union, but the loss of Ukraine and Belarus is particularly painful. Moscow wants to reconstitute the former Soviet republics into a Russian sphere of influence. Meanwhile, the United States and the EU sought to draw the former Soviet republics into the Western orbit. Western attraction was reinforced by the eager push from many sections of the newly independent republics to join the EU and NATO. These trends came into conflict in Ukraine in 2013-14 when Kiev sought to join the EU and Russian forces annexed Crimea, supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, while the West sanctioned Moscow and promised to integrate Ukraine into NATO. Since then, Ukraine has been at the center of the conflict between Russia and the West. While Washington and Brussels seemed insensitive to Russian security concerns, Moscow has deepened its strategic partnership with Beijing to counter the West in multiple theaters.

The good news is that US President Joe Biden, focused on the Chinese threat, is ready to take a new political look at Russia. Putin, in turn, sees the value in ending Russia’s prolonged confrontation with the West. He proposed a series of agreements that would keep Ukraine out of NATO and limit NATO military activities. While calling many of Putin’s peace terms unreasonable, the West has agreed to start talks with Russia and express its own concerns about Moscow’s destabilization of Europe. The bad news, however, is that the deals will be difficult to negotiate, given the deep political divisions within and between the United States and Europe over the Russian question. India will benefit from reconciliation between the two parties. South Block hopes that a Russia at peace with the West in Europe will be less inclined to support China’s quest for Asian hegemony. If Moscow is poised to maximize its new leverage in the Sino-U.S. Rivalry, Delhi hopes Putin won’t be tempted to overplay his hand.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 27, 2021 under the title “The Ukrainian Front”.