Tracing The Ukraine-Russia Quagmire And The Way Out
GODKNOWS IGALI, PhD
After weeks of high-level diplomacy, looming thunder clouds and intense global hysteria, Russian troops have since entered deep into Ukraine, an independent, sovereign state. A dismal fait accompli and rather ominous recline for global peace and the progressive consolidation of international law. Day after day, Russia, a world power continues to bomb Ukrainian cities and other targets.
Indeed, from Friday, 24th February, 2022, after days of deafening military exercises around the 2,295 kilometres of shared border, Russian troops moved as far as 260 kilometres into the precincts of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine from all directions and other major towns, and have continued advancing. From the north to the east through Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy, and from Crimea in the south, they move, leaving in their trail, indescribable toll of loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties. Typical of military conflicts this nature, optics on not few counter accusations of war crimes have been rife.
FROM EMPIRE TO COMMUNIST DIKTAT
The story of Ukraine and Russia inter-relations goes back to the shared parsimony in the Russian Empire commonly referred to as Imperial Russia. This was a historical state that extended across much of Europe and Asia. It was the third most expansive political potentate in world history; surpassed in size only by Britannia which “ruled the waves” at a time and the Imperial Chinese empire of the Qing dynasty (1631-1912).
The Russian Empire which had a population of about 125.6 million people, as far back as the census of 1897, was known for its great economic, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. It comprised more than 100 different ethnic nationalities, of which the Russians were majority; i.e., over 40%, while Ukrainians were equally major stakeholders.
In political terms, the Russian Empire which was ruled by Kings known as Czars from the Romanov Dynasty (1613-1917), revelled in absolute and autocratic powers. They were also famously conservative, authoritarian and ultra-nationalistic.
In modern times, the successor state to the Russian Empire, that is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or Soviet Union, as it was more commonly called, its origin in, the “October Revolution of 1917”. At that time, October, 24-25 on Russia’s Julian Calender, but actually November 6-7, in world history, the Bolsheviks, headed by a fiery ideologue and revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and established the world’s first constitutionally declared Socialist nation. Thereafter, a unification of the Russian and Slavic Republics of Ukrainians and Byelorussians as well as the Transcaucasians (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) took place. In 1944-1945, in the course of the 2nd World War, iron-fisted Soviet leader, Josef Stalin annexed the Balkan States (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia) after liberating them from occupation by Nazi Germany.
The nation of Ukraine was therefore, a critical part of the founding fabric which made up the erstwhile Soviet Union. Besides, it enjoyed very straddling demographic and linguistic cognancy with Russia. Indeed, after the Russian Federation, two other nations, being Ukraine and Belarus, came next in the line of “original” European stock that made up the Communist state and were part of the centre-point of doctrinaire socialist superstructure.
Ukraine’s privileged standing in the former USSR explains why three of the most prominent and long-serving Soviet leaders were all of its national stock. These are Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) protagonist of the Soviet Missile Crisis of 1962, Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) ruled for 18 years, and Konstantin Cherenkov (1911-1985) remembered to have paved the way for Mikhail Gorbachev’s emergence.
In recent history political reforms known as “perestroika” – openness and “glasnost” – economic reform, became embarked upon by the 8th and last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. By the way, this great man just turned 91 years on March 2, 2022 and lives peacefully in Moscow in the midst of the current war. Ukraine, just like the other 22 former Soviet Republics, therefore pronounced its independence on 24th August 1991. This marked Ukraine’s formal cessation from the stranglehold of Russian over-lordship after several centuries.
Vladimir Putin, 69 years old, a one-time Soviet intelligence officer, bears many similarities in demeanour and psychological makeup with some of Russia’s ferociou s and oligarchic rulers of the past. Such historic personalities as Czar Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584), Emperor (Czar) Peter the Great (1672-1725) were responsible for the expansion of the erstwhile Russian Empire. Also, Putin’s hard-line stance towards America and Western Europe, unlike his immediate past predecessors Gorbachev and Konstatin Chernenko is also a repeat of the mien of Josef Stalin, who ruled the USSR for a lengthy period of 31 years, from (1922 to 1953).
In his days, strongly-willed Stalin entered into an alliance with Western Allied Forces to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II. But then, he was mindful of drawing, very clearly, the easternmost boundaries between the East and the West. As a matter of fact, a town like Berlin, the German capital was divided into three and later two separate parts demarcated by a deafening wall.
More than Putin’s mental state, is the factor that Ukraine’s privileged standing and the seeming advantage of geographical contiguity occasioned the unrestrained citing of several critical economic and tactical defence assets of the former USSR in that country. As a matter, at the time of independence in 1991, about 3,000 of the Soviet Unions nuclear warheads were deployed on Ukrainian territory. Ukraine is also of great economic asset to the sub-region as it has among other things, some of Europe’s highest endowment of agricultural and mineral resources covering its entire landmass of 603,548 square kilometres.
Putin will therefore want to keep away Western meddlesome in a place as Ukraine as much as possible. In a repeat of history, as 35th American President, John Kennedy (1917-1963) would not see Soviet missiles in Cuba, about 145 kilometres from its borders, exactly sixty years ago, Putin and his Russian security hawks will not risk allowing Ukraine join NATO or enter some other deeper extraneous military alliances, unrestrainedly. As perceived by Putin and his ilk, the current invasion of their smaller neighbour, Ukraine, is essentially a fight for survival and an act in group self-preservation of its concentric sphere of influence. Indeed, Putin, as a young Communist Party official, perhaps grudgingly, saw his predecessors, Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin dismantle Soviet era structures and the creeping cobweb of western democracy and military structures all around Russia. However, from Georgia (2008), Chechen (1999-2008) Crimea (2014), now to Ukraine, he could not stomach such meddlesomeness directly inside his neighbours next door.
CAN PUTIN WIN THIS WAR?
Although the current Ukraine war is, strictly speaking, not an ideological match of opposites, it bears historical traits to entrenched interests. The Cold War (1947-1991) has since ended, and the Warsaw Pact Military Alliance which since 1955 shielded countries of the Eastern Bloc, was dissolved in 1991. However, Russia and China and a coterie of smaller nations are practising ideological hybridization at present, i.e. economic openness in the midst of closed political rigidity. Notwithstanding, their antecedents rooted in socialist/communist credos, keeps the two great powers (China and Russia) orphaned together as scions of eastern ideological orthodoxy. They are somewhat perpetually on antagonistic and confrontational standing with western powers and vice versa. Although China’s economic interests in the western world are overwhelming, its slow-footedness towards condemning Russia on all its adventurist policies, shows where its heart woukd lie, if things get worse.
Russia and some of its allies are equally obtuse and by their own rights, global leaders in fire power. As of now, China, for one, has the largest active men in uniform in the world totalling about 2 million. In terms of fighting force, India, North Korea and Russia count among the five largest armies respectively, each with over one million personnel. With respect to overall military capability and capacity on deployment of weapons, China and Russia only come next to the United States. Russia itself is the world’s numbers one nuclear power with about 6,225 warheads.
Added to these, the exact size and strength of Moscow’s maverick friend, North Korea’s nuclear arsenals are unclear. Many believe that the pariah nation’s testing of nuclear arsenals and show off ballistic capability during this period, keeps both America and its friends Japan and South Korea seriously on high alert.
On the flip side, from the days of its founding in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an American-led military alliance has increased its collective military power. Now boasting a capacity to deploy, in nominal terms, nearly 3.5 million personnel, NATO remains the world’s greatest defence and tactical platform. In terms of individual standing in military ranking, some of its key members such as United States is the world’s no. 1, Germany is number 4 in power rankings, while the United Kingdom is number 5 and France comes up as number six (6). This makes NATO a greatly formidable collective force to reckon with.
According to the leading global watch group, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as of 2018, military expenditures was at a high mark of about US$1,822 trillion. However, three years later, i.e. 2021, despite the rage of Covid-19, defence spending rose by almost 2.8%. In this, just the Americas alone expended in its aerospace and defence about US$ 550.78 billion in 2021. Two years earlier, in aggregate terms, the military budget of the United States was US$693 billion, the highest in the world. America itself is number two in nuclear capability, holding over 5,550 warheads
What the above scenario depicts is the counter-balance of belligerent capacity if things generate. None can therefore risk a conjecture on the outcome of a head-on confrontation.
SO, WILL NATO STAND UP TO RUSSIA?
NATO’s hands are tied as it were, by its Article 5, which limits it to only initiate action if one of its 30 members is attacked. That Article has been invoked only once in NATO’s 70 years history. On September 12, 2001, the alliance invoked the provision, barely 24 hours after the 9/11 Terror Attack on the United States. It remains tenuously optimistic if the alliance will invoke that article now, as Ukraine’s quest for membership is still far from reality. Besides, NATO is wary of orchestrating a Third World War, with the rather precipitate prevalent conditions.
THE RAIN OF SANCTIONS
As Russia continues, undeterred to pillage, quite pitiably targets in Ukraine, its 44 years old President, Volodymyr Zelensky mounts global rostrums virtually and digitally, canvassing support. America and Europe’s response has been to extend to Ukraine unprecedented military and humanitarian support, short of plunging into direct belligerency. These include lethal weapons, advanced systems, attack battle systems, anti-tank weapons, etc. These have helped Ukaine maintained relatively appreciable level, though at a much higher cost.
Additionally, the US and the rest of Europe have imposed unprecedented sanctions of economic, political and diplomatic nature on Russia.
The sanctions which have been mounted cover almost all spheres of the country’s national life. Primarily, the sanctions have been political, which are focused on isolating Putin and top members of his government in their personal and collective capacities. Added to these are visa and emigration restrictions. Several European countries have also expelled hundreds of Russian diplomats. The intention here is to limit the country’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations or enable its operatives carry out intelligence activities at a time when the EU considers itself, to be at war with Russia. Actually, since Russia annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine, the EU had frozen the assets of about 800 people and 62 entities, most of whom are members of the Russian government, Parliament (Duma), the National Security Council and selected business persons.
The US and Europe have also embarked on other types of embargoes, especially economic sanctions to limit Russia’s ability to engage in international economic relations and thereby finance its war with Ukraine. Most European countries have equally extended sanctions to such Russian allies as Belarus and the contested/controlled Donetsk and Luhansk. The economic ban on Russia covers:
i. restricted access to EU and by implication, global capital markets by Russian banks and companies;
ii. Limitation on transactions with Russian Central Bank and that of Belarus;
iii. SWIFT ban on banks from the two countries;
iv. Prohibition on access to Euro denominated currencies;
v. Massive withdrawal of western companies including FDF flow;
vi. Cut-off of technology inflow for the energy sector; and
vii. Closure of EU airspace to Russian aircrafts.
As the war continues, the EU has also embarked on suspension of broadcasting activities of major Russian news houses, especially SPUTNIK and Russia Today. These efforts are going ahead of continued threats to suspend Russia from participation in the activities of the G8 and in such other international fora as the International Energy Association (IEA), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), certain sporting activities, etc. The United Nations General Assembly on 7th April, 2022 took the unprecedented step of suspending Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council; although China voted against it while 24 countries including Nigeria abstained.
WILL SANCTIONS STOP THE RUSSIAN FURY?
It is however important to properly situate these measures vis-à-vis the actual efficacy of economic, diplomatic and other forms of sanctions. It is important to mention, that despite these far-reaching sanctions, the country has continued to march on and still remains a military and economic powerhouse in the world.
No doubt, the country’s population would feel the pinch of the sanctions but whether these will help immediately stop the bombardment of Ukraine’s 40 million people, of which over 5 million have already fled helplessly to Poland and other neighbouring countries, remains to be seen. As of today, the Russian economy with the world’s fifth largest foreign exchange reserve is a global powerhouse. It is ranked as 11th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $1.71 trillion and huge resource endowment, it leads in many areas. So will Russia immediately feel the pinch and the biters? As a matter of fact, this brings the whole question of sanctions to question as several other countries which have gone through such economic and financial penalties have survived.
Sanctions imposed by the US on Cuba started in 1959, while those on Iran were from 1979 and reintroduced in 1987. In the case of Syria, the embargoes started in 1986 and for Venezuela, in 2018. What is curious is that, to a considerable degree, all these countries have continued to survive. Even such countries as Libya, Iran, India, Zimbabwe and erstwhile Apartheid South Africa lived through all manners of sanctions, imposed by bilateral nations, alongside multilateral and regional organisations and remained afloat to a reasonable extent. Even Nigeria following the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 was severely sanctioned but survived until the country returned to democratic rule.
Sanctions bring hardships of various forms and create a state of autarky as is the case of Russia at present, however issues bordering on implementation, enforcement, imperative of humanitarian intervention and even stark economic realities make it difficult to work sufficiently to achieve the desired effects. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has already warned that these measures “will have substantial impact on the global economy and financial markets.” The organisation called attention to likely global spiral of inflation and extraordinary uncertainties. Similarly, the UN has cautioned on the likely debilitating impact on food production, supplies and prices. More directly, Europe depends substantially on Russian gas and energy for subsistence. Indeed, new fears are emerging that sanctions would in the long-run, also hurt many western economies and how long they will allow these shocks loom around remains to be seen.
It is therefore most unlikely to expect that sanctions alone will stop Russia from its heavy bombardment of Ukraine.
INTERNATIONAL LAW DIMENSION
The other question is the efficacy of international law in being able to guarantee peace and security around the globe and curtail the situation of anarchy and total breakdown of peace as it is now in Ukraine. The precursors to the events that are ongoing in Ukraine were foreseen during the drafting of the UN Charter. It is for this, that specific provisions were made to prevent such occurrences. So, Article 51 of the Charter states inter alia:
“nothing in the present shall impart the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if any armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security.”
Similar to this, the Charter has given copious “enforcement powers” to the Security Council under other provisions of Article 39 to 50. The Charter clearly states that by Resolution of the Security Council, such threat on security can be contained through collective global action. Such collective actions have been taken by the UN at least 25 instances between 1946, a year after the organisation was formed and 2020. They have included the use of sanctions and actual military enforcement actions such as peace keeping, peace enforcement, peace monitoring and other actions by way of preventive diplomacy.
However, the entire UN actions have been vitiated by the provision of the use of Veto Power by the so-called Club of Permanent Members, (P5), i.e., Britain, France, Russia, United States and China, being the five victorious allies of the 2nd World War.
What this means is that, it would be almost impossible for the UN to take collective measures against Russia as the vote of the other 10 non-permanent members who are elected on two yearly terms is not up to the vote of a single Permanent Member. Any of this quintet of P5 can prevent a decision from being taken. Therefore, any move at this time to enforce the provisions under Charter 7 will likely be torpedoed by either Russia or its strong ally, China.
This shows the gaping flaws in the existing global international law regime as it pertains to collective security. In other words, these big powers, P5 and their likes can do whatever pleases them in the world and go free. Hence, there is need to find another strategy.
THE DIPLOMATIC IMPERATIVE
Ahead of the commencement of war in Ukraine, various European leaders had embarked on back-channel negotiations to prevent escalation and bring the foreseen carnage to an end. The German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz and French President, Emmanuel Macron both undertook diplomatic demarche to avoid the war, curtail it and bring it to an early end. As war raged, the Austrian Chancellor, Karl Nehammer has also waded in, inchoately. While he has continued to drum the need for diplomacy to end this war, Putin himself has not relented in his demand on so-called “demilitarization, denazification, constitutionally entrenched neutrality of Ukraine”. Furthermore, he has not relented in his request on Ukraine and the international community to legitimize and take as given, his annexation of Crimea, and the recognition of Donbass and other breakaway parts of Ukraine as independent states. These Russia’s demands constitute a major challenge to international law as it appears to be like the fungal disease “ophiobolus graminis” whose effect is total, i.e., the “winner takes all”.
Efforts at negotiation between Russia and Ukraine, initiated by Turkey have remained equally snail-paced. Behind the scene efforts by Israel which has an interest since Zelensky is of Jewish stock and both Russia and Ukraine have substantial Semitic populations is also rather indeterminable. China, who cannot claim to be a non-interested party, has in public declarations also voiced the need for diplomacy and dialogue. But rather vaguely, insists “that this will only be done when the time is right.”
In a situation where NATO and their allies are hamstrung from entering the war and the efforts to bolster the defence capability of Ukraine are not giving early victory over Russia, the whole international community finds itself in a seeming dilemma of circumstances with limited escape routes.
Against the above scenario, the only hope of stopping the fury and might of the Russian war machine may be to get China and other medium range countries who seem to enjoy relative contact with both sides to form “amici curiae”, of sorts and attempt to broker peace.
HOW THE WAR WILL END
So, as risky as this may appear, it is remiss to hazard the guess that the most foreseeable way of bringing respite to the Russian-Ukrainian war will not lie alone in the supply to Ukraine, of armaments and weapons for further escalation. As wrong as Russia is in attacking a sovereign country, it will continue to see itself as embarking on a war of survival. Putin and his political “état-major” also realize that relying on the existing dictates of international law and seeming return to detente, the possibility of actual military intervention from the west is tenuous. Accordingly, Putin may not easily buckle to the unceasing level of propaganda and sanctions against his nation. Unlike past cases of breach of peace in Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and even North Korea, Putin also realizes that Russia’s Veto Power may, for a long while, keep almost all other parties in a cul-de-sac.
Coming from this perspective, it is more likely that diplomacy, if given the opportunity to take the centre stage, could be the panacea for arriving at sustainable peace. In this effort, it would be more propitious to leave all options open, including the issues raised by both Russia and Ukraine. One particular option which the President of Ukraine has started to canvass, along few other international intermediators, is the fact of Ukraine becoming a neutral state, a kind of buffer between the West and the East. Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Norway, Malta, Ireland and so on, have at different times in recent global trends, maintained neutrality and played the role of forming broader global alliances towards promoting peace.
More closely home, countries such as Nigeria, Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or South Africa who are not in the theatre of the conflict, but of sufficient international respect, could carve out for themselves some form of activist diplomacy. If pursued individually, such efforts may appear lilliputian, so it could be embarked upon as a coalition. This is similar to what the Non Aligned Movement and G77 plus China effectively did and still do on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly. After all, Nigeria for one, has historic relationship with Russia, and lately in a major way with Ukraine, in terms of human educational cooperation and active consular relations. Nigeria could therefore warm its way to becoming part of the global efforts to provide solutions. But think of it, this is in consonance with the declared ascent of Nigeria being the fulcrum of “Concert of Medium Powers” once dreamed about.
Whatever it is, let peace reign!
Igali, a former Ambassador is the Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA).