Despite US rhetoric on ‘defeating’ Russia in the Ukraine war, the US military is wary of supplying weapons to Kyiv with the range to attack Russia. This may drag the US into the conflict. With such limited military aid, Ukraine will never push Russia out of its territory altogether. Nato allies – Italy, Germany, France – are already tiring of a long, economically ruinous war. Privately, many now seek a face-saving compromise for Russia, leaving it with significant gains.
Such a compromise will fall far short of Vladimir Putin’s original aims and can be sold to the Western public as a Russian defeat. So can the expansion of Nato to cover Finland and Sweden. Meanwhile, Putin can sell his limited territorial gains as a victory to his domestic audience.
Shoot and Scoot
Intellectuals and diplomats want a quick compromise to end the war and save poor Africans from starvation. But this will be terrible for India. It will leave Russia with substantial gains, giving China every incentive to invade Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, and then call for a ceasefire.
India does not need a quick Ukrainian compromise that lets Russia off the hook. Instead, India needs a long, painful war that cripples Russia and warns China against similar adventures. India’s interest lies not in making food cheap in Africa, but in making war extremely expensive for invaders. If this causes distress in Africa, blame the invaders and do not demand sacrifices of the invaded.
Many intellectuals and peaceniks imply that peace is more important than some Ukrainian loss of territory. They say superpowers are entitled to accommodation – including grabbing the land of neighbours – to meet their perceived security needs. This reminds me of a woman being sexually abused by her boss and being told to come to a quick compromise for the greater good of the community and corporation. The Ukrainian woman in our parable is also accused of wearing provocative dresses and flirting with a chap called Nato. The sniggering implication is, ‘She asked for it.’
Sorry, this is not peacenik morality but stinking hypocrisy. It is also cowardice. Such peaceniks resemble those seeking compromise with Adolf Hitler in 1939 to avoid a world war. They proved not moral heroes but cowardly zeroes that encouraged Hitler’s atrocities.
Amazingly, many intellectuals cannot see that Putin is doing what Hitler did. Every independent country has the right to choose its allies without being invaded. No conqueror should be able to hold on to conquests. These two principles are the bedrock of world peace. They represent practical politics no less than morality.
Putin regards the break-up of the Soviet empire as a great historical tragedy, and seeks to recreate that empire partially. First, he took over Russian ethnic enclaves in Georgia, then in Moldova. He annexed Crimea and installed puppet regimes in two Ukrainian enclaves. He now claims that Ukraine is a historical fiction and seeks to make it part of Russia. His success will encourage China to do something similar.
Russia has been India’s old friend and military supplier. India needs a strong, independent Russia. Not an imperial Russia that gives China the wrong ideas about the profitability of invasion. Every argument made today to sacrifice Ukrainian territory for the greater good can become an argument to force compromise on India after a Chinese land grab.
All Pain, No Gain
Consider a scenario where Xi Jinping seeks to repeat Ukraine in the Himalayas. Step one is a Chinese invasion at multiple points, hoping for a quick victory. Indian troops resist stiffly. The Quad, Nato and others offer India military aid and impose economic sanctions on China. India throws back Chinese troops in some sectors. But in key parts of Ladakh and Arunachal, China gains territory and digs in.
Meanwhile, economic sanctions wreak havoc on the world economy, create shortages and send poor countries into debt default. Western allies suffer substantial economic damage from sanctions since they are linked to China in global supply chains. After three months of voicing virtuous outrage, many diplomats start saying unending war is pointless and a compromise must be found. Former Nobel Peace Prize winners will call for an unconditional ceasefire. Noam Chomsky will blame it all on the US. Henry Kissinger will warn against assistance to India that may drag the West into conflict with China.
Peaceniks will bemoan the horrible price the world is paying, especially the poorest. They will ask, why is such a high world price being paid over disputed mountainous wastelands where not a blade of grass grows? Is not India being selfish and unrealistic? Surely, a compromise is better than endless blood-letting?
Readers, you will bristle with outrage at such a scenario. Yet, it will become plausible if a compromise in Ukraine leaves Russia with significant gains, no matter that these are less than the original target. To avoid such a horrible outcome, India needs the world to demonstrate to China that such invasions will mean paying a terrible price in time, money and blood. No quick compromises, please.
This article was originally published in The Economic Times on May 31, 2022.