The Ukraine war has gone wrong for all the stakeholders. Russia may have miscalculated the success of its “special operation” against Ukraine, negating earlier commentaries that Russia would defeat Ukraine in a matter of weeks.
The Ukrainian resistance, with the assistance of the US and NATO states, played a significant role in the continuation of the conflict. On the diplomatic front, there was no forward movement to bring the two countries’ war to an end. At the global level, most countries suffered due to rising energy and food prices.
The US and European analysts portray a bleak picture for the future as the conflict is no more confined to Russia and Ukraine alone. The US and NATO countries have drawn a clear line putting Russia and China in the rival camp while trying to woo the rest of the world to their side. Informally, the world has plunged into camp politics.
On February 21, making a surprise visit to Kyiv on the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine, President Biden minced no words while supporting Ukraine’s need to counter Russian weaponry. He announced an additional $500 million for the supply of weapons to Ukraine.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified 7,155 civilian deaths during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of February 5, 2023. Of them, 438 were children. Furthermore, 11,662 people were reported to have been injured. The US officials claim Russia lost between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in its war on Ukraine. Oryx, an independent team of analysts that has tracked open-source intelligence on equipment losses throughout the war, estimated that more than 1,700 Russian tanks had been destroyed, damaged or captured. For the time being, accurate casualty figures are difficult to come by.
According to the latest data from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think-tank, NATO members committed at least 75.2 billion euros ($80.5bn) in financial, humanitarian and military aid between January 24 and November 20, 2022. At 47.8 billion euros ($51.2bn) in commitments, the US is Ukraine’s biggest contributor, with at least 22.9 billion euros ($24.5bn) going towards military pledges, 15.05 billion euros ($16.1bn) in financial aid and 9.9 billion euros ($10.6bn) 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 above assistance, worth approximately $100 billion in one year, indicates how costly this war will be for the stakeholders. According to Prof Stephen Walt, a continuation of war may become detrimental to Russian interests as “Russia now finds itself fighting an opponent backed by partners with a total GDP of more than $40 trillion (compared with Russia’s $1.8 trillion) and whose defence industries produce the world’s most lethal weapons.” He adds, “This disparity in overall resources does not guarantee a Ukrainian victory, but it has transformed what Putin expected would be a cinch into a costly war of attrition.”
Undoubtedly, Russia is facing the crunch to the extent that it had to rely on Iranian drones. However, it would be equally enervating an experience for the NATO countries, which have not only increased their defence spending, but also have to chip out for Ukraine to recoup its military arsenal.
The US seems adamant about stoking fire in the ongoing Ukrainian war. President Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on February 21 was a strong signal that the US stood with President Zelenskyy despite growing pressure at home to downsize US aid. It also reflects the future events in the ongoing war in which the US and NATO would do their utmost to undermine Russia’s efforts to dislodge Ukrainian President Zelensky.
In response to President Biden’s visit to Ukraine, President Putin displayed a defiant tone. While speaking to members of both houses of parliament, state officials, military commanders and soldiers, Putin said: “They (the West) want to inflict a strategic defeat on us and sneak into our nuclear facilities. In light of this, I am compelled to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty. Russia is not withdrawing from the treaty, but is suspending its participation…”
Putin has been reputed to have brought stability to the country since he came to power. Still, the Ukrainian war is bound for instability if it lingers on or if Ukraine continues defying Russian dictates. It was Putin’s warning to the US that Russia would go to any extent to secure its interest. However, President Putin faces a formidable challenge to his leadership if the war goes against his plans.
Another critical aspect of the continuation of the war in Ukraine is the reinvigoration of NATO as a formidable alliance with the active participation of European partners. The US would want the European partners in NATO to defend their borders and interests by building their own defence capabilities. Prof Walt argues that “sharing burdens within NATO would allow the United States to focus on balancing China in Asia, a task Europe is neither willing nor able to perform. Gradually reducing the US commitment would also ensure that European states do not abandon their pledges to rearm and pass the buck back to Washington when the war in Ukraine is over.”
Putin is reputed to be a master strategist in waging war. However, initiating a war with a NATO-backed Ukraine could be dangerous, leading to unpredictable consequences. It could lead to instability, and stability was the one thing that Putin had delivered to Russians over the past 20 years. He must have calculated his options before launching an attack on Ukraine.
For Pakistan, after the Covid pandemic, the Ukraine war has proved to be ominous for various reasons. At the diplomatic level, Pakistan’s neutral stance was not liked by the US/EU, although it served Pakistan’s national interest well. Pakistan should maintain this stance in the interest of its regional policy to establish better relations with its neighbours. However, it should continue to plead for cessation of war between Russia and Ukraine.
The evolving situation has divided the world, reminiscent of the cold war. On the economic front, Pakistan cannot afford to antagonise either of the camps. However, there is a need to distinguish between the stances adopted by Russia and the US/EU. It is widely acknowledged that NATO countries encouraged Ukraine to join the alliance ignoring the geo-strategic sensitivities of Russia. Russia considered NATO’s expansions towards its borders as detrimental to its national security.