Russia – Ukraine Conflict Global Impact and Implications

Sub Title : analysing the implications beyond the military strategy and tactics

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2022

Author : Lt Gen Arun Sahni, PVSM, UYSM, SM,VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 24

Category : Geostrategy

: March 31, 2022

India has to draw lessons from the current Russo- Ukraine conflict. For India the greatest lesson is that it will have to meet the Chinese challenge on its own. There is no likelihood of USA or any other nation getting involved in India’s fight with China. Therefore, let us focus on ‘Atmanirbharta’ in all its dimensions

The Russian Ukraine conflict has plunged Europe once again into turbulence by disrupting the state of peaceful co-existence and cooperation that evolved, post the ‘cold war’ realignments of the 1990s. The clouds of war were in the air for over a month, with Russian military build-up in the proximity of Ukraine’s border and follow on joint military exercises with Belarus, a repeat of Exercise ‘Zapad’ in 2021. The DONBAS was anyway on tenterhooks as it was seeking a merger with Russia, post-reunification of Crimea. There was increased polarisation within Ukraine between pro and anti-Russian groups. We will not debate the underlying reasons for the conflict, its conduct, terminal objectives, the morality of who is right or wrong, but the fact is that pragmatism and respect for Russian security interests may have averted this man-made disaster. What appears certain is that it will irreversibly impact the global Geo-Strategic landscape and the Global and European security order. It would be fair to state that the world will not be the same, whatever be the outcome of the conflict. However, the longer the war lasts, the heavier will be the casualties and the more resolute the world’s response towards Russia. Thus, what seems plausible at this moment, is that Russia will be the biggest loser and this event will stress the existing global order and impact world politics. The mute question is – does this polarization and hardening stance of the developed world towards Russia herald a transition from the existing systems and what are its long term impact?

Increasing European Solidarity and Defence Budgets

An analysis of the events that have been triggered by the conflict indicates that the global security paradigm will be severely impacted.   Firstly, it is the decision of some key European nations to increase their military footprint or revoke their neutral status. Germany has announced an increase in its military spending to approximately 2% of its GDP annually, a move it had firmly abstained from since the end of the 2nd World War. Scandinavian countries had always abstained from joining NATO due to their geographical proximity to the erstwhile Soviet Union. But this conflict has already led to Finland considering options for joining NATO and Sweden has been granted access to NATO intelligence, without being a member. Bosnia is planning to join NATO, while Kosovo is seeking a permanent US military deployment in its territory. NATO’s eastward expansion to include erstwhile East European countries, is back under contention. Switzerland has forgone its neutrality and joined the EU in imposing economic sanctions, targeting Russian banks and assets.

Secondly, European ‘strategic solidarity’ has come to the fore with countries like Germany, France and erstwhile Soviet bloc countries like Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria providing weapons and military hardware to Ukraine. NATO, for the first time, is forward deploying forces to the Baltic states. German troops are moving to Lithuania and Slovakia, with their air and sea assets deployed in Romania, the Baltic and the Mediterranean. France is also moving forces to Romania. There is increased solidarity in Europe now for the concerns of the neglected states of Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Turkey has activated the 1936 ‘Montreux Convention’, which closes the Turkish Straits to warships, significantly restricting the movement of Russian naval assets from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea and influencing military operations in southern Ukraine.

Impact on the Indo Pacific Region

When we see these acts of military transition in Europe with the events that have been unfolding in the Indo-Pacific landscape, due to the belligerence of a ‘rising China’, we see a major transition in the global security architecture. Recent hegemonistic actions by China in its extended neighbourhood has seen prioritised up-gradation of military capacities in South, SE Asia and the Far East, for their respective security imperatives. There is an endeavour to achieve collaborative security to safeguard the SLOCs, ensure ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea and safeguard the interest of the disputed island territories and smaller nations of the region. Japan has revoked its laws for increasing its military capacities, Taiwan is improving its defensive capabilities, the USA has relocated additional combat resources to this region under its ‘Indo Pacific’ strategy and new synergistic groupings have been formed to address common security concerns. QUAD has been formed for ensuring political and economic autonomy, whereas, AUKUS is a military grouping. Undoubtedly, a highly militarized environment increases the probability of local skirmishes escalating into major confrontations. Especially when the threat landscape is increasing due to unforeseen impact of events like climate change initiated migration, the criticality of availability of essential resources including water or adoption of unorthodox pressure tactics by nation-states by exploiting cyber, space and EW spectrum to achieve political objectives. It would be a fair assessment that the combined changes in Europe’s military architecture and militarisation in the Indo Pacific has vitiated the global security environment, demanding greater fortitude by the nation-states.

New Axis and Polarisation

Prolongation of the Russia Ukraine conflict will result in Increased polarisation of viewpoints and ‘firming in’ of sentiments, that either you are with us or against. We are already witnessing this with the US and the developed world on one side and the ‘Russia- China- Iran – Turkey’ axis, on the other. The latter has for some time been propagating an alternative to the US-led liberal order. These are early indicators of ‘bloc politics’ emerging yet again, in a new avatar in the Euro Atlantic, but with global overtones. This polarisation will not be as straitjacketed as the cold war era, maybe due to global economic linkages, but nonetheless, it will impinge on the options for the developing countries.  This ‘either-or’ situation has economic spinoffs, that can be detrimental for countries like India. Greater decoupling in the economic and commercial fields will lead to developing countries like India being limited for options and force them to be dependent on one side for its military hardware and technology. As stated by a former foreign secretary in an interview, the ongoing conflict is likely to result in greater dovetailing between the Russian and Chinese ideas about the Indo-Pacific and the Quad.  There is all likelihood that China would ask Russia to support its vision of the Indo-Pacific, for its support for Russian resistance to NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. This does not augur well for world peace.

Weaponising Economic Sanctions

The other major impact of the conflict is on Geo-economics. As stated in a recent article, the ‘weaponization of sanctions’ on a G8 country like Russia, will have far-reaching implications. The stringent economic sanctions on Russia, by the USA and western nations, will indeed affect global economic well being. As Russia is a major energy supplier, we are already experiencing higher prices for fossil fuels, gas and commodities. Higher gas and energy prices have hence the potential to increase headline inflation and create significant downward pressure on consumers’ purchasing power and corporate sector profit. That means higher stagflation risks in the short term.  Long-lasting tensions or escalation can further increase economic pain, from unrealistic energy prices or due to actual reduction in energy supply volumes. This will have an adverse impact on growth and development and in due course result in a slowdown of the economy, with contraction of national GDPs. Disruption of supply chains and restriction on trade is another challenge, that will require to be addressed by all nations on priority. It is necessary to appreciate that ‘sanctions’ destroy well-established supply channels with major repercussions. For India, it is therefore imperative to maintain focus on ‘Atmanirbharta’, in all its dimensions. The denial of SWIFT facilities to Russia will impact its financial services and trade, but it is also likely to provide impetus to the Chinese equivalent system being strengthened, in case Russia adopts that for its financial services. These sanctions are also likely to see increased use of crypto and digital currencies or the establishment of hybrid arrangements for bilateral trade and payments. All these may contribute towards fractioning of the existing economic system, with long term consequences.

Nuclear Deterrence and World Peace

The conflict has also raised questions on the effectiveness and relevance of nuclear deterrence. It has been widely debated that in case Ukraine had not agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal after its independence in the 1990s, Russia may not have been emboldened to undertake this offensive, irrespective of the seriousness of the causes. If the assumption is correct, then there is an increased likelihood of nuclear proliferation. This aspect requires to be addressed on priority and one way would be to officially recognise the States that have already got nuclear arsenals, for effective regulatory controls. Another related issue is the nuclear alert by Russia, in the early stages of the conflict. It may be justified by them to deter the involvement of other nations in the conflict, but it does highlight the danger of indiscriminate use of nuclear resources by autocratic leadership. It should therefore be a priority to get China along with Russia in the ‘Arms Limitation Agreements’. That would ensure that nuclear weapons remain political instruments for deterrence. Towards world peace, there is a need for encoding mutually accepted principles for exploitation of niche and emerging technologies, militarisation of space, security of space-based assets and robustness of the current international Institutions to meet the changed realities of global order.

China the Quiet Observer

China is once again carefully observing the resolve of the developed world in its support for Ukraine and in imposing economic sanctions on Russia. It is assessing the short and long term impact of the sanctions on a well-developed economy like Russia. This with the aim to identify the vulnerabilities and to institute corrective measures for hardening its own economy and build resilience from western financial and economic assaults. The inadequacy of the response by the ‘west’ and NATO to support Ukraine in the conflict, is also bound to embolden China in its nefarious design of annexation of Taiwan. The reasons for the west only restricting support of Ukraine with military hardware is well appreciated, as it did not want to increase the ‘span of conflict’ from local, to a regional canvas. But the same will also hold true in the case of China. This may also lead to increased hostility by China in the resolution of land disputes with the neighbouring states, as also in the South and the East China Sea.  If we see the conflict in the context of the Indo Pacific, it is undoubtedly a matter of concern that it will divert attention from the Indo Pacific and once again allow China to pursue a policy of domination in its areas of interest unhindered.

It is too early to draw major lessons from the conflict, but the role and criticality of ‘Information warfare and Strategic Communication’ in an interconnected world, has come out loud and clear. There has been a deluge of controlled and motivated information, with enough misinformation on the print, visual media and more critically on social media platforms, that has influenced perceptions of the majority. In the realm of ‘strategic communication’, repeated televised address by the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine, to their respective people, has ensured that the morale and motivation of both warring sides, remains at a perpetual high. Zelensky’s virtual address to elected representatives in the US and key European parliaments has rallied public opinion in favour of Ukraine, with greater empathy by Europe for its fleeing population and military hardware for its forces. In a counter US and western officials from different quarters, have been sharing exaggerated reports of the Ukranian resistance and Russian deprivation and this resonated by local medias in respective countries, has added to the ground swell of public opinion. It has undoubtedly achieved its aim of solely pinning the blame of the conflict on Russia, painting Putin as the pariah and obliterating the causative factors of the conflict from public debate. It has motivated the Ukrainians to continue their resistance to the Russian offensive, that unquestionably has been derailed.

For India, the greatest lesson is that it will have to tread the thin line of maintaining a fine balance between the warring sides, as it is dependent on Russia for its military hardware and high-end technology and unrestrained support in times of crisis, whereas, it has a common bond with the US and other liberal democracies of the world. Also, the challenges of the Indo Pacific requires it to be part of collaborative groupings with like-minded countries. It is clear,  that India will have to tackle its security challenges on its own, as no other nation will get involved in India’s border conflicts. They will remain in the esoteric domain of resolutions and diplomacy, so ensuring strategic autonomy should remain a priority, for ensuring a rule-based world order. The ongoing conflict in Europe has also shown that similar situations can be avoided elsewhere if neighbouring States are sensitive to each other’s concerns and adopt a rational approach towards problem-solving. Therefore, I conclude by stating that the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Wang Yi to Delhi on 25 March 22, should be seen as an opportunity to move ahead in our bilateral relationship. Let there be realistic pragmatism in overcoming differences.