Thursday 18th of April 2024

One Year On US Is More Entrenched In Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Vivek Mishra
Region : ,
Issue : Military Issues, Security, Politics,
This week marked the first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and, through its course, never has the world wanted peace more. Despite perceptible war fatigue on both sides, the commitment to see the conflict through in their favour remains unstinting on both sides.
As the spectacle of a long-drawn war in the European theatre continues, both real and metaphorical trenches are now much deeper than they were a year ago. This predicament has been amplified by two contrasting speeches on the eve of the war’s anniversary, one by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his State of the Nation speech and the other by the United States (US) President Joe Biden in Warsaw during his cloak-and-dagger visit. At its first anniversary, grandstanding on both sides has left the prospects for ending the war in a nebulous state.
Amidst this stalemate, the US’ role in the Ukraine war has been a subject of intense debate both inside and outside the country. These narratives have been set apart by perceptible incongruities. On the one hand, the US has been the lynchpin of western aid to Ukraine, mustering a renewed trans-Atlantic solidarity in the post-WWII period. This narrative has not only united the Western world by focusing on a united defence of democracy in Ukraine against Russia but has also sought to drain Russia out through its collective defence of Ukraine. On the other hand, the US has been cautious of helping Ukraine lest it would draw Washington directly into the war with another nuclear-armed nation. For instance, since the early stages of the crisis, the US has been careful in not declaring no-fly zones over Ukraine to avoid a direct conflict with Russia, which could change the status quo. For Russia, Putin believes that Russia can win this war despite Western support for Ukraine.
There are at least three broad trends in the US support towards Ukraine:
President Biden’s visit to Kyiv on February 20 and his subsequent speech in Warsaw were steps steeped in symbolism, meant for his domestic voters back home as well as for galvanising international support for Ukraine. Domestically, such symbolism attains importance in the context of the fraught politics in the US but, more importantly, in the context of the start of the campaign season for the national elections in 2024.
The Republican control of the House of Representatives in the US has made Biden’s audacious bid to visit Ukraine even more important, particularly as House leader Kevin McCarthy has warned the Biden administration against handing a ‘blank cheque’ to Ukraine. Besides, obituaries for Joe Biden’s political career as a president in his second term have already started being written in the US and robust military support to Ukraine could alter perceptions that his leadership and position is in extremis.
As such, strong and united military support to Ukraine by the US and its partners, one that doesn’t buckle under Russian onslaught and outlives it, may revive US global leadership, establish its position as a champion of democracy, and possibly secure a second consecutive term for the Democrats in the national elections next year.
The China angle
For the US, the China angle to the Ukraine war is conspicuous by its absence. Despite Beijing’s commonly supposed position that it is a neutral party in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, there is ample evidence now to show that China has been helping Russia overcome the impact of sanctions. For instance, a recent report has shown that Chinese state-owned defence companies are shipping navigation equipment, jamming technology and parts for fighter jets to Russian state-owned defence companies. If Russia and China declared their ‘no limits’ friendship on the eve of the war in 2022, a year on, the bilateral relationship has only solidified with Putin meeting Chinese leader Wang Yi on 23 February this year, paving the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia later this year and, most importantly, hailing ‘new frontiers’ in their relationship.
China’s recent vow to ‘firmly defend’ national territories with Russia points to an obvious strategic apprehension surrounding Taiwan. As the Biden administration has depicted greater resolve over defending Taiwan than past administrations in the US by undercutting ‘strategic ambiguity’ over Taiwan, China feels more persuaded to consolidate its partnerships over a possible conflict and international isolation by the West. In this quest, Russia is its natural partner.
The Biden administration has consciously recentred the Taiwan question in its China policy even as the war in Ukraine has dragged on. A pledge to militarily defend Taiwan; passing the CHIPS Act in 2022, which seeks to regulate China’s access to high-end semiconductors and related equipment; the recent decision to quadruple the number of US troops in Taiwan; the still-to-be-passed Taiwan Policy Act of 2022—all bolster the US’s Taiwan policy under Biden. However, a closer look reveals that the high-paced security assistance to Kyiv is taxing an already stretched defence-industrial base in the US. This has, in turn, impacted defence supplies to Taiwan. As such, how the war shapes up could impact the US’s Taiwan-China policy
Fault lines
While the US has led the strongest post-WWII trans-Atlantic solidarity in the West, it has failed to set an example or inspire similar leadership persuasions in the Global South. In fact, an already fractured world order is coming apart at the seams with countries separated by deeper fault lines. If the war has proven to be a decisive moment for non-NATO countries in Europe to join the security organisation, it has also pushed countries like Russia, China, and Iran to further distance themselves from the US-led global order. Furthermore, countries that do not see the Russia-Ukraine war as their necessity have begun to make their independent choices. India has continued to buy Russian oil as an obligation to its vast population and its energy needs. More recently, South Africa joined Russia and China in naval drills off the Indian Ocean coast to signal the limited impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on the Global South’s solidarity or interests.
Finally, and most worryingly, the war anniversary has left the nuclear question open-ended for the world, with President Putin announcing Russia’s withdrawal from the New START treaty, which was signed in Prague in 2010. The immediate danger is the no-holds-barred deployment of strategic nuclear warheads by both Russia and the US, including submarine-based missiles and bombers, if the war indeed takes a strategic turn. The tenor of the two speeches in Warsaw and Moscow have only aggravated these concerns for the world. As Ukraine awaits its next batch of military supplies from a host of western countries led by the US, which could change the course of the war, Russia is preparing a renewed offensive on Ukraine.
The Russia-Ukraine war is turning out into a statist version of the “Fight of the Century” over half a century ago between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The one who managed to conserve energy and keep pace till the end, won.
This article originally appeared in Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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