Ukraine is just symptomatic of the larger malice that ails the relationship between Russia and the Western World. Conversations about Putin’s next move has the entire Atlantic corridors of power biting nails. President Joe Biden is working proactively to ward off what he said would be, “the most consequential thing that happens in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II.”
The Ukraine-Russia War was a zero-sum conflict from the beginning. For one side, it is a survival issue whereas for the other, a critical security issue. Russia considered it an open provocation by the West; however, for Ukraine and the rest, it was an unprovoked assault. The red-hot line is nuclear war. The world has not come this close to one since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The risks of this one spiralling out of control is much higher. A hot war is raging on, almost a month old with a humanitarian crisis unfolding with over three million refugees in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, and Belarus. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that approximately 2,597,543 refugees had so far fled Ukraine. This is the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since World War II.
The fact that Ukraine is being armed and supplied with arms by NATO and the U.S does not abate Russian fears. Britain’s defence secretary said that “Putin is a spent force in the world”. His French counterpart declared “Ukraine will win”.
How we all wish it was this simple!
Statements such as these, with emerging consensus in the West that Russia’s clumsy handling of the assault is tantamount to its defeat, is dangerous, self-deceiving, and borders on wish fulfilment. Such self-talk could result in a dangerous escalation. What is the objective? To defeat Russia or end the conflict, is a million-dollar question.
Putin’s act of aggression “must fail and be seen to fail,” said the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This approach can be problematic despite sounding practical. The new approach to conflict resolution is all about long term, strategic thinking in negotiations.
Susskind (2014), building on the work of the gurus of negotiation Roger Fisher & Willian Ury (1981) emphasizes on the importance of creating Win-Win options. He opines, “Instead of relying on negotiating-table bravura, negotiators should prepare in advance and think about everyone’s strategic interests; grasp how much license to manoeuvre their counterparts have; seek out flexible agreements with logical contingencies; and consider what constitutes an acceptable outcome for the party.”
Another key issue that he identifies is that in an uncertain world, agreements should be adaptable. “We need a better way of making agreements that can change over time,” he says. “Circumstances change. We need agreements that adapt.”
The situation between Russia and Ukraine can only be addressed if the pointers are incorporated in the negotiations and practiced in letter and in spirit. The situation is far more complicated than the Western media would prefer to portray. A retreat by Russia will not happen unless Russia is given a safe exit, a victory speech, and some addressal of its concerns. It had weighed its options carefully before getting into the situation. The sanctions on Russia are the toughest economic choke ever imposed on any country. Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States unveiled a series of sanctions against Russia targeting banks, oil refineries, and military exports. The measures aim at “asphyxiating Russia’s economy”, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. However, everyone questions their sustainability for obvious reasons. The pain of sanctions is mutual. The European Union is Russia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 37 percent of its global trade in 2020. About 70 percent of Russian gas exports and half of its oil exports go to Europe.
Moreover, India is in talks to buy Russia’s oil. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had received guarantees from Washington on its ability to trade with Tehran, as part of ongoing talks to salvage the Iran nuclear deal. “We received written guarantees. They are included in the text of the agreement itself on the resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme.”
Saudi Arabia is in active talks with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in Yuan. People familiar with the matter consider this a move that would dent the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market and mark another shift by the world’s top crude exporter toward Asia. The talks with China over Yuan-priced oil contracts that have been off and on for six years have accelerated this year.
This latest development adds to U.S anxiety over China providing military assistance to Russia. They are trying very hard to pre-empt it and bring China under pressure. A United States official says Russia has asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions about the ongoing war. White House NSA Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “The U.S has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.” The Kremlin also denied it has sought Chinese military help. NSA Jake Sullivan made Washington’s concerns “clear” to the director of China’s Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission, Yang Jiechi during the meeting in Rome.
Going public over this matter is indicative of U.S nervousness about China-Russia nexus and it is complicating the situation further. It has warned China of consequences if it helps Russia. However, this and all the above pointers create breathing space for Russia. NSA Jake Sullivan said, “And we have been very clear – both privately and publicly with Beijing – that there would be consequences for any such support.”
United Nation’s top court has asked Russia to end the invasion. Ukraine and Russia talk of compromise, but on the ground more bloodshed continues as Russia bombs from the air and besieges bombarded cities. Russia reiterated its position, which is neutral status for Ukraine. A win-win should be on the table. Escalation and prolongation of the conflict has repercussion for both sides, not just Russia.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi