The winners and losers of the war

India has neither lost nor gained anything by refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Updated - May 12, 2022 01:31 pm IST

Published - May 12, 2022 12:15 am IST

Medical workers evacuate wounded people from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, in Dnipro.

Medical workers evacuate wounded people from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, in Dnipro. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost the war by not winning. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has won by not losing. India has neither lost nor won.

The war is not over yet. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, believes that it will likely go on until the end of this year, probably beyond that. Nonetheless, it is possible to arrive at a preliminary balance sheet of the war at this stage.

The Ukrainians and Putin

The biggest losers are the people of Ukraine. They have been extremely brave and resilient, and their leader has done an unbelievable job. Their country is devastated, flattened in large areas. Many lives have been lost. Millions have been uprooted from their homes and familiar surroundings. Children will be in a state of trauma for many years. It will take years and billions of dollars to rebuild their country. The funding will come, though not perhaps in the form of grants. Industries in the West will make billions helping in the reconstruction of Ukraine.

The other big loser is President Putin. This is a many-sided loss for him. He expected his mighty army to occupy Kyiv in quick time and install a friendly regime. The fact that his Foreign Minister has now brought nuclear weapons into the equation is a sure sign of desperation. Mr. Putin has lost face with his own people. We won’t know the number of casualties his army has suffered until much later, if ever, but the body bags have started arriving. His armed forces have under-performed. Perhaps they were not expecting to be pushed into the war all of a sudden. Mr. Putin has, irretrievably, lost the trust and friendship of Ukrainians; they will remain, for a very long time, hostile and bitter towards Russia. His war has produced exactly the result that he did not want and for which he launched the war. Ukraine has got closer to the West. Ukraine will certainly be admitted to the European Union (EU), perhaps not tomorrow but in the near future. Mr. Putin has lost credibility with his peers as well as with nearly everyone else.

The raison d’etre for Mr. Putin to launch the war was to keep the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from getting closer to Russia’s eastern borders. His distrust for the West is justified, keeping in mind the history of broken commitments and promises by the West to Mr. Putin’s predecessors at the highest level about not extending NATO’s scope “one inch” closer to Russian borders. But his war has produced exactly the opposite result. He has succeeded in ensuring that NATO will come even closer to Russia’s borders. Sweden and Finland will likely join NATO soon. Russia will truly be hemmed in by NATO.

Gains for the West

The biggest winner is the West. President Putin watched with satisfaction the rift in the Trans-Atlantic Alliance which former U.S. President Donald Trump had caused. Mr. Putin thought he would widen that breach. His expectation, a reasonable one, was that countries such as Germany which, given their dependence on Russian energy sources, will refuse to go along with U.S. President Joe Biden’s sanctions on Russia. But once again, Mr. Putin managed to produce the opposite result. Germany and others will no doubt suffer considerably by reducing and eventually cutting off energy supplies from Russia, but they have committed themselves to phase out import of Russian oil by the end of the year. And if Mr. Biden is persuaded to mend fences with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Europe will be able to weather the energy crisis without much pain. In any case, with summer not too far, the demand for energy will decline significantly.

The West also gains economically. Industries in the West will make billions helping in the reconstruction of Ukraine. The billions they are spending on sending critical weapons and other material to Ukraine are all spent in their own countries. Yes, petrol prices have risen, but they seem to have peaked and now are now falling in some places.

Countries with dilemmas

China is facing a more acute dilemma than India. It has an enormous stake in the West in terms of trade and technology. Its two-way trade with the U.S. and EU is many times more than its trade with Russia. Europe and the U.S. have warned China of serious consequences if it helps Russia evade the sanctions by enlarging the scope of yuan-ruble trade. At the same time, China would hate to see President Putin lose or overthrown. President Biden has openly called for regime change in Moscow; subsequent attempts by his officials to explain away his words do not carry conviction. For the Chinese Communist Party, ensuring continued improvement in the living standards of the people is a sine qua non for its survival in power. China’s growth rate has plummeted over the last few years.

Sitting on the fence has not cost India so far. India has certainly displeased the U.S. and other Western countries with its neutral or non-aligned posture on the war. It has not supported a single resolution on the Ukraine situation. However, the U.S. has been restrained in expressing its disappointment with India. India seems to have concluded that the U.S. will continue to be patient with it, given the American strategy to contain China for which India’s participation is vital. The fact that the U.S. has chosen not to penalise India, as it has Turkey, a NATO ally, for purchasing the Russian anti-missile defence system S-400 and that it is turning a blind eye to India buying Russian oil in large quantities, and that too in a rupee-ruble arrangement, shows that India’s position has not cost us anything, at least for the present.

Nor has India gained anything. Yes, Russia has thanked India for its independent stance, but such thank yous do not mean much in international relations. We are getting Russian oil at a discount price, but Russia needs to sell its oil. Even if we had been more forthright in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there would have no negative consequences. Like the U.S., Russia also needs India. Now, when Russian weapons have proved to be not so effective, the demand for Russian weaponry will decline globally. If not India, who else will buy Russian hardware in large quantities? India’s failure to deplore Russia’s threat to introduce nuclear weapons into the equation is deeply disappointing.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, a former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was Special Envoy for West Asia in the Manmohan Singh government

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