The US’s faceoff between Russia and the West has escalated dramatically with the Russian lawmakers authorising President Putin to use military forces outside his country. The situation in Ukraine has turned volatile, with Russia sending armed troops to two breakaway regions. The entire world is worried over the outcome of the conflict.

This is not the first-time tensions between Russia and Ukraine has reached a boiling point. Russia had invaded Ukraine in 2014 when rebels backed by President Putin had seized large swathes of eastern Ukraine and have fought Ukraine’s army since then. At that time, Russia had annexed Crimea.

While there had been tensions between Russia and Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, for a long time, the situation began getting out of control in early 2021. In January last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged US President Joe Biden to let Ukraine join NATO.

This angered Russia, which started sending troops near its Ukraine border for “training exercises” in spring last year and increased it during autumn. By December, the US began exciting the deployment of the Russian troops and President Biden warned of severe sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Essentially, the battle over Ukraine is a battle for influence and power. Ukraine’s government, now under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has pivoted toward the West in recent years, aspiring to join the EU and NATO and to move away from its post-Soviet orbit of Russia.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed dissatisfaction over the western coalition’s efforts against Moscow. He said his country was “left alone” to fight Russia in a video address.  

                                                 

     Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky

In December, Russia demanded legal assurances that Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO but those demands were refused. Analysts have said Putin knew the demands would be rejected but could then say Russia’s security concerns had been ignored, selling this to the Russian public via the media, most of which is pro-Putin because it is either state controlled or state-controlled has links to the government.

Russia retaliated by deploying 1.25 lakh soldiers on its border with Ukraine, and carried out war exercises with another neighbour, Belarus. Russian army also carried out war exercises with nuclear missiles in the Black Sea near Ukraine. Putin demanded that the West must promise not to induct Ukraine into NATO, and withdraw its weapons from Ukraine. Both Biden and Putin had virtual summit and foreign ministers of both the countries met several times, but the efforts did not yield any positive result. Now both the Russian army posing as “peacekeepers” and NATO-aided Ukraine forces are poised at an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine, claiming it’s intended to protect civilians. Explosions were heard across the country. He added that Russia doesn’t have a goal to occupy Ukraine. Russian   foreign minister warned that a “full-scale invasion” was underway.

                                       

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Experts fear that the conflict between Russian and Western armies could result in the outbreak of the Third World War. Russian tanks and fighter jets have taken up positions for an impending attack on Ukraine. All efforts at persuading Putin to back out have failed, despite direct interference by the French President and German Chancellor.

Germany and France have tried to broker peace deals between Russia and Ukraine, known as the “Minsk agreements.” And although the fighting in the Donbas has been punctuated by periods of cease-fire, both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of violating the terms of the deals and fighting has resumed.

On Tuesday Feb 22, Putin told reporters that the “the Minsk agreements were dead long before yesterday’s [Monday’s] recognition of the people’s republics” and again blamed Kyiv for their failure.

Putin, meanwhile, has decried the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a catastrophe and over his 22-year rule in Russia he has sought to rebuild Russia’s power base and sphere of influence over former Soviet states, like Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine — something of the jewel in the crown in the USSR, and a natural buffer state against Europe.

The new tension between Russia and Ukraine, which also borders the European Union, has repercussions for the EU. And that’s why the EU, most of who are NATO signatories, have joined the US in announcing sanctions against Russian entities.

In his brief address from the White House, President Biden accused Putin of flagrantly violating international law. He spoke about “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine”. Russian President Putin has put two conditions for de-escalation: one, Ukraine must recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, that it annexed in 2014, and two, it must renounce its bid to join Nato and carry out partial demilitarization.

The situation has become more complex with Putin deciding to recognize both the breakaway regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, which have applied for recognition as independent countries. There were fireworks in both these breakaway regions on Monday night, after they announced independence unilaterally. At the UN Security Council, India walked the tightrope. It urged all sides to “exercise utmost restraint” and step-up diplomatic efforts to find a “mutually amicable solution” to the crisis.

A war in Europe will naturally cause turmoil in world markets. With the Russian army entering rebel-held regions of Ukraine, gold and crude oil prices have skyrocketed. There is a slump in stock markets across the world. It is not hard to imagine the consequences if a full-scale war takes place. A war in Ukraine will surely cause an adverse impact on India’s foreign trade and also on oil imports. The focus of the Indian government is now on evacuating nearly 20,000 Indians living in Ukraine. Out of them, nearly 18,000 are students. The Indian Embassy has asked all Indian students to leave Ukraine temporarily.

For India, it is surely a tightrope walk. Russia has been India’s old friend and a major supplier of arms. On the other hand, both the US and European Union are India’s big trading partners. India also a close friendship with the US, which has supplied it with 3.4 billion dollars’ worth of helicopters and other defence equipment in the last year of Trump administration.

Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has said, “the world cannot afford another conflict and India is clearly of the view that there should be a de-escalation of tension. India has called for a diplomatic way out of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi indirectly referred to the Ukraine crisis, while addressing an election rally in Bahraich, UP. Modi said, “You can see there is so much turmoil in the world right now. In such a situation, it is essential that India must remain strong, both for its own sake and for mankind. Each vote from you will make India stronger. A strong India is crucial in times of global turmoil”.

Modi is right. India must remain strong in these tough times. India is one of the world leaders. India will have to put forward its steps carefully. The Ukraine conflict is surely going to affect us. If crude oil prices rise internationally, it will surely affect our economy and our household budget. Already, world crude price has crossed 100 dollars a barrel. A hike in fuel prices will surely cause inflation due to a rise in prices of essential commodities.

Moreover, in times of global uncertainty and turmoil, enemies of India, who have been lying in waiting, may try to take undue advantage. Terrorists may try to execute plots and cause mayhem. Their masterminds sitting in Pakistan are already active and may try to destabilize India.