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Ukraine Crisis: US Playing A 'Game Of Chicken' With Russia

By Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)
February 03, 2022 10:00 IST
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If a workable compromise is found and Russia'S Western borders are left undisturbed with a suitable buffer, it will indicate that the US is indeed serious about its focus on China, observes Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: A Russian soldier fires a howitzer during drills at the Kuzminsky range in Russia's southern Rostov region, January 26, 2022. Photograph: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters

As Russia has massed over 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, the Western media has raised the specter of an imminent war in Europe.

The American-dominated 'woke' media is presenting a picture of Russian aggression while characterising American moves as 'defensive'.

The situation is indeed far more complex than this simplistic picture.

While the Russian actions may indeed 'appear' aggressive, actually the shoe is on the other foot. It is the US that is provoking Russia.

 

It was in October 1962, when acutely conscious of its strategic weakness, the erstwhile Soviet Union secretly installed short-range nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba at America's doorstep.

It was an attempt on the Soviet Union's part to overcome its geographical disadvantage and pose a threat by intruding into the American sphere of influence.

To this Soviet adventurism, the US under President John F Kennedy responded with a naval blockade and forced the Soviet Union to withdraw those missiles.

Cut to the present, under US President Joe Biden, the US is attempting to expand the NATO military alliance to Ukraine, at Russia's doorstep.

Like in Cuba, the US had the disadvantage of geography and the inability to match Russian forces on the ground.

Russian deployment of ground forces on Ukraine's border is the mirror image of the US naval quarantine of Cuba in 1962.

The US is playing a 'game of chicken' with Vladmir Putin's Russia.

Fortunately, unlike in 1962, neither party is invoking a threat of all-out nuclear war at this point in time.

IMAGE: Ukrainians and supporters of Ukraine demonstrate against a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia during a protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, DC, January 29, 2022. Photograph: Shuran Huang/Reuters

In the Cuban missile crisis, the US had decided advantage in the naval forces in the vicinity of Cuba, the crisis point.

In Ukraine, the Russians enjoy that tactical advantage.

Like in Cuba, while the American actions were aggressive, the US was on the strategic defensive, in the sense it only wanted to stop the Soviet Union from posing a direct threat to the US homeland.

In the case of the Ukraine crisis, the Russians also want to stop the US from creating a land threat to the Russian mainland and would be quite willing to accept the return to status quo ante.

But there is a larger and more intriguing question and that is how is it that the US has shifted its focus from China and its threat to Taiwan? The answer to this riddle may well be found in the huge influence that American business lobbies have on American foreign policy.

It is no secret that large American companies have huge investments in China and have no interest in letting US-China relations sour beyond a point.

Russia is thought to be a convenient whipping boy by American business and its handmaiden media.

The American arms export lobby also sees Russia (as well as France) as a major rival and many American actions, including the opposition to Russia's supply of S-400 anti-aircraft system to India, stem from this lobby.

IMAGE: Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles during drills at the Kadamovsky range in Russia's Rostov region, January 27, 2022. Photograph: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters

This current crisis jogs another historical memory, the abortive Soviet Union-Nazi Germany alliance between 1939-1941.

Like now, so then, the Western democracies ignored the fact that Hitler's Germany had Soviet Russia as the principal target of its lebensraum.

Seeing the Western double game, the Soviet Union and Germany entered into a marriage of convenience -- the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty -- and formed a temporary alliance, while both sides were well aware that they were destined to clash sooner or later.

The current Russia-China detente is not very different from the Molotov-Ribbentrop compromise.

Putin's Russia is well aware of the Chinese claim (currently held in abeyance) and eventual threat to its Far Eastern territories.

With a vulnerable 8,000 km land border, Russia knows that it has to ultimately confront China.

Its only salvation is if it has a secure Western border on the European side.

It is this vulnerability it is trying to eliminate. By creating a two-front threat to Russia, the West is driving an unwilling Russia into Chinese arms.

All this is crystal clear to even a lay reader of history and geography.

The fact that the Americans are ignoring this puts a question mark on their 'real' intention vis a vis China.

Behind closed doors, the US may well have come to an understanding with China in the division of the world between the two economic powers.

Anti-Chinese organisations like Quad (US, Japan, India, and Australia) may well be a smokescreen to hide real US intentions.

Given these geopolitical realities, the resolution of the Ukraine crisis may well be an indicator of true US intent.

If a workable compromise is found and Russia'S Western borders are left undisturbed with a suitable buffer, it will indicate that the US is indeed serious about its focus on China.

If not, then India has to seriously re-assess its approach to the Indo-Pacific.

Military historian Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a former Chhatrapati Shivaji Chair Fellow at the United Services Institute of India.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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