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'Putin must think he can pull it off'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
February 28, 2022 08:55 IST
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'Putin has set aside all the rules and now he is deciding the rules.'

IMAGE: The Ukrainian military guards a road that leads to a government block in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 24, 2022. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters

As Russian forces advance towards the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Professor Ummu Salma Bava, Jean Monnet Chair, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says it is unlikely that any country will intervene in this conflict.

"Nobody wants a war because when war breaks out, it goes out of control very soon and you never know when it is going to end," Professor Bava tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf, in the concluding segment of the interview.

 

Isn't it true that Ukraine was never an independent country, except for a brief period from 1918 to 1921, before it became a part of the Soviet Union?

It was always a part of the larger State (of Russia).

Therefore, Putin says Russian roots are located in Ukraine. He talks about the spiritual connection of Russia with Ukraine (through St Vladimir, grand prince of Kyiv).

Putin says Russia's identity is connected with the Ukraine region.

Is World War III a possibility now?

Who will join in a war like this?

India has put out a very guarded statement because, in this war, we are talking about annexing a territory.

Any country which has territorial issues will be very non-committal in this conflict.

There is a lot of focus on India because it is not a permanent member of the UN.

We are saying that the situation should de-escalate and war is not an option. We are telling both parties to get back to diplomatic channels.

Nobody wants a war because when war breaks out, it goes out of control very soon and you never know when it is going to end.

Nobody knows what would be the outcome of the war. Nobody can predict.

Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war and helped President Bashar al-Assad retain his position. Does Putin now feel that he is militarily stronger than the Western countries because they did not intervene then?

He can have this military overconfidence for sure, but I think there are recent examples where military confidence has been shattered to the ground.

The Soviet Union's biggest military intervention in 1979 was in Afghanistan and what did they get out of it?

Afghan rebel groups bled the Soviets and in 1989 they had to withdraw.

Today, Putin must be thinking that he can pull it off right at this moment, but, as I said, war is unpredictable.

The United States was in Afghanistan for 20 years. And what happened? In one week, they withdrew and the country fell to the Taliban again, despite the fact the US had a far superior fighting machine.

Putin is in power for the last 20 years. Nobody knows who are the people in his inner circle who are supporting him because there is no democratic set-up in Russia.

There are ruling oligarchs who are all tied up (with Putin).

There were talks of diplomatic agreements, but what has Putin done? He has thrown everything out (by declaring war).

He is just saying, 'Let me see what you will do'.

You mean the trilateral agreement of Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 (among the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia and Ukraine)?

It was undone even as it came into existence. I am talking of the last 10 days where all diplomatic efforts were being made to prevent war.

Putin has set aside all the rules and now he is deciding the rules. It is not the other way round.

We are seeing that the German chancellor was going to Russia and then the French foreign minister was going and meeting Putin. And we were hoping that the script will be developed by both sides. But what happened, Putin decided to unilaterally recognise the breakaway provinces of Ukraine.

This was not part of the script. The part of the script was to de-escalate the tension and pull back the troops.

Under international law, all countries need diplomatic recognition. But here, Russia decided to recognise these breakaway Ukrainian regions unilaterally. No other country has decided to recognise them.

Like Crimea, which was invaded by Russia in 2014. Till date no country has recognised it as a part of Russia.

In Ukraine, there is dismemberment of territory and Russia is the only country that is recognising them.

Why was the West so adamant to bring Ukraine into NATO?

They were not adamant. They did not say we are going to give Ukraine membership of NATO.

Countries get NATO membership when they fulfil certain criteria. A country cannot get a NATO membership automatically.

It is like joining a club. You and I may want to join, but the membership is given only if we fulfil the criteria.

If you ask individual Western countries are you going to give NATO membership to Ukraine, none of them will say 'yes'.

The trouble here is that someone else, in this case Russia, is dictating terms to its neighbour, Ukraine, that they cannot join the NATO club.

Putin is only demanding a guarantee that Belarus and Ukraine will not join NATO, but he forgets the fact that Belarus and Ukraine are not part of Russia but independent countries.

And if Russia is enforcing this will, the question arises, are Belarus and Ukraine independent countries? They are not.

Putin has drawn a red line on this issue. After the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1992, the Warsaw Treaty Organisation (the military alliance of then Communist countriesin Eastern Europe) was dissolved and (its Western rival) NATO kept on growing and re-inventing itself.

Today, Moscow wants to know who are the enemies of NATO. The answer is Russia, because a country like Poland, which was with WTO then, is now with NATO.

Therefore, we are looking at this region which has complex history, politics of identity, politics of representation and having a role in international affairs.

You cannot ignore Russia in this because it is a permanent UNSC member.

Is the UN dead now, considering the fact what Russia did with impunity?

That is the reality of power.

In the General Assembly they say all States are equal, but the reality is different.

In no way can a country like Singapore compete with the US, but it is an important country if you look at the South East Asian region.

It is an important trade hub, so every country has their own different power equations in world hierarchy.

Russia is not a small country, it is a large country. It has important assets and resources.

It is obviously going to checkmate other powers if it sees they are coming in to diminish its sphere of influence.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
 
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