March 25, 2014

Wrong to tell Russia what it can’t do

The US threatening Russia with punishment and its sanctioning highest policy makers is an absurd way to deal with the Ukraine problem diplomatically.

Kanwal Sibal

India should learn several lessons from the Ukrainian crisis. The need to re-balance international relations and reduce the hegemony of the West has become more pressing. Now Russia, a permanent UNSC member equipped with a powerful nuclear deterrent, has become the victim of the West’s bullying instincts. Rising countries should build their own political, economic and security networks to sustain a multi-polar world in which the US and EU are unable to wield their enormous financial clout to impose their solutions to problems.

Even huge countries like India and China — together constituting almost 2/5th of humanity — are not considered part of the ‘international community’ when the West decides to speak in its name, unless, of course, they support western policies. In condemning Russian actions in Ukraine, the West has claimed once again that it is speaking on behalf of the ‘international community’, ignoring the position taken by India and China. Russia can be said to be at loggerheads with the West on Ukraine, but not the ‘international community’ as a whole. We need alternative power centres in the world that can make the voice of the ‘international community’ more inclusive.

Russia’s upper house of Parliament has ratified the treaty incorporating Crimea. AFP

Having dominated the globe for centuries a North Atlantic centred view of the world is entrenched in western thinking. The West is unable to shed this outmoded thinking even when the economic power has shifted eastwards and political power has got dispersed with the rise of several non-western countries. While the US remains the world’s strongest power, its financial distress as well as its military setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and political knocks in Libya, Egypt and Syria, demonstrate its increasing inability to shape global outcomes as it wishes. Unless this reality is internalised by the western political class, particularly American, a more cooperative and consensual world order would have difficulty in emerging. Consequently, the West will continue to create crises in various regions in order to assert its global pre-eminence.

The West must recognise the reality that non-western countries cannot be ignored in the conduct of international relations, and that the post-1945 global system that the West wishes to perpetuate by co-opting potential challengers through the process of globalisation, not only of economics but also of western values, has to be replaced by a more equitable system that puts genuine constraints on the West’s tendency to use power arbitrarily, intervene militarily, advocate concepts that justify interference in the internal affairs of other countries and change regimes that it does not like.

That the West always acts responsibly in the interest of peace and stability, unlike non-democratic, authoritarian regimes, and that its vocation to spread democracy and promote respect for human rights is aimed at making the world a better and safer place to live in is a fiction. Europe, especially, claims that it has buried the destructive conflicts of the past and created a new model of shared peace and prosperity.

The Ukraine conflict belies all these claims. The West has been creating conditions for another Cold War in Europe by seeking to strategically weaken an already enfeebled post-Soviet Russia. The Soviet collapse and end of communism had already changed dramatically the balance between Russia and the West. Rather than building cooperative structures in Europe with Russia as an equal partner, the policy has been to dominate Russia’s periphery and exacerbate Russian insecurities by extending Nato and the EU into the Russian heartland of the former Soviet Union.

The US and EU have used the tools of democracy and human rights to destabilise Russia’s relations with countries like Ukraine. After the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Kosovo referendum, the West-provoked crisis in Georgia-Russia relations, and further afield, regime changes in Iraq, Libya and attempts to do in Syria that have unleashed Islamist forces that heighten the threat to Russia’s northern Caucasus region, Russia was bound to react to the latest US and EU provocation in Ukraine in backing an illegitimate regime change there, with serious consequences for Russia’s legitimate security, economic and ethnic interests. India should be wary about the West’s democracy and human rights agenda because of its use for destructive ends.

Statements by the US and European leaders threatening Russia with punishment and personally sanctioning Russia’s highest policy makers as if Putin is a puppet in their hands is an absurd way to deal with the Ukraine problem diplomatically. Treating as ‘rogues’ those who defy the West’s prescriptions shows unbridled self-righteousness and arrogance. Over-dependence on the West gives it cards it can use when differences arise and should therefore be avoided.

India recognises Russia’s legitimate interests in Ukraine though on principle we support the unity and territorial integrity of countries. Putin has seen our position on Ukraine restrained and objective. This is important for the future of India-Russia ties.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary of India 

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