(When) Will the Ukraine Crisis End?

Tens and thousands of civilian-military people perished in the first year of the Russo-Ukraine war. And the war continues with no end in sight. As the ongoing war enters its second year, it threatens to develop into a nuclear conflagration. But no serious action to stop the war is in place. Why?

Because anti-war political movements, the peace movement, and anti-war public opinion globally are all dead; and, despite claims that the post-Cold War world is gradually becoming multipolar, in the absence of a new global security architecture we find multilateral mechanisms are non-existent. What is bizarre is some leading world powers, China, for example, which are suspected of complicity in the Russian war of aggression, haven’t stopped singing and dancing their “neutrality” as the war rages on. Besides, amid (though unverified) US accusations that China was providing lethal weapons to Russia, on the first anniversary of the invasion China instead put forth its “12-point peace plan” to end the conflict.

Root Causes of the Russo-Ukraine War

It is baffling as we are unable to understand, instead of resenting the US “war machine” why the European NATO countries have been more in “lockstep” with the United States since the war’s inception. Without a doubt, it is a paradox why a Europe that has suffered two world wars in the past one hundred years is walking toe-to-toe with the US in this war; with the war entering its second year, despite the specter of nuclear confrontation returning to their continent why are Europeans least bothered about their own security; or, 12 months after the war began, why is it that more governments in Europe have reached the consensus that “only a Ukrainian victory will stop Putin’s war.”  

Of course, though ineffective, anti-war demonstrations have been taking place here, there, and everywhere. But the demonstrators’ appeal to political forces waging this war to “negotiate, not escalate” will go unheeded without first grasping the root causes of the crisis in Ukraine. Without going too long back into the past, let’s understand the recent historical background of the conflict. The crisis in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine caused following the coup d’etat in 2014 resulted in a ceasefire agreement (the Minsk Accords) brokered by Russia, France, and Germany. However, tensions started escalating following the US decision – as part of its post-Soviet collapse NATO expansion policy and further militarization of Europe, called “defensive strategy” – to grant NATO membership to Ukraine.

This caused major security concern for Russia which had been trying to prevent the eastward expansion of NATO since the end of the Cold War but to no avail. Showing no concern for Moscow’s consistent red lines – no more eastward NATO expansion, actual or by proxy; and security guarantees for the ethnic Russian population in the Donbas region – the US too remained firm on its position saying Russia needs to respect the international rules-based order. With both sides refusing to show flexibility in their respective bargaining positions, Putin finally resorted to “military operation” in order to a) overthrow Ukraine’s post-2014 anti-Russian government; b) halt the massive inflow of military aid pouring into Kyiv.       

War in Ukraine and US-Russia-China: Romance of the Three Kingdoms

While China did not play a role in causing the Ukraine crisis, it has been deeply invested in the outcome of the war. As a Chinese scholar recently wrote, “The Russia-Ukraine war has completed one year…although the war is being fought a thousand miles away yet China is finding itself in the thick of it.” Another IR expert in China observes that given the conflict of interests between China, Russia, and the United States, their directly getting entangled in the geopolitics of the crisis in Ukraine is like the warring kingdoms during the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD). The political turmoil and feuding kingdoms during the last years of the Han dynasty, when China was divided into three big warring states – also known as Sanguo, or Three Kingdoms – has been vividly described in the 14th-century fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguoyanyi) written and composed by Luo Guanzhong. 

To return to the present-day three “warring kingdoms” – China, Russia, and the United States, what is at the same time incomprehensible is the speedy and swift manner in which the post-Trump US administration has successfully converted the bipartisan anti-China consensus, also into a bipartisan consensus against Putin and Putin’s Russia. A recent multi-country poll, as reported in a European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) publication, suggests the Russian war of aggression in Europe has consolidated “the West.”  Especially when [the US] aim of the ongoing war is essentially to militarily defeat Russia, create a regime change in Russia, and install a puppet regime in order to place natural resource-rich Russian landmass under the direct control of the US (and maybe a handful of European) corporations on one hand, and to establish complete US domination over Eurasia on the other.

China, interestingly, was caught on the wrong foot, as it were. Typically, perhaps more out of concern about what to do in case the situation across Taiwan Strait flares up, Beijing remained both indecisive and confused as to what side to choose in the US/NATO-Russia war in Europe. Moreover, not at all surprising, especially in the country’s domestic political debate on Russia’s war on Ukraine, to date, the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) leadership – including President Xi Jinping, has been perceived as “careful” not to overtly support Russia and invite “Western” isolation and US sanctions.      

Indeed,let there be no illusion that on the part of Russia, the decision to launch the “Special Military Operation” on February 24, 2022, was not only unjustified and anti-humanitarian but also in violation of international law. It is pertinent to recall, notwithstanding claims such as discrimination against the ethnic Russian populace in eastern Ukraine, Putin-led Russia’s troubles with Ukraine were set into motion by a right-wing coup in 2014 which overturned the pro-Moscow government and brought into power “anti-Russia, pro-US” regime in Kyiv. But Putin is no angel either. He [Putin] invaded Ukraine hoping to extract a “compromise understanding” with Washington. However, the plan turned into a catastrophe. 

Will Ukraine become another North Korea?

Finally, in the first year of the Russo-Ukraine war, Europe’s bloodiest war since WWII, an estimated 200,000 civilian-military people have been killed. As the ongoing war entered its second year, it is becoming evidently clear that neither Russia nor the US is going to end the war soon. Into its second year, the war threatens to develop into a nuclear conflagration.Yet it is shocking no serious action is in sight to stop the war. Only a couple of days ago, in an interview with the Associated Press, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ruled out negotiations with Russia. Just a couple of weeks ago, the United States (and the West) dismissed the Chinese 12-point peace plan without even considering it.

In fact, the only serious attempt to end the war last April was sabotaged even before being discussed. An article in Foreign Affairs (August 2022) revealed that Kyiv and Moscow may have had a deal to end the war all the way back in April but the chances of a tentative agreement were scuttled by the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. During a visit to Ukraine in April last year, Johnson had put immense pressure on Zelensky to walk away from a possible negotiated settlement for two reasons: Putin cannot be negotiated with; the West isn’t ready for the war to end.

Unfortunately, and sadly, the two reasons continue to guide the crisis in Ukraine. Just days before the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Biden declared during a visit to Warsaw, Poland: “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, Never.” Since the inception of a warring situation in Ukraine, the US administration has consistently and relentlessly maintained the aim of defeating Russia. Last June, President Biden promised the G-7 leaders “US will support Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’ to win the war.” A Chinese scholar – who called the CPC leadership’s efforts to “broker” an agreement between Kyiv and Moscow “wishful thinking” – has fearfully predicted: I’m afraid the war in Ukraine threatens to turn akin to the crisis in the Korean peninsula!

Hemant Adlakha
Hemant Adlakha
Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.