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World War III?



Political leaders and ordinary folk all over the world have denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, it appears likely that neither the US nor any other leading world power will send soldiers to fight on behalf of the Ukrainians, for the obvious reason that doing so might easily escalate into a full-fledged war. As Moscow's military assault against Ukraine continues unimpeded, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warns the world of the "nuclear and terrible" implications of a Third World War.

The Invasion

On February 24, 2022, Putin announced a "special military operation" to "demilitarise" and "denazify" Ukraine. Moments later, missiles struck sites all over Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv. Soon, attacks on border stations with Russia and Belarus were reported by the Ukrainian Border Guard, and Russian ground forces entered Ukraine shortly after. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine's president, immediately imposed martial law and ordered the country's mobilisation in anticipation of further conflict.

The Russian military incursion into neighbouring Ukraine escalated a conflict that began in 2014 following the Revolution of Dignity. As it drew extensive international condemnation, including increased sanctions against Russia that sparked a financial crisis, the invasion was considered the largest conventional military operation in Europe since World War I by several authorities and experts.

During the first week of the invasion, almost one million Ukrainians were forced to flee their nation, while demonstrations in Russia were greeted with mass arrests. Several countries, including former Russian allies, have provided humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. As Putin reportedly put Russia's nuclear weapons on high alert in response to increased military aid to Ukraine, World War III seems more and more inevitable day by day.

Timeline: Week one of Russia's Invasion

February 21 - Russian President Vladimir Putin recognises the rebel regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as autonomous republics and instructs Russian soldiers to function as "peacekeepers" in those regions.

February 22 - As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancels a meeting with his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov, the Russian parliament authorises Putin to deploy military action outside the nation. In anticipation of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US moves armed forces from Germany to the Baltic States.

February 23 - Ukraine announces a state of emergency across the nation.

February 24 - Russia initiates a full-fledged offensive against Ukraine as President Zelenskyy issues a nationwide mobilisation order.

February 25 - Russian troops advance on Kyiv while the UN reports that more than 50,000 people have left the nation since Russia's incursion began. Russia vetoes a UN Security Council resolution requiring that it withdraw its forces from Ukraine unconditionally.

February 26 - As Russian forces push on towards Kyiv, the mayor declares a curfew in the Ukrainian capital. Zelenskyy rejects the US's proposal to evacuate.

February 27 - The European Commission's chairman declares that Russian planes will be barred from EU airspace and certain Russian banks will be barred from the SWIFT interbank transaction system, effectively shutting them off from the global financial system.

February 28 - Ukraine submits a request to join the EU as Russia-Ukraine ceasefire talks at the Belarusian border split up after five hours without an agreement.

March 1 - On the outskirts of Kyiv, a 65-kilometre-long Russian convoy assembles as Washington tries to continue avoiding direct conflict with Moscow. 

March 2 - The UN General Assembly passes a non-binding resolution denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine and urging that it withdraw immediately. 141 of the assembly's 193 members vote in favour of the measure.

"Putin's War"

President Vladimir Putin warned on February 24 in a pre-dawn TV speech that Russia could not feel "safe, develop, and exist" because of what he believed was a persistent danger from Ukraine. Airports and military offices were assaulted immediately, followed by the arrival of tanks and troops from Russia, Russian-annexed Crimea, and its ally Belarus. Warplanes have already bombarded major cities, and Russian soldiers have taken control of Kherson, a crucial southern port city.

Russia refuses to use the phrases "war" or "invasion," although many of its leaders' arguments are erroneous or inexplicable. Putin stated that his purpose was to defend individuals who were bullied or subjected to genocide, though Ukraine's vibrant democracy has faced no such issue, and he focused on the "demilitarisation and de-Nazification of" Ukraine.

"How could I be a Nazi?" said Volodymyr Zelensky, who then compared Russia's assault to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland during World War II.

Russia's stated goal is to liberate Ukraine from persecution and to see that it is "cleansed of Nazis." Putin has spoken of bringing to justice those who perpetrated multiple horrific crimes against people under this false narrative of a fascist-run Ukraine since 2014. His long-term plans for Ukraine, however, remain unknown, as he denies attempting to conquer Ukraine and dismisses UK allegations that he was planning to establish a pro-Kremlin proxy.

Though day by day, it becomes increasingly clear that Russia is clearly attempting to take the country's major cities and topple Ukraine's democratic government.

India's Stance

On February 27th, the UN Security Council voted to set up an emergency UN General Assembly session on the Ukraine crisis. The motion to call the assembly was passed with 11 countries voting yes, Russia voting no, and India, China, and the UAE abstaining from voting.

For many historical, political, and geographic reasons, India's vote to abstain from moving the motion forward did not come as a surprise. In India, we have always been allies with Moscow and have been maintaining a steady balance between the Western Bloc and Russia. Furthermore, India also abstained from a procedural vote on whether to discuss the issue of Ukraine.

India’s vote to abstain was explained by T.S. Trimurti, who is India’s permanent representative to the UN, clarifying India’s stance. First, Tirumurti spoke of how disturbed he was by the recent developments in Ukraine. Then he talked about his appeal for a cessation of violence, as no solution is attainable at the cost of human lives. He next talked about the 16,000 Indians still stuck in Ukraine. After this, he reiterated the need for territorial integrity and sovereignty to be upheld for all UN member states. Tirumurti also stated that dialogue was the only method through which peace could be attained at this moment and that it was "a matter of regret that the path of democracy was given up". Tirumurti’s final statement on the matter was that "Keeping in view the totality of the evolving situation, India has decided to abstain."

By abstaining, India has also maintained a steadfastly neutral position, which allows it to stay in touch with both sides, urging them to find a middle ground to maintain diplomacy and dialogue.

A part of India’s decision to abstain from the vote comes from its strong relations with Russia. India first formed diplomatic relations with the USSR during the Cold War, a relationship that was passed down to Russia after the dissolution of the USSR. India’s first major initiative with Russia was the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the two countries. This treaty was signed in October 2000 by former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Besides, India’s position of strength in the Indo-Pacific is seemingly shaky, as India is forced to fend off hostile attacks from its neighbours, China and Pakistan.

Due to apprehensions of a Chinese invasion, India has long been reliant on Russian arms and weapons, with Russian imports accounting for over half of India’s weapons imports. As further sanctions are being applied to Russia, it is also possible that Russia may turn to China to sell its oil and gas, and with Russia being cut off from SWIFT, it is also possible that both countries may try to create an alternative. This presents a worrying situation for India, as the solidification of relationships between Russia and China may lead to India being stuck between a rock and a hard place. We will have to watch for further developments in India’s policy towards the West and the East, as leaning toward any side too much may lead to India making choices that it cannot undo.

However, India is in a unique position because its influence with both Russia and the West may come in handy if the current political situation between Russia, China, and the US is renegotiated. The real question is, to what lengths will India go to keep its legacy relationship with Russia in a world where it is rapidly leaning towards the West?

What next?

According to Nato's defence alliance, there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine. It has, however, deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in the Baltic states and Poland, and is deploying a portion of its much bigger quick response force for the first time.

At the same time, the West is using various peaceful and indirect means to pressure Russia's economy, financial institutions, and individuals:

  • Key Russian banks are being blocked from the worldwide SWIFT network by the EU, the US, the UK, Japan, and Canada.

  • Russian airlines have been barred from flying in the EU, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

  • The US, EU, and UK have all levied personal penalties on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, while the EU has additionally targeted 351 Russian MPs.

  • Germany has put a hold on the approval of Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is a big investment for both Russia and European industries.

  • The EU has banned Russia's state-run media outlets, Sputnik and Russia Today, which are considered Kremlin propagandists.

  • St Petersburg, Russia, will no longer be able to host the Champions League final this year, and the Russian Grand Prix will be cancelled.

  • Russian national and club teams have been barred from participating in FIFA and UEFA events, including 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, "until further notice."

Even if the two parties continue negotiations, there appears to be little possibility of peace for the time being. Russia demands that Kyiv hand up its weapons and demilitarise, but this will not happen. Aside from the fighting, any final agreement would have to address the situation in eastern Ukraine as well as armament control with the West. The US had proposed beginning discussions on restricting short-to medium-range missiles as well as a new intercontinental missile pact. And Russia demanded that all nuclear weapons from the United States be banned from entering their country.

Despite ongoing peace negotiations and initiatives, a Third World War appears to be all but unavoidable.

Only time will tell what our world's fate is to be...


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