There was a social media post made sometime during the onset of the Russian attack on Ukraine that went largely unnoticed. It provided an opinion about how sanctions would not hurt the Russians much because of the way the Russian economy is skewed – their foreign reserves and resilience etc. Social media and the internet, at least in this part of the world having made their peace with the West’s narrative, did not react to that post in any fashion – positively or negatively – and it had soon disappeared.
When Russian progress inside Ukraine showed the first signs of slowing down, there grew an army of amateur specialists of the local variety that took this as a sign of ‘Russia definitely losing this war’ and they filled up the cyberspace with their contributions. Add to that the complete blackout of a counter-narrative that presented the Russian perspective and to anyone that depended on different social media outlets for their conflict updates, it appeared that Russia was in real trouble.
Is Russia in real trouble? Maybe – beyond and after Ukraine, in the long run! As of now, it looks a little different, observing objectively. Rouble, the Russian currency, has seen a remarkable recovery. From a low of 137 to a Dollar on March 7, it bounced back to 83 by March 29, 2022. It was at 71 to a Dollar as of April 30, 2022 – better than its pre-Ukraine-war levels. Add to that about a $58.2 billion trade surplus (check Bloomberg), and an admission from the EU that within limits there is nothing else that can be done. “With regard to financial sanctions, of course, you can always go further, but we have already reached the limits of what we can do. We did everything we could”, (Josep) Borrell told France Info in an interview. The EU, of course, continues to purchase gas from Russia all along.
When Russian forces stalled around Kiev and Kharkiv, there were speculations all over about how a reversal of fortune would play out. But, “Right now, Russia has not even launched a full-scale assault, only ‘fire/combat reconnaissance’ operations and yet Russian forces are already advancing on many (crucial) fronts/locations,” noted a geopolitics/conflict website of Saker on April 26 that has a fairly good network within Russia.
And what are those crucial locations? When Russia launched its assault on Ukraine, the media here found itself centering mostly on the options of occupation, defeat, and occupation-defeat like Afghanistan. What most did not consider is what this columnist and another fellow-enthusiast speculated: It looked like Russia aimed to snatch a portion of Donbass (because of the Ukro-Nazi atrocities there on ethnic Russians post-2014, to create a buffer should Ukraine join NATO), and, to cut off Ukrainian access to the Black Sea.
Let us consider the hubs that are more or less under Russian control today: Luhansk and Donetsk – the primary oblasts in Donbass where the Nazi atrocities were extreme; Kherson – along Black Sea, captured by Russian forces operating from Crimea; and Mariupol – along Sea of Azov and the only corridor between Donbass and Kherson (also taken over by Russian Crimea forces). The Russian Army has begun shelling Odessa, the largest among Ukrainian oblasts – the control of which would ensure cutting off Ukraine’s Black Sea access. It appears that these are, after all, being considered as the ‘crucial areas’ by the April 26 sitrep coming from Russia that is quoted above.
Meanwhile, the US-led West has ramped up its mercenary and arms supply to Ukraine with what looks like a complete disregard to the option of ending the war quickly and saving Ukraine from being utterly devastated. The EU, too, seem to have resigned to the fact that the fallout of this kind of a conflict would present a number of pictures – from armed civilians and neo-Nazi members spilling along all of Western Europe, an energy crisis of serious proportions, or a semi-meltdown of the economies of the different EU members – all quite dystopic in nature. Once again, it is the average European civilian that is being laid out to suffer for the US ambition of remaining the sole superpower.
Across the ocean, for the current US administration, there are, like always, reasons to extend this conflict in an election year. And so, as the nation reels under record inflation, the MI complex gets a breather through several hundred million-dollar worth arms and equipment that would be sent straight to Ukraine. The essence of the recent statements of British PM Boris Johnson during his visit to India holds up the current sentiment of the Europeans (even though Britain is not an EU member anymore): Europe understands that this war is not in their interest, but they have been too powerless for too long to overrule the US diktat.
Question is – for how long? This is one conflict where the real international community (and not the ones that the West counts) – from OPEC to G20 and the Afro-Asian states – have chosen to remain neutral about, despite a fair amount of arm-twisting. For those in the West that have been holding on to the US narrative, eventually if Odessa falls to the Russians after Mariupol, it should be a powerful message for any of their leaders of international consequence to realise that the war is over no matter how badly the US wanted to extend it to the last fighting Ukrainian.
Fertiliser shortage, a war in the bread-basket, oil and gas crisis, immigration menace, falling employment, rising prices, ongoing Turkification and Islamic terrorism, predicted neo-Nazi extremism. One wonders at which point Europe finally decides that it needs a course overhaul.
Arindam Mukherjee is an author and a Learning & Development professional who likes to dabble in Eurasian geopolitics during his spare time. He lives in Calcutta.