Who gains from the Russo-Ukraine conflict? | By Sultan M Hali


Who gains from the Russo-Ukraine conflict?

IT has been thirteen months since the outset of the Russo-Ukraine war but before examining who gains from the predicament, it would be prudent to briefly examine the genesis of the conflict. The crisis stems from the protracted Russo-Ukrainian War that began in early 2014. The roots of the issue lie in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 wherein both Ukraine and Russia continued to retain close ties. In 1994, Ukraine agreed to abandon its nuclear arsenal and signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances on the condition that Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States would issue an assurance against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.

Five years later, Russia was one of the signatories of the Charter for European Security, where it “reaffirmed the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve”. Despite being a recognized independent country since 1991, as a former USSR constituent republic, Ukraine had been perceived by the leadership of Russia as being part of its sphere of influence. In 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced Ukraine’s aspirations of gaining admission into NATO because Ukraine was being wooed by the Occident to counterbalance Moscow’s umbrella of influence.

In December 2021, Russia advanced two draft treaties that contained requests of what it referred to as “security guarantees”, including a legally binding promise besides its concerns regarding Ukraine’s admission into NATO as well as the security treaty’s troops and military hardware stationed in Eastern Europe to be downscaled. NATO rejected these requests, and the United States warned Russia of “swift and severe” economic sanctions should it invade Ukraine. On 12 February 2022, Biden and Putin held talks via video conference. The US President said a Russian invasion of Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the crisis but “equally prepared for other scenarios”. Putin complained in the call that the US and NATO have not responded satisfactorily to Russian demands that Ukraine be prohibited from joining the military alliance and that NATO pull back forces from Eastern Europe.

On 24 February 2022, the cat and mouse game was finally over and Russia launched a full-fledged attack on Ukraine. It was expected that Moscow would achieve a swift victory but owing to the resilience of Ukraine propped up by western support, Kiev the capital is yet to fall. It is ironic that in 1961, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the eve of completing his term, warned of the perils of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). His caution fell on deaf ears and MIC has been prevailing and thriving, benefitting from wars around the world and at times creating conflicts to profit from optimum sale of weapons.

The Ukraine crisis is no different, it has the propensity to prolong, without outright victory for either protagonist but it suits the MIC since it will pave the way for extended defence contracts. Russia’s detractors would love to see Putin bleed with each passing day into the conflict. Meanwhile, the White House is also perhaps inadvertently, paving the way for MIC to feather its own nest. The March 2022 budget request submitted by the US Administration to the Congress included a defence budget of USD 813.3 billion – one of the largest investments in national security in American history – citing the Russo-Ukraine crisis.

As mentioned before, Foggy Bottom could have helped avert the conflict but it appears that Putin was teased into committing the aggression against Ukraine. Even a casual glance at the modus operandi of the MIC, makes it abundantly clear that it has been fishing in troubled waters. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other hot spots all reveal that instead of resolving issues through negotiations, the wounds were left festering to intensify tension and whet the appetite for acquiring the latest weapons of mass destruction.

One of the most authentic sources tracking the sale of arms is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) whose weapons trade trend report covering the period from 2017 to 2021, depicts that the global weapon transaction volume contracted a little compared with the previous five-year period, but America’s overseas arms sales shot up sharply because the report also elaborates that the world’s top five military-industrial corporations are located in the USA.

Thus the current Russo-Ukraine war has become a major source of revenue for the MIC. In his historic 1961 address, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was also a successful military leader of the Second World War, had observed: “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defence; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defence establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political and even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house and every office of the Federal Government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.” Alas, the genie of the MIC, once released from the bottle, refuses to go back and has engulfed the US and is the ultimate gainer in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. UN Secretary General António Guterres, in his latest visit to Ukraine, pledged to keep seeking “Solutions and a Just Peace” but this will only be possible if the Military Industrial Complex is kept on a tight leash.

—The writer is a Retired Group Captain of PAF, who has written several books on China.

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