Shrouded in fog for over thirty years, the Russian quest to enter Ukraine through military operations finally unfolded taking the world by surprise, exposing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) weakness and America's inability of to respond with military action.
I use the term 'Shrouded in Fog' since this was an eventuality waiting to happen, being preoccupied with China, the Coronavirus, the South China Sea and an economic state which cannot be envied by any measure, the world failed to see it coming! They say actions speak more than words, there have been more words from the United States and NATO than actions, leaving the Ukrainian President and his country in a standalone mode, a mere puppet of the West faced with a huge human tragedy,
Technology & Intelligence
Given the fact that America claims along with her allies to have the best systems in space and on ground so far as spying in areas of Interest, one wonders how the Russian build up went unnoticed? Question comes to mind 'how reliable are such gadgets if the men studying the data are blind?' Can India rely on such technology and if we are to rely on it, do we have sufficiently skilled manpower? Is it a case of lack of interagency coordination? In which case it becomes all the more worrisome for India where our departments out of habit work in 'Silos'.
Relevance Of Civil Defence
In the given scenario Ukraine has relied upon citizens to take up arms and face the Russian army. The NATO countries chose to provide Ukraine weaponry, is it possible for civilians to adapt and learn to use weapons at such short notice? The use of underground shelters, buildings and so forth, reflect the need for civil defence including the use of weapons, first aid, stocking reserves in food, medicines, water, localised power and also identifying resident doctors who may be called upon for emergency surgeries.
Is it the armed rebellion that has caused a delay in the Russian assault or is the Russian aim to stay away from built up areas, cause maximum destruction, starve the residents of basic needs like power, water, medical cover and force them to leave, thus capture cities with least resistance? Can India ever follow a similar route in case we are ever faced with such a situation?
Silence from across the world and a physical response only to the extent of providing 'arms and munitions' has left Ukraine in as a loner! The European Union has not been able to give Ukraine a EU membership this far, this perhaps being the very reason that Russia attacked Ukraine?
Vulnerability Of Foreign Nationals
The lack of timely evacuation of foreign nationals exposes such countries to 'blackmail and arm twisting'. Should the Ukrainian government have resorted to hold these foreigners hostage to extort what they wanted from concerned countries, what would the ramifications be? The efforts of Indian Government have been lauded, however, the question that comes to mind is; could there have been a quicker response to get our citizens out?
The United Nations
The ability of the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to influence and bring to a halt such acts with speed remains questionable even in the face of the Ukrainian President's address. Have we failed to realize that Russia being a member, can always veto any UN resolution?
Alignments & Allies
Russia has shown to the world that a contiguous front as that of the kind it has structured can be more effective than a widely dispersed one. Russia, Iran, Turkey, China and Pakistan amongst others. Thus, the need for India to built strong interdependence with her neighbours.
Whilst economy and market forces will continue to be used as leverage against the aggressor in an effort to bring them around, it doesn't necessarily be effective if the aggressor has factored it into the plans. Take the example of Russia turning the US dollar on its head by suggesting that all countries buying Russian oil would have to pay in roubles! Imagine what would happen to the dollar?
International Strategic Cooperation
In brief one may suggest that the Russian attack created a window for China in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Why the Chinese have yet to act remains unanswered.
Airspace & Control
The Russian attack also exposed the need for dominating the airspace, whilst many military targets were destroyed by Russia. Some reports claim that the Russians faced losses because they failed to control the airspace.
Challenging The Threshold
Putin was quick to raise the nuke threat, to the world this appeared to be a real danger, who would risk calling Putin's bluff? Therefore the need for passive defensive measures by countries facing the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are a must in addition to retaining the ability to retaliate. Very relevant to India as well.
Need For Self Reliance
The Ukrainians it appears relied on various agreements between them and Russia on one hand and NATO on the other, ultimately neither side stood by them. India's efforts at self-reliance in military equipment are a must and need to be speeded up. An aggressor does not give his adversary time to prepare, thus any nation worth its salt, must spend on its defense forces to keep them in a high state of readiness. India, with two perennial adversaries, can ill afford to ignore this.
While such a measure is inescapable, the timing is questionable. As a concept it needs to be battle tested before it's final adoption. Can we risk being hit in mid stride of such a change?
Finally it is my thought that every situation needs to be war gamed to the final T and such war games need to incorporate each and every component including the economy, fuel reserves, food reserves, health and medical infrastructure, civil defence, passive defensive measures, the ability to survive a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) attack, trade balances and many more factors, just to mention a few. Contingencies to build capacity are a must.
The economic crisis in Sri Lankan must be avoided, thus a pragmatic fiscal policy, building trade balances, foreign reserves, reducing excessive dependence on one source of supply or running an economy on ‘loans’ is best avoided. The Sri Lankan fallout is an indicator to various state and central governments to stop loan waivers as well as freebies. The Pakistani economy is reflective of a similar state and worrisome.
The Russian Context
In the present scenario, it is my belief that Russia would have factored in the issue of Sanctions of all sorts before they went for the attack. They have their own oil production, China on the other hand was seen to stock up oil by rapid purchases! The percentage of oil purchases made by European countries has been well documented, gas line into Europe appears to be a life line, thus , sanctions are unlikely to work.
Gender Composition Of Armed Forces
A surprising and yet to be confirmed piece of information suggests that Ukraine issued directives prohibiting' men from age 18 to 60' to leave the country even though they have a 'Women's' complement.
Built Up Areas As Battlegrounds
We have focused on fighting in various terrain configurations but the battle as it unfolds in Ukraine tells us differently, the likely siege of a city, the need for fighting in built up area, stocking in food, water, medical, destruction of buildings brings to the fore the need for underground shelters! Integration with town planning and civil defense cannot be overlooked. The Covid-19 scenario has many lessons for us in this regard.
For India and her armed forces, there is much work to do and it needs to be done in quick time. Our inability or lack of capacity to play an active role to influence the present war and bring the fighting to a close have much to tell us. In such situations a nation needs to be economically and militarily powerful, the absence of either is not acceptable in world leadership and so far India has much distance to cover before we reach the level of being a global power. With the international community, NATO and UNSC ineffective in physically joining the war, the threat of Nuclear Escalation being real for the first time in history, Zelensky is cornered.
Despite Sanctions and more Sanctions being contemplated by the West, Russia continues to decimate Ukraine. Appeals for bringing to an end this war go unheeded. The end game might just be a genocide of the non-Russian community in Ukraine. A changed world order, the 'rouble' as trade currency and a bankrupt America due to the collapse of the Dollar. How would that impact China and India? The QUAD, domination of South China Sea, Chinese aggression on India's Northern Borders have suddenly dropped in the background. Pakistan faces a crisis of leadership, this only indicates that India more than ever needs to keep her Armed forces well oiled, alert and ready for any eventuality.
Already we have seen an increase in acts of terror in the valley. Thus our reserves in every aspect must be maintained to the full. Silent preparations need to be considered for readying the Civil Defense.
The need for citizens to be kept well informed of the government's efforts at ensuring readiness, control of prices including oil prices cannot be ignored, regardless of past trends which might indicate 'limiting the war' to a particular sector. It is said that the control of nuclear weapons in the hands of a desperate man are a real danger does that apply to Putin or to Imran Khan/Bajwa or both? Can we foresee an urgent compulsion to study the impact on our economy with an equation with roubles? How will the change in value impact out trade?
Would our dollar dependency with USA create instability? What if the US is told that we cannot trade in dollars? Or conversely trade with China, Russia and others in roubles and western world in dollars? Debates on this war from diverse experts and angles are coloured depending on which side is talking. Ultimately, it appears to be Russia's effort to flex her muscle and create a bi-polar world through a well thought out strategy.
It's too early to comment and draw out all encompassing lessons, however, some things are clear: The Russians will call an end to the war on their terms as has always been the case through history of International Relations and conflicts, it is invariably the stronger who calls off the war and its always on the terms of the victor.
The war in Ukraine has exposed the fragile interdependence amongst nations and economies, the East and West Block, the dollar against other forms of currency and the desire to dominate as usual has resulted in conflict. India stands solid in the middle of it all and has rightly staked her right to choose to buy oil keeping in mind her national interest.
As a personal view, I would add that given our proximity with Russia and the balancing act we have managed so far, we are in a position to broker peace between the two warring nations, more so than many other countries. These are random thoughts, I have shared based on personal perception of the unfolding narratives so far. Many long term lessons are likely to unfold once this is over.
About The Author
The author is a veteran with 35 years of military experience under his belt. He was commissioned into the JAT regiment & has extensively operated in J&K, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram. He was, selected to raise the NSG & was a Sqn Cdr with the 51 SAG, Instr at IMA, Col GS of an active div, Cdr of a Bde in super HAA, DS in AWC, & Brig Gen Staff responsible for facilitating the training in various military establishments including CITJW school. He has been a member of study groups on China as well as Officer Cadre management.
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')