The yawning gap between how Putin sees the Ukraine issue and how the US and NATO see it is apparent from the Russian President’s State of the Nation Address on February 21. The two sides have a diametrically opposed view of the situation, Kanwal Sibal, the former Indian Foreign Secretary and India’s Ambassador to Russia, writes with concern.
Putin lashed out at the West politically and culturally, seeing the confrontation as a watershed moment for Russia. He accused the West of using the principles of democracy and freedom to impose its “totalitarian values”, seeking unlimited power in world affairs, and of using Ukraine as a military base to fight Russia.
Putin blamed Ukraine and the West for starting the war, which he described was “not just military and information, but also an economic aggression” against Russia, without, however, achieving success in any of these areas.
Putin added that while trillions of dollars were at stake for the West, Russia’s income flows had not dried up. He observed that contrary to IMF’s predictions that Russia’s GDP would fall 12 percent after sanctions, it fell by only 2.1 percent.
The West, he said, had converted a local war into a global confrontation, noting that it sought the strategic weakening of Russia, indeed to carve up the country and steal its vast natural resources.
In sum, the sense of his speech reflected starkly the total breakdown of relations between Russia and the West.
Putin saw the people of Ukraine as hostages of the Kyiv regime, the people of Donbas subjected to undisguised hatred and constant shelling. He decried the looming spiritual catastrophe facing western populations with destruction of families and cultural and national identities.
This way he distinguished Russia’s conservatism from western liberalism.
Conscious of the casualties Russia has suffered he announced several relief measures and subsidies for the affected families. He outlined many infrastructure developmental projects. He had harsh words to say to those Russians who had preferred to invest in luxury lifestyles in the West instead of investing at home and, noting their properties and assets had been confiscated, reminded them that they will always be considered second-class citizens there.
Putin’s decision to suspend Russia’s participation in the New Start Treaty which was extended till 2026 has attracted special attention. This was the only nuclear arms control treaty that has survived the US-Russia confrontation.
Putin clarified that Russia was not withdrawing from it, with a subsequent clarification that the ceilings in the treaty on warheads and delivery systems would be honoured. His logic is that at a time when the West seeks Russia’s strategic defeat, providing US inspectors access to Russia’s nuclear sites is not possible, as information about them could be passed on to the Ukrainian side to target them, as has happened with Ukrainian drone attacks on Russia’s strategic bases.
Putin has also called for future nuclear arms control talks to include the French and UK nuclear arsenals, giving NATO’s strategic threat to Russia. He also said that as per their information parts of the aging US nuclear would need replacement for which they would need to test, and if they do Russia would also do nuclear testing to ensure strategic parity. He also announced that he had put new strategic Russian weapons on combat duty.
The Russian decision has implications for the nuclear disarmament issue in general. Although the five established nuclear weapon states have not moved towards total elimination of nuclear weapons as was envisaged by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and this has been an issue that has bedevilled the NPT Review Conferences, the nuclear weapons reduction treaties between the two principal nuclear powers have helped to preserve the fundamental bargain of the NPT, namely, that countries would give up the nuclear option if the NW states moved towards nuclear disarmament.
If that process is abandoned — as looks very likely now — and if testing is resumed, the NPT structure would surely break down.
All in all, the Ukraine conflict is leading the world on to a perilous path, stresses Ambassador Kanval Sibal.
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