Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (3rd from Left), addresses a press conference after the Nordic Summit, Oslo, Dec 13, 2023.
The US hopes to draw down in Ukraine and stave off defeat by leaving behind a “frozen conflict” which it’s free to revisit later at a time of its choice, but in the meanwhile, is increasingly eyeing the Arctic lately as the new theatre to entrap Russia in a quagmire. The induction of Finland as into NATO (and Sweden to follow) means that the unfinished business of Ukraine’s membership, which Russia thwarted, can be fulfilled by other means, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
After meeting Biden at the White House Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky headed for Oslo on October 13 on a fateful visit to forge his country’s partnership in NATO projects to counter Russia in the Arctic. In Oslo, Zelensky participated in a summit of the 5 Nordic countries to discuss “issues of cooperation in the field of defence and security.” The summit took place against the backdrop of the US reaching agreements with Finland and Sweden on the use of their military infrastructure by the Pentagon.
The big picture is that the US is encouraging Nordic countries to get Ukraine to participate in strengthening NATO’s Arctic borders. One may wonder what is the “additionality” that a decrepit military like Ukraine’s can bring into the NATO. Herein hangs a tale. Simply put, although Ukraine has no direct access to the Arctic, it can potentially bring in an impressive capability to undertake subversive activities inside Russian territory in a hybrid war against Russia.
In a strange coincidence, Pentagon recently prepared the Starlink satellite system for use in the Arctic, which was used by Ukrainian military for staging attacks on the Crimean Bridge, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and strategic assets on Russian territory. The US’ agreement with Finland and Sweden would give Pentagon access to a string of naval and air bases and airfields as well as training and testing grounds along the Russian border.
Several hundred thousand Ukrainian citizens are presently domiciled in the Nordic countries who are open to recruitment for “an entire army of saboteurs like the one that Germany collected during the war between Finland and the USSR in 1939-1940 on the islands of Lake Ladoga,” as a Russian military expert told Nezavisimaya Gazeta recently.
Russia’s naval chief Admiral Nikolai Evmenov also pointed out recently that “the strengthening of the military presence of the united NATO armed forces in the Arctic is already an established fact, which indicates the bloc’s transition to practical actions to form military force instruments to deter Russia in the region.” In fact, Russia’s Northern Fleet is forming a marine brigade tasked with the fight against saboteurs to ensure the safety of the new Northern Sea Route, coastal military and industrial infrastructure in the Arctic.
Suffice to say, no matter Ukraine’s defeat in the US’ proxy war with Russia, Zelensky’s use for the US’ geo-strategy remains. From Oslo, Zelensky made an unannounced visit on December 14 to a US Army base in Germany. Analysts who see Zelensky as a spent force had better revise their opinion — that is, unless the power struggle in Kiev exacerbates and Zelensky gets overthrown in a coup or a colour revolution, which seems improbable so long as Biden is in the White House and Hunter Biden is on trial.
The bottom line is that Biden’s new narrative demonising Russia for planning an attack on NATO can be seen from multiple angles. At the most obvious level, it aims to hustle the Congress on the pending bill for $61 billion military aid to Ukraine. Of course, it also distracts attention from the defeat in the war. But, most important, the new narrative is intended to rally the US’ transatlantic allies who are increasingly disillusioned with the outcome of the war and nervous that US involvement in Europe may dwindle as it turns to Indo-Pacific.
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