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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

IPKF 10 -the Ukraine – Russia conflict, a Jaffna redux?


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Colonel Sidhus article sheds light on issues of Nazism raised by Putin, impact of financial sanctions on Russia, possible realignment of power equations and lastly takeaways for India. There is an interesting possibility of Russia –China and India in collusion  .He also has a take on the comparison of this conflict ,with that of the IPKF in 1987 at Jaffna ,where the officer was involved in a bloody battle in Jaffna with the formidable LTTE ,the dreaded Tamil militant organisation .That engagement lasted 16 days in urban areas, after which it shifted to the jungles of Vavuniya ,where classic  insurgent tactics by LTTE came to the fore and continued thereafter to bleed the IPKF and later the SL Army .Would such a pattern develop in Ukraine too ?  Read on to grasp the essentials.

IPKF 10 -the Ukraine - Russia conflict, a Jaffna redux? -

Backdrop: Historically speaking, emergence of Ukraine as an independent nation has been a relatively new phenomenon in the 20th century CE. Prior to that, major parts of its current territory had been ruled by other European countries, such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and USSR. It became independent for a very short period of close to two years at the end of the First World War in, 1919, before being annexed by USSR. After the breakup of USSR, Ukraine declared itself independent in 1991.

Large scale Trans migration of population is one of the most reliable indicator of ethnic and racial divides in a society. For a decade post declaration of independence by Ukraine, there was substantial mass migration of ethnicities, with approximately two million people migrating to other countries in the Caucasus region and almost similar numbers moving in. Today, migrants comprise almost 11 % of its total population of roughly 40 million. Whereas 77% of its population is Ukrainian, there are 17% Russians forming part of the country. Interestingly nearly 1/3rd of its population speaks the minority Russian language.

Various reports of European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), as also of the NGO Human Rights Watch, also substantiate the existence of racism and ethnic intolerance within Ukraine. During Second World War, Nazi Germany had carried out extensive ethnic cleansing of Jews and other Slavic races in Ukraine. A section of Ukrainians had actively collaborated with Nazi Germany in their atrocities. When Russia had earlier invaded Ukraine in 2014, a neo-Nazi militia, Azov Battalion was formed to resist Russian forces. This battalion has since been  integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, pointing towards government complicity in acts of ethnic intolerance. The Ukraine government’s push to make Ukrainian the dominant language within the country, has further inflamed ethnic passions.

The above facts do provide a modicum of truth to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allegation of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine. But to say that this is the provocation for Russia to invade Ukraine, would be extremely naïve. There are three protagonists to this conflict.

  • The first and foremost is Ukraine, a sovereign state, and its right to determine its own path of aligning its diplomatic, security and trade relations.
  • Next is Russia, with its hegemonistic leanings in its near neighbourhood, to pursue its perceived national interests and concerns about actions of Ukraine impinging its security interests, in the light of NATO’s past actions
  • Finally, it is the US led NATO, which has actively influenced Ukraine’s domestic politics in a way perceived by Russia as being detrimental to its national security, and without being willing to pay the price of assuring Ukraine’s security from coercive actions by Russia.

The US, duly supported by European Union and its military arm NATO have been consistent in their attempt to expand eastwards. After the 2013 Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, the Western powers orchestrated a regime change in Ukraine, which toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and resulted in a pro-Western Volodymyr Zelensky becoming the Ukrainian President. Russia, on the other hand, regards the erstwhile USSR territories as it’s legitimate area of influence which are critical to its national security interest, just as the US considers North America as it’s backyard.  The mineral rich and heavily industriali​s​ed Ukraine is erstwhile USSR territory.

The new Ukraine Government has been lobbying for an invitation to be a member of European Union and NATO. Such an eventuality will bring NATO to the doorstep of Russia, exposing its soft underbelly in the South, a legitimate security concern for Russia. With China’s belligerence in east and south Asia propelling a ‘pivot to the east’ by US, Russia looks at this, as an opportune geopolitical moment to neutralise Ukraine so as to secure its Southern borders.

Nuclear Spectre: All modern conflicts these days have an extensive component of ‘Information War’ integrated into its overall military strategy. The Russians have time and again been consistent in stating that Ukraine being drawn into the Western military alliance is a red line for them. Openly signalling a higher alert for its nuclear forces should be taken as a further reiteration of their overall dissuasive posture to negate any attempt at direct military intervention by NATO.

But the probability of Russia being ready to press the nuclear button is indeed remote.

  • Firstly, the current stance of the NATO Alliance is against undertaking any direct military intervention.
  • Secondly, first use of nuclear weapons would likely lead to diplomatic repercussions resulting in loss of influential allies, placing it in an untenable geopolitical situation.

Geopolitical Environment: Before commenting on the performance of the Russian military in Ukraine, we need to be reasonably clear as to their war aim. Since Russia has not stated their war aim in clear terms, quite like the Chinese aggression in Ladakh in 2020, which we need to extrapolate them from the 24th February 2022 public speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the course of military operations being undertaken by Russia. The Russian President has called the Russian military offensive as a “special military operation…to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine…protect the people of eastern Ukraine…offer of amnesty to Ukrainian soldiers who leave the battlefield…and dire warning to not interfere in Russian military operations…”The breakaway eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk of Ukraine have earlier been recognised as independent states.

Politically, Russia is likely aiming for a regime change in Ukraine and divesting it of all areas east of Dnieper River and along the coasts of Black Sea and Sea of Azov, to hive them off into separate political entity/entities, leaving Ukraine neutralised as a rump without any access to the seas. The Russian military has most likely been tasked to achieve the desired aim with minimum civilian casualties, while causing maximum destruction of Ukraine’s war fighting potential.

Large scale employment of special forces near the capital city of Kiev and the second largest city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, in conjunction with three major land thrust lines from Belarus southwards towards Kyiv, from Russia westwards towards Kharkiv, and from Crimea north-eastwards towards Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, and westwards towards Odessa, on the Black Sea, can be discerned.

From the slow speed of military operations it may be deduced that their progress is not as envisaged. The Russian Special Forces have not succeeded in their initial aims of seizing the airfields near Kiev and Kharkiv, to stun the Ukraine government and military into surrender. Proclamation of a higher nuclear alert status by Russia is also indicative of its sensitivities to increased chances of NATO interference due to military operations getting prolonged.

Unexpectedly dogged military resistance by Ukraine military, reluctance of Russian military to employ its full firepower with a view to minimise civilian casualties, and intelligence support from NATO appear to be the primary causes of the Russian failure to accomplish the desired aims in a swift time frame. Russian failure to correctly assess the combat potential of Ukraine armed forces is also apparent.

Comparison between the ongoing Russian military operations in Ukraine, with Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operations by India in Sri Lanka, three decades earlier The rival force levels are different. IPKF was operating against an insurgent force which was marginalised in diplomatic arena, while Russia is invading a sovereign state, which has overwhelming geopolitical support from Western bloc countries. Also the Russians have used preponderance of force without constraints of limiting collateral damage unlike the IPKF .Nevertheless, there are some interesting comparisons as well. In both instances, there were accusations of tacit state sponsored repression, and forced imposition of majoritarian language on the ethnic minority. Faulty political planning resulted in initial military reverses before military success could be achieved, but at a high cost in terms of casualties suffered. The IPKF did succeed in securing the political objectives enshrined in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, but political naivete and weak resolve of the Indian policy establishment resulted in the mission being dubbed as a failure. We shall have to wait to see how far the Russians succeed in achieving their aims and the costs they shall have to pay for the military intervention in Ukraine. If the Ukraine government pursues its national interests even after fall of its capital Kiev, then Russia is in for a long haul of bleeding of its strategic resources, which may deny it victory and impose unacceptable geopolitical costs.

Indians absentation from Voting There is simply no place for ethics and righteousness in determining the outcomes and decisions on the world stage. National self- interest determines the outcomes. The British-French alliance of Western countries is complicit in seizing Suez Canal in  Egypt in 1956, US intervened militarily to seize Panama Canal in Panama in 1989 andinvaded Iraq in 2014, Russia intervened in Afghanistan in 1979, China annexed Tibet in 1950-51 and invaded Vietnam in 1979, to name a few instances which prove the assertation made above.

China’s intrusions in Ladakh in 2020, did not see the Western alliance scrambling to intervene to support India, like in the current instance in Ukraine. Even the diplomatic actions of Ukraine in international forums have been by and large against India’s interests. Under the circumstances, India’s stance of neutrality should be seen primarily indicating its lack of confidence in the Western alliance, coming to its active support in combating the aggression from China. On the other hand, historically Russia has shown comparatively greater sensitivity in meeting India’s security interests as a supplier of weapons and at providing hard support, as in 1971 War

Economic Sanctions against Russia by NATO powers: The US led alliance has gone in for economic sanctions in trade and other related and not so related fields to pressurise and punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. The West has cut off access to international financial networks by specified Russian financial institutions and prominent Russian officials and businessmen, putting on hold the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and banning Aeroflot and other Russian air carriers from overflying their airspace. It is also likely to follow through with more comprehensive trade sanctions in the next phase.

In the short term, the impact is already being seen in speculative financial sectors. There has already been a20% drop in value of Russian Rouble, and broad 40 % fall in their stock market leading to its temporary closing of trade in equities.

The maximum long term impact on Russia shall be felt from its exclusion from international financial payment systems. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a Brussels based cooperative that supports 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries, and the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS), a private organisation owned by group of 43 financial institutions, are the backbone of secure financial payments made internationally. Both these organisations are also subject to US domestic laws and influence.

Cutting the Central Bank of Russia and other Russian banks and financial institutions access to global financial payment system will make it difficult for Russia to move funds internationally, retarding its trade and adversely impacting its economy. The significance of Russia’s extensive foreign exchange reserves will also be impacted owing to difficulty in transferring them world-wide. However, Russia may be able to mitigate the severity of the sanctions to some extent, by using digital currency, engaging in government to Government transactions in respective national currencies, or even taking recourse to China’s Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

There is also the advantage of heavy dependence of the European Union and NATO countries on energy resources of Russia. US does not produce enough energy to offset dependence of Western countries on Russian energy. With Ukraine energy sources now vulnerable to Russian military action, European energy needs will be severely impacted, making it highly susceptible to Russia employing its energy supply as a coercive weapon to impact European economy. Russia also has the option of offsetting loss of energy supply market to the West by offering it to China.

In the long term, the biggest unintended beneficiary of these economic sanctions may turn out to be China, which already has in place infrastructure to offer alternative access to secure international financial payments. Ironically, this could lead to reducing importance of the US Dollar, while strengthening the renminbi.

Takeaways for India from this intervention China is the No 1 adversary for the US, but too powerful to be tackled by it alone. An active joint front of China and Russia has the potential to shift the geopolitical balance of power equation, which is currently in West’s favour, towards the former. To that extent, it does make geopolitical sense for the Western alliance to first isolate and weaken Russia, the weaker of the two adversaries. It would automatically impinge the Comprehensive National Power of China, and make it that much easier to tackle it at a subsequent stage.

However, the current focus on neutralising the Russian threat shall leave the field clear to China in the east. The US and NATO inability to militarily defend Ukraine, a sovereign state, shall cast further doubt on their ability to effectively counter China’s threat towards Taiwan, which has very limited recognition as a sovereign state. Continued focus on Ukraine shall serve to provide additional geopolitical space to China to further its interests in South China Sea and East China Sea maritime regions.

For India, it provides serious reason to reassess reliability of US support against China’s bellicosity. India should also not fall prey to apprehensions of an implied threat of sanctions by the US and its allies, to coerce it into supporting them. This action may just give fillip to the thought of creating a very formidable geopolitical alliance, by driving three potential rival countries, Russia, China, and India, into a reluctant embrace.

India cannot afford to place its eggs in one basket by overtly supporting US and NATO, as this path shall come with its own severe penalties in the geopolitical field. By staying neutral, India keeps all options open, and is less vulnerable to coercive geopolitical power plays.

But the most important lesson for India lies in the field of effective employment of military power. China in Ladakh, and now Russia in Ukraine have failed to optimally employ their military might and superior weaponry to achieve decisive results on the battlefield. They failed, just like the abortive US intervention in Afghanistan. The seeds of their failure can be traced to the lack of appetite of their troops to stoutly face adversities on the battlefield, hesitancy to willingly embracing face death, the pliability of their military command to the demands of political conformity, and concomitant rigidity of thought leading to incompetency on the battlefield.

For India, there is no getting away from building a strong and self-reliant industrial base backed by an effective military, unmindful of the economic costs. Building a strong military is not only about arming the troops with the best weaponry, it is also about recognition of the serving and commemoration of the fallen. A recognised soldier is the one who shall willingly die for his country as much as the fallen soldier is revered without discrimination.The strength of the Indian military, despite being poorly equipped, is its frontline soldiers and their willingness to make supreme sacrifice for the cause of the nation. It is they, when all above have faltered, who have delivered the results. The outcomes of IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, the Chinese ingress in Ladakh in 2020, stand in mute testimony to this biggest battle winning factor of the Indian military. Unless Indian leadership understand this nuance, no amount of restructuring of its defence architecture, shall prove decisive.


IPKF 10 -the Ukraine - Russia conflict, a Jaffna redux? -

Col RS Sidhu, Sena Medal is a post graduate in History from Delhi University. His write-ups on strategic affairs have been published in magazines and journals of repute, and can also be accessed at his blogspot www.valleysandvalour.blogspot.com . He is also the author of two books, ‘Success from Being Mad’ on entrepreneurship ventures by veterans, and ‘Elephant on the High Himalayas’ on India China discourse.



[author title=”Shefali Kochhar,” image=”http://goachronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Screenshot_20210321-160233_LinkedIn.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle .

I am an entrepreneur who has tried her hands on various ventures like Electric Vehicle Charging Station , Online Retail Store / Trading and few more ventures. I have done my entrepreneurship from Amity University Noida.

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Shefali Kochhar
Shefali Kochhar
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