1 Year After Putin Invaded Ukraine

War has been a catastrophe for Ukraine and a crisis for the globe. The world is a more unstable and fearful place since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022. One year on, thousands of Ukrainian civilians are dead, and countless buildings have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of troops have been killed or seriously wounded on each side. Beyond Ukraine’s borders, the invasion shattered European security, redrew nations’ relations with one another and frayed a tightly woven global economy.

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine—and until that date, the United States had done little to thwart it.  This Friday marks one year since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The war has killed thousands, displaced millions, and disrupted global food and energy markets—with no end in sight.  To better understand how this conflict continues to shape geopolitics, and how geopolitics shapes it, Foreign Affairs is publishing an ongoing series of essays about what the war has taught us so far.

The war in Ukraine has touched almost every corner of the world — delivering death and suffering to Ukraine, an energy crisis in Europe, grain shortages in the Middle East and Africa, and compounding inflation across the globe.

“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” the American president said as he stood next to Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky during his surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital, where life has returned more or less to normal since the initial Russian onslaught.

Inside Russia, all aspects of society and the economy have been warped or reoriented in a sprawling effort to support Vladimir Putin’s war effort.  And while the vast number of casualties have been sustained by Russia and Ukraine, countries from Australia to Zambia have seen their own fighters killed in the war.

While the toll of the war is often described in sweeping statistics — 8 million refugees, 1,000 Russians killed in a day or $500 million in aid — over the past 12 months many groups and individuals have come to symbolize resistance to the war and resilience amid the carnage.

Millions of Ukrainians fled from their homeland in the early days of the war, with mostly women and children leaving their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers to fight the invading forces.

Leading scholars consider why some democracies have not joined the coalition against Russia, why Russian President Vladimir Putin persists despite his disastrous war, what can be learned about contemporary conflict from the battlefields in Ukraine, and more. Start reading below.

NATO was created to prevent a major war in Europe, a task it accomplished well for many decades. Apart from the brief Kosovo war in 1999, its members never had to fight together or coordinate a joint response to aggression—until a year ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine. NATO’s response thus offers fresh, real-world evidence about how contemporary alliances work in practice.  Despite a series of blunders, miscalculations, and battlefield reversals that would have surely seen him thrown out of office in most normal countries, President Vladimir Putin is still at the pinnacle of power in Russia.

He continues to define the contours of his country’s war against Ukraine. He is micromanaging the invasion even as generals beneath him appear to be in charge of the battlefield. (This deputizing is done to protect him from blowback if something goes badly wrong in the war.) Putin and those immediately around him directly work to mobilize Russians on the home front and manipulate public views of the invasion abroad. He has in some ways succeeded in this information warfare.

The war has revealed the full extent of Putin’s personalized political system. After what is now 23 years at the helm of the Russian state, there are no obvious checks on his power. Institutions beyond the Kremlin count for little. “I would never have imagined that I would miss the Politburo,” said Rene Nyberg, the former Finnish ambassador to Moscow. “There is no political organization in Russia that has the power to hold the president and commander in chief accountable.” Diplomats, policymakers, and analysts are stuck in a doom loop—an endless back-and-forth argument among themselves—to figure out what Putin wants and how the West can shape his behavior.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that his country would suspend its participation in the New START agreement with the United States, throwing into question the future of the last remaining arms control accord between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The treaty, which came into force in 2011, places limits on the number of intercontinental nuclear weapons that each country can have and was extended for an additional five years in 2021. Arms control had long been regarded as the last redoubt of constructive collaboration between Washington and Moscow.

Putin showed no signs of backing down as he used his annual state-of-the-nation address to rail against the United States and accuse Ukraine and the West of provoking the war days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. “They want to inflict a ‘strategic defeat’ on us and try to get to our nuclear facilities at the same time,” Putin said during his nearly 100-minute speech, which was met with applause from Russian lawmakers and senior officials. “In this context, I have to declare today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms.”

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday delivered a nuclear warning to the West over Ukraine, suspending a bilateral nuclear arms control treaty, announcing new strategic systems had been put on combat duty and warning that Moscow could resume nuclear tests.

Speaking nearly a year to the day since ordering an invasion that has triggered the biggest confrontation with the West since the depths of the Cold War, Putin said Russia would achieve its war aims and accused the West of trying to destroy Russia.

Cautioning the United States that it was stoking the war into a global conflict, Putin said that Russia was suspending participation in the New START Treaty, the last major arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington.

Responding to Putin’s announcement, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “With today’s decision on New START, the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled.”

Experts said it’s too soon to interpret Putin’s remarks as heralding a new nuclear arms race, but with the treaty set to expire in 2026, the Russian leader’s announcement will further complicate diplomatic efforts to extend or negotiate a new treaty between the United States and Russia, which together hold about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

The biggest blow to democracy on a global scale was not the war itself but the fact that—despite all “never again” claims—European and Western countries in general agreed and accepted beforehand that another European nation might be deprived of its sovereignty, freedom, and independent institutions, and it might find itself militarily occupied. (If this isn’t how they felt, then they wouldn’t have evacuated their embassies in Kyiv.) President Biden vowed on Tuesday that the United States would “not tire” in its support of Ukraine, describing the American commitment to NATO and Ukraine as a battle for freedom against autocracy in a speech delivered just hours after President Vladimir V. Putin presented a radically different account of the war.

In his national address, Mr. Putin showed no sign that he would change course, instead signaling that Russians should prepare for a long war ahead. He accused the West of a “totalitarian” project to control the world under the guise of spreading liberal values, and declared Russia was suspending the one remaining nuclear arms treaty with the United States.

“They intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation. This is exactly how we understand it all and we will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country.” Defeating Russia, he said, was impossible.

Why Has India Not Condemned Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?

In the year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Western democracies have condemned Moscow, slapped wide-ranging sanctions on it, cut back on Russian oil and gas and sent unprecedented amounts of arms and ammunition to help Ukraine defend itself.

But the world’s biggest democracy — India — hasn’t done any of that.

India has solidified ties with Moscow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Vladimir Putin in September and called their countries’ friendship “unbreakable.” He did tell the Russian president it’s “not a time for war.” But a year on, Modi still refuses to assign blame for the violence, and has voiced more concern over the spike in global food and fuel prices triggered by the war.

Meanwhile, as Europe eschews Russian oil and gas, India has doubled down on buying Russian oil at bargain prices — much to Washington’s chagrin. And India continues to place orders for Russian-made weapons.

All this is a reminder that, a year into this war, condemnation of Russia is far from unanimous. Much of the global south actually sees the West’s focus on Ukraine as a distraction from other, more pressing issues like food security, inflation and mounting debt.

Analysts and political scientists cite four main factors shaping India’s policy toward Ukraine and Russia: History, energy, arms and influence.

Factor #1: The India-Russia relationship goes way back

India was still under British colonial rule when Russia opened its first consulate there in 1900, in Mumbai. But relations really took off during the Cold War.

Picture : Politico

“It started out as strategic sympathy for the Soviet Union, in the backdrop of India getting independence from the British. So it’s an anti-colonial experience, anti-imperialism,” says Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan, a political scientist at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “And as the Cold War picked up, it became a more anti-West, anti-U.S. sentiment they shared.”

The end of the Cold War didn’t change that. Neither has the Ukraine war. India’s nationalist TV news channels often accuse the United States — rather than Russia — of doing more to ruin Ukraine.

In November, Modi’s top diplomat, S. Jaishankar, traveled to Moscow, where he stood alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and called their countries’ relationship “steady and time-tested.”

Modi has called for a cease-fire in Ukraine, without condemning Russia’s attacks. Some of his political opponents say that doesn’t go far enough, and point toward India’s actions rather than its words.

“The actions that India is engaged in so far do not reflect any remorse or even mild criticism of the events in Ukraine,” says Praveen Chakravarty, a political economist affiliated with the opposition Indian National Congress party. “If anything, it seems to aid and abet.”

Factor #2: India wants cheap Russian oil

India has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. (The IMF forecasts 6.8% growth for India this year, compared to just 1.6% for the United States.) By 2030, India is forecast to be the third-largest economy in the world, behind the U.S. and China.

It’s already the third-largest oil consumer in the world. And it needs even more to fuel all that growth. But because India has few oil and gas reserves of its own, most of the oil it needs has to be imported. It’s also a relatively poor country, particularly sensitive to price.

That’s where Russia comes in. India still buys more oil from Middle Eastern countries than Russia. But its Russian share has skyrocketed. In December, India imported 1.2 million barrels of Russian crude. That’s a whopping 33 times more than a year earlier. In January, the share of Russian crude rose to 28% of India’s oil imports — up from just 0.2% before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Indian officials have defended those purchases by saying it’s their job to find bargains for their citizens. And Jaishankar, the foreign minister, has suggested it’s hypocritical of wealthier Westerners to ask them not to.

“Europe has managed to reduce its imports [of Russian gas] while doing it in a manner that is comfortable,” Jaishankar told an Austrian TV channel last month. “At 60,000 euros or whatever is your per capita income, you’re so caring about your population. I have a population at 2,000 dollars [per capita annual income]. I also need energy, and I am not in a position to pay high prices for oil.”

Last April, Jaishankar visited the White House for a virtual summit between Modi and President Biden. There, U.S. officials told their Indian counterparts they understand India’s energy needs and were hoping only that India would not “accelerate” Russian oil purchases.

India basically ignored that. But the Biden administration now says it’s actually fine with that.

Earlier this month, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffery Pyatt said Washington is “comfortable” with India’s approach on Russian oil. And Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said the U.S. is not looking at sanctioning India for this.

Here’s one possible explanation for Washington’s change of heart: India is buying Russian crude at deep discounts — something the West can’t do because of sanctions, or doesn’t want to do because of the optics. Then India refines that same Russian oil and exports it onward to the U.S. and Europe. So the West gets Russian oil, without getting its hands dirty.

“U.S. treasury officials have two main goals: keep the market well supplied and deprive Russia of oil revenue,” Ben Cahill, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told Bloomberg. “They are aware that Indian and Chinese refiners can earn bigger margins by buying discounted Russian crude and exporting products at market prices. They’re fine with that.”

Factor #3: Moscow is India’s biggest arms dealer

India’s military has historically been equipped with Russian and Soviet weapons. Most of those contracts date back to the Cold War, a conflict in which India was officially non-aligned but close to Moscow. So most of India’s arsenal was — and still is — Soviet-made.

By now, some those 30-something-year-old weapons are deteriorating. “Let’s just go to the [Indian] Air Force. Most of those Sukhois and MiGs [fighter aircraft] are referred to as ‘flying coffins.’ Very often Indian pilots die when they are testing, or flying, those,” says Aparna Pande, a political scientist at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “So India knows they need to be replaced.”

Indian defence experts may have been the only ones not surprised to see Russian tanks falling apart in Ukraine this past year, Pande says. They’ve been unhappy with Russian equipment for years.

So the Indian government has started replacing some of its Soviet-made aircraft and artillery with French, Israeli and American versions. But it’s a time-consuming and costly task to update India’s entire arsenal, Pande notes.

“Let’s say my entire apartment had only IKEA furniture, and now I decide, ‘OK now I want to change it, and I want West Elm.’ I cannot just replace one chair. I have to change my entire dining table and all the chairs,” Pande explains. “So what India has done [in terms of updating its weapons] is piecemeal. But those big ticket items are still Russian-made. So that’s the change which has to happen, and this is what will reduce the Russian influence.”

Despite the Indian government’s efforts to diversify, Moscow continues to be India’s biggest arms dealer — more than 30 years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russia has reportedly supplied India with around $13 billion in weapons in the past five years alone. There’s one big reason India needs all these weapons: China.

Factor #4: India wants to prevent Putin from getting closer to China’s Xi Jinping

India’s biggest foreign policy preoccupation is not Ukraine or Russia. It’s China. The two countries share a more than 2,000-mile disputed border. Satellite imagery shows China may be encroaching on Indian territory. Soldiers clashed there in June 2020, and again this past December.

And as the West isolates Russia, India fears Putin is already looking eastward, toward Beijing. “You’re already seeing a very close Russia-China relationship emerging, even in the last few years,” says the ORF’s Rajagopalan. “So the current Indian approach is, we don’t want Russia to go completely into the Chinese fold. Because for India, China has become the No. 1 national security threat.”

Despite the Ukraine war, that’s true for Washington too. So even if Washington doesn’t like it, Biden administration officials say they understand why India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and they’re willing to grant India a wide berth.

They may even see India’s continued ties with Putin as useful — to try to mitigate just how far the Ukraine war drives him into Xi Jinping’s arms.

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