More than 100 days had passed since the conflict began on February 24, 2022; when Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a special military operation inside the territory of Ukraine. As the future looks bleak, with no real signs of peace on the ground, the global economy is splintering, and the West’s conflicting imperatives—as well as those of the developing world—are slowly revealing themselves. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that the “demilitarization and denazification” of the Ukrainian government is the goal of his operation in Ukraine.
Putin argued that Kyiv committed “genocide” against the Russian-speaking people of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, commonly known as the Donbas, where the Ukrainian army has been fighting Russia-backed separatists since 2014. About 14,000 people, including military, civilians, and rebel combatants, were killed in the violence that erupted after insurgents seized portions of the Donbas and established the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Despite the signing of a truce in the Belarusian capital of Minsk later that year, the region remained rocked by intermittent gunfire and shelling for the following seven years, until Moscow launched its “peacekeeping operation” in February, citing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The Russian leader stressed that Kiev had for eight years dodged compliance with the Minsk-2 package of agreements.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, had the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal when the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s. In exchange for security guarantees that protected Kyiv from a hypothetical Russian attack, Kyiv turned up its substantial nuclear stockpile to Russia, anticipating a good relationship with Moscow moving forward. At the time, Ukrainians had little reason to fear Russia, especially because more than 83 percent of Donbas people and 54 percent of Crimea residents voted in a 1991 referendum to separate from the USSR. Even Russian-speaking Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported Ukraine’s independence, and Russia appeared to be a toothless power on the international scene after years of military and economic loss during the Cold War.
However, between then and 2014, Russia strengthened its worldwide position and re-emerged as a significant military power. Moscow became increasingly apprehensive as Ukraine moved closer to the West, fearing that its strategic interests in Crimea would be jeopardized.
Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president, rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in 2014 in favor of tighter ties with Moscow. This sparked a wave of protests across Ukraine, culminating in Yanukovych’s ouster the following year. Russia retaliated by absorbing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, through a referendum oversaw by little green men, and supporting a separatist insurrection in eastern Ukraine.
The 1990s were a wonderful decade for those in the West who wanted to punish Russians for the Soviet Union’s alleged Cold War transgressions. For the Russian people, though, it was a terrible moment. Neither President Putin nor the rest of society appear willing to let the US and NATO to turn back the clock and relive the dark era. This is something that any student of modern Russian history would be aware of. Unfortunately, Western policymakers are informed by Russophobe propagandists rather than Russian historians, resulting in a conflict in Ukraine.
What stands now on the ground
Despite Western media rumblings on stalled Russian progress in Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Luxembourg’s parliament in a video address, that Russia controls 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine has stalled, with Moscow accusing Kiev of acting in bad faith and critiquing the West for complicating the scenario further by funneling in weapons. The latest decision by US President to send in at least four HIMARS systems will be supplied to Kiev as part of a $700 million military aid package funded by Congress’s authorization of $8 billion for direct drawdown from existing US military stocks, will likely trigger harsh responses from Russia. The M142 will be able to launch a pod of six 227mm artillery GPS-guided rockets with a range of 43.5 miles when outfitted for Ukraine (70 kilometers).
Even as the West continues to declare – despite all evidence to the contrary – that the fight in Ukraine is going well for Kiev, major news organizations are growing increasingly concerned about the economic situation. More and more analysts are acknowledging that the US and its allies’ embargoes are hurting their own economies, rather than the Russian economy, as initially intended. Rather than naively citing stories like the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ or the ‘Snake Island 13’ propagated by Ukrainian administration, some major outlets have begun to report on the actual situation on the ground. There have even been hints, however hazy, that the West should consider abandoning unconditional support for Kiev in favor of promoting a diplomatic settlement, after the fall of Mariupol.
The Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott claimed, “Russia is winning the economic battle.” “It’s been three months since the west launched its economic assault on Russia, and things aren’t going as planned. Things are, on the contrary, going very badly,” he wrote. Even The Economist, which is not exactly a media house having sympathetic tones for Moscow, recognized the West’s collective failure to break Russia. A month ago, the newspaper reluctantly recognized that the Russian economy had recovered from the initial blow of sanctions. Meanwhile, the West is dealing with energy shortages, rising living costs, and unprecedented inflation. It is Americans, not Russians, who are unable to obtain infant formula and cannot afford gas.
What Bangladesh can do?
The Ukraine-Russia military conflict has brazenly pitted the West against Russia, and a new Cold War like situation will impose new challenges for Bangladesh. Bangladeshi imports from Russia include cereals, minerals, chemical products, plastic products, metal, machinery and mechanical equipment. Russia is building the first nuclear reactors of Bangladesh, and despite Western sanctions, Russia is still engaged actively with it. As Russia was expelled from SWIFT network, the bilateral trade is expected to take a hit. As a counter measure, the Bangladeshi embassy in Moscow has advised to barter trade, or use Chinese currencies through Chinese banking network to keep bilateral trade afloat. Russia has offered cheap crude to Bangladesh, and although the country’s sole refinery not capable to refine Russian crude, it has the option to source refined Russian crude, likely to be cheaper than other refined petroleum products from China and India, with whom Dhaka enjoys strong relations. After the beginning of the conflict, both China and India have increased crude purchases from Moscow.
Though Dhaka has limited contacts and trade with Ukraine, western pressure will keep mounting on Dhaka, as the world has entered a new paradigm. With general elections looming, Dhaka has to tread cautiously in such changing situations, as its biggest export basket lies in the West. The West will likely weaponize the politics, regional diplomacy, trade and media to muffle Dhaka’s non-aligned position in the coming days. Diversifying currency basket will allow Dhaka to bypass Western sanctions against Russia for trade, but significant defense hardware purchases from Russia will likely trigger response from Washington. It will be prudent to follow and work with neighbors such as India and China, when it comes to dealing bilateral trade obstacles created by western sanctions on Russia.