NIAS Europe Studies

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NIAS Europe Studies
Ukraine War and the International Order

  Indrani Talukdar

About the Author

Dr Talukdar is currently a Faculty at Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service. Dr Talukdar has received her PhD from West Asian Studies Division, School of International Studies, JNU. Her research interests include: Russia, Turkey, Cyprus issue, Greece, Turkey-Greece relations, strategic studies, peace and conflict studies, defence studies, foreign policy, Russia and US.

The Ukraine war took place post-Covid recovery times.

Before the Ukraine War, the world, especially the neutral countries with strategic autonomy as their foreign policy, could see that the world order was changing from a unipolar to a multipolar and heteropolar one. The weaning off of American unipolar hegemony and its double standards were helping countries to call out the US and its policies. Examples of it could be seen by defiant actions taken by its one-time allies, Saudi Arabia or Israel or Turkey or the fragmentation in the Euro-Atlantic security members unity.  There has been growing voices against the liberal world order. A leaning towards civilizational nationalism was in the making. The world is becoming divided between West led liberal world order and civilizational nationalism, where authoritarianism, populism, conservatism, and traditionalism dominates. More countries are getting attracted towards the latter. Reasons are effects of globalisation, growing disparity between developed and developing countries and most importantly the double standards of the West.

Ukraine War took place in the above backdrop. The West missed the warnings Russia was signaling since long especially from the 2007 Munich Security Conference.  On December 2021, Russia submitted two drafts of interconnected international legal documents—one to US and the other with NATO where the agreed principle of ‘indivisibility of security’ of all OSCE members, including Russia was mentioned. In this text, Moscow invoked OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul Summit Charter and 2010 Astana Summit Charter. It set the pretext of the February attack by accentuating threat from Ukraine’s ‘uncommitted’ and ‘not-yet-completed’ NATO membership.  The West’s non-promptness and non-seriousness towards the drafts cost Ukraine heavily.

Global Fallouts of Ukraine War
The Ukraine War has an impact on the above changes. 

First, the shift in global order. Apart from the division in the world order, this war has impacted the already weakening global economy. It has led to a strain on food and energy security which has impacted the world, specifically the developing countries. The war also weakened the unilateral stronghold that the West had on using international laws and the United Nations as per its well. Most of the countries, including India, abstained from voting against Russia. This shows how national interest is a priority for every country and decisions are taken based on that.

Second, economic ramifications and global impact. Another aspect is the West’s non-adherence to international law and rule-based order at the beginning of the 21st century. The 1999 Kosovo crisis is an example of how the West tweaks international laws and organizations to further its own agenda. During this crisis, NATO launched airstrikes on Serbia, which was strongly opposed by Russia. Moscow argued that such military operations and the secession of Kosovo from Serbia breached the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. Russia, along with countries like Cyprus, Moldova, and Romania, saw it as a breach of international law as per the UNSC Resolution 1244 (1999). During that time, the West also unofficially adopted the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Third, Russia’s invocation of legal principles. In the case of Ukraine, Russia has invoked both the Kosovo Precedent of 1999 and R2P. It also applied another clause form the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, where Russia and the other signatories assured their recognition and respect of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and its existing borders. The signatories also reaffirmed their obligations to refrain from the use of threat or force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine, stating that their weapons would either be used in self-defense or in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. According to this, Russia violated the treaty as a guarantor in 2014, when it sent its green men to Crimea. However, after the secession of Crimea to Russia, Moscow utilized the Budapest Memorandum to its own advantage by invoking the clause of self-defense.

Fourth, perspectives on Russia’s actions and implications. With Crimea’s secession to Russia since 2014 and Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia becoming a part of the country in 2022, Russia’s actions of defending its own people in these regions stands justified in the eyes of most of the countries. On the other hand, the West saw it as the breach of the 1994 agreement.

The end of the Ukraine war might push the West to re-think and re-orient its foreign policies as well as its unilateral tendencies. It could help the West re-assess  its adherence to international laws and respect for the United Nations. The  country which has lost the most is Ukraine. It has been facing an existential threat since the 18th century, when Tsar Peter the Great took control of the territory. The history of Ukraine, if analysed from the Ukrainian perspective, is filled with struggle for their independence through national movements time and again since 2014. The complexity of this existential threat has  further intensified because of the involvement of the US complemented with the angle of the Cold War. Ukraine is thus fighting two battles—one for its own survival as a nation state, and the other as a proxy for the US.

In an attempt to gain the support of the West, Ukraine took many decisions that went against its relationship with Russia. During the Meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1954, Crimea was handed over to Ukraine by Russia unanimously. This agreement between the two countries was based on the mutual understanding that Ukraine would look after the well- being of the Crimean people who were essentially Russian natives. The transfer was also to strengthen the mutual economic growth, cultural, and fraternal linkages between the two. Ukraine’s slow and steady leaning towards the West, non-development of Crimea, non-inclusion of Russian language, blocking of Russian ships through the Black Sea during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, non-assimilation of the Russian people with the Ukrainians etc. broke the trust between the two. This resulted in the secession of Crimea to Russia and the on-going war. 

The Ukraine war has revealed the vulnerabilities of the Euro-Atlantic security where many EU members like Hungary have been against US- led actions against Russia. There has been reluctance to punish Russia, including the imposition of sanctions. Many analysts have observed that this timeEurope has been united against Russia, but the developments in the region prove otherwise. Apart from this, the war has also elevated the belligerent relationship between Russia and the West, while highlighting the weaknesses of  the United Nations and  the international rules-based order.  Countries including the Global South are again unwilling to take a side in what they consider to be a regional war of Europe. This situation is similar to the one they experienced during the Cold War, when non-alignment gained popularity. Hence, one can conclude that in this emerging multipolar and heteropolar world order, the remnants of bygone polars like the one during the Cold War era still exist. Many analysts have been busy over the emergence of the new bipolar world order between the US and China. However, from the Ukraine war it is perceptible that unfinished business between the two old bipolar rivals—Russia and the US, are in full display.

In all the  wars between big powers, one important lesson for the smaller nations is that that their existential threat of being a smaller nation in front of a bigger nation remains. They might be a sovereign country, however , they do not have real independence to choose an alliance or security agreement. Aside from this, the war has also revealed the dark side of realism, where every country would ultimately look after their own national interest. Hence, smaller countries might need to be neutral and not get lured by powerful powers. Therefore, with national interest as a priority, statements on peace and diplomacy remains rhetoric. 

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