Jide Osuntokun, a Professor of History and International Relations, has warned that if the global community fails to mediate in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, the world may witness another conflagration that could make the first and the second world war bombs pale into the realm of firecrackers.
In an article in The Nation, he wrote that one wonders why the rest of the world is not involved in any mediation over the crisis. What has happened to the Non-Aligned Movement? He asked. It was because of such a situation that it was, according to him, created at the height of the Cold War.
He continued: “It seems the movement is moribund. It was because of this sort of thing that our former foreign minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was talking about a concert of medium powers which unfortunately did not get much traction in the international community. If we have a dynamic foreign policy, we can initiate a movement from African and Asian countries to intervene in the ongoing crisis because if war breaks out in Europe, it tends to spread to the whole world as was our experience in 1914 –1918, and 1939-1945, during the first and second world wars leading to loss of close to 100 million souls as a result of direct combat and collateral damage and the influenza pandemic of 1919. The world as a whole cannot afford to keep quiet because if war breaks out in the current nuclear weapons age, there will be no victor or vanquished and in the words of President JF Kennedy the ‘living will envy the dead.’”
Below is the full article:
Russia, NATO, and the Ukraine crisis
By Jide Osuntokun
For weeks there has been tension in relations between the NATO and the Russian Federation over the future of Ukraine, a former constituent part of the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republic) in which Russia was the dominant part. After the collapse of the Soviet Union into independent 15 republics, Ukraine became apart from Russia, the most important republic of the former Soviet Union. It also had nuclear weapons which it gave up with an international guarantee in 1991. The country was for some time struggling economically under a series of corrupt leaders who shared national resources among a few oligarchs under the western-inspired privatization scheme as was the case in Russia itself under Boris Yeltsin.
The country for future development chose to gravitate towards the European Union and for security towards NATO. The latter scenario has not gone down well with Russia which under its pugnacious president, Vladimir Putin began to follow a policy of what is called protection of “Russia abroad” which meant taking a serious and extra-territorial interest in Russians scattered in the successor states of the former Soviet Union.
Some of these countries like the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, for the preservation of national sovereignty had joined NATO. These states are bordered to the south and east by Russia and Belarus, a close ally of the Kremlin which means the borders of NATO has moved eastwards since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, a state like Georgia had also indicated it wanted to join NATO. The impression gotten by the Kremlin was that the Western military alliance was determined to encircle the Russian federation. President Putin in a widely read article has said he believed Russia and Ukraine are the same countries tied together by history and blood and that many Russians have Ukrainian blood running in them. Of course, history has proved that Ukraine would like an independent existence. Adolph Hitler created an “Independent Ukraine” during the Nazi campaign in Russia and thousands of Ukrainians fought in German armies in Russia. This is the crux of the problem. Ukraine is backed by the West certainly for geostrategic reasons and feels Russia should allow Ukraine like any other country to enjoy the same rights granted it by the fact of its sovereignty.
Since 2014, Russia has been aggressively following a policy of dismemberment of the country. It engineered a revolt and a referendum in the Crimea on the Black Sea asking for Russia to accept it as part of the Russian federation. Russia quickly agreed and President Putin made a triumphant visit to Crimea almost immediately after the so-called referendum and followed it up by Russia building a long bridge to link the Crimea peninsula with the Russian homeland. As part of his policy of apparently recovering territories lost by Russia to the successor states, he intervened in Georgia and Moldova to protect the Russian-leaning minorities in those countries by stationing Russian troops there. He also began to demand that NATO should not station short-range missiles pointing at Russia in states of the former Warsaw Pact like Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia as well as states like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania which were formerly member states of the Soviet Union but are now members of NATO. Furthermore, Putin wants a written guarantee that Ukraine would never be allowed to join the NATO alliance. He argued that since NATO was formed to combat the spread of communism, he did not see any reason for the continued existence of the alliance after the collapse of communism and its continued expansion eastwards towards Russia.
Under Putin, Russia has been following a global policy of expansion in places like the Middle East and even in Africa and coordinating Russia’s policy of challenge to western and American interests with resurgent China. The West believes Russia has to be stopped or else there will be no end to Russian aggression. Looking back to the past of dictators, the West believes too many concessions to them in the past have not augured well for world peace. As for NATO expansion, the alliance says it will not be dictated to by Russia and it rued the fact that it did not challenge Russia in the 2014 annexation of Ukraine. The West is prepared to delay Ukrainian membership of NATO to a future when democracy and constitutional rule have firmly taken root in Ukraine but it will be difficult for the alliance to put this in concrete legally binding form as President Putin is demanding.
President Putin appears to force the hand of the western alliance began in the last three weeks, troops’ mobilization on the boundaries of Ukraine to the East and North and joint military maneuver with Belarus. This has elicited a response by the West particularly the United States and Great Britain which began an airlift of lethal defensive weapons like anti-tank and air defense systems. NATO has not mobilized troops in Europe believing that doing such may trigger a war the end of which no one knows. The fear of nuclear Armageddon has led to several diplomatic talks between American and Russian diplomats including their foreign secretaries and even Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin but there does not seem to be any breakthrough yet. One wonders what the end game will be because while engaged in saber-rattling, President Putin keeps saying he is not preparing to invade Ukraine. In the meantime, the Russian Duma (parliament) has recognized two Russian-speaking republics in the Russian minority areas of Ukraine. Western observers feel that any attempt by the Ukrainian government to assert its authority over its secessionist eastern provinces will be met by Russian military opposition. If this were to happen then a general conflagration may follow.
The West is threatening to impose the most severe economic sanctions on Russia that may include freezing of Russian assets in the West particularly the assets of Putin who is claimed to be the richest man in the world and the assets of the cabals around him. It is also being suggested that it will be made virtually impossible for Russia to trade with the West and the alternative gas pipeline running through the Black Sea to Germany and Europe would be blocked and this will be a great blow to Russia that in the last decade spent a considerable amount of its national resources on the pipeline that was built to by-pass the existing one that runs through Ukraine. The Russian economy is quite weak and is reputed to have collapsed over the years and is just about two-thirds of the Italian economy and if pressure is put on it, Russia would have to retreat from its pretensions of being a global power.
It is a moot question whether Germany would agree to the cancellation of the gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany because it depends on Russian gas to power its industrial complexes and to heat the homes of its people, especially in winter. Of course, alternative sources of gas may be found in the Middle East the United States, and Africa in Algeria, Libya, and Nigeria. One begins to wonder if Europe is on the same page as the United States on how far Europe will go on economic sanctions on Russia. The leaders of France and Germany have scheduled a meeting, as I write, with Russia to find a peaceful solution to the crisis created by Putin over Ukraine.
One wonders while the rest of the world is not involved in any mediation over the crisis. What has happened to the Non-Aligned Movement? It was because of such a situation that it was created at the height of the Cold War. It seems the movement is moribund. It was because of this sort of thing that our former foreign minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was talking about a concert of medium powers which unfortunately did not get much traction in the international community. If we have a dynamic foreign policy, we can initiate a movement from African and Asian countries to intervene in the ongoing crisis because if war breaks out in Europe, it tends to spread to the whole world as was our experience in 1914 –1918, and 1939-1945, during the first and second world wars leading to loss of close to 100 million souls as a result of direct combat and collateral damage and the influenza pandemic of 1919. The world as a whole cannot afford to keep quiet because if war breaks out in the current nuclear weapons age, there will be no victor or vanquished and in the words of President JF Kennedy the “living will envy the dead”.