M. K. Bhadrakumar

M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat by profession. Roughly half of the 3 decades of his diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. He writes mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

Expanding SCO’s Reach: The Rise of the ‘Axis of Seven’


The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a report on the eve of the China-Central Asia summit at Xi’an titled “China is changing the format of cooperation with Central Asia.” It anticipated that the six heads of state gathering in Xi’an on May 18-19 would be discussing the “creation of a new mechanism for cooperation in various fields and sign important political documents.” 

The report recalled that the Xi’an summit ought to be viewed in the context of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the five heads of Central Asian States in Moscow on May 9 (Russia’s Victory Day.) The daily flagged the expert opinion that “a new ‘5+2’ axis is being formed (Central Asia plus China and Russia).” Evidently, although Putin was not present at the event in Xi’an, Russia’s interests have been taken into account. 

The new “5 Plus 2 axis” being formed will have its own mechanisms and projections, which differ from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union community. The Xi’an summit considered the possibility of institutionalising the Central Asia-China format through a Secretariat “in order to comprehensively promote cooperation… and the functioning of the relevant mechanisms.” Of course, given the top-down decision making characteristic of the Central Asian states, the mechanism of the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of the China-Central Asia format (to be held in alternate years) will be a key factor in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development of the region.

It is entirely conceivable that at a time when the SCO has tended to become more and more “abstract” after the induction of India into the grouping, and began meandering aimlessly, it stands to reason that China and the Central Asian states and Russia felt the need to create more effective mechanisms and plans in their common space so as to impart a new quality of cooperation, and supplement the SCO if need arises. 

An element of rivalry has crept into the SCO’s functioning. India, in particular, needs to do some soul-searching here. Certainly, this was not what China and Russia had in mind in 2005 when they put together the Shanghai Five in 2005 (which later morphed into the SCO.) Consensus in decision-making was adopted as a core principle in the SCO’s functioning but lately, a competitive spirit to settle scores stemming out of bilateral differences and disputes crept in. The SCO foreign ministers meeting in Delhi recently witnessed an acrimonious India-Pakistan standoff that vitiated the “Shanghai Spirit,” even as the Central Asian states and Russia and China mutely watched.  

There is the tragic example of SAARC which suffered a similar trauma during the recent decade that eventually rendered it a comatose ready for burial. But Russia and China cannot afford such a tragic fate visiting the SCO. The US’ double containment strategy toward Russia and China and the NATO’s imminent expansion to Asia make it critically important that a cohesive, motivated and well-coordinated regional cooperation process is available in their common space in Inner Asia.  

So far, Russia was engaged in strengthening political integration, while China systematically and powerfully interacted with the governments of Central Asian countries for the development of energy and infrastructure projects within the framework of a full-fledged economic expansion. That division of labour worked rather well, but then, the regional security environment changed dramatically of late.

For example, it has become vital for Moscow in the context of the rupture of Russia’s energy ties with Europe to divert its oil and gas exports to the Chinese market, and that requires Central Asian infrastructure in transit mode — a novel idea altogether. Suffice to say, a high level of harmonisation and synchronisation of the national plans of the Central Asian countries is needed. Currently, there are no agreed common strategies in the Central Asian region, which has a population of 75 million. The Belt and Road project does not adequately take into account the interests of Russia and the interface with the Eurasian Economic Union projects cannot provide a sufficient level of interaction either, due to systemic weaknesses. 

To be sure, in the run-up to the Xi’an summit, the heads of Central Asian countries carefully prepared for the event and have presented a significant package of proposals. Thus, the construction work on the highly strategic China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which will connect Xinjiang and Central Asia with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is now poised to begin after a delay of some 20 years due to a squabble over the measurement of the width of rail tracks!

Unsurprisingly, aside regional security, the issue of connectivity was the one topic that received the greatest attention at the Xi’an summit, which involves improving the transport infrastructure along the China–Central Asia and China–Europe routes through Central Asia, as well as increasing the capacity of border checkpoints, all of which aim to create conditions for increasing cargo and passenger traffic.

A positive factor is that Kazakhstan’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is deepening. China and Kazakhstan are effectively implementing a list of 52 BRI investment projects with a total amount of more than $21 billion, covering transportation and logistics, industry and agriculture, energy, tourism and other fields. Two of the six BRI corridors pass through Kazakhstan connecting China respectively to Europe and to Iran and West Asia. These BRI corridors are important for most of the Central Asian economies for whom China offers the closest sea port. That in turn makes Kazakhstan a potential hub for accessing Central Asia. 

The summit at Xi’an also noted the importance of launching the Kazakh-Chinese railway Ayaguz – Tacheng and called for the accelerated construction of the fourth line of the Turkmenistan–China gas pipeline. There are many kinds of mineral resources and large reserves in Tacheng area — coal, granite, gold, copper, iron ore and other mineral resources in the area where the railway under construction crosses.

On the sideline of the Xi’an summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping held meetings with each of the five leaders of the Central Asian region. On the eve of the summit in Xi’an, Chinese media called Central Asia the “gateway” for the Belt and Road project, which Xi had originally unveiled from Kazakhstan in 2013. There has been a great deal of scare mongering over Belt and Road by the US and India in the information sphere but that doesn’t seem to have affected the Central Asian states. It is symbolic that Beijing took the initiative to hold the first China-Central Asia Summit on the 10th anniversary of Belt and Road Initiative.

Equally, China hopes to link Pakistan and Afghanistan with the BRI infrastructure projects in Central Asia. As a first step, China and Pakistan recently agreed to extend the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. This has been the main achievement of the  Pakistan-Afghanistan-China ministerial held in Islamabad on May 5, a fortnight before the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an. Quite obviously, the momentum of the China-Central Asia format will not be optimal unless China also doubles down on its engagement with the Taliban government in Kabul.

China takes leadership role in Central Asia


One of the pleasures of the post-Cold War strategic discourses is that geopolitics is back with a bang. Earlier, the former Soviet Union and Communist China used to be in denial mode, as geopolitics didn’t fit into their Marxist-Leninist lens — although, arguably, Marx might have adapted himself a long time ago already. 

The China-Central Asia Summit, which took place recently in Xi’an on May 18-19 was every bit a geopolitical event as much as the G7 summit in Hiroshima that it overlapped. The symbolism was profound. China and Russia were the elephants in the room for both summits but the Xi’an summit distinguished itself as an inclusive affair, whereas, the G7 event was, regrettably, an exclusive gathering of wealthy countries of the western world dripping with cold war-era animosities, and it didn’t hide its intentions even in its choice of “special invitees” — one ASEAN country; two BRICS countries; one tiny African state; a Pacific island etc. — borne out of the old colonial mindset of “divide and rule.” 

The biggest difference was that the Xi’an summit was substantive and focused on a positive agenda that is quantifiable, while the Hiroshima summit was largely prescriptive and partly declarative and only marginally tangible. This was because the China-Central Asia summit took place on native soil while the G7 has no habitation and name in Asia except that one of the seven member countries is of Asian origin and the summit itself was a thinly-veiled attempt to insert the alien Western agenda into the Asian setting. In fact, the criterion for selecting the special invitees was itself based on the credentials of those chosen few to perform potentially as a fifth column for western interests in an Asian Century.    

The China-Central Asia Summit was motivated by the growing realisation that the countries of the Eurasian region must play a proactive role in the common task of pushing back the United States, the driving force of the G7, which they perceive to be attempting to destabilise the common neighbourhood of Russia and China in Central Asia. Simply put, the Xi’an summit tacitly signalled that Russia and China are unitedly circling the wagons for a common purpose — to borrow an idiom which was employed by the Americans in the 19th century to describe a defensive manoeuvre. 

From a historical perspective, it is for the first time ever that Russia and China are explicitly joining hands to stabilise the Central Asian region — a momentous happening by itself — with Beijing assuming a leadership role, given Russia’s preoccupations in Ukraine. This paradigm shift belies the western propaganda that Russian and Chinese interests collide in the Central Asian region. There is a strategic convergence between Moscow and Beijing that stability in Central Asian region, which is vital for both capitals in their own interests, is best achieved through ensuring security, boosting economic development or international political backing. 

A well-known Russian think tanker at the Kremlin-funded Valdai Club in Moscow, Timofei Bordachev wrote in Global Times in the run-up to the Xi’an summit: “China and Russia are equally interested in the stability of Central Asia simply because they are directly neighbouring most of the states located in this part of Eurasia. It is as simple as the fact that you would not put on fire your neighbor’s house in order to hurt another neighbor. But if a certain power is located thousands of miles away from the common neighbourhood of Russia and China in Central Asia, it may well be betting on destabilising that region.

“The common task of China and Russia is to prevent this and make their friends and neighbours in Central Asia stable and relatively prosperous in today’s turbulent times… Whoever says that China’s and Russia’s interests in Central Asia may conflict with each other is not a friend of China, Russia or the countries of the region themselves.”

Equally, there is a consensus among the five Central Asian states to work together in a “5+1” format, which means that all crucial decisions and initiatives will be coordinated with all Central Asian states at the same time. On their part, the Central Asian partners recognise that the overall economic development of their region could get better if they strengthen their cooperation with China. Russia has played a key role here to encourage the Central Asian states to move in such a direction and play a proactive role. This itself is a marked departure as the five “Stans” have not always been able to work together, opting instead to engage with the biggest global players individually. 

The participants of the Xi’an summit, which Chinese President Xi Jinping who hosted the event called a “new era” in his country’s relations with the region, agreed to create a mechanism for communication between the heads of post-Soviet states of Central Asia and China. The meetings will be held alternately every two years in the format of Central Asia – China. The next meeting of the six leaders is scheduled for 2025 in Kazakhstan. The Xi’an Declaration released after the summit includes 15 points, divided into several blocks of issues: security, logistics, trade and economic cooperation, humanitarian cooperation and ecology. 

What emerges is that Beijing’s interest lies primarily in security considerations against the backdrop of the activities of extremist groups such as the Islamic State (which continues to get covert support from the US) that are operating out of Afghanistan. China’s thesis is that security is best strengthened through economic development and for that reason, therefore, the region is important from the point of view of economic cooperation and regional development — although in aggregate terms, Central Asian economic resources are nowhere near sufficient for meeting China’s needs. 

Suffice to say, terrorist threats emanating from the region, posing threat to Xinjiang, are China’s main concern and Beijing is willing to openly invest its resources in the security of the region and take part in the training of the anti–terrorist forces of the Central Asian states. Geographically, three out of the five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, share borders with China. As for Russia, it has long regarded the region as its traditional sphere of influence and a strategic buffer zone, and thus prioritised the security of its southern border. Therefore, a safe and secure Central Asia aligns with China and Russia’s respective national interests. 

In the context of the Ukraine crisis, Central Asia has emerged as a frontline for the US strategy to contain and weaken Russia. However, although Central Asian countries have adopted a neutral stance on the Ukraine situation, Russia’s influence in the region remains strong and is unlikely to be largely disrupted. Three key factors are at work here. First, Russia is seen as the provider of security and Russia’s defence capabilities continue to play a crucial role in maintaining stability in the region. Second, Central Asian states heavily depend on Russia in regard of labor migration, market access, transportation, and energy resources, and no other outside power foots the bill. Third, do not underestimate that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union continues to systematically build up regional economic integration. 

The Xi’an Declaration talks about resisting religious extremism and attempts by external forces to impose their own rules on the region. President Xi said at the summit that Beijing is ready to help strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies and armed forces of the regional states, and promised to “support their independent efforts to ensure regional security and fight terrorism, as well as work with them to strengthen cybersecurity.” In addition, he said Beijing is working on the creation of a regional anti-terrorist centre in China to train the security forces of the Central Asian republics. 

To be continued

Erdogan’s mediatory role on Ukraine cannot be wished away

Among the host of implications for international security stemming out of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s election victory in the runoff on Sunday — be it in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean, Transcaucasus, West Asia or Eurasian integration —  what stands out is his mediatory role in the Ukraine conflict. 

The international community puts China as the frontrunner in the race for peacemaking in Ukraine but don’t be surprised if Erdogan overtakes Xi Jinping to the finishing line. The Japanese government in its congratulatory message to Erdogan expressed the hope for cooperation to bring closer a peaceful solution to the Ukraine conflict and ensure security in the region.

Moscow walked the fine line during the  Turkish election campaign, which is a tacit recognition of the fact that Erdogan is a strong ruler. Russia will need to be watchful since Erdogan can also be fiercely independent and stubborn. Equally, it is wrong to assume that Turkiye’s transatlantic bridge has broken down. Erdogan is at the peak of his power and Washington is acutely conscious of it. Thus, in the Turkish-US-Russian triangle, Erdogan has the upper hand currently.  

Significantly, a high-ranking Russian diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated on the eve of the Turkish election that Ankara’s continued weapons supplies to Ukraine dented its credentials to be a mediator between Moscow and Kiev. 

As the diplomat put it, “Ankara has repeatedly declared its intent to secure a speedy ceasefire in Ukraine and revive the negotiating process through its mediation. Arms and military equipment supplies to the Kiev regime directly contradict such intentions and are at odds with the role of a mediator.” 

Indeed, a Turkish company, Baykar Makina, which is owned by a relative of Erdogan, has supplied the Ukrainian forces with its Bayraktar TB2 strike and reconnaissance drones in the early phases of the conflict. There was even talk that the Turkish company was setting up a factory to produce the advanced drone in Ukraine and that the detailed design phase for the plant has been completed. 

Turkiye and Ukraine last year also signed a deal to establish a second manufacturing plant in Ukraine after the two countries deepened their cooperation in the defence industry for the co-production of crucial engines for aerial vehicles and tech transfer.  Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drones have a proven track record of success in conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Ukraine features prominently in Baykar’s supply chain, especially with the new heavy-lifter drone, Akinci, and the unmanned fighter jet, Kizilelma, or “Golden Apple”. Both use Ukrainian engines from Motor Sich MSICH.UAX and from Ivchenko-Progress. Baykar expected to net around $1bn in export revenues last year, about 50 percent higher than in 2021 ($650m), and a further 50 percent growth is expected in 2023. Again, since August last year, Ankara has also been provided Kiev with ‘Kipri’ mine-resistant armoured vehicles to the Ukraine military. 

Yet, Moscow is far from in any threatening mood. Instead, the Russian approach is to put rings of engagement around Erdogan and make him a captive of the optics of a great friendship between the two presidents. In his congratulatory message to Erdogan, Putin called him “dear friend”

Turkiye hosted peace talks in Istanbul between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations in March last year, a month after Moscow’s special military operation began. It resulted in a deal. But Washington and London got so flustered that a massive information war was triggered by MI6 on an alleged “massacre” of civilians in Bucha near Kiev by the Russian troops. The then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to meet Zelensky with an offer that Ukraine had a far better option to take western military help and defeat Russia. 

Of course, all that is history now. But there is no question that if Zelensky changes his mind, Erdogan will step in. By the way, Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The collapse of the Istanbul deal didn’t discourage Ankara from mediating a grain deal between Moscow and Kiev together with the UN last summer, which is still working. 

Turkiye has repeatedly called for peace talks to be revived, offering its services as mediator. As recently as in late March, Erdogan said peace in Ukraine could be achieved through “serious, determined mediation.” Meanwhile, Erdogan’s “special relationship” with Putin helped secure the latest extension of the grain deal. 

Erdogan advocates a “balanced approach” toward Russia, and he frequently interacts with Putin. Turkiye is the only NATO member country that refuses to impose sanctions against Russia. That said, Erdogan also keeps the line open to President Biden. On his part, Biden conveyed his greetings to Erdogan within hours of the election results on Sunday. Biden called for cooperation to meet “global challenges.” 

Washington played safe on Turkish election saying it would deal with whoever won. Clearly, Washington realises that Erdogan will be heading a strong presidency and will not be a pushover, and the US cannot afford to alienate Turkiye, as the Ukraine crisis is reaching a criticality. Turkish-American relationship has never been easy but both sides are used to keeping it in equilibrium. Without Turkey, NATO loses traction in Eastern Mediterranean, while Turkey needs the West to balance its strategic autonomy. Washington’s priority at the moment will be to dissuade Turkey from helping Russia to circumvent the sanctions.

The big question is whether Zelensky will be willing to return to the peace talks. Compared to the situation last year at the Istanbul talks, Zelensky holds a weak hand. Russia has gained the upper hand in the battlefield. Russia’s “new territories” — Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson oblasts — are new facts on the ground.  

Therefore, peace talks has become a paradigm of complex probability that is inherently multi-dimensional and, one may say, a shift in that direction on Zelensky’s part will depend on his observing, understanding, and interacting with the radical change in the ground situation as well as in the power play within his own camp. 

The factionalism in the power structure in Kiev has lately aggravated. The unexplained “disappearance” from public view of the commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhny for the past few weeks since April 13; the ascendance of the intelligence chief   Kyrylo Budano (who enjoys American backing); the hollowing out of the Ukrainian military which suffered a series of reverses  lately; the procrastination in launching the “counter-offensive” — all this suggests that serious disaffection is building up within the military against Zelensky’s leadership. 

Consequently, the prospects of peace talks have receded. But that will not stop Erdogan and Putin from deepening the Turkish-Russian cooperation, which is rich in content and wide-ranging. Different perceptions or viewpoints have not discouraged the two leaders who are fundamentally committed to the “win-win’ relationship. 

Therefore, if and when the climate for peace talks on Ukraine improves, Erdogan is certain to be the early bird to position himself for a mediatory role. 

India: Modi at Hiroshima — optics, politics, reality


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits abroad are carefully choreographed events, given their optics domestically. Perhaps, this is even more so today as general elections loom ahead and in Hiroshima, Modi was taking the stage after the crushing defeat in the Karnataka election, which was as much political for the ruling  BJP as personal for Modi himself. 

But the optics were great. President Biden who is a past master in the art of flattery stooped to conquer Modi, even seeking an autograph and remarking that he envied the latter’s “popularity”. 

It must be one of the paradoxes of our disjointed times that Hiroshima, a sleepy, southwestern coastal city, was handpicked as the setting for the G7 summit for its symbolism to “send out a strong message” against nuclear weapons. But it is a reminder too the United States is still the only country that ever used the atomic bomb as a weapon, when it dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in 1945 — quite unnecessarily as historians since concluded — killing an estimated 140,000 people and turning the theory of nuclear warfare into a terrifying reality. 

Hiroshima was turned on its head to censure Russia and China. Innuendos were galore at the G7 summit packed with world leaders who preach one thing and practice something entirely different. The UK PM Rishi Sunak flew into Hiroshima after supplying depleted uranium munitions to Kiev, which soon exploded in the central Ukrainian city of Khmelnytsky, leading to a significant increase in gamma radiation levels that could contaminate the earth in surrounding areas for decades. 

The G7 was dripping with doublespeak. The erstwhile colonial powers waxed eloquently about “economic coercion” but craftily excluded South Africa as special invitee and instead chose Comoros. Why Comoros? Because, Comoros’ most significant international relationship is with the erstwhile colonial power France, which will guarantee its good behaviour at Hiroshima.

To be sure, the cynical spectacle at Hiroshima couldn’t have escaped Modi’s attention. His “undiplomatic” remarks at the Working session 9 of the G7 Summit — on the ludicrous reality of the UN being a mere “talking shop”; the imperative need for respect for the UN Charter, International Law and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; the unilateral attempts to change the status quo and so on would have made western leaders present in his audience squirm with embarrassment. 

Even if that was not Modi’s intention, what he stated — commas, semi-colons and full stops included — actually epitomised the US’ continued illegal occupation of one-third of the territory of Syria, which was, by the way, one of the original members of the UN since 24th October 1945. The G7 presents a pathetic spectacle, indeed.       

However, it was Modi’s meeting with Ukraine’s president Zelensky that brought out his outstanding techniques of communication. Even the insipid MEA readout written in staccato English brings out the flavour of their brief conversation. 

Modi made three key points: one, for him, Ukraine war is not a political or economic issue but “an issue of humanity, of human values.” Two, India supports dialogue and diplomacy “to find a way forward” and is willing to lend a hand in conflict resolution. Three, India will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine. 

We don’t know how Zelensky handled this tricky conversation. Perhaps, he actually limited himself to brief Modi “on the current situation in Ukraine.” Modi’s remarks message that he stuck to India’s neutrality and neatly side-stepped the tendentious issues concerning the genesis of the Ukraine crisis or the complexities of Russia’s confrontation with the West, leave alone the core issue of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine (which Zelensky inherited) and the country’s loss of sovereignty. 

Instead, Modi took to high ground and harped on the human suffering due to the war and stressed the primacy of “dialogue and diplomacy”. We may never know whether this would have caused uneasiness in Zelensky’s mind, although finger pointing wouldn’t have been Modi’s intention. 

Ironically, but for a series of blunders on the part of Zelensky, the war wouldn’t have erupted or escalated to the current level of violence — his rejection of the Minsk agreements that provided for provincial autonomy to the Donbass within a federal union; his obduracy to pursue a military solution to Donbass’ alienation; his retraction from the Istanbul deal in late March last year within weeks of Russian intervention due to the back seat driving by the US and UK who had their own agenda to force regime change in Moscow. 

Modi, perhaps, got carried away to stake his personal prestige in a conflict resolution in Ukraine. Clearly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Neither will Biden accept the spectre of military defeat and Ukrainian state’s meltdown nor will Russia compromise on what it considers sees to be an existential war. 

The government shouldn’t be delusional about an enchanting prospect of India leading the West and Russia the door that never really opened in the post-cold war era into a rose garden. It simply isn’t there. Neither has India the credentials nor the clout to be a peacemaker. 

What is really disheartening is that a great opportunity was lost for Modi to hold the hands of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and pool their intellectual resources — two giants who champion the Global South. But then, Washington may have queered the pitch by derailing Zelensky’s appointment with Lula. (Zelensky failed to show up.) 

Modi travelled to Hiroshima with an eye on his upcoming state visit to the US (June 21-24.) Besides, there have been signals from the Biden Administration lately that a kinder look at India’s pleas for technology transfer may be possible.  

Western pressures will continue on Modi government to give up its neutrality on Ukraine. The European Union has lately waded into the topic formally. (See my article EU calls out India on Russia sanctions.) But trust India to push back. The surest sign of it is Modi’s  reversion to “hug diplomacy,” the appeal of EAM Jaishankar’s abrasive style to BJP’s “core constituency” in the social media notwithstanding 

The heart of the matter is that the strategic ties that bind India and Russia signify a mutually beneficial partnership that is fully in conformity with international law and imbued with a “win-win” spirit and mutual trust and confidence in a volatile international climate of which Ukraine is only a symptom. 

The objective reality is that the India-Russia energy cooperation, which is an eyesore for the West, may even deepen, given the mutual interest. Bloomberg reported in the weekend that oil trade apart, in April, China and India also accounted for more than two-thirds of Russia’s coal exports to Asia and that set to further increase in the coming weeks due to the emergence of El Nino, a recurring warm climate pattern that could cause droughts in the region. 

According to a study in the prestigious journal Science, this year’s El Nino is expected to develop between May and July and is likely to be especially strong. Bloomberg quoted an expert opinion: 

“The worst place to be right now amid these searing temperatures is South Asia… When you can’t even take care of your people’s basic needs, it’s very hard to care too much about international affairs… [South Asians] are asking themselves: would I rather risk falling afoul of the US or forgo steep discounts on energy?”

US hopes to snatch victory from jaws of defeat in Ukraine


The G7 Leaders’ 2700-word statement on Ukraine, issued in Hiroshima after their summit meeting glossed over the burning question today — the so-called counter-offensive against the Russian forces.

It is a deafening silence, since rumours are swirling about the disappearance of the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces. Significantly, President Vladimir Zelensky himself is making himself scarce from Kiev touring world capitals — Helsinki, Hague, Rome, Vatican, Berlin, Paris, London and Jeddah and Hiroshima. It does seem that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

As the G7 summit ended, the head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on Saturday that the Russian operation to capture the strategic communication hub of Bakhmut in Donbass region of eastern Ukraine lasting 224 days, has been brought to a successful completion, overcoming the resistance by more than 80,000 Ukrainian troops. 

It is a painful moment for Zelensky, who had boasted before US lawmakers in Capitol Hill last December that “just like the Battle of Saratoga (in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War), the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.” 

Meanwhile, to distract attention, there is talk now about a subtle shift in the US policy regarding supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in an indeterminate future. In reality, though, no one can tell what the Ukrainian rump state will look like when the jets arrive.  Unsurprisingly, the Biden Administration still seems to be in two minds. F-16 is a hot item for export; what happens if the Russians were to blow it out of the sky with their hi-tech weapons and rubbish its fame ? 

The Russians seem to have concluded that nothing short of a total victory will make the Americans and the British understand that Moscow means business on the three objectives behind the special military operations that are non-negotiable: security and safety of the ethnic Russian community and their right to live in peace and dignity in the new territories; demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine; and a neutral, sovereign, independent Ukraine freed from the US clutches and no longer a hostile neighbour. 

To be sure, the unprecedented levels of US hostility towards Russia only hardened Moscow’s resolve. If the Anglo-Saxon alliance keeps climbing the escalation ladder, the Russian campaign may well expand the operation to the entire region east of the Dnieper River. The Russians are in this war for the long haul and the ball is in the  American court.

What comes to mind is a speech last July by President Vladimir Putin while addressing the Duma. He had said, “Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try. We have already heard a lot about the West wanting to fight us ‘to the last Ukrainian.’ This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but that seems to be where it is going. But everyone should know that, by and large, we have not started anything in earnest yet.” 

Well, the Russian operation has finally started “in earnest.” The thinking behind the delay is unmistakeable. Putin underscored in his speech that the West should know that the longer Russia’s special military operation goes on, “the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.”  

Therefore, the big question is about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russian forces enjoy overwhelming superiority in every sense militarily. Even if the hard core of the Ukrainian forces who were trained in the West, numbering some 30-35000 soldiers, manage to achieve some “breakthrough” in the 950-kilometre long frontline, what happens thereafter? 

Make no mistake, a massive Russian counterattack will follow and the Ukrainian soldiers may only end up in a fire trap and suffer huge losses in their tens of thousands. What would the Anglo-Saxon axis have achieved? 

Besides, the Ukrainian military will have so thoroughly exhausted itself that there will be nothing stopping the Russian forces from advancing toward Kharkov and Odessa. Herein lies the paradox. For, from that point, Russians will have no one to talk to. 

If past American behaviour — be it Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq and Syria — is anything to go by, Washington will do nothing. The well-known American strategic thinker Col. (Retd.) David MacGreggor couldn’t have put things better when he said earlier this week: 

“I can tell you that Washington is going to do nothing. And I’ve always warned… we (United States) are not a continental power, not a land power anywhere but in our own Hemisphere. We are primarily an aerospace and maritime power, much like Great Britain. And what does that mean? When things go badly for us, we sail away, we fly away, we go home… That’s what we always do. Eventually, we just leave. And I think, that’s on the agenda now.” 

The stony silence of the G7 statement on the Ukrainian counteroffensive is understandable. The G7 statement needs to be juxtaposed with a report appearing in Politico on the eve of the summit in Hiroshima which, quoting senior US officials elaborated on an audacious plan to transform Ukraine war into a “frozen conflict” on the analogy of the Korean Peninsula or Kashmir. 

A Pentagon official told the daily that recent military aid packages to Ukraine reflect the Biden administration’s “shift to a longer-term strategy.” Reportedly, US officials are already talking to Kiev about the nature of their relationship in the future. 

Principally, if Ukraine’s NATO membership bid stalls, western guarantees could range from a NATO-style Article 5 mutual defence deal to Israel-style arms deals with Ukraine so that “the conflict will wind up somewhere in between an active war and a chilled standoff.”

Indeed, the G7 statement began conceptualising the “Europeanisation” of Ukraine with reforms, market economy driven by private sector and western financial institutions, and boosting Kiev’s deterrent capability vis-a-vis Russia militarily. 

It is quite amazing. Hardly has one flawed narrative — espousing Russia’s military defeat in Ukraine and the overthrow of Putin — unravelled, another narrative is being hoisted, predicated on the simplistic notion that Russia will simply roll over and passively watch the US integrating Ukraine into the western alliance system to create an open wound festering on Russia’s western borders that will drain resources for decades to come and complicating ties with neighbours.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s reaction to the G7 Summit confirms that Moscow will not fall into the trap of a “frozen conflict.” Lavrov said, “Could you take a look at those decisions which are being debated and adopted at the G7 summit in Hiroshima and which are aimed at dual containment of Russia and the People’s Republic of China?

“The objective was announced loudly and frankly, which is to defeat Russia on the battlefield, and without stopping at this, to eliminate it later as a geopolitical rival, so to speak, along with any other country that claims an independent place in the world, they will be suppressed as opponents.”

Lavrov also pointed out that the Western countries’ expert community is overtly discussing the order to work out scenarios aimed at Russia’s breakup, and “they do not conceal that the existence of Russia as an independent centre is incompatible with the goal of the West’s global domination.” The Minister said, “We have to give a firm and consistent response to the war declared upon us.”

Yet, it is not as if Americans are incapable of seeing the war through Russia’s eyes. Read here a letter pleading for some sanity in Washington penned by a group of distinguished former American diplomats and military officials associated with the Eisenhower Media Network. By the way, they paid to get it in the New York Times, but the rest of the establishment media chose to ignore it.

Indian diplomacy in overstretch


The Foreign Secretary’s special briefing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Asia-Pacific tour (May 19-24) dovetailed skilfully into three summit meetings, and brings to mind an institution of the Middle Ages known as the “wandering minstrels”. 

Wealthy people used to employ minstrels to entertain them in their homes. These wandering minstrels told stories, recited poems, sang ballads and played musical instruments. Employing simple rhymes, their ballads told stories that were of interest and at times even dealt with the problems of the poor.

PM’s first halt is Hiroshima, Japan, where he is a special invitee to a  gathering of the club of rich nations, G7, which was born as a result of mounting economic problems, in particular the oil shock and the collapse of the Bretton Woods in the mid-1970s.

According to the Foreign Secretary, G7’s outreach with India would be “structured around three formal sessions,” relating to food,  health, development, gender equality, climate, energy, environment and a ‘peaceful, stable and prosperous world’.“

Japan, as G7 presidency, has also invited Australia, Brazil, Comoros, Cook Islands, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, and Vietnam as  “special invitees”. It’s a motley crowd that makes little sense as movers and shakers of the world order. 

But the western media is awash with reports that the West’s preoccupations with China and Russia will be the leitmotif of the G7 summit. Therefore, the last-minute decision by Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky to attend the G7 in person electrified the air in Hiroshima, giving the goings on there in the weekend the look of a foreplay leading to the making of an endgame in the Ukraine war, if and when that happens.

In such a scenario, of course, there are vital roles that could be assigned by the US to Brazil and India — both BRICS members — and to South Korea which has actually lived through a “frozen conflict.” But all that is in the realms of speculations for the present, as it will be a far-fetched assumption that a frozen conflict “somewhere in between an active war and a chilled standoff” will suit Russia,  although that “could be a politically palatable long-term result for the United States and other countries backing Ukraine” to gingerly exit the war in Eurasia — to borrow from an important article in Politico two days ago titled Ukraine could join ranks of ‘frozen’ conflicts, U.S. officials sayeven as Biden was emplaning for Hiroshima.

Be that as it may, India’s enthusiasm was on two counts — first, the opportunity for Modi to have extended interactions with President Biden in different locales spread over an entire week —  at Hiroshima, Papua New Guinea and Sydney. Second, the QUAD was to hold a summit in Sydney, Australia, where India saw the  opportunity to showcase itself as a “counterweight” to China. 

However, fate intervened. The slow-motion implosion of the US economy bothers Biden and he has cut short his Asia tour by reducing it to a weekend affair so as to hurry back to Washington by Sunday and resume work in the Oval Office to shore up the “steady progress” so far achieved in the gruelling debt ceiling talks between the administration and the lawmakers. 

However, scuppering the planned QUAD Summit in Sydney next week would convey a wrong signal, too. Therefore, diplomats found a way to squeeze in a substitute QUAD photo-op in Hiroshima itself. After all, as Foreign Secretary pointed out, QUAD is a moveable feast — “Look, the structure and nature of QUAD is such that … (although) the QUAD Leaders’ Meeting not taking placing in Sydney and now taking place in Hiroshima is a change in venue, there has not been any change in the specific aspects of cooperation in QUAD.” 

But Chinese commentators are already mocking that the cancellation of the Sydney summit is “an omen of QUAD’s fate.” And the Guardian newspaper wrote that the cancellation of the QUAD  summit in Sydney will spawn narratives that “the US is racked by increasingly severe domestic upheaval and is an unreliable partner, quick to leave allies high and dry.”

The Guardian lamented that the US should worry about its crumbling credibility. Besides, the cancellation of the event in Sydney is a blow to the Australian hosts, in particular. It seems Australian officials had spent months extensively planning the huge logistical and security operation of a Biden visit to Sydney and last October’s budget actually set aside $23million for the costs of hosting the QUAD summit. 

The bottom line is: Aren’t these one too many summits? To what purpose, really? To contain China? The G7 itself has become a relic of the past. In fact, what we are witnessing could be the last rites of the old order, as Donald Trump’s theatre looms across the Pacific. Also, putting on a show of common endeavour at the G7 is becoming increasingly difficult. There is an end-of-epoch feel to the  G7 summit this year.

Again, take the third meeting of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC Summit), which Modi is co-chairing on 22 May in Papua New Guinea. Modi launched this forum during his “historic visit” to Fiji in November 2014 when he hosted the first FIPIC Summit. The second FIPIC Summit followed within ten months in Jaipur, India, in August 2015. Now, almost a decade later, FIPIC is coming back to life after a deep slumber. 

Yet, statistics show that India’s trade with all those 14 PIC countries combined — Cook Islands, Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Republic of Nauru, Republic of Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu — is hovering around $250 million! 

Simply put, while Chinese diplomacy is proactive in the strategically important Western Pacific, the US seems to be encouraging India to mark the lamp posts there. But from an Indian perspective, this is classic imperial overstretch, and is highly avoidable. This was what Pakistan used to do, copying Indian diplomacy anywhere and everywhere to “catch up” — until it got exhausted and gave up. 

Biden’s original intention was to hop over to Papua New Guinea with a specific agenda — the signing of a maritime security pact and a defence pact with Papua New Guinea that would give American troops access to the Pacific nation’s ports and airports. Biden’s trip to the Pacific Islands was expected to be a power play in Washington’s face-off with China. For Biden personally, it would also have been a sentimental journey as his uncle died in Papua New Guinea in the Second World War.

But India carries no remains of the day in Western Pacific. Isn’t its hands full, as it is, with the complex issues of Indian Ocean maritime security, which it is barely able to cope with?

Look at Biden. He coolly decided that with a challenging re-election bid ahead in 2024, the domestic debt ceiling crisis talks in DC ought to be his top priority, and instructed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to stand in for him at the summit with Pacific leaders in Port Moresby on Monday. Indian diplomacy has something to learn here about the art of prioritising objectives instead of indulging in shadow boxing and exhausting itself.  

Turkiye rallies behind Erdogan

It comes as no surprise that the United States and the European Union didn’t have the face to commend the performance of Recep Erdogan and his party in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkiye on Sunday. The election results do not serve the geopolitical interests of the US and its European allies. It is apparent that the entreaties and media management in the run-up fell on deaf ears. 

The western powers hoped for a weak unstable government and are instead worrying that a turbo-charged Erdogan with a commanding majority in the parliament will be presiding over a strong government and won’t be a pushover. 

Thus, pin-pricking has begun. A question mark is put on the legitimacy of Erdogan’s victory over his opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu who is backed by the West. A real time report by the OSCE election observer mission’s preliminary findings have come handy, which alleged attempts to gerrymander the election results. 

The report accuses Erdogan of enjoying “unjustified advantage” and resorting to “misuse of administrative resources”; and the election commission of “lack of transparency and communication” and independence. 

In a direct attack on Erdogan, the OSCE mission report says, “The president is not explicitly subject to the same restrictions in the campaign period” and took undue advantage of incumbency… (and) blurred the line between party and State, at odds with the 1990 Copenhagen Document” (which contains specific election-related commitments.)   

The report said the election administration, law enforcement bodies, and courts did not enjoy the confidence of the opposition in resolving electoral grievances “impartially and effectively.” The secrecy of the vote was not always guaranteed; family and group voting were frequent; and unauthorised people participated in the count, “raising concerns over its integrity.” During the vote count, “several significant procedural errors were reported.”                      

The US State Department has promptly urged the Turkish authorities to conduct “the next phase of the presidential election in line with the country’s laws and in a manner that is consistent with its commitments to the OSCE as well as a NATO Ally.” 

The state department’s principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Monday that the Biden Administration is “continuing to closely monitor the country’s ongoing electoral process.” He noted that “broadly we congratulate the people of Türkiye for peacefully expressing their will at the ballot box, and also congratulate the newly elected parliament.” 

Patel repeated the stated US position that “we’ll continue to work together with whatever government is chosen by the Turkish people to deepen our cooperation and our – deepen our shared priorities.” 

But he also parried that “the election process is still unfolding, as is the work of the OSCE’s election observation mission, which, as you know, released some preliminary findings… But I’m not going to predict anything additional from here.” Patel confirmed that there were US observers represented in the OSCE team. 

Taking a cue from Patel, perhaps, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was upfront in a statement issued in Brussels on Tuesday. He stated, “We note the preliminary findings and conclusions of the International Election Observation Mission of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and call on Turkish authorities to address the shortcomings identified.”

Borrell added, “The EU attaches the utmost importance to the need for transparent, inclusive and credible elections, in a level playing field.” Borrell too welcomed the elections as such, and took note of the high turnout as a clear sign of the commitment of the Turkish people to exercising their democratic right to vote.

The salience of these remarks lies in the subtle hint by both Patel and Borrell that all is not lost yet and the jury is still out as regards Erdogan’s victory.

That said, by now, it must be sinking in that Erdogan has retained his core constituency, which has not suffered any erosion, and his charisma cannot be matched by Kilicdaroglu. In “systemic” terms, the Globalists cannot match Erdogan’s nationalistic plank, either. 

Erdogan is all but certain to win the runoff. The big question is about the third candidate Sinan Ogan who secured 5.2% votes in Sunday’s first round and now bows out of the race. Where will his supporters go in the runoff? No doubt, that will affect the “balance of power” in the runoff and tilt the scales decisively.  

The odds are in favour of Kilicdaroglu getting the bulk of the “anti-Erdogan” votes of Ogan, but will that be sufficient to win in the second round? It may not be. Put differently, Ogan will not be able to deliver his entire electorate to Kilicdaroglu. 

Clearly, if Erdogan can retain his voter base exceeding 49.5% it is and goes on to attract even a quarter of the votes Ogan secured, he is going to  be the victor in the runoff. The strong likelihood is that Erdogan will win. 

The fact that AKP secured a comfortable majority in the parliamentary elections — against all forecasts — also creates a new momentum. The AKP’s success goes to show that the Turkish voter seeks a stable government in Ankara when the external environment is becoming extremely dangerous for the country and the economic crisis demands attention. Whereas, the sort of rainbow coalition that Kilicdaroglu is heading used to be the bane of Turkish politics for many decades in the pre-Erdogan era, and a recipe for instability. Equally, it needs to be factored in that the groundswell of Turkish public opinion remains staunchly anti-western. 

If he wins, this will be Erdogan’s final term. And it is going to be a “legacy term.” Erdogan will no doubt aim to transform Turkiye as a regional hub in energy, food, connectivity and transit. There is going to be breakthrough in nuclear industry, defence industry,  infrastructure projects, etc. with Russian participation. 

It is entirely conceivable that in the highly polarised political atmosphere in the country, there could be protests staged by the opposition if Erdogan wins in the runoff on May 28. But that won’t pose a serious challenge to Erdogan. 

Turkey is not ripe for a colour revolution. The point is, unlike Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze or Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich, Erdogan is a grassroots politician with a solid mass base and the politics he practises is in sync with the zeitgeist in the region. 

Biden can be charming. But Beijing should be wary of sequels

President Vladimir Zelensky’s tour of Rome, Berlin and Paris has been a success, securing for Ukraine significant additional quantities of weaponry for the upcoming offensive against Russian forces. The high water mark was Germany’s announcement of a new package of military aid worth an estimated €2.7 billion, which will be the country’s largest delivery of arms to Ukraine. 

The German package includes 30 Leopard-1 A5 main battle tanks, four new IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft rocket launchers, dozens of armoured personnel carriers and other combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers and hundreds of unarmed recon drones. 

Zelensky said important decisions on “defending Ukrainian skies” were reached during talks in Italy on Saturday. In sum, Old Europe conveyed solidarity with Zelensky at a crucial juncture when all eyes are on the so-called Ukrainian offensive being the last throw of dice. 

Last week, Newsweek quoted Henry Kissinger predicting that he believes the Ukraine war is coming to a turning point and expects negotiations by the end of the year, thanks to recent efforts made by China. Kissinger said, “Now that China has entered the negotiation, it will come to a head, I think, by the end of the year. We will be talking about negotiating processes and even actual negotiations.”

Indeed, from all appearance, China has comprehensively outmanoeuvred the US over the Ukraine crisis. Last Friday, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Beijing announced that China’s special representative on Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, will visit Ukraine, Russia, Poland, France and Germany starting May 15 aimed at discussing a “political settlement” to the Ukraine crisis. Washington was not mentioned as part of Li’s itinerary, but Beijing instead prioritised the European capitals that have urged China to play a more active role in the Ukraine situation.

Meanwhile, by extending a warm welcome to Zelensky, Rome, Berlin and Paris have completely ignored the Top Secret US intelligence documents that have been recently leaked, which smeared the Ukrainian president as a maverick who says one thing publicly and an entirely different thing privately, who poses as moderate but in reality is an inveterate hawk escalating the war right into Russian territory, and so on. Apparently, European countries do not seem to go along with  Washington’s pressure tactic against Zelensky to escalate the war despite his grave reservations regarding Ukraine’s military preparedness.        

However, on a parallel track, there are also signs of Washington also reviewing its earlier rejection of Chinese mediation. David Ignatius at the Washington Post who has been plotting the shift, exudes optimism in his latest column  that the 10-hour long “intense meetings” spread over May 10-11 in Vienna between the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China’s Politburo member Wang Yi “actually seemed to be creating a framework for constructive engagement.”

Ignatius estimates that “some shared space seems to have emerged during the long, detailed discussions between Sullivan and Wang… They appear to have found a language for superpower discussion, like what once existed between the United States and both Russia and China but has been lost.” 

On the other hand, Beijing has been betting that Germany, France and Italy who prioritise the recovery and growth prospects of their economies, hope to strengthen economic relations with China to bolster their economies — and are, therefore, inclined to pursue foreign policies that are different from the comparatively extreme policies of the US.

Indeed, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Friday that Chinese group XTC New Energy Materials will set up a joint venture with France’s Orano in the battery sector in the northern French port city of Dunkirk for an expected investment of $1.63 billion. The venture is expected to create around 1,700 jobs.

That said, Ignatius is an influential columnist with a long record of transmitting the US establishment’s diplomatic signalling. At its most obvious level, his column today highlights a high level of keenness on the part of the Biden administration to engage with China regarding Ukraine, which could have fallouts for the US-China relationship.  

Also, the Biden Administration seems to be pinning hopes that by engaging with China, it can create differences between Beijing and Moscow and drive a wedge into the Sino-Russian alliance. Ignatius claims that Moscow viewed with “dread” the Sullivan-Wang cogitations in Vienna. 

The Biden Administration’s revised hypothesis is that China’s objectives and priorities in the Ukraine situation are basically at variance with the Kremlin’s and, therefore,  the smart thing to do is to abandon Washington’s outright rejection of Xi Jinping’s peace initiative on Ukraine or berate China’s support to Russia but instead position the US as a cooperative interlocutor on peacemaking and nudge Beijing to put pressure on Moscow to compromise.

Fundamentally, the assumption here is that Russia can still be isolated on the geopolitical chessboard. 

But the big question remains: Is the Biden Administration in a position to overcome the influential body of opinion in the US who also happen to be in alliance with top officials in Ukraine’s corridors of power?

Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO (in the Obama administration) and currently the president of the influential Chicago Council on Global Affairs, wrote a hard-hitting opinion piece today in Politico after a visit to Kiev that “Putin’s strategic failure will only be complete if Moscow comes to understand that Ukraine is permanently lost — lost physically, economically, politically and strategically. And ensuring that failure should be the ultimate objective — not just for Ukraine but for the West too.”

His thesis is that the strategic case for including Ukraine in the West goes to the core of the current conflict and any alternative would only prolong the conflict and pose new security challenges for the western alliance system. Now, how is such an integration to be achieved?

Daalder proposes: “Even without a formal end to the war, let alone real peace, the US and other NATO countries need to make clear that they’re committed to Ukraine’s security and that they will explore interim arrangements — just as they did for Finland and Sweden — until it becomes a full member.” 

While the media attention is on the commencement of the so-called counteroffensive by Kiev, the locus of the Ukraine conflict is shifting to the NATO Summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania,  which is less than two months from now, to which Zelensky has been invited.

Zelensky’s current European tour — he has been to Finland and the Netherlands also in recent weeks — can be seen as the run-up to the Vilnius summit. Simply put, the foreplay has begun. It is not the Ukrainian counteroffensive, stupid! Russia — and China — should expect some nasty surprises. 

Kemalism vs Kemalism in Turkish elections


From a geopolitical perspective, the Turkish presidential election on Sunday may appear to be one of the most crucial non-violent political events of this year. But appearances can be deceptive in Turkish politics. 

In the surcharged polarisation of “West versus Rest” in international politics, western media is rooting for the defeat of incumbent President Recep Erdogan so that one of the leading proponents of multipolarity and strategic autonomy in the emerging world order who is setting a horrible example for the Global South, walks into the sunset. 

Truly, the importance of Erdogan is that unlike many self-styled proponents of the Global South, who have mushroomed lately, he practices what he preaches.  

The Western media’s excitement stems out of a simplistic notion that Erdogan, a charismatic “strong man” who has been riding the wings of his immense popularity and astuteness to exploit the fragmentation of Turkish electoral scene is meeting his nemesis in the unified opposition candidacy of Kemal Kilicdaroglu. 

Although Sunday’s election may seem too close to call, it may well produce a clear-cut victory for Erdogan in the first round itself (with over 50% votes) that would obviate the need for a runoff. The known unknown today is whether Kilicdaroglu’s eclectic brand of party politics that helped him clinch the presidential nomination and paper over ideological divides that are as much historical as cultural, would be sufficient to persuade enough voters to help him win the race. 

Erdogan is a man of history with a formidable track record in power in consolidating civilian supremacy in a working democracy. Kilicdaroglu, on the contrary,  has nothing to show and never held an elected post. Yet, if Western capitals are dreaming about a Kilicdaroglu victory, it underscores the high stakes in Sunday’s election.  

However, the paradox is, even if Kilicdaroglu is the winner, western powers shouldn’t expect an outright alignment of Turkish foreign policies with western demands. Kilicdaroglu himself remarked recently that Turkish foreign and defence policies “are managed by the state” and are “independent of political parties.” 

What does he mean by that strange remark? Make no mistake, Kilicdaroglu is an old-world “Kemalist,” a social democrat passionately devoted to the ideological foundations of the Turkish state that Ataturk created, who believes in the core principles of nationalism, secularism and “statism.”

The Western hope is that given the alchemy of the rainbow coalition that may propel Kilicdaroglu to victory, he will be leading a weak government — unlike Erdogan’s assertive, stable government. 

Indeed, the West does have immense experience in manipulating weak allies and partners in directions that suit the requirements of western hegemony. But, as current happenings in the West Asian region testify, especially in the Gulf, the US’ erstwhile vassal states are resisting being pushed around and are asserting their strategic autonomy and are systematically plotting the advancement of national interests from a long-term perspective. 

The Saudi-Iranian detente; Saudi-Emirati reconciliation with President Bashar Al-Assad; the nascent peace talks over Yemen and Sudan — these show that regional states are perfectly capable of navigating their national interests, and the exclusion of Western hegemony can actually have productive outcome rather than perpetual conflict and strife.  

When it comes to Turkiye, the foreign policies are rooted in its history, geography, national interests and the ethos of a classic “civilisational state”. Ankara largely followed a non-aligned independent foreign policy with accent on preserving its strategic autonomy in the highly volatile external environment that surrounds it. 

Typically, half a century ago, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit risked US sanctions and ordered military intervention in Northern Cyprus to safeguard the security and welfare of ethnic Turkish community. No successor government rolled back that decision and Turkiye learnt to live with Cyprus and Greece’s veto on its EU membership. 

Kilicdaroglu will adhere to Turkiye’s Cyprus policy (and strategy). Considering that President Biden is fully in the orbit of the influential Greek lobby in US politics (which lavishly funded his political career through decades), Kilicdaroglu will have no illusions while upholding Turkiye’s claims of maritime boundaries, special economic zones or exploration of gas reserves in East Mediterranean.

The single biggest impediment in Turkish-American relations is the trust deficit and that is largely attributable to Washington’s intentions toward Turkiye being a national security state. This is not only about the failure of the CIA-backed coup attempt in 2016 to overthrow Erdogan, but specifically, about Washington’s alliance with separatist Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq (who also have long-standing ties to the Israeli intelligence) that destabilise Turkiye (and Iran). 

Ironically, Kilicdaroglu himself is an ardent proponent of normalisation of relations with the Assad government. He would favour resuscitation of Adana Agreement (1998), which envisaged bilateral cooperation between Ankara and Damascus in counter-terrorist activities, something that will horrify Washington or Paris and Berlin. 

The bottom line is, of course, the close, friendly, mutually beneficial relationship that Erdogan forged with Russia. Now, this has an old history. The new kids on the block do not know that Ataturk himself was on friendly terms with the Bolsheviks. In the Cold War era too, Ankara, its NATO membership notwithstanding, maintained a certain non-alignment. Succinctly put, Erdogan has only reverted to that past but openly, and built on it rapidly, being in a hurry to position Turkiye optimally in the emerging multipolar world order. 

The Turkish neutrality in the Ukraine conflict cannot be understood as a “stand-alone” issue. In reality, geoeconomics has been a driving force in Turkish-Russian relationship. Whether Kilicdaroglu may or may not have uses for the Russian S-400 anti-missile system is a moot point, but he certainly cannot do without the $20 billion Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, which Russia’s Rosatom is not only constructing but will also be operating in future. 

Turkish economy is partly built on the “German model” — Turkish companies use cheap energy from Russia to produce industrial products at competitive prices for the European market. Why would Kilicdaroglu emulate the folly of the present “trans-atlanticist” leaders in Berlin to terminate cheap long-term energy supplies from Russia at the cost of de-industrialisation?

Scholz has deep pockets and can probably afford to replace Russian piped gas under long-term contracts with LNG supplies from America at phenomenally marked-up prices, but Russia has proven to be a highly reliable source of abundant energy through pipelines that run just across the Black Sea to Turkiye. 

The raison d’être of Turkiye’s dual orientation –-  eastward and westward –- corresponds to an old tradition in Turkish foreign policy. Turkiye has its own understanding of Russia, borne out of a long, difficult common history. Therefore, the great deliberateness and congruent interests involved in Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, who are complex personalities each in his own way, taking such pains to understand each other and work together, cannot be viewed as an aberration. 

The Western powers are fantasising that by manipulating the right-wing, pro-western parties aligned with Kilicdaroglu in the Faustian deal to keep Erdogan out of power, they can bring the dour Kemalist to his knees. In reality, though, Erdogan too has largely followed a foreign policy rooted in the ideology of the Turkish state that Ataturk founded, including in the fetishism over secularism typical of an archetypal Kemalist like Kilicdaroglu. 

Zelensky regime’s fate is sealed


The West’s cryptic or mocking remarks doubting the Kremlin statement on the failed Ukrainian attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin do not detract from the fact that Moscow has no reason on earth to fabricate such a grave allegation that has prompted the scaling down of its Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which is a triumphal moment in all of Russian history, especially now when it is fighting off the recrudescence of Nazi ideology on Europe’s political landscape single-handedly all over again. 

The alacrity with which the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken debunked the Kremlin allegation, perhaps, gives the game away. It is in the neocon DNA to duck in such defining moments. That said, predictably, Blinken also distanced the Biden administration  from the Kremlin attack. 

Earlier, the chairman of Joints Chiefs of Staff General Marks Milley also did a similar thing in an interview with the Foreign Affairs magazine disowning in advance any responsibility for the upcoming Ukrainian “counteroffensive”. This is the Biden Administration’s new refrain — hear no evil, speak no evil. No more talk, either, of backing Kiev all the way “no matter what it takes” — as Biden used to say ad nauseam

The heart of the matter is that Kiev’s much touted “counteroffensive” is struggling amidst widespread western prognosis that it is destined to be a damp squib. Actually, the salience of the Foreign Affairs podcast this week with Gen. Milley was also his diffidence about the outcome. Milley refused to be categorical that Kiev would even launch its “counteroffensive”! 

There is a huge dilemma today as the entire western narrative of a Russian defeat stands exposed as a pack of lies, and alongside, the myth of Kiev’s military prowess to take on the far superior military might of a superpower has evaporated. The Ukrainian military is being ground to the dust systematically. In reality, Ukraine has become an open wound that is fast turning gangrene, and little time is left to cauterise the wound. 

However, Kiev regime is ridden with factionalism. There are powerful cliques who are averse to peace talks with Russia short of capitulation by Moscow and instead want an escalation so that the Western powers remain committed. And even after Boris Johnson’s exit, they have supporters in the West. 

The militant clique ensconced in the power structure in Kiev could well have been the perpetrators of this dangerous act of provocation directed against the Kremlin with an ulterior agenda to trigger a Russian retaliation. 

From Blinken’s vacuous remark, it seems the neocons in the Biden Administration led by Victoria Nuland are in no mood to rein in the mavericks in Kiev, either. As for Europe, it has lost its voice too. 

This will probably show up in history books as a historic failure of European leadership and at its core lies the paradox that it is not France but the German government that has aligned itself closer with the US in the Ukraine war and risking an intra-European “epoch of confrontation.”

Even otherwise, these are fateful times, with the political middle ground already shrinking in France and Italy and is much weakened in Germany itself in the wake of the pandemic, the war, and inflation. Importantly, this is only partly an economic story, as the decline of the centre and the de-industrialisation in Europe are closely related and the social fabric that supported the centre has come unstuck. 

Germany, the powerhouse of Europe, has been relatively lucky so far. It benefited from cheap labour from east Europe and cheap gas from Russia. But that is over now and the decline of German industry is foreseeable. When society fragments, the political system also fragments and it will take progressively greater effort to govern such countries. Germany and Italy have a three-party coalitions; the Netherlands has four parties; Belgium has a seven-party coalition. 

For the present, the hardliners in the Kiev regime have set the pace of events and Europeans will meekly follow. But there’s a ‘chill in the room’ — to borrow the words of Judie Foster in the horror film Silence of the Lambs when Anthony Hopkins transformed in a flash into Hannibal Lecter. 

Make no mistake, this is a tipping point; the clumsy attempt on Putin’s life jolts the kaleidoscope beyond recognition. The only comforting thought is that the Kremlin leadership is not going to be driven by emotion. The considered Kremlin reaction is available from the remarks by the Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov: 

“How would Americans react if a drone hit the White House, the Capitol or the Pentagon? The answer is obvious for any politician as well as for an average citizen: the punishment will be harsh and inevitable.” 

The ambassador went on to draw the bottom line: “Russia will respond to this insolent and presumptuous terrorist attack. We will answer when we consider it necessary. We will answer in accordance with the assessments of the threat that Kiev posed to the leadership of our country.” 

No knee-jerk reactions are to be expected. Nonetheless, the scaling down of the Victory Day celebrations on the Red Square itself must have been a difficult decision. The Victory Day on May 9 is the most important holiday in Russia when the public and the state come together in a patriotic celebration during which people remember their family members who sacrificed their lives to defeat Nazism.

Many of the day’s features—parades, songs and commemorative practices—date back to the Soviet era. Victory Day is the only major public holiday that made the transition to post-Soviet Russia. In a country that lost many of its idols and heroic achievements with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, triumph over Nazism remained a source of enormous collective and personal pride.

But Putin’s hands are tied beyond a point when the country is in rage and demanding retribution, as evident from the comments by former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev: “After today’s terrorist attack, there are no options left except for the physical elimination of Zelensky and his clique.” 

As for Zelensky, he simply left Kiev for Helsinki — and to the Hague thereafter, and arrive in Berlin by May 13 on a state visit — sensing danger, perhaps. Indeed, the fate of the Zelensky regime seems sealed. Zelensky reminds us of the mythical Wandering Jew, who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming. 

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