Don’t plan yet for Ukraine reconstruction

The Indians and Americans are whistling in the dark. Going forward, in fact, a whole new phase of Russia’s special military operations is to be expected and it is up in the air how Ukraine might look like in the aftermath. 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed members of the federal and regional civic chambers, Moscow, November 3, 2023

Having successfully accomplished the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is estimating that in Ukraine too, destruction is nearly complete. At the recent meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of the US and India in New Delhi in the 2+2 format, the two countries “concurred on the need for post-conflict reconstruction” in Ukraine. It is an assertion that is out of sync with ground realities. 

The Indians and Americans are whistling in the dark. Going forward, in fact, a whole new phase of Russia’s special military operations is to be expected and it is up in the air how Ukraine might look like in the aftermath. 

There is much unfinished business left with regard to the so-called “South Russian lands” comprising Novorossiya, the historical name used during the Czarist era for the administrative area immediately north of the Black Sea and Crimea. 

In remarks at a recent meeting on November 3 on the eve of the National Unity Day with members of the federal and regional heads of civic chambers at the Victory Museum in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin repeated once again that Russia is “defending our moral values, our history, our culture, our language, including by helping our brothers and sisters in Donbass and Novorossiya to do the same. This is the key to today’s events.” 

A noted political figure from Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov who used to be a lawmaker in Kiev reminded Putin with passionate intensity, “Believe me, we, people living in the southern part of Russia, which was cut off from its roots for 30 years, are, in fact, a storehouse of the Russian people’s historical forces, which was mothballed and could not make any efforts to regenerate our great Russia.” 

Putin responded by underscoring the historical fact that Novorossiya  constituted “the South Russian lands – all the Black Sea region and so on” that were founded by Catherine the Great after a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire. 

Putin said Russian Federation chose to come to terms with the unfair, unjust move by the Soviet leadership to transfer the South Russian lands to Ukraine, but things began to change when the regime in Kiev “started to exterminate everything Russian…, declared that Russians are not an indigenous nation in these lands…, also started dragging this entire territory into NATO – brazenly, without heeding any of our protests, without paying attention to our position, as if we did not exist at all. This is what lies at the centre of the conflict that is taking place today. This is the cause of this conflict .”

Putin said the choice narrowed down to doing nothing or “stand up in defence of the people living there… we need to do everything we can to ensure that the entry of these territories [into Russian Federation] is smooth, natural, and that people feel the result as quickly as possible.” 

This was not the first time Putin expressed such views. But the context in which he spoke is important, as it has more than one salience, aside the Russian psyche as a civilisation state — the tidings from the battlefields; Russia’s transition as a war economy; Europe’s inability to substitute for the US retrenchment due to the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

First, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has ended in failure and another such misadventure is highly unlikely if only because Ukraine has no manpower left. Russian military is gaining the upper hand. 

Putin made an unexpected overnight visit last week to Rostov-on-Don, the operational centre for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine — second such visit to the military headquarters in less than a month. Accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the commander of military operations in Ukraine Gen.Valéri Gerassimov, Putin was shown new military equipment and heard reports on the military’s progress in Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later said Russia is pressing ahead with its goals in Ukraine. This is one thing. 

Now, this is happening when the European Union nations acknowledged on Tuesday that they may be on the way to failing Ukraine on their promise of providing the ammunition Kiev’s military dearly needs to stave off an expected Russian offensive. Amidst much fanfare early this year, EU leaders had promised to ramp up production and provide 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine’s front line by spring 2024 but is finding it tough to come up with the goods.

In comparison, Russia now produces more ammunitions than the US and Europe; it can manufacture 200 tanks and two million units of ammunition in a year. This asymmetry has serious consequences for the attritional war in Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Alexander Mikheyev, the chief executive of Rosoboronexport, was bullish on Tuesday, saying, “I can say with certainty that the current portfolio of orders is worth more than $50 billion… Today, we see that interest is even greater than it was before because our equipment — all aircraft, armoured vehicles, air defence systems, small arms, high-precision weapons — performed well in the conditions of the special military operation [in Ukraine.] So, either the partners are already coming back, or the long pause we had is over.”

Suffice to say, not only is the Russian defence line well equipped and fortified but the mobilisation of defence industry is also beginning to show results. Plainly put, Russia can carry on with the attritional war in Ukraine for years to come, as its war economy has put the special military operations on “self-financing”, “cost accounting” principles, while normal life moves on. (Russian economy is expecting a 3 percent growth this year.) 

To be sure, the Kremlin also would have taken note of US President Joe Biden’s audacious characterisation, during the recent address to the nation after his visit to Israel, of military aid to Ukraine and Israel as “a smart investment that’s going to pay dividends for American security for generations.”  

Then, of course, there is the worsening external security environment. Thus, at a recent meeting on security, Putin compared the US to a spider: “It is necessary to know and understand where the root of evil is, that spider who is attempting to wrap the entire planet, the entire world, into its web and wishing to achieve our strategic defeat on the battlefield… 

“Fighting precisely this enemy within the framework of the special military operation, we are yet again boosting the positions of all those who are battling for their independence and sovereignty… The truth is that the more Russia is growing stronger and our society is becoming more unified, the more effectively we will be able to stand both for our own national interests and the interests of those nations that fell victim to the West’s neocolonial policy.”

Therefore, the increasingly frequent references in the Russian political discourse to the preservation of the Russian way of life, culture and values in Novorossiya can be deduced as highly meaningful markers on what lies ahead in the special military operations.

The Deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev was explicit recently that Novorossiya [New Russia] would include Odessa and Nikolayev as well — and possibly Kiev itself — which would probably leave Lvov in western Ukraine as the landlocked rump state on the Polish border available for NATO membership eventually. 

Medvedev wrote yesterday on Telegram channel: “America easily betrays “its sons of bitches” when they become useless. It seems that this period is definitely coming for Kiev. And it’s not just the swarms of Republicans and Democrats heading into the U.S. presidential election. Just tired already. They got it — they eat too much money, steal wildly and do not achieve military success. Plus, the Israeli-Palestinian mess happened. In short, the support of the untied “son of a bitch” is nearing an inevitable end. Of course, not at once. There will also be a lot of money, schizoid spells about democracy, bravura assurances about the coming victory on earth, and false beliefs about alliance for all time and other and other. But the situation is clear: the time to go into oblivion for another American “son of a bitch” is coming.”

Clearly, it is surreal to even contemplate a US-Indian collaboration for the reconstruction of Ukraine. The cruel fate that awaits Ukraine may turn out to be far worse than what Iraq and Afghanistan experienced. 

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.

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