As He Struggles To Take Ukraine, Putin Loses The World

As He Struggles To Take Ukraine, Putin Loses The World
As he marched his armies into Ukraine, Putin wanted the world to believe that the troops were coming “from Russia with love.” Their goal was not to conquer Ukraine but simply to liberate it from the “drug-addled Neo-Nazis” who had enslaved them since 2014. Putin sought to evoke the positive emotions that arose when the Red Army invaded Hitler’s Germany and ended the Third Reich.  

Instead, he managed to stir memories of prior Russian invasions of Prague in 1968 and Kabul in 1979. The pretext for the latter was that the Afghans had invited the Russians to visit Kabul. During the decade-long Soviet occupation, between half a million and two million Afghans were killed. Millions fled to Iran or Pakistan as refugees. 

Putin had imagined the Ukrainians would welcome the Russian army since “Ukrainians and Russians were essentially one nation.” However, what awaited his troops was not a warm welcome. Instead, they found a nation with the resolve to guard their freedom. The much smaller Ukrainian armed forces, supported by the public and inspired by the leadership of President Zelensky, fought back. 

The Russian army has the means with which to prevail over Ukraine. Putin is determined to take the major cities of Ukraine, come what may. History is replete with examples where the dominant power seeks to turn its smaller neighbours into satellites and impose on them something akin to Pax Romana. That, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, was a form of “peace” that was realized when the empire had laid waste to the cities it conquered after ravaging and slaughtering the people, turning the conquered land into a “desert.” 

While Putin undoubtedly is afflicted with overweening neo-imperialist ambitions, the world is not ready to return to the age of imperialism. Since it’s a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the invasion. However, it was unable to prevent the issue from being raised subsequently in an emergency session of the UN General Assembly, which had only happened 10 times previously.  

More than 90 countries – not just the US with its European allies—submitted a draft resolution in the General Assembly condemning the invasion of Ukraine and calling for a Russian withdrawal. It asked the 193 member states to choose between peace and aggression, between adhering to the terms of the UN charter and flaunting it. 

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, said the situation required urgent action: “We have to end hostilities now, silence the guns now, and open the door to dialogue and diplomacy now.”

He was followed by the Ukrainian ambassador who described the attack as an unprovoked act of brazen aggression against a neighbouring country. He said that a bully should never be granted his wish. The Russian ambassador, visibly agitated, rushed through his speech, with fulminations and prevarications. 

Only four countries joined Russia in opposing the resolution: Belarus, which had allowed its territory to be used for the invasion; Eretria, a lightweight in world politics; the ruthless dictatorship of North Korea whose main job is to fire ballistic missiles; and Syria, Russia’s murderous outpost in the Arab world.  

Belarus blasted sanctions imposed by the West on Russia as “the worst example of economic and financial terrorism.” It joined Syria in condemning the “double standards” of Western nations who have invaded Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. These Russian acolytes made no reference to its invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 or of Afghanistan in 1979.

In the final count, 141 countries drawn from throughout the globe supported the resolution and 35 countries, while calling for a ceasefire, abstained from voting. 

Addressing the criticism that the UN had failed to speak out against prior violations of its charter, one ambassador who spoke in favour of the resolution said that prior UN failure does not mean that the UN should not speak today with resolve and determination against Russia’s egregious violation. Another ambassador said this was the biggest land-based invasion in Europe since the Second World War and was, in many ways, more dangerous than Hitler’s 1939 invasion because Russia was a nuclear state. A third ambassador said the UN was not created to take us to heaven but to prevent us from going to hell. A fourth ambassador said if the UN had any purpose, it was to stop wars like this. She said that in the war over Ukraine, we are witnessing a battle for the soul of the world.

Among the countries that abstained, China was the largest, followed by India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These countries which hesitated to point the finger at Russia account for roughly half of the world’s population. This resolution has made for some odd bedfellows, Pakistan and India, and India and China. 

Referring to Pakistan’s decision to abstain, its UN ambassador said that the US and Russia had an “old enmity” but Pakistan had to look after its own interest: “If we take a one-sided position, then we have no room for diplomacy.” The draft resolution was an exercise in diplomacy: ensuring that the UN Charter is upheld and that any state which breaks international law by launching an unprovoked military attack on a neighbouring state should be condemned. The ambassador was oblivious to the reality that besides the US, 140 countries from around the globe had condemned Russia.

Indeed, Pakistan had invoked the very same UN Charter when India invaded East Pakistan in 1971, complaining that India had violated its independence and sovereignty. It’s worth noting that some of Pakistan’s closest friends in the Muslim world voted to condemn Russia: Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Instead, Ambassador Munir Akram, while listing the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, chose to bring up the issue of “self-determination,” a Pavlovian reference to Kashmir that was irrelevant to the draft resolution.

Pakistan’s unwillingness to condemn Russia, coming on the heels of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s poorly timed visit to the Kremlin on the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, puts it squarely in the middle of the new China-Russia block. To top it off, while addressing a large public rally, with arms flailing, he railed against the EU for asking him to condemn the Russian invasion, asserting he was not their slave. 

Eventually, Pakistan will come to regret its placement in the China-Russia block, which is run by autocratic rulers and in which the right of free speech is non-existent. Neither China nor Russia have endorsed Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir.

Dr. Faruqui is a history buff and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Routledge Revivals, 2020. He tweets at @ahmadfaruqui