Monday 23 May 2022
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Ukraine-Russia War: Mediaeval Politics Of Economy In Divided Europe

Let alone the distant United States, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has failed to understand the reality of Ukraine


Lalit Mishra
Lalit Mishra
Founder of Indology Foundation, member of the advisory board at the Institute of Vedic Sciences, BHU, formerly a member of the advisory board of the department of history, Amity University, Noida, and life member of the Mahamana Malviya Mission, New Delhi

Contemplating in the backdrop of the Second World War, an Indian savant of international affairs, Justice NJ Wadia opined in 1941 that the absence of uniform standards of morality in the political thinking of Europe had been the sole cause of the conflict, war and sufferings of European nations and their people which, as he observed, existed since very olden days.  By ‘morality’, Justice Wadia was referring to the ‘righteousness’ in the state-of-affairs. He argued further that the distinction between the two codes of morality — one for the individual and the other for the nation — providing legitimacy to plea for “vital interests” and “compelling reasons” making a “moral wrong” a “political right” has spread across the ruling classes. That, he said, had not been dully challenged by thinkers and activists of Europe who otherwise remain awakened on even most trivial and peripheral issues. Justice Wadia’s penetrating observation holds true for today’s crisis of Europe. It explains the reason why Ukraine and Russia entered a conflict that is incessantly ruining the beautiful Ukrainian terrain and disturbing the lives of millions of its citizens.

The latest war, which began on 24 February, should not surprise the world for its not a new war but an ominous sequel of the earlier war of 2014, which had broken out in a similar political setting. The world helplessly watches how the spectre of “vital interests”, as underscored by Justice Wadia, is keeping the war ablaze.

Ukraine-Russia War: Origin Of Hostility, Medieval Thought Of Economy

Today’s Europe is a house divided, with the Nato dividing Europe militarily and the EU dividing it economically. Fissures have emerged in the EU solidarity. It would be surprising to many that the call for a Greater Europe (Большая Европа) (2011) came from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The “Greater Europe united by shared values of freedom, democracy, and market laws”, however, could never receive due attention.

This hostility has its origin in mediaeval monarchist Europe. In the period, the economic idea of ‘mercantilism’ floated by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) soon became an instrument alluring the most powerful monarchist states — Holland, Spain, France and England — to compete with one another for making more and more wealth, which resulted in the proliferation of war and paradoxically, such wars were considered worth.

These four monarchist states were struggling for precious metals, non-metals, cash crops, and raw materials like gold, diamond, spices, cotton, indigo, iron and timber. During this period, the world witnessed the enforcement of draconic laws on European colonies, the beginning of inhuman slave trade and wars of continental scales — for instance, the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763) between the UK and France, which was the first global war for economic reasons.

In response to “mercantilism”, Adam Smith (1776) introduced a new economic theory of free trade in his monumental work The Wealth of Nations. He developed his theory on admirable tenets, namely between firms, quality productions and skilled labours. However, even Smith never brought India and other colonies in the orbit of free trade. That is something America did. Selective righteousness allowed an unrestrained drain of wealth to Europe. Since then, three centuries have gone, but the world has still not received an amicable framework for indemnifying the great loss subjected to the then European colonies that are now independent states.

The next economic theory came from JS Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848) that, in the fourth volume, looked at moral aspects of the question. However, he formulated character-building injunctions of spirituality and religion only to the poor, never to the rich. With righteousness and trustworthiness missing in consciousness, mainstream European economists, until the turn of the 21st century, did not pay enough attention to how integrity, social norms and ethics affected the economic behaviour of entrepreneurs and consumers which, in turn, contributed to the overall progress of a nation.

Dynamics Of Buffer State, Zelenskyy’s Ukraine In Politics of ‘Otherness’

Ukraine, after its breakaway from the in 1991, witnessed an unprecedented rise of oligarchs who amassed huge wealth. Oligarchs became wealthier not on account of success achieved in their self-owned enterprises but by influencing the politics. They managed to avail major stakes in key economic sectors, namely energy, mineral, automobile and media. Charting favourable taxation regimes helped them more. These oligarchs lobbied for stronger ties with the EU and Nato and started turning away from Russia.

Ukraine’s situation is that of a buffer state between two powerful gigantic rivals. For a buffer state, easing out tension, striking a balance and achieving a hospitable neighbourhood are the keys. It is questionable if President Volodymyr Zelenskyy understood this reality of Ukraine. Many case studies (Belgium, Poland, Cambodia) and political models (Organski and Kugler 1980; Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992) on dynamics of buffer states were available to Zelenskyy strategists to evaluate the risks and outcomes before taking a divergent path but as the situation indicates, probably no such exercises were carried out and today Ukraine, a vibrant buffer state faces the risk of becoming a vassal state of Russia.

Zelenskyy once acted in a TV show titled Servant of the People (2015), aired on the 1+1 TV channel where he played the role of a high school history teacher Goloborodko who accidentally became the country’s president. The show was aired across all three countries now in war — Ukraine, Belarus and a sizable part of Russia. For its success, the show received the Gold Remi Award (2016). Later on, in 2018, Zelenskyy formed his political party, naming it after his show. In the 2019 general election, his party captured 43% of the total votes and he became President, however, the irony is Zelenskyy’s show was also sponsored by Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch himself.

A deeper look into the visible EU solidarity in imposing sanctions on Russia reveals the deepening fissures in its member states, which surfaced early in the aftermath of the 2014 Russia-Ukraine war. France has been consistently reiterating the utility of the Minsk Protocol (2015) for ceasefire and peacekeeping. It’s interesting to know that the Minsk-II agreement approves of the formation of self-governance in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the independence of which was recognized by Russia on 25 February, the very second day of the latest round of war.  Like France, despite sanctions, Germany and Poland are maintaining their 2014 stand intact within the EU sphere. It must be emphasised here that among all EU members, Germany is the largest importer and exporter to Russia.

For its historic reunification in February 1990, Germany’s admiration for Russian support is unabated. Germany, believing in the doctrine of Wandel durch Handel kept trying for building trust wherever there was a scope. In 2002, Germany tried to forge a trilateral consortium consisting of Ukrainian, German, and Russian companies for a smooth operation of the gas pipeline project. In 2008, Germany and France both strongly resisted Ukraine and Georgia’s entry to the Nato and the resistance worked in March 2022 when Nato membership couldn’t be granted to Ukraine. People-to-people connect between Germany and Russia continued to rise despite diplomatic ups and downs. Germans in an Infratest dimap survey (2017) considered Russia a more reliable partner than the US, which showed how Russia and Germany drew close to each other.

In order to understand the reason behind the latest Russian military operation in Ukraine, it is important to analyse US-Russia equations in the German reunification milieu. The then-US Secretary of State James Baker III, as per a recorded conversation, assured Mikhail Gorbachev that Nato shall not advance towards Russian borders. However, US think tanks now call it “a selective account”. Obviously, the assurance promised could not be adhered to and a golden opportunity for a conflict-free Europe, contributing to world peace, was lost.

Interestingly, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson issued many warnings to Putin, imposed the toughest economic sanctions on Russia but made no attempt for a ceasefire and peaceful resolution of the issue, which indicates a continuum of the hostility in a divided Europe despite the two world wars.

India To Exorcise Spectre of WWII

India has shown remarkable diplomatic adroitness in the massive evacuation of its twenty thousand students back home from several cities and towns of Ukraine. In this operation, India could harness the best cooperation from both the warring countries who not only, made an incredible escape route but respected that until the safe evacuation of the last Indian student.

An anticipated role of India in reconfiguring international ties is reflected in the statement of German Navy Chief Schönbach, who said in New Delhi, “We, India, Germany need Russia against China”, although he had to put in his papers the very next day. His statement, nonetheless, echoes whispers of awakening to the new reality of the day. Schönbach’s apprehensions were correct, there are some reports on how Chinese Intelligence agencies were trying to make a stronghold in Ukraine’s Kharkiv defence complex. It may be surprising to readers but it is true that China has become Ukraine’s single largest trading partner.

Since the very ancient period, the Slavic community of Ukraine and Russia shared great cultural affinity with Indians and since India enjoys a higher degree of trust among all the stakeholders of the ongoing war, it’s best placed to play the messenger of peace, a role India should unhesitatingly take up. If a peace accord is achieved, the present war between Ukraine and Russia may lead the world towards undoing the obnoxious hegemonic framework of the Second World War.



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