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Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

‘Biden’s phase’ of Ukraine war is beginning


The ground war in Ukraine has run its course, a new phase is beginning. Even diehard supporters of Ukraine in the western media and think tanks are admitting that a military victory over Russia is impossible and a vacation of the territory under Russian control is way beyond Kiev’s capability.

Hence the ingenuity of the Biden Administration to explore Plan B counselling Kiev to be realistic about loss of territory and pragmatically seek dialogue with Moscow. This was the bitter message that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken transmitted to Kiev recently in person. 

But President Zelensky’s caustic reaction in a subsequent interview with the Economist magazine is revealing. He hit back that the western leaders still talk the good talk, pledging they will stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes” (Biden mantra), but he, Zelensky, has detected a change of mood among some of his partners: “I have this intuition, reading, hearing and seeing their eyes [when they say] ‘we’ll be always with you.’ But I see that he or she is not here, not with us.” Certainly, Zelensky is reading the body language right, as in the absence of an overwhelming military success shortly, western support for Ukraine is time-limited.

Zelensky knows that sustaining the western support will be difficult. Yet he hopes that if not Americans, European Union will at least keep supplying aid, and but may open negotiations over the accession process for Ukraine possibly even at its summit in December.
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France’s colonial legacy, US security concerns intersect in Niger; Russians at the gates look for new hunting grounds


The military coup in Niger is already three weeks old. The putschists are cementing their rule, having gained the upper hand in the shadow play with the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] backed by ex-colonial powers ravaging that desperately poor West African state rich in mineral wealth. 

The prospects of Niger’s pro-Western President Mohamed Bazoum being reinstated look dim. He is an ethnic Arab with a small power base in a predominantly African country, hailing from the migrant Ouled Slimane tribe, which has a history of being France’s fifth column in Sahel region. 

The ECOWAS lost the initiative once the coup leaders defied its August 6 deadline to release Bazoum and reinstate him on pain of military action. 

The coup in Niger has been a humiliating setback for France too, and a terrible drama for President Emmanuel Macron personally as he lost his best supporter in Africa for France’s neo-colonial policies. Macron egged the ECOWAS on to invade Niger and rescue Bazoum. He misread the groundswell behind the coup and gambled that Niger’s military would splinter. His overreaction boomeranged as the coup leaders overnight abrogated the military pacts with France. And the latent animosity toward France surged, forcing Macron to cede the leadership to Washington.
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Niger Rejects Rules-Based Order


The coup in the West African state of Niger on July 26 and the Russia-Africa Summit the next day in St. Petersburg are playing out in the backdrop of multipolarity in the world order. Seemingly independent events, they capture nonetheless the zeitgeist of our transformative era.

First, the big picture — the Africa summit hosted by Russia on July 27-28 poses a big challenge to the West, which instinctively sought to downplay the event after having failed to lobby against sovereign African nations meeting the Russian leadership. 49 African countries sent their delegations to St. Petersburg, with seventeen heads of states traveling in person to Russia to discuss political, humanitarian and economic issues. For the host country, which is in the middle of a war, this was a remarkable diplomatic success. 

The summit was quintessentially a political event. Its leitmotif was the juxtaposition of Russia’s long-standing support for Africans resisting imperialism and the predatory nature of western neo-colonialism. This works brilliantly for Russia today, which has no colonial history of exploitation and plunder of Africa. 

While every now and then skeletons from the colonial era keep rolling out of the Western closet, dating back to the unlamented African slave trade, Russia taps into the Soviet legacy of being on the ‘right side of history’ — even resurrecting the full name of Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in Moscow.
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Glimpses of an Endgame in Ukraine


The problem with the war in Ukraine is that it has been all smoke and mirrors. The Russian objectives of “demilitarisation” and “de-Nazification” of Ukraine wore a surreal look. The western narrative that the war is between Russia and Ukraine, where central issue is the Westphalian principle of national sovereignty, wore thin progressively leaving a void.
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Storm Clouds Gathering in the Black Sea


The NATO Summit in Vilnius (July 11-12) signalled that there is absolutely no possibility of talks to settle the Ukraine war in a foreseeable future. The war will only intensify, as the US and its allies still hope to inflict a military defeat on Russia although that is clearly beyond their capability.
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Germany Creates Equity in Western Ukraine


The hypothesis that the Anglo-Saxon axis is pivotal to the proxy war in Ukraine against Russia is only partly true. Germany is actually Ukraine’s second largest arms supplier, after the United States. Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged a new arms package worth 700 million euros, including additional tanks, munitions and Patriot air defence systems at the Nato summit in Vilnius, putting Berlin, as he said, at the very forefront of military support for Ukraine. 

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius stressed, “By doing this, we’re making a significant contribution to strengthening Ukraine’s staying power.” However, the pantomime playing out may have multiple motives. 

Fundamentally, Germany’s motivation is traceable to the crushing defeat by the Red Army and has little to do with Ukraine as such. The Ukraine crisis has provided the context for accelerating Germany’s militarisation. Meanwhile, revanchist feelings are rearing their head and there is a “bipartisan consensus” between Germany’s leading centrist parties — CDU, SPD and Green Party — in this regard. 

In an interview in the weekend, the CDU’s leading foreign and defence expert Roderich Kiesewetter (an ex-colonel who headed the Association of Reservists of the Bundeswehr from 2011 to 2016) suggested that if conditions warrant in the Ukraine situation, the Nato should consider to “cut off Kaliningrad from the Russian supply lines. We see how Putin reacts when he is under pressure.” Berlin is still smarting under the surrender of the ancient Prussian city of Königsberg in April 1945.
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Russia, US exchange glances as Prigozhin heads for Moscow


Sometimes one wishes Winston Churchill had left behind an evergreen quote in regard of Russian diplomacy as well, similar to his epic one on Russian politics, which still remains unbeatable — “Kremlin political intrigues are comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug. An outsider only hears the growling, and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who won.” 

Renegade Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s defiance of the regime in Russia has apparently turned into a bulldog fight. The last we heard is that the oligarch is back in Russia and possibly heading for Moscow. The loquacious Russian commentators have fallen silent. 

This coincides, strangely, with a sensational disclosure by NBC News regarding Track-2 diplomacy between the Americans and Russians over the Ukraine war. The media leak in Washington coincided with a conciliatory Kremlin statement that Moscow is open to a prisoner exchange involving Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich. Russian authorities allowed the American ambassador to visit Gershkovich in the prison for the first time on Friday. 

The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has since responded that “we are prepared to do hard things in order to get our citizens home, including getting Evan home.” Prisoner exchanges traditionally created a “feel-good” sensation in the Russian-American relationship and provided setting for serious business to be transacted.
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The failed coup in Russia through American looking glass


The former US president Donald Trump’s remarks regarding the failed coup attempt in Russia by Yevgeniy Prigozhin stood out for their sheer subtlety amidst the crass new western narrative that the dramatic events on June 23-24 highlighted “cracks” within the Russian system.  No one cares to explain what these “cracks” are but the coinage conveys that Russia is heading for implosion. Per Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been “somewhat weakened”, creating an opportunity for the US to broker a peace settlement in Ukraine.
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Biden Walks Back on Ukraine’s NATO Accession


If only the US President Joe Biden had a time machine as in the post-apocalyptic science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, he should have used that vehicle or device to travel purposely and selectively backward through time all the way to 1999 when it was that the US lost the plot on European security and Russia’s perennial quest for mutual security with Europe. 

At that defining moment of the post-cold war era 24 years ago, George Kennan was prophetic to warn the Bill Clinton administration that US-Russia relations would be irreparably damaged if the western alliance expanded to include the former Warsaw Pact countries. His advice was ignored. It is generally accepted today that the war in Ukraine is the culmination of the NATO’s relentless advance to the borders of Russia. 

Russia’s 2021 draft titled Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would require that NATO members commit to no further enlargement of the alliance, including in particular to Ukraine, and the related issues concerning the alliance’s deployments, which impacted Russia’s core security issues.

A second draft addressed to Washington was titled Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees. Taken together, the two drafts represented an opening bid by Moscow for serious negotiations but it led to no engagement since the Biden administration simply stonewalled that the US and Russia cannot cut a deal over the heads of Europeans and Ukrainians!
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