Tragedy of Power-politics in Ukraine: Zelensky’s Misconception of International Politics -Imran Nazir

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International politics is an absolute realm of anarchy according the grand International Relations theory of realism. States have to ensure their own survival in the volatile environment of international system. The state have to formulate own tactics and gain material capability to extort independence and sovereignty as no other supranational authority can ensure in the absence. Recent Ukraine tragedy shows how Ukrainian President Zelensky’s perceived reliance on external sources and forces against Russia led to the devastation of his own country by creating a death toll of Ukrainians and humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe. Downplaying of the realist perceptions by Zelensky and West’s overwhelming reliance on offensive economic statecraft though sanctions against Russian conventional military power depicts a changing nature of international politics which are less coherent and ineffective in many regards.
Russia military has started crossing Ukrainian border since late February and still continuing to advance towards the capital Kiev. Massive human loss and infrastructural property damages have been reported till now along with the displacement of huge number of population internally and externally. Number of the death of military personals and destruction of tanks and vehicles are still continuing for both sides. Surely Russian President Putin and his fellows bear the much of the responsibility for initiating this heinous war on civilians. But the responsibility of provocation from Ukraine and its Western allies to squeeze Russian leadership cannot also be spared. The whole initiation of this war was the result of serious miscalculations from both sides. Not to argue who is more responsible for initiating this war.

Russia has been critical of the NATO’s eastward expansion despite the extinction of the Warsaw Pact with the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO is now having 30 core members where many eastern European countries including Ukraine are partner countries. In the lifetime of the existence of USSR, NATO had only 16 members. Despite its dissolution, NATO included 14 members and most recently Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020 while many Russian neighbors are on the list of getting membership. Currently, Ukraine is playing a buffer state role between NATO countries and USSR. So, while the question of Ukraine getting membership in NATO and EU started to create noise and little momentum, Russian leadership could not take it as a simple move by vindicating Western alliance having no malign intention. West perhaps thought that Russia would let it go slightly. This a serious deviation from the realist nature of international politics. States always feel the security dilemma in international relations. Just think of how nuclear capable country India reacted to Bangladesh purchasing two Chinese non-nuclear less sophisticated submarines few years back. Likewise, state feels threatened when its rival(s) starts building up weapons as they make be used against it. So, NATO’s move in Ukraine may seem a simple act of containment to West but it found it as in encirclement by its small neighbors with the backing of enemies. So, Russia responded aggressively. Media have been accusing him with various negative attributional adjectives, which are in fact true. But hypocritical Western media, as they have been affiliated with government policy projects, do not ask the rationality of West to squeeze Russia for being aggressive. Just think of Mexico or Canada, state having long land border with USA, being persuaded by Russia to create a military alliance. In return Moscow installs its missiles and positions heavy tanks on US-Mexico or US-Canada borders. What would be the US reaction to its neighbor? Historically USA had taken the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to deter European powers not to colonize any state or install puppet monarchies in the Western hemisphere. So, it would not be surprising to see USA annexing Mexico only due to its military cooperation with Russia currently or with US enemy China in future. Consequently, Russian attack on Ukraine was inevitable from military strategic perspective (put aside humanitarian perspective as we are dealing with realist perspective of international politics) as anti-Moscow hostile environment was prevailing there.

Now if we turn to Ukrainian President Zelensky’s role in making the situation worse. He has been immensely tangled with the romance of West. NATO’s false commitments to give utmost support along with US, also did Boris of UK, president Biden’s vague speech to support (not sending troops) Ukraine in case of Russian attack made Zelensky confidence to bully Putin over his concerns. Even EU as an organization is also responsible for giving false promises to align Ukraine with NATO and EU nonspecifically while not being able to grant membership. Zelensky is not a professional politician. He had been elected out of joke as being a comedian. It was natural that he would not understand the nasty and brutal nature of international politics. Core premise of political realism is to ensure own survival of a state on its own capability and tactics as there is no higher authority to punish the state, especially in the case of superpower. International organizations and international legal bodies also cannot take any binding measures on state due to the absence of enforcement mechanism. Norms and principles are not adequate to deter superpowers from committing human rights violation or neglecting the sovereignty of other states. Zelensky should have understood that no state will come to its aid with soldiers to fight Russia as their own political positions are fragile. So, make hot speech in TV show is different from real one. Zelensky should have calm down and make diplomatic concession even before the start of war. Always balancing strategy through alliance making with powerful states does not work. For example, Finland has chosen the strategy of bandwagoning with Russia since the inception of the Cold War to ensure its own survival. Ukraine could be maintain such balanced relations. It is the nature of international relations and have been for centuries as historian Thucydides famously quotes, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Imprudence of Zelensky led to the war and the sufferings of millions as yet to see. We have also seen how West has weaponized its economic power to attack Russia but without much impact and unlikely to bring any immediate result. Russia knew that Western alliance would use their economic sanctions on Russia. Iran has also negated the maximum pressure of Trump and still continue to survive. Russia also has its own tactics of survival. Even Russia has also banned on its items of export. We have already seen how the price of daily commodities and energy has hiked. Situation in developed countries is worse as people’s purchasing power is in decline. So the situation is getting miserable for all parties.

Imran Nazir is studying MSS in International Political Economy at the University of Dhaka.