The apathy of the Russians is like that of a tiger cornered in a cage with no exit options, except for surrender. For a race which has traditionally been one of the bravest and mightiest defending themselves against Napolean in 1812 and against Nazi Germany during World War II, the element of prestige and national pride has a deep meaning. During each of these wars, the Russians were pitted against powerful armies but it was their grit, determination and a wholehearted society-based approach to tackling the enemy which enabled them to emerge victorious.
Napolean attacked Russia with a 600,000 strong army, 180,000 horses and 1600 pieces of powerful artillery which could not be matched by the Russians. However, as part of a well planned strategy, the Russians decided not to confront them allowing Napolean to reach Moscow. But in the process the treacherous challenges that Napolean and his force had to face had rendered them weak and drained out. On reaching Moscow Napolean realised that the city was burned down and his Army was depleted and his supply lines were under constant attack compelling him to go in for a disastrous retreat, especially with the approach of the bitter winter. Napolean lost more than 300,000 men and the invasion of Russia effectively halted Napoleon’s march across Europe, and resulted in his first exile, to the Mediterranean island of Elba.
During the German Army’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, once again the Russians confronted with a massive and highly professional force resorted to a similar strategy of confronting the enemy selectively and allowing them to move in while guerrilla war was launched against them. The Germans had occupied Ukraine and Stalingrad which witnessed a bitter battle. In November of 1942, the Soviet forces launched an effective counteroffensive by encircling an entire German army of more than 220,000 soldiers and in February 1943, after months of fierce fighting and heavy casualties the remaining German forces of around 90,000 strength surrendered. The Soviet Army got the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and the rest of the areas occupied by the Germans. The defeat in Russia had set the trend for weakening of the psyche of the German soldier which eventually led to Germany’s defeat in 1945.
In this backdrop, the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 came as a serious dent to the aura of might and power of Russia, though the developments were a result of the inherent shortcomings in the soviet communist system, and the fallout was accepted by the Russians as a reality they had to live with. But for Russian nationalists, letting go of land and Republics for which they had strived hard over the years and lost lives, the situation was beyond comprehension. The general belief at the time of formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was to allow the states to become `independent’ but yet remain commonly (Commonwealth) bound, with Moscow being at the centre of it. This was more based on the logic that most of the industrial infrastructure of the Soviet times was spread among the CIS states and one could not perceive the shattering of this organised model. However, over a period of time the Republics have been drawing away from Russia, backed in most cases, by external forces. Moreover, Russia is wary of western expansion into this zone.
Ukraine has always been of special relevance toMoscow, including from the medieval times due to the religious connect as a result of the Orthodox Church which originally started in Kyiv as long back as 988 AD. However, over a period of time the Russian orthodox church which is also known as the Ukrainian orthodox church of Moscow patriarch (UOC MP) has been in conflict with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainians feel that the UOC-MP is part of Russian soft power influence in Ukraine with the aim of overseeing and controlling the Ukrainian church. However, the Russians feel that this schism between the two religious authorities is being created or encouraged by the West.
Given Ukraine’s location to the west of Russia and being a frontline state, in the event of any attack from the west during the cold war days, Moscow had ensured setting up of the most advanced frontline defence industries in Ukraine, such as Tank manufacturing plant, military aircraft production, rocket industry etc. Moscow had invested heavily in Ukraine to ensure the entry point to Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union is well defended from any western onslaught. With the NATO now trying to exercise influence on Ukraine there is every reason for Moscow to feel agitated. The whole concept of a `Commonwealth’ of independent states is being weaned away from the Russians with NATO now aspiring to reach the borders of Russia.
The Russian move of amassing troops along the border with Ukraine is thus not out of place as Moscow is compelled to showcase its intentions with some muscle flexing. From a time when Moscow negotiated for the START II Treaty to defend the eastern theatre against the West, to being compelled to seeing the day when the West is along its borders, is a significant climb down for Russia and the Russian action against Ukraine is therefore justified in a sense. It is only natural that just as Ukraine has been the cushion for Russia during the cold war days, it should continue to remain a neutral entity between Russia and the West.
It is in this context that the latest move by Russia to activate the CSTO for troop deployment in Kazakhstan needs to be seen. Considering the heightened western activities around Russia, there is certain degree of anxiety in Russia on any instability in the CIS states. Kazakhstan being of critical importance remains one of the priority Republics for Russia in terms of the rich natural resources it possesses and the facilities for space based operations that Russia uses, besides a significant potential for trade and economic relations. The Russian move on troop deployment is also intended to send a strong message to the West that Russia will not sit back and watch any uncertainty unfold in the CIS countries and that it will act fast and swiftly to quell any threat to the region.
There is need for the west to realise that a race which has historically faced several challenges and successfully defended themselves against external aggression, including the onslaught by Nazi Germany and Napolean, will not give away space to the West,and that they should prevent indulging in aggressive diplomacy in the region lest a shroud of political uncertainty engulfs the region as a result. With some of the central Asian states yet unstable and politically fragile and the situation in Afghanistan being fluid,Russia cannot afford to take chances in securing its neighbourhood. The concept of `Orange revolution’ still remains an attractive option for the West. But the Russian action in Kazakhstan and its pro-active policy vis-a-vis Ukraine should put to rest any thoughts of western adventurism.