. . . . . .  






In the film Forrest Gump, its hero Tom Hanks finds himself unwittingly caught in various crises. Cinema-goers will recognise the parallel with the PM's mistimed visit to Moscow.


Could there have been a more improbable scenario than a third world prime minister visiting Moscow on the first day of World War III and, during a three hour long executive lunch in the Kremlin, advising his Russian host to use diplomacy ‘to avert a military conflict'?


Some suggest that President Putin, following his ostracism by the West over Crimea, needed every straw ally he could grasp – even the bottom-of-the-barrel Pakistan. Others interpret Putin’s hospitality as a tilt towards Pakistan, a lurch away from his all-weather ally New Delhi.


Anyone searching for such silver linings knows little about Russia’s Iron Curtain or China’s Great Wall of Steel. 


‘It takes a good blacksmith to make good steel,​' ​ President Xi Jinping said in his famous speech in July last year. He reiterated China’s belief in ‘bloodless battles’, in resolving issues ‘through negotiation’, but warned that any foreign force trying ‘to bully, oppress, or subjugate’ China would encounter ‘a great wall of steel’.  


History has taught President Xi Jinping and his fellow blacksmith President Vladimir Putin to suspect encirclement and fear encroachment. In February this year, both leaders opposed ‘further enlargement of NATO’ and called on the North Atlantic Alliance ‘to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches.’ They warned U.S.-led NATO ‘against the formation of closed bloc structures and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region.’


Nevertheless, NATO, after digesting former Warsaw-pact countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania), deliberately courted Ukraine - the last one

bordering Russia. It proved the last straw for Putin.  He unleashed his formidable arsenal against Ukraine.


The Chinese sagely advised ‘Russia and Ukraine to resolve the issue through negotiation’. Along with India, it bolstered Russia’s veto in the Security Council with an abstention. India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. T.S. Tirumurti declared pompously that ‘the contemporary world order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty of territorial integrity of states.’ He continued: ‘Dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment.’ In every situation, he meant, except the implementation of U.N. Resolution no. 47 over the Kashmir Question.      


Putin’s action in Ukraine uncorked pungent rhetoric from former WWII allies. UK’s Boris Johnson called him ‘a dictator’, US president Biden a ‘criminal’. G7 countries said Putin ‘put himself on the wrong side of history.’ Former president Trump,​ who never studied history​,​ called Putin ‘a genius’.

On 24 February, the British PM Boris Johnson aspiring to Churchillian heights thundered: ‘He [Putin] has attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse; innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population; a vast invasion is underway by land by sea and by air.’ His description applied equally to the West’s interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Vietnam, etc. 

Johnson disinterred a phrase used by his predecessor Neville Chamberlain in September 1938, in which Chamberlain described the disputed Sudetenland as a ‘quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing’. Johnson insisted that Ukraine was different. It stood on the doorstep of Europe. As the G7 leaders put it, Putin has ‘re-introduced war to the European continent.’ Wars in faraway places are kosher; wars on the mainland of Europe are not.

In 1965, during our war with India, the US ambassador Walter P. McConaughy called upon President Ayub Khan. The US ambassador urged a ceasefire – otherwise, there was a likelihood of a world war.  Ayub’s advisor M.M. Ahmed retorted: ‘What you mean is that the U.S. would become involved. For us, it is already a world war.’

At present, Ukraine and Russia are embroiled in their own WWIII.  In his half-hour of need, the Ukrainian president Zelensky turned to the club he sought to join: ‘I asked the 27 leaders of Europe whether Ukraine will be in NATO, I asked directly. Everyone is afraid, does not answer.’ NATO offered him paper promises, but no troops.

The U.S. has committed $950 million in military assistance. Germany will supply Ukraine with 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, the Netherlands 50 Panzerfaust-3 anti-tank weapons, the U.K. lethal defense weapons. Even neutral Sweden is sending 5,000 anti-tank rockets to thwart the Russian juggernaut.

Zelensky – a former actor – has become a Ukrainian Forrest Gump. He has been offered asylum by the U.S. Unlike Afghanistan’s Ghani, Zelensky has opted to remain at home. He has agreed to negotiate with Russia, even offering to abjure NATO.

For Putin, it is too little, too late. Russia’s Iron Curtain has descended across Europe, again. 



[DAWN, 3 MARCH 2022]

03 March 2022
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