Joe Biden became the first US President ever to visit a war zone which is not controlled by the American forces when he made a visit to Kyiv just a few days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He took a hazardous journey, shrouded in secrecy, by air, car and train.
The visit poured fuel on the fire and made the situation even more dangerous than before. He not only announced that the US would stand by Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” but also announced more funding and supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine at a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Biden expressed the confidence that Ukraine would prevail and that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would be defeated.
The US made it clear that it was not exploring peace any more, but planning intensification of the war. It even did not favour a ceasefire because Russia would use any such opportunity to regroup the forces and mount fresh attacks on Ukraine.
President Putin raised the rhetoric against the west by saying that it was using Ukraine as a base to attack Russia. He boasted that the Russian GDP had fallen only by 2.1 % after western sanctions were fully in place. He said that the effort by the west to weaken Russia strategically had failed. The people of Ukraine were being held hostage by Zelenskyy to wage war against Russia in collusion with the west.
In a sign that the very basis of the relations between the west and Russia was breaking down, President Putin made a surprise announcement of the suspension of Russia’s participation in the New Start Treaty for arms limitation between Russia and the US, which was extended till 2026. It was part of a threat that Russia was willing to use tactical nuclear weapons, if the need arose. He indicated, however that he would still honour the ceiling on the warheads and military systems agreed under the Treaty. The US simply called the Russian threat as irresponsible and unacceptable without announcing any counter measures.
China, which had remained neutral in the UN votes like India, made certain moves to indicate sympathy for Russia in recent days. The Chinese Foreign Minister visited Moscow. It was also made known that President Xi Jinping might be visiting Moscow in the spring on a peace mission. The US immediately warned China against supply of any lethal weapons to Russia.
Way out of the stalemate
No escape route is available either for Russia or NATO to attempt a ceasefire or negotiations. But there are reports about the French trying a General Assembly resolution which India and China can also support. China is concerned about the impression that it was supporting Russia to prepare the ground for a war on Taiwan. China may, therefore, take a mediatory role. The only other effort might take place in the runup to the G20 in the light of the outcome of the Bali summit.
The anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine does not bode well for an end of the war, however desperate the world may be to avoid a collapse of the global system altogether. The widening chasm between the old order and the new makes it harder for a new world to emerge from the ashes of the old world.