Column: A fragile, volatile world

Mar 03 2014, 01:55 IST
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SummaryThe Russia-Ukraine face-off could get the US and the EU involved as well.

India’s concerns are about elections, opinion polls (doctored or not), something called inclusive growth—which everyone seems to advocate and perhaps even pretend to know its meaning—and the sad state of the Indian Navy. Out there, in the rest of the world, the situation is extremely fraught. If at the beginning of January 2014, we only had the Syrian war, the US-Iran standoff and the China-Japan spat about some obscure islands, we now are as close to the brink of a hotting-up of the Cold War as we ever have been since Ronald Regan’s presidency.

Except for some thaw in the US-Iran relations, thanks mainly to EU diplomacy, nothing has changed on the other three fronts. Syria is getting no better and Lakhdar Brahimi did not succeed in getting the various sides in the Syrian dispute together. Along the way Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are suffering collateral damage of the Syrian dispute. Egypt has in the meanwhile gone through a convulsion but may get a duly-elected government. But don’t take any bets on that.

The developments in the Ukraine are the most worrying. The Orange Revolution of 2004 was much hailed as a belated freedom from the Soviet Empire for its nearest neighbour. Ukraine has been the corridor through which armies have passed back and forth during the two World Wars. For centuries, Russia has regarded it as a sort of protective belt against German aggression. The latest upheaval has come about because Ukraine wanted to align with the EU and Russia felt threatened by the incursion of the EU into its neighbourhood. Putin offered bribes of $15 billion to persuade the government to renege on the EU agreement and reconfirm its Russian connections.

As we all know now, the citizens got angry and after three months of demonstrations, they have finally thrown out President Viktor Yanukovich and installed a caretaker government. Ukraine is broke; so, it has also asked the IMF and EU for a standby loan of $15 billion. Putin has retaliated by putting his troops and air force on a war alert basis. In addition, the autonomous region of Crimea, which is a part of Ukraine but with a continued Russian Naval presence in Sevastopol, is threatening secession. This is seen as a Putin move to dismember Ukraine. The eastern parts of Ukraine are Russian-speaking and may also demand separation if the instability continues.

Ukraine, with its location and its

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