For those familiar with international affairs, the Cuban missile crisis was a major confrontation in October, 1962 that brought the United States of America (USA) and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union), close to war over the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba. That tiny island then ruled by a fire-eating communist, Fidel Castro, America’s albatross in the Caribbean, is about 100 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, USA. The crisis was a direct and dangerous confrontation between the two countries during the Cold War and was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict.
The national security implication of the Soviets stationing nuclear weapons at its backyard was not lost on the then US President, Late John Kennedy, who engaged his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev diplomatically, against military advice and, in the process, averted what would have been a thermonuclear war that could also have doomed the world.
A similar scenario is playing out now as Russian President, Vladimir Putin, prepares to invade Ukraine. He keeps denying it. He got away with the annexation of Crimea. He believes he can get away with Ukraine also. But the heat that thinking at the Kremlin is generating not only in the White House but also across Europe is proof that if wrongly managed, will bring back memories of 1962. The only difference is that the present situation lacks statesmen like Kennedy and Khrushchev.
The crux of the matter is Ukraine’s plan to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Should that happen, that multinational organisation will most likely station strategic weapons there. Russia believes, rightly, that such a move is not in its strategic national security interest and would not allow it. Already, they are mobilising troops and other logistics along its borders with Ukraine as well as in Belarus in readiness for the invasion.
Putin’s plan is to install a government that is more friendly to Moscow. But the Western world think differently. The Russian leader’s plan is perceived as an effort to rebuild the defunct Soviet bloc and that is why countries like Poland are jittery and doing what they can to help the beleaguered Ukraine.
Again, why the West will not allow Putin to have his way in this instance is that it may encourage China, an ally of Russia, that has continued to see Taiwan as one of its provinces and is prepared to forcefully bring that Island country back to the fold. Otherwise, what is America’s Navy doing in South China Sea?
As the diplomatic processes linger with France and Germany in the driver’s seat, US is threatening sanctions which Ukraine perceives as an unhelpful medicine after death. And to further exacerbate the tension in Kiev, major western countries are sending home non-essential staff at their embassies. Worse, Western Europe is not speaking with one voice. Countries like Germany gets most of its gas supplies from Russia and is reluctant to jeopardise the supply of that essential resource because of the likely negative effect on its economy. France is cautious because President Emmanuel Macron is soon to run for re-election.
Ukraine on its part is warning that any deal between NATO countries either as a unit or separately must have Ukraine’s input or it will not be binding on her. That country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, made it clear to Washington and Brussels (NATO Headquarters) that Ukraine will not accept any concessions entered into behind its back.
In the opinion of this newspaper, it is unlikely that Russia really wants to invade Ukraine as damaging to her economy and international standing as that could be. Just like in the Cuban missile crisis when USA withdrew its strategic installations in Turkey in exchange for Soviets dismantling their missile installations in Cuba, Russians, this time, want some concessions like Ukraine discontinuing her talks to join NATO. The Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov told journalists that much in Moscow “The main issue is our clear position on the inadmissibility of further expansion of NATO to the East and the deployment of strike weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The U.S. and the Western alliance firmly rejected any concessions on Moscow’s main points, refusing to permanently ban Ukraine from joining NATO and saying allied deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe are non-negotiable.
These are hardline positions that are not helping efforts to de-escalate the tension. So far, Russia has deployed close to 100,000 troops on its borders with Ukraine. On the other hand, the US has put around 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment in Eastern Europe as part of a NATO response force. Britain has come forward and helped Ukraine with short-range anti-tank missiles, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have offered support with US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.
To any keen observer of international issues, that country has unwittingly become a board for international chess game. Ukrainians are not amused. No country in their shoes should be.
On our part, we call for restraint and a softening of positions. The world powers must necessarily come to some agreement before someone presses the wrong button.