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Broken bridges, Russian tanks trampling cars full of passengers, buildings destroyed by missile strikes, hospitals full of injured citizens, people sheltering everywhere, children crying, hundreds of dead bodies, and a photo of Kira Rudi, a female parliamentarian from Ukraine holding a Kalashnikov rifle, challenging Russia. There are a number of such reports coming from all over Ukraine, but President Volodymyr Zelensky knows that wars cannot be won by just emotion. That is why he appealed to the superpowers to intervene immediately. He said what is needed is immediate strategic help and nothing else. This helplessness of Zelensky is enough to show the destruction caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Almost a week has passed, but the global fraternity could not do anything as expected. Ukraine is the latest example of this bitter reality of how superpowers use small countries to fulfil their sinister ambitions.

I remember here a statement by the great philosopher and former president of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. When World War II ended, he gave three lectures at Kolkata and Banaras Hindu Universities where he said the world is fed up with the bloodshed of the two world wars. Our future is not going to witness such massacres, he said. The irony of our civilization is that it is driven by politicians, not by philosophers. Today, we may label Putin as the world’s biggest villain, but the US did the same by attacking countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan in the past. The very foundation of the attack on Iraq was built on lies. By the time the US returned from Iraq, the country was pushed into a vicious circle of starvation and misery. The US did the same in Afghanistan. When President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of his forces, the peace-loving Afghan people did not expect that the US would surrender in such a way to the Taliban. Once again, they are becoming victims of the tyrannical rule of the Taliban. In the post-World War II era, the US has bombed about 30 countries.

Who gave this right to the US?

Ever since he took office, Putin has been eyeing the ‘old glory’ of his country. He snatched Crimea from Ukraine, eight years ago. In 2008, he attacked Georgia. Even then, the US and the rhetorical did nothing. Once the great empress of Russia, Tsar Catherine, said we needed a window to the world. By ‘window’ she meant the port. She tore Poland to pieces for this. Is Putin pursuing a similar agenda? It would be naive to expect Russia to back down easily.

Putin has his own arguments to justify the war. By the time the Cold War ended in 1991, there were 16 countries in Nato. The number has now grown to 30. Russia considers this a violation of mutual consent. The Kremlin feels that its country is under siege. Would this issue be resolved by a war? I am not sure, since even after the biggest warfare, one has to finally sit at the negotiating table. Taking these historical lessons into account, why not begin a proper discussion right away? But how can this be accomplished? We live in a deluded world that is being run by dwarf politicians. They may be patriotic, but the world view and insight needed to run the world are not present with any politician in the present era. We already felt this during the deadly pandemic.

The peace-loving people of the world should, at such a juncture, put enough pressure on their governments that any defiant rulers of any superpower, could not muster the courage to do so. It is a matter of comfort that Putin himself is facing stiff resistance in his own country. In Moscow, in St. Petersburg and in other parts of Russia, citizens took out rallies, facing police batons and arrests. Sporadic protests also took place in Tokyo, London, New York, Jerusalem and many other countries. These are not enough. The same pattern of resistance should emerge globally as was witnessed in the Vietnam War. But there is a depressing silence in India on this matter. The day Russia started this one-sided war, I was in Prayagraj. I met students at University Road, wanted to know their opinion in this regard. I was disappointed that they did not hold any clear opinions. While talking to them, I remembered my old campus days, when we used to agitate on issues ranging from Vietnam to Tibet. Has the global consciousness of us Indians been paralyzed?

More than 20,000 Indians are currently stranded in Ukraine. The government is trying to bring them back at its own expense.

One more thing. Putin has knowingly or unknowingly strengthened China. Due to economic sanctions imposed on his country, much of that business will now take its route through China. Not only this, the attention of the world is also shifting from China to Russia. Of course, New Delhi will be keeping a close watch on the situation. It’s time to be careful.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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