Russian missile and drone attacks on energy and other infrastructure means that large parts of Ukraine people are now living without light, water, or heating. This is becoming increasingly unbearable as the country begins to face temperatures below freezing.
|The Author is former Chief of Staff of a frontline Corps in the North East and a former helicopter pilot. He earlier headed the China & neighbourhood desk at the Defence Intelligence Agency. He retired in July 2020 and held the appointment of Addl DG Information Systems at Army HQ.|
Speaking to a gathering of foreign ministers in the Romanian capital Bucharest on November 29, 2022,the head of NATO Jens Stoltenberg warned that Vladimir Putin will ‘weaponise the winter’ in the coming months, forcing Ukrainians to ‘freeze or flee.’ Refugee protection systems in neighbouring countries are already under huge pressure. Millions have already fled Ukraine seeking safety. The UNHCR puts the figure of Ukrainians living elsewhere across Europe at nearly 8 million.
The accusations by the west that Russia is ‘weaponising the winter’ appears to be right. In a departure from the previous eight months of the war where large swathes of Ukraine including Kiev were largely left standing with Russia focussing on ‘liberating the Donbas region in a so called ‘special military operation,’ it has started vicious missile and drone attacks on energy and other infrastructure of major population centres including Kiev. Russian attacks mean that large parts of Ukraine people are now living without light, water, or heating. This is becoming increasingly unbearable as the country begins to face temperatures below freezing. So, the humanitarian concerns raised by the west is real. But was this situation avoidable? What caused the war, who is suffering from its consequences and who is benefitting gives us vital clues to better understand the unfolding humanitarian disaster.
Traces of explosives were found at the sites of September’s multiple leaks from the Nord Stream gas pipelines, confirming that the breaches were the result of sabotage
Let us go back a little in time to trace the current phase of the conflict. On September 26, just as Norway and Poland announced the opening of the Trans Baltic Pipeline, Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were damaged near the Danish Island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. Three separate pipeline breaches were apparent, essentially ruling out the possibility of a technical fault. In mid-November, Sweden’s prosecution authority said that traces of explosives were found at the sites of September’s multiple leaks from the Nord Stream gas pipelines, confirming that the breaches were the result of sabotage.It is surprising that multiple investigations into who is responsible is not giving any cohesive and concrete outcomes, though initially every western media outlet and leadership were quite certain that Russia had deliberately done it to freeze Europe.
Just like the missile attack in eastern Poland on November 15, 2022 which was outright blamed on Russia by the west. The Ukrainian President Zelensky even dared any one to prove that it could have been a Ukrainian missile. Now the incident is sought to be buried deep once it became quite clear from the debris that it was in fact a Ukrainian air defence missile. Since Poland is a NATO member, it is not inconceivable that the plan by Ukrainian leadership was to somehow draw NATO into the conflict by citing that now Russia has directly attacked a NATO member state, a recurring theme of Zelensky all these months.Ukraine is not a NATO member and hence the grouping is not bound by its resolution to defend it by direct deployment.
It is important to briefly recount for the readers what caused the war in the first place. Russia has been persistently opposed to the expansion of NATO. The NATO expanded in 1997 and again in 2004 to include former Communist countries despite Russian objections, becoming a 30-member block from 15 at the end of cold war.In response to the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych through the Maidan protests or the Revolution of Dignity sponsored by the west in February 2014, Russia seized and annexed the Crimea. Weeks later, Russia threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east.
The US has weaponised the Dollar as it is the reserve currency to impose sanctions on vast number of countries in the world without any UN mandate
Since 2014, Ukraine had veered sharply to embrace far-right foreign militias integrating them into its paramilitary forces. Most of these militias were earlier banned by the US Congress for their extreme views and methods almost identical to the murderous ISIS. However, the US also saw this as an instrument which can be weaponised to undermine Russia. Though not part of the NATO, Ukraine began to increasingly conduct on its soil multinational NATO joint exercises and received modern arms and munitions as a major NATO partner state.
In the days leading to Russian attack on February 24, 2022, the Ukrainian forces launched heavy artillery shelling in Donbas on February 16, 2022 in preparation for another major operation. On February 22, President Putin recognised the DPR and LPR and invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter on February 24, 2022 to launch special military operations on request of the newly recognised states. The rest is history, or let us say, a raging ongoing conflict that has left Ukraine largely devastated, resembling Iraq to an extent after the 2003 ‘Shock and Awe’ blitzkrieg by US on the false pretext of piling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It’s another matter that years of painstaking search by the IAEA inspectors found nothing of that sort.
Coming back to the weaponisation of winter, the current spate of missile attacks follows the October 8 attempt to blow the vital and prestigious 19 kms long bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia. The same day, Russia appointed a new Commander to lead all its forces in Ukraine. Sergei Surovikin, an Army General nicknamed General Armageddon who also oversees Russia’s Air Force, previously led Russian forces in Syria. As reputations go, Russia's intervention in Syria amounted to unconstrained bombing and attacks on civilian targets. General Surovikin oversaw that and was "clearly prepared to use whatever measures are necessary". Putin brought in a General who over 30 years or so has built this reputation of being "a brutal, very tough and unpleasant individual".
US LNG is being exported to Europe at five times the pre-conflict prices. More energy crisis means more benefits to US gas companies.
The US has weaponised the Dollar as it is the reserve currency to impose sanctions on vast number of countries in the world without any UN mandate. Thiseven though it delinked the Dollar from gold standard in 1971 in the face of its Vietnam war setbacks. It has ensured a snap in cheap Russian gas supply to Europe first through triggering a conflict and then ensuring a physical rupture of Nord Stream. US LNG is being exported to Europe at five times the pre-conflict prices. More energy crisis means more benefits to US gas companies and its allies like UAE and Qatar, at the cost of European de-industrialisation and their economies sliding into recession.
So, on the question of weaponisation of the winter, a legitimate question is – Qui Bono?