The View From Asia

Russia's dangerous annexation rattles Asia

Asia News Network writers share their concerns on the sharp escalation in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Here are excerpts.

The Russian flag at the Russian Defence Ministry building in Moscow, on Oct 11, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Is World War III coming?


The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo needs to redouble his efforts in his capacity as president of the Group of 20 leaders to find a graceful exit from the war in Ukraine.

Jokowi can no longer pursue the economic agenda of the G20 summit he will host next month without doing anything to deescalate the eight-month-old conflict.

President Jokowi should accept the likelihood of the Ukraine war disrupting the whole agenda of the Bali summit, given the real danger the confrontation is posing to Europe and the world.

The possible deployment of nuclear weapons can no longer be ruled out as indicated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As reported by TIME, Putin warned last month that "If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without a doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people," he said in a nationally televised speech.

"This is not a bluff," Putin repeated his threat earlier this month.

United States President Joe Biden responded that Putin was "not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons".

The recent demolition of the bridge that connects Crimea and Russia, the consecutive defeats of Russia's military in its occupied territories of Ukraine and the rising opposition in Russia to the war could prompt a desperate Putin to hit the nuclear button to force Ukraine into capitulation.

The consequences of such miscalculation are far-reaching, as the whole world will suffer.

Russia is believed to possess 6,257 nuclear warheads, while the US 5,500.

Many analysts believe no nuclear weapon state dares to start a nuclear war, although the threats of any use of weapons of mass destruction persist.

This week Russia launched the biggest air strikes since its invasion in February and its forces bombarded vital objects and major cities in Ukraine to retaliate against the humiliating bombardment of the bridge that disrupted an important supply line for Russian troops.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for more arms supplies from the West to defend the nation from the assaults.

It seems that as the war protracts, so do the disruptions in the global supply chain, adding more woes to the world's ailing economy.

We call on President Jokowi, if necessary, to repeat his shuttle diplomacy to Moscow, Kyiv, and to members of the G7 countries as he did in June.

We should not entrust the problem-solving efforts only to NATO, the European Union and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

On his first trip to Moscow, President Jokowi took a clear distance from the conflict between Russia against Ukraine.

But this time around, he needs to talk more openly and straight to the point that the war will damage not only Putin's credibility at home and abroad, but also puts at risk all of mankind.

If the war rages on, no one will emerge as the winner. All will concede defeat, with Putin the biggest loser because of the damage his expansionist will has done to his world reputation.

We call on President Jokowi to play a part in the global mission to bring peace back and to spare this universe from a World War III.

Russia must not be allowed to steal another country's territory


The Japan News, Japan

The "referendums" under Russian military occupation are nothing but a farce. The fabricated results have no legitimacy.

Russia's move to annex Ukrainian territory based on a popular opinion that does not exist is an obvious violation of international law and an act of aggression.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the process of unilaterally annexing four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine into Russia. Putin has signed documents on the annexation with pro-Russian representatives from the four regions, which are to be ratified by the Russian parliament.

Moscow is basing the annexations on "referendums" held by pro-Russian administrators in areas under Russian control in the four regions. Although it has been claimed that 90% of residents voted in favor of annexation, no semblance of democratic elections was held.

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continues in the four regions, and many residents have fled from the areas. Voting took place only in areas controlled by pro-Russian administrators.

It has also become clear that armed soldiers accompanied election officials door-to-door to force people to vote. There was no transparency in the ballot counting process. It was the same kind of "yes-is-your-only-choice" election that took place when Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014.

If such actions are allowed to go unchecked, cases of major powers annexing other countries' territories based on fake referendums could become rampant. "Any annexation of a state's territory by another state … is a violation of the principles of the U.N. Charter," U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, condemning Russia. "It flouts the purposes and principles of the United Nations."

The international community has to reaffirm the principle of respect for sovereignty and territory on such occasions as the U.N. General Assembly and make clear that it rejects Putin's delusions such as that the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine historically belong to Russia.

One of the reasons for Putin's haste to expedite the annexation process is that Russia is struggling against a Ukrainian counteroffensive. By declaring the regions Russian territory, Putin probably hopes to put a stop to the Ukrainian military offensive, and U.S. and European military support for Ukraine.

Unlike at the time of the annexation of Crimea, however, there is no sign of a heightened celebratory mood in Russia. People trying to escape mobilization are flooding into border areas, causing widespread unrest and anxiety. The annexation can never be described as a "war achievement."

It is obvious that many Russians do not find the current situation desirable. If the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, opposition to Putin will grow stronger and his footing will be shaken.

It is not surprising that the United States, Europe and Japan have taken the position of not recognizing any of Russia's claims. The act of a major power taking another country's territory by force is a challenge to the entire international community. More countries must extend support to Ukraine and impose sanctions against Russia.

India must review its stance on Russia

Harsha Kakar

The Statesman, India

Prime Minister Modi spoke to Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, last week and reiterated his call for peace and dialogue. The Indian foreign ministry stated, "He (PM Modi) expressed his firm conviction that there can be no military solution to the conflict and conveyed India's readiness to contribute to any peace efforts." Zelensky responded by stating that there would be no talks with Vladimir Putin, though not ruling out dialogue with Russia under an alternate leadership.

This conversation came as nuclear facilities in Ukraine remain under threat, with battles waging in their proximity, Putin's partial mobilization, the annexation of 'four new regions of Ukraine (Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson) based on a 'referendum' and his threat of use of nuclear weapons in case the West does not stop backing Kyiv. The partial damage to the Crimean bridge has opened a new challenge for Russia. The nuclear threat was announced post-annexation, as these territories are now under Moscow. Defending them is a Russian responsibility and as per Putin, they are authorized to use all military means at their disposal for their defence. The Russian annexation has been globally condemned.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated, "Any annexation of a State's territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter." It could set a precedent for stronger states forcibly occupying the territory of weaker states. The annexation announced by Russia includes territory still not under its control. India, alongside China, Brazil and Gabon abstained from voting in the UNSC resolution against the Russian referendum and annexation. By doing so, India indirectly backed the use of force for the occupation of territory along demarcated borders, irrespective of Russian justification. Russia, as was expected, vetoed the resolution.

India has reiterated its stance of resolution through dialogue and diplomacy, rather than war. Zelensky has signed a decree banning talks with Putin, which defines the future Ukrainian approach. It is an accepted fact that Washington and London scuttled the Istanbul agreement which could have resulted in peace, as the US saw this as an opportunity to engage Russia in a proxy war. In Russia, Putin continues to retain power, despite setbacks in the war zone. The Ukrainian scenario could worsen in case the US announces some form of nuclear backing to Ukraine or inducts it into Nato. In case Moscow loses further ground in Ukraine it may commence targeting civilian populations enhancing the scope of the conflict.

The world appreciated the Indian approach as long as the conflict raged but with the annexation and threat of nuclear war, the Indian stance is questionable. Internally too, the government is being grilled on whether it backs forcible annexation along demarcated borders. India must reconsider its stand, despite its relations with Russia. Employing a nuclear weapon or not is secondary but threatening a non-nuclear state is against global norms.

A nuclear strike would damage Putin and Russia more, rather than proving advantageous, and if employed in the current battle zone could impact populations which voted for a merger with Russia or even Russian troops on the ground. With Europe not seeking an enlarged conflict and especially not a nuclear one, any Russian strike is unlikely to be responded to as Europe fears a nuclear holocaust. The West would only enhance sanctions or further back Ukraine. Indian silence on the nuclear threat is mysterious as its foreign ministry claims, "India continues to attach high priority to and remains committed to universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament." Historically nuclear weapons have been employed as a deterrent against an adversary.

Pakistan has effectively employed nuclear blackmail on numerous occasions against India including Kargil, offensive actions post the Parliament attack (Operation Parakram) and Mumbai blasts. Pakistan is possibly the only nuclear-powered nation which does not possess a 'no first use policy. With Putin making this announcement, Russia is also dumping its 'no-first-use policy. This is a wrong precedent, especially since it involves a nation which surrendered its nuclear weapons on global guarantees post the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many believe the Russians are bluffing. However, in case utilized, all nations will seek to acquire nuclear weapons as security. Thus, irrespective of Russian intent, this threat must be condemned by Delhi, as it could result in nuclear proliferation. The other aspect which necessitates an Indian review is Moscow's annexation of Ukrainian territories. This is a precedent which must never be permitted. Taiwan, islands in the South China Sea, claimed parts of Bhutan and Nepal or even Indian territory currently under its control, including Aksai Chin or Ladakh, could be annexed by China on a similar pretext.

China could also threaten the use of nuclear weapons against nations coming to the aid of Taiwan in case it decides to undertake a military approach. After all, countries seek precedents and Russia is providing them. The US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, rightly stated that the referendum was 'held behind the barrel of Russian guns,' and added, "All of us understand the implications for our own borders, our own economies and our own countries if these principles are tossed aside."

The Chinese sham elections in December last year in Hong Kong, under the barrel of a gun, to push through a pro-Beijing government is almost similar to the sham referendum. Russian annexation must face global criticism before it is considered a norm. China is currently hesitant due to US support for Taiwan as also nations with whom it is in a dispute over South China Sea islands. It fears it may fail and also invite global wrath. Thus, it has projected peaceful reunification with Taiwan, which appears unlikely.

At some stage, it may attempt a Russia-type invasion. India has thus far managed to keep the Chinese at bay. Russia's invasion of Ukraine including annexation and nuclear threats suit China. It would be observing the global reaction; hence it abstained from the UNSC, as it may, in future, contemplate a similar course. For India, legalising annexation by abstaining on the premise of a belief in dialogue is a wrong decision. While Delhi may advocate talks, it must condemn both the annexation and nuclear threats.

A dangerous turn in Russia-Ukraine war


The Daily Star, Bangladesh

We are deeply worried about the dramatic turn of the Russia-Ukraine war after Russia's annexation of four captured regions of Ukraine. According to media reports, President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed documents to formally begin the process of incorporating Russian-controlled Luhansk and parts of Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into the Russian Federation after a series of disputed referendums. It effectively provides Moscow a land bridge to Crimea, the peninsula that it annexed in 2014. While Crimea represented the first annexation in Europe since World War II, the latest move represents the biggest such annexation. Together, all five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukrainian territory.

While Crimea represented the first annexation in Europe since World War II, the latest move represents the biggest such annexation. Together, all five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukrainian territory.

We condemn the latest annexation and slow Russification of a sovereign country in the strongest terms. Altering borders with brute force is not just a clear violation of international law. It represents the height of absurdity of a war - now in its eighth month - that has proven to be detrimental to even faraway countries like Bangladesh. The disruptions caused by the war and the West's response to it - in the form of heavy banking, trade and commercial sanctions - led to unprecedented crises in the global supply chain. On the ground, countless people have been killed, injured and displaced. With the Ukrainian forces clawing back wins in recent weeks, and the mass mobilising of Russian forces as a result, along with the threat of using nuclear weapons, things are quickly becoming totally unmanageable.

The irony of the latest development is that Putin, at the annexation ceremony in Kremlin, slammed the colonial past of a "satanist" West. He said western colonies had carried out genocide, opium wars and plundered states. There is no disputing that. But does it justify his own "colonisation" project? He signalled his willingness to continue the battle for a "greater historical Russia", using whatever tools he had at his disposal. Ukraine as a sovereign nation must not be a victim of that battle. And the West, on its part, must ensure it does not contribute to it by escalating tensions to a point where such drastic actions find justification.

The West, so far, has been an active if unreliable third party in this war, its actions nearly having as much of an effect on the world as the two warring parties. Instead of trying to assuage tensions, it has been a provocateur at times. Its sanctions, aimed at the Russians and Russian interests, have instead caused suffering globally. Clearly, this strategy of aiding Ukraine militarily and punishing Russia economically is not having the desired effect, which only shows the importance of using more judicious means and solutions.

We urge the Russian authorities to refrain from their destructive pursuit in Ukraine, and the international community to prepare the ground for de-escalation of tensions. Nothing justifies continuing this war or any illegal takeover of occupied territories. We urge everyone to pursue peaceful and diplomatic solutions to end this war.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media titles.

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