Russia Nato
The potential for direct confrontation between Russia and the Nato alliance has increased Image Credit: Gulf News

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that his country hoped President Vladimir Putin would de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine.

However, at his meeting in Germany with the rest of Nato ministers, he appeared determined, just like his western allies, to defeat Russia at all costs. Germany was thus forced to send anti-aircraft tanks directly to Ukraine in a major shift in long-held policy of refraining from supplying heavy weapons to a conflict zone.

Just a day before the Nato meeting, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his governing alliance rejected the idea. But it seems the US pressure was overwhelming as Washington seeks to ‘weaken’ Russia and “make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbours.” Austin vowed to move “heaven and earth” to ensure that Russia is defeated — hardly a de-escalating gesture. Scholz’ critics are right, the German move will escalate the war.

The UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took a more hawkish attitude on Wednesday, drawing in a foreign policy speech from Cold War era vocabulary. The ‘free world’ must defeat Russia, her message was, otherwise, “there will be untold further misery across Europe and terrible consequences across the globe ... We would never feel safe again.”

In retaliation for the increasingly harsh tone by the US-led Nato alliance, Moscow took the rhetoric a level up. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying on Monday that there was a “serious and real” risk of World War Three. With the United Nations unable to intervene, as its Secretary General made it clear on Tuesday, the chances for escalation seem high at the moment, especially with the capture of Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol.

Militarily, the Russian offensive seems to be going nowhere. All the efforts to capture territory have so far been rebuffed. Going into its third month, the war can be best described as a stalemate. But on the humanitarian side, it has been catastrophic. According to the UN, more than 11 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine since Feb. 24 — 5.1 million fled to neighbouring countries while 6.5 million are believed to be displaced inside Ukraine.

On the economic level, the war is hurting in a significant way the fragile recovery of the global economy post Covid-19, especially in the developing world, the World Trade Organisation said it in its latest Trade Forecast 2022-2023. The WTO has downgraded expectations for 2022 trade growth from 4.7 per cent to 3 per cent. The conflict, with the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the west on Russia, has led to skyrocketing of commodity prices and disruption in supplies of essential goods.

Instead of mitigating the risk of escalation and pushing for peace, the latest moves by both Russia and the US-led Nato are clearly aimed at not only prolonging the conflict but also widening its scope. It is going to be a long summer, unfortunately.