AA Edit | Global uncertainty grows as Putin and Biden tussle

Mr Putin's caveats to Russia's treaty suspension may have dialled down more ominous sounding recent threats to use strategic nuclear weapons

An embryonic global contest between democracies and autocracies seems all too real after the Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden virtually went head-to-head in speeches delivered in Moscow and Kyiv-Warsaw, respectively. A new Cold War that may have begun a year ago when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, has taken on a new dimension with Mr Putin declaring that Russia has now suspended participation in the New START treaty (signed in 2010), the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and USA.

Mr Putin’s caveats to Russia’s treaty suspension may have dialled down more ominous sounding recent threats to use strategic nuclear weapons in Ukraine. But it is clear the Russian supremo is intent on playing hardball. While his defiant words are being seen more as a political declaration than a military one, he is ending the age of compliance and mutual inspections of nuclear weapons. There may be no controls left on a new nuclear arms race, which may have more likely participants in China, Iran and North Korea.

Trust among the three superpowers, already thin, may have become non-existent as Russia proposes to keep the war on Ukraine going at any cost and China signalling its support to Moscow by sending its top emissary even as Mr Putin was delivering his delayed annual state-of-the-nation speech. Not since the Cold War of the 1950s could there have been such conflicted views and opposing narratives on the political plane, made worse by the fact that Mr Putin had the effrontery to blame the West for starting the war in Ukraine saying Russia had to invade in self-defence. So risible is the claim that even a submissive Russian domestic audience may find it hard to swallow.

Buried amid more thoughts aired on western conspiracies was Mr Putin’s resolve to keep the war going to an extent that Western determination to stand in defence of democracy may weaken, as signs emerged of it even during the Munich security conference among Ukraine’s allies. The world knows who started the war which is nowhere near an end. And if the stalemate on the ground continues despite a renewed offensive in which Russia may have had a solitary victory already in the retaking of Bakhmut, neither side may be able to even come to the table.

A lust for land and power marks one side of this superpower tussle while the other scrambles for unity in the face of sustained challenges, most of all in the invasion of Ukraine. With Mr Putin so willing to sacrifice soldiers and mortgage Russia’s future to achieve what he can towards his dream, the West would have to sustain support with arms, which amounted to more than $120 bn worth in a year, and humanitarian aid, just as Ukraine battles towards reclaiming territory after losing control over nearly one quarter of its land.

It is the fear of a direct confrontation that has kept the West from giving Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the fighter jets he has been seeking. There is little India has been able to contribute towards finding an end to the war though the situation did allow India to assert its strategic autonomy and freely draw on Russian oil that has helped keep inflation from fuel in check. The latest twist in direct exchange of barbs between Russia and the US has, however, brought the world ever so close to a doomsday scenario.

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