December 5, 2022

Russian intervention in Donbas will spur China

Given our national mentality, including vacating the Kailash Range, inability to brand China the aggressor and pleading for a 15th Corps Commander-level meeting in Eastern Ladakh, what will be our response if China executes the above actions? Will we muster guts to fire even our BrahMos missile, leaving aside proactive actions against China?

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

American historian William Blum, who had also worked in the US State Department, wrote in recent years, “Since 1945, the US has tried to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democratically elected; grossly interfered in elections in 30 countries; used chemical and biological weapons; and attempted to assassinate foreign leaders. In most cases, Britain has been a collaborator.” If that was not enough, General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, disclosed in 2007, that in 2001 the US had already decided to take out Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran in the next five years.

Readers can appreciate what happened in these countries – Iraq was invaded on the false pretext of Saddam Hussein developing nuclear weapons albeit the US got bogged down in Syria because of Russia. To add to this is the US occupation of Afghanistan and shameful retreat after 20 years, handing over the country to the Taliban, which is the second deadliest terrorist group in the world, as reported by Forbes. So it is amusing to see US-NATO crying foul for the Russian intervention in Ukraine.   

Why Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has intervened in Donbas region of Ukraine now is because the US and NATO did not keep the promise made at the time of breakup of the Soviet Union that NATO will not expand east of Germany. In 2014, Ukraine shut off the fresh water from the North Crimean Canal to Crimea. Besides, Ukraine imposed martial law on all 10 border regions around the Azov Sea. A number of American scholars and theorists had said the expansion of NATO would be counterproductive but successive US administrations ignored it. This is what has caught up now with the US and NATO with NATO deployments in Eastern Europe and militarizing Ukraine – supplying arms and deploying Special Forces.

Russian intervention is to demilitarise Ukraine and secure the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) who recently declared independence and called for Russian assistance. The AUKUS countries (Australia, Britain, Japan and the US) have announced sanctions against Russia, DPR and LPR. The US and EU have threatened Russia with the “harshest” sanctions, but of these being levied on Russia would mean prolonging the Ukraine crisis – with a blow back on the world economy, including the US and Europe.

Iraq was invaded on the false pretext of Saddam Hussein developing nuclear weapons albeit the US got bogged down in Syria because of Russia. To add to this is the US occupation of Afghanistan and shameful retreat after 20 years, handing over the country to the Taliban, which is the second deadliest terrorist group in the world, as reported by Forbes. So it is amusing to see US-NATO crying foul for the Russian intervention in Ukraine

Russia was exercising with nuclear weapons before the intervention in Ukraine and President Putin had said, “Weapons without parallel in the world are being put on combat duty. This may include hypersonic missiles – both nuclear and non-nuclear.” While the Russian intervention is underway, Russia has struck Ukrainian air bases and rendered Ukraine air defence ineffective.

If NATO intervenes militarily, Russia will not hesitate to hit back the concerned capitals – London, Bonn, Canberra or any other. Putin has obviously taken into account the “harsh” sanctions. These would have been discussed in Putin’s Summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 4, where Russia also signed deals to export more gas to China.

What will China learn from the US-NATO response to Russian intervention in Ukraine? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week had flagged the risk for Taiwan about the damaging worldwide consequences if Western nations failed to fulfill their promises to support Ukraine’s independence. Following this, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called for beef up vigilance on military activities in response to the crisis on February 23. China’s immediate response was through its foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissing any link between the issues of Ukraine and Taiwan, said, “Taiwan is not Ukraine. Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact. The issue of Taiwan is one left over from the civil war, but China’s integrity should never have been compromised and never has been compromised.”

Undoubtedly, the response to the Chinese invasion of Taiwan would have been war-gamed hundreds of times by Taiwan as well as the US. But the simple question is that will the response be restricted to forces at sea and air or in Taiwanese territory – which is hardly possible? So, if the US-AUKUS are to engage targets on mainland China; are the US-AUKUS countries prepared for missile attacks on their own territory. Here it is not a question of capability but the will to strike and capacity-cum-will to absorb casualties. A country like China that has suffered millions killed during the communist and cultural revolutions will have no compunctions about the number of casualties it suffers. China and Russia would be too happy to rub America’s nose in the mud once for all. Having successfully run the Winter Olympics in Beijing despite the superficial diplomatic boycotts, it would be no surprise if XI Jinping attacks Taiwan in the near future. 

Russian intervention is to demilitarise Ukraine and secure the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) who recently declared independence and called for Russian assistance. The AUKUS countries (Australia, Britain, Japan and the US) have announced sanctions against Russia, DPR and LPR. The US and EU have threatened Russia with the “harshest” sanctions, but of these being levied on Russia would mean prolonging the Ukraine crisis – with a blow back on the world economy, including the US and Europe

This brings us to India which is submerged in election fever and says we are ready for any eventuality. Discussing his recent book ‘Contested Lands: India, China, and the Boundary Dispute’ in a video clip, well known media commentator on global, military and security issues Maroof Raza said that India will give a bloody nose to China in future conflict. However, he qualified this by saying that if China uses cyber and space, then we are in trouble. But this is exactly what China will do not only during conflict but as a prelude to conflict. Unfortunately, we have failed to acknowledge the full import of the PLA’s Strategic Support Force which is designed to undertake cyber-cum-electromagnetic attacks to kill the enemy communications, surveillance and air defence. China considers India a US ally and making PLA’s Qi Fabao, who had fought at Galwan in June 2020, one of the torchbearers for the Olympic flame for the Winter Olympics beginning in Beijing from February 4 was a deliberate snub to India.

China has been continuously cyber attacking India especially critical infrastructure after its invasion in Eastern Ladakh in May-June 2020. The suspected cyber attack crippling the management information system of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Container Terminal (JNPCT) in Mumbai during February 2022 was obviously China’s doing.      

It will be prudent for India to expect short intense Chinese thrusts after rendering our communications, surveillance and air defence ineffective. China’s aim in Ladakh would be to capture the Pangong Tso (especially taking full control of its north bank) and Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) including the airstrip. In the Central Sector, it could be the Barahoti area in Uttarakhand to gain a height. China claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet and has been periodically intruding into the region. According to China specialist, Professor Srikanth Kondapalli, China   gradually began constructing settlements to reinforce its claims in the region.

In his article titled ‘Since July 2017, China has been aiming to set up 628 ‘well-off’ society villages all across Tibet border areas’ published on November 23 last year Kondapalli wrote, “Despite interest differentials between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson’s position and that of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) comments on territorial dispute resolution and the Line of Actual Control (LAC), respectively, there has been no response from the government.” He also refers to the Chinese village at Metok, bordering the Upper Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh, where it also intends to build one of the largest hydroelectricity dams in the world across the Yarlong Zangbo river, which becomes the Brahmaputra.

What will China learn from the US-NATO response to Russian intervention in Ukraine? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week had flagged the risk for Taiwan about the damaging worldwide consequences if Western nations failed to fulfill their promises to support Ukraine’s independence. Following this, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called for beef up vigilance on military activities in response to the crisis on February 23.

China would want to create a Kargil-like situation in Arunachal Pradesh given the infrastructure superiority it enjoys, Concurrently, China would like to capture the Jhampari Ridge in Bhutan to turn the Indian defences in Sikkim, and lean on to the Siliguri Corridor to pressure India. The usual line is that our military is aware of all this and is prepared. But the bottom-line is that we are a reactive nation. Only recently, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar has mustered the guts to acknowledge that China has violated the LAC and Army Chief Gen MM Naravane mentioned “intrusions” by Chinese, while past several months Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained no one entered Indian territory and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that we have “not lost even an inch of territory”.

The fact is that China has shifted the LAC even west of its 1959 claim line and we have lost control of some 1000 sq km of our territory to the PLA since May-June 2020. In mountains the winner is who takes the initiative – which will always be China. But given our national mentality, including vacating the Kailash Range, inability to brand China the aggressor and pleading for a 15th Corps Commander-level meeting in Eastern Ladakh, what will be our response if China executes the above actions? Will we muster guts to fire even our BrahMos missile, leaving aside proactive actions against China?

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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