With some input from a key central government official who wishes to remain anonymous.
Success begets envy, envy begets hatred. When we hate our neighbor who got rich, we often spend our time bemoaning that he got rich with his wrongful ways, sometimes we complain that it was our advice that got them rich but they do not acknowledge it. This is extremely true about western world. I am using the word “western” to include Japan, South Korea and Australia as well despite being geographically east but aligned with western values.
For last 100+ years western societies have been the engine of human society. Their success is not just in their material prosperity but their ability to actually create a decent, livable society that offers more freedom, peace and high quality of life. No one wants to immigrate to Russia or China, they all want to go to Europe or USA.
The sheer rate of innovation and industry in the western societies have uplifted all boats. Somalian society might not have done much to invent a smartphone but they benefit from it nonetheless. So while people often complain about western world’s racism, colonial past and other stratagems which without doubt are evil, they often forget how big the force for good the western society has been in general.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not a small minor conflict. It has immense implications for the world. It is fundamental clash between two systems which Nissim Nicholas Taleb has written so succinctly about.
Western’s society’s greatest achievement is not technology but rather their ability to organize society around few principles, reconcile differences and create an environment were co-operation pays lot more than conflict. Now, western societies might appear racist, riddles with many problems but as an Indian we can only feel astonished at how fast and efficiently their courts work, how disciplined is traffic and how clean are the streets. Contracts are honored not just because of fear of law, but that is often the best way to conduct business.
This is not to say these societies don’t have problems. There are plenty, and progress around those problems is slow, but once that progress happens the change is nearly permanent. Voting rights of blacks and women are not being taken away, slavery is not returning and prohibition isn’t coming back.
People are quick to point out that a country like UK stole a lot of wealth from its colonies like India. This is true. But that does not explain UK’s wealth today. No one denies that Indian court system is completely broken beyond repair. Now, colonialism is not the reason for it. In fact the court system was significantly better in the colonial days. If we have two societies where everything is equal, but one of them has dysfunctional court system while other has an efficient legal system, it is almost given that the latter will prosper at faster rate. Courts is a just a simple example. We can go into many other areas such as urban planning, university education, criminal law, free speech, etc. etc. where British could not have stolen it from us, instead by all accounts Indians did better along those fields under British but field miserable as a free society. These might appear like small achievements but they are really not. They matter.
Ukraine’s desire to join these rather more successful order is what got Russia all riled up. It is obvious that the best way any country can get rich and prosperous today is by engaging in extensive trade with Europe and USA. Even in the middle of the war the only thing worth value Russia is able to produce is Oil and Gas, which is being extracted using European and American technology and sold to Europe. Russia is unable to produce anything else of significant value and is totally dependent on Europe for its modest $1T economy. Russia is immensely backward in that sense despite being an old civilization.
Ukrainians saw that. They wanted to be part of EU and NATO. Now, EU is a red tape maze. Large countries like Germany or UK who have already solved key law and order problems don’t benefit much from EU. But smaller and backward countries like Ukraine benefit immensely. EU brings in law and order, legal legwork, trade policies which despite being suboptimal are actually far better than anything a country like Ukraine has today. It would have totally changed Ukrainian prospects.
A prospering Ukraine would have shown Russians how backward they really are. It would have become a glorious example of Russian failure and backwardness. For Russia to feel good it is important that the nations around it remain backward too. Or even more backward that Russia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has nothing to do with the phony reasons like NATO expansion or nazism or any secret conspiracy by NATO to overthrow Putin. It is plain fear in hear of Putin that, if Ukraine joins NATO or EU others might follow suite and then no one will fear Russia and him.
Russian model is not the rules based model of west. Their model is basically centrally controlled stalinist power structure where handful of few exploit everyone else to benefit personally. This model does not rely on constitution or rule of law but relies on fear and threats. The mafia boss instills a fear in the hears of the peasants who pay up.
But in the end institutions defeat individuals. Western societies are extremely resilient. They can continue this fight in the middle of an election cycle while doing 15 other things. While Russia right now is all geared up for a war with a country 1/6th their size and far smaller military.
As Taleb points out :
The interest of the Western world is that it is a multicephalous model, made of contracts that allows regional autonomy under global coordination; Russia is an autocephalous system, which thinks only in a balance of power. Look at the West: is there a center? No. If there were one, moreover, he would be in Kiev today. And if you want to destroy the West, how many bombs do you need? If you destroy Washington, London and Paris will remain. But if you destroy the palace where Putin is, it’s something else.If you give Putin even one finger, he will have won the war. Russia’s leadership must therefore be humiliated, and the only way is for it to retreat. We need a repetition of the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. In this case, Putin will be overthrown from the inside, because, historically, people who accept autocracies do not like the weak. A weak Putin is no longer Putin — just as a nice, tactful, and thoughtful Trump would no longer be Trump. For this to continue, it takes a lot of suckers to keep feeding the narrative — and if the suckers begin to doubt the story, it will be the beginning of the end.
I am coming now to the central theme of my article. India might think that is is neutral in this war but neutrality is nothing but tacit support for Russia. India is at important crossroad not just in the context of war but also in terms of the direction the country needs to take.
For too long India has failed to see the superiority of the western system. Burnt with colonialism India has natural (and justified) suspicion of the west. But that suspicion turned into a phony fake narrative of non existent Indian greatness and Indians became dismissive of what were genuinely good insights from western success.
India which ended up into bottomless pit of extreme poverty after independence has seen hope only after it started trading extensively with west. Indians embraced the west in every possible way. From dressing to entertainment, from language to sports, average Indian is much more informed about what happens in USA than what is happening in his Municipal corporation. But all that also comes with constant west bashing which borders on envy.
Nothing succeeds like success and if India has to succeed it must learn from its mistakes of past, carefully study the west and copy what works and shun what does not. What won’t work is the delusion of grandeur that India is the vishwaguru who has already solved all the problems but only forgot to implement them.
India needs essentially an Indian equivalent of Meiji restoration. Until 1854 Japan refused to even trade with outsiders. Japanese were deeply xeonophobic. Attempts by Americans and the Dutch had failed to convince Japan otherwise. This constant refusal to trade left Japan much weaker and poorer which eventually started reflecting in their reduced military ability. In 1854, American naval warships showed up in Japan and the military government of Japan called Bakufu had not option but to sign treaty.
All this would have resulted into Japan becoming a colony but it did not. The reason is Meiji rule. The new government figured out that the country needs to get rich and one way to get rich is by doing what the richest nation in the world is doing. That was England. It meant creating a constitutional government for entire nation, engaging in technology to improve material prosperity and then build strong military for national defense.
Meiji sent people all around the world and invited people from England and USA to come to Japan for trade and share technology. This not only helped Japan achieve its objectives but also destroyed colonial aspirations as Japan was so willingly trading with western world.
It was believed that the West depended on constitutionalism for national unity, on industrialization for material strength, and on a well-trained military for national security. “Fukoku kyōhei” (“Enrich the country, strengthen the military”) became the Meiji slogan. Knowledge was to be sought in the West, the goodwill of which was essential for revising the unequal treaties. In 1871 Iwakura Tomomi led a large number of government officials on a mission to the United States and Europe. Their experiences strengthened convictions already formed on the requisites for modernization.