by Kumar David
Revolting devastation and human suffering in this war is borne by Ukraine but profound changes will come in Russia. The overpowering player in the medium term will be China. Deeply significant will be the long-term alterations of global political-economy. Do I have ballpark notions of the three periods? Well let me stick my thumb in the air and say one, five and 10+ years, respectively. The war, Putin’s blackeye, dogged Ukrainian resistance, sanctions, refugees and the determination of Western capitalism and public opinion are the topics of conversation. The glorious democracy Germany will prosecute those who support Russia in public. The ultra-right-wing Economist of March 27 carries a lurid outburst of hatred and insinuation unsupported by evidence against Putin baked into three pages of venom (“Greyness, greed and grievance”). No attention is paid by intellectually handicapped Western media and “scholarship” to how the world will alter down the road.
Were you to call the deeply religious Christian-Orthodox Vladimir Putin (VP) a reincarnation of Vlad the Impaler, who am I to disagree? There will paradoxically however, be unintended benefits for the Russian economy, people and state. The opprobrium that VP has brought upon himself is the least of my concerns. What has he to show for reducing Mariupol to rubble, five million refugees, exposing his military as incompetent and its toolkit rusted, a 4,000-long sanctions list (the harshest ever) and confiscation of Russia’s external assets by new-imperialism? Thousands of civilian deaths, maybe ten to twenty thousand soldiers as well. OK, it’s true that after this clobbering Ukraine will never join NATO, but this VP could have achieved by craft, diplomacy and threat. Six-gun Putin knows nought of the finesse of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. So here’s my first punch-line: The bitter-sweet truth is that Russia for its economic survival has nowhere to turn but to China (unless sanctions are lifted). That’s point-one in my three-pronged hypothesis.
[For a different assessment of Putin’s military objectives visit two URLs supplied at the end of this article #]
My second point is that the reign of the bloodsucking oligarchs, much wider than VP’s yacht sharing, dacha inhabiting buddies, who bled, robbed and corrupted Russia since America (and MIT) rigged its economic system in the Yeltsin years, is finished. The corrupt deals that made Roman Abramovich (Chelsea football club owner) a fortune is just one of many examples. After buying oil company Sibneft from the Russian government in a rigged auction in 1995 for $250m, he sold it back to the government for $13bn in 2005. (He magically materialised at the negotiations a few days ago; VP’s Rasputin?)! The list of bloodsucking oligarchs is long and sickening. The post-Putin era, irrespective of whether VP is kicked out in a palace coup, weakened or brought under supervision, will see transformations of economy, state and polity. Economic-power relationships will go upside down. Will political power be less dictatorial? Too much to hope for?
Russia has no choice; it has no fall back but China. This is a lesson for life even after sanctions are lifted. True only 3% of current Chinese exports are Russia-bound, the US and EU take about 15% each and the “developing” world 55%. This 3% may jump to 10% as sanctions bite and Russia struggles for consumer durables, chips, tech-stuff, luxury brands, Kentucky Fries and Big Macs. As Western investors of all complexion flee, Chinese equivalents can fill the gap. China will however will be wary of risking secondary sanctions for a small market and for a broke customer who will need to buy on tick initially. What the Chinese will eye are natural resources; Russia is the world’s resource-richest ($75 trillion) country, ahead of the US ($45 trillion) and China ($25 trillion). Its resource rankings are as follows timber (1; its forest area exceeds Brazil’s), coal (2), gas (2), minerals (2), oil (3) and gold (3). Though in land area it is the largest of any country, arable land is only 7.5% of all land due to the harsh climate, hence it comes third behind India (57 % of all land is cultivated) and the US (17% cultivated) in total hectares of cultivated land.
Resource-wise this is El Dorado for the exploding Chinese economic engine seeking global investment opportunities. Young educated manpower and technological sophistication put Russia leagues ahead of basket-cases Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The best part of the multibillion-dollar Sino-European railway passes through Russia. The needs of broke and broken Russia with quality manpower and potential resource benefits for ambitious China fit like hand and glove. Political-economic logic and its consummation are nevertheless, many pitfalls apart. But the contours of what may be viable within a year or two of the ending of hostilities in Ukraine are visible.
The Ukraine war has snapped shut the Thucydides Trap enmeshing Western neo-imperialism and China with unexpected suddenness. It was always there, always threatening, often taking a bite here and there; the ban on Huawei, charges of intellectual property theft and sanctions on individuals were signs. Upending Russia, isolating it from global financial and trade make it stark that this is China’s future when the Trap is fully sprung. Biden declares “NATO has never been so united”. German Fraus and their little kinder joyfully prepare to freeze for freedom (Really?). The Chinese have so far only been shocked into wakefulness, but who doesn’t see that the big match is yet to come; which Chinaman doesn’t feel in his bones that VP’s rout is a mere dress-rehearsal before politico-economic warfare against the real target? It is a last chance to pushback a China which has been gaining inexorably for three decades in economic clout and global influence. For neo-imperialism it is a final, a life or death encounter. But in a deeper sense it is not Putin, Biden, colourful clowns Britain’s BoJo or Ukrain’s Yellingsky that matter; they are puny catalysts. “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”. A realignment of the world has become unavoidable – the French Revolution, WW1, WW2 and the fall of the USSR have left so much unfinished clutter. All that I say in this essay I say cold-bloodedly without taking this side or that, as far as possible.
So my medium-term argument: It is in China’s economic and political interest to turn Russia into a resource-rich partner in a new world order even after sanctions are lifted. If you are thinking of a new Cold War you’ve got it wrong. In USSR-times that bloc plus China accounted for a mere 15% of global output. Today it’s more than 30% and growing; more if you include Vietnam, the five landlocked Central Asian -Stans, the socialist inclined governments of South America and “left” dictatorships Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. I am selecting countries which will readily do business with a presumptive Sino-Russian alliance. China is already the largest trading partner of over 100 countries, nevertheless it will be wary and play its cards carefully. Midgets (not Vietnam), consume peanuts, are miniscule markets, and mere dollops as economic partners. Russia of course can absorb $200 -300 billion in annual Chinese investment in mining, timber & land, infrastructure, tech-manufacturing-military, food processing and the service sector.
That was the third, global, last facet of my crystal-ball gazing: The longer-term two decades beyond the present. You may think me as wacky as Nostradamus but no matter, if you read up to this point you may as well persevere for one more para. The presumptive Sino-Russian Alliance espied here and others who cosy up to it, will constitute an assemblage more porous to cross-boundary economic flows and politically more elastic than the defunct Soviet Bloc of Cold War times. Political plasticity aside it will be porous in trade and investment. I envisage dollar-divested trade and investment, and as the group gains strength spurning neo-imperialist sanctions on each another. A new world has to be built; there’s no other way.
Aside from those named so far, potential collaborators are Iran (world’s largest gas reserves), India, South Africa, Nigeria, North Korea and perhaps at the margin Saudi Arabia (largest oil reserves) and some Gulf States. India, South Africa, the -Stans, North Korea and of course China abstained in the UN vote condemning Russia at the UN. The socialist-left and “left”-dictatorships voted with Russia. India is critical to securing the credibility of this ensemble and the key to that is Beijing. China will have to make boundary concessions to woo India away from QUAD and ease its security concerns. This oh dear is the fly in the ointment. The Chinese are said to be intelligent, but on territorial issues experience is entirely the opposite! Nationalists the world over are universal idiots. Oh, for a reincarnated Samuel Johnson.
# Two well-known American publications give a sharply different assessment of Putin’s war objectives:
BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7
It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.
The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’
It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.
At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.
However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.
The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.
There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”
The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.
Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.
What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.
In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.
However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.
Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.
Queen of Hearts
She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.
Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”
Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.
The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.
“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”
A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.
“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”
Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.
“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.
“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”
What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.
“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”
The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.
Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.
And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.
We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.
Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue
KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1
by Harshana Rambukwella
In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.
However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.
Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.
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