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‘Destroy in order to save’ strategy figuring in Ukraine invasion

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A mother cries as she hugs her child in a corridor of a hospital in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Is the Russian noose tightening around Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv? This is one of the biggest posers in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, now well into its third week, that is crying out for an urgent answer.

Although the Russian invasion gives the impression of stalling somewhat on the immediate outskirts of Kyiv, the Ukrainian resistance would be naïve to blindly accept this largely Western assessment of Russian troop movements around the capital city. They would do well to act with an open mind on this question although there is no doubt that the Ukrainian side is offering doughty resistance to the invasion. Right now, it could be said that the Putin regime has lost the ‘hearts and minds’ battle. Not only is the Ukrainian side offering quite unexpected stiff resistance but there is an outpouring of empathy from the world’s democracies in particular for the ordinary citizenry of Ukraine. This factor, combined with the multifaceted support going Ukraine’s way from Western governments is rendering any expected dramatic progress by the invading forces doubly difficult to achieve. Yet, the resistance would need to remain strongly committed to its task, if it is to continue to register any sizeable political and military gains from its endeavours.

Nevertheless, the pounding from the air of Kyiv and some other major cities and targets in Ukraine continues. This is being done by Moscow with hardly a care apparently for civilian lives. This raises the question of whether the Putin regime too is hitting on the tried and failed military strategy of ‘destroying the city/village’ in order to ‘save’ it.

The strategy was tried out at great price to itself and civilians by the US way back in the Vietnam war, to name just one such storm centre of US military involvement in the South. The Soviets followed suit in Afghanistan hardly a decade later. Needless to say, this strategy of bombing civilian centres into submission in order to capture them resulted in the superpowers concerned opening up military quagmires for themselves in the countries of invasion.

It is far too early to say that the Putin regime has earned the same unenviable lot for itself in Ukraine but it would be a likely consequence if the Ukraine resistance continues with its stiff defense, with the West not backing down from its commitment to support it unfalteringly, particularly on the military plane. Apparently, sophisticated Western heavy weaponry supplied to the resistance is playing a major role right now in keeping the Russians at bay and the resistance would be gaining militarily and politically to the degree to which the invasion is stalled.

Once again, it is to that unequalled classic on guerrilla warfare, ‘The War of the Flea – Guerrilla Warfare, Theory and Practice’ (A Paladin Frogmore publication, 1970) by renowned Western journalist Robert Taber that one must turn to gain deeper insights into wars of the kind that are occurring in Ukraine. With regard to the US occupation of Vietnam in the sixties and early seventies Taber says in his introduction, among other things: ‘Vietnam is the perfect – and of course horrible – example. For to the extent that it has been possible to ‘save’ it, i.e. keep it from falling to the insurgent Viet Cong, it has been necessary to destroy it, to denude its green and fertile land with napalm and chemicals, to decimate its civilian population…’.

We are reminded on drinking deep of these perceptive observations on wars of invasion in the South, for example, that ‘the first draft of history’ is always written by resourceful journalists such as Taber and not by idea-mongering pundits. Even in the case of Ukraine, it is thanks to ‘unkept’ journalists that people the world over are coming by the truth.

Hopefully, the Russian side would come to the realization that it would be gaining almost nothing substantial in the long run from its military adventure in Ukraine. Even if it over-runs the latter, governing it would prove difficult on account of the fact that the majority of Ukrainian citizens would be against it. Already the more resourceful of Ukrainians are going in for combat training. Their ranks are reportedly being swelled by sympathizers from abroad, many of them war veterans. Their specific objective evidently is to form themselves into a guerrilla outfit which would take on the Russian forces in a prolonged guerrilla war, if necessary. In other words, a ‘War of the Flea’ is in the making.

A long-running guerrilla war would prove costly for the Russian centre in particularly the long term. It would need to brace for mounting casualties on its side, besides countenancing mounting unrest at home, stemming from the anti-war sentiment, which is sizeable. This would grow in tandem with rising economic grievances on the part of the Russian people, now that Western economic sanctions are beginning to bite. These developments and many more go to prove that in the long term it is the guerrillas who triumph. The patience of the ‘Flea’ would win out in the end against the mighty creature which is savaging it.

However, both sides are likely to suffer prohibitive costs, human and material, in the interim. This too is a lesson of modern political history. Right now, a willingness by both sides to work out a mutually-acceptable political solution to the conflict is the ideal turn events could take.

Fortunately, Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskyy is on record as stating that Ukraine cannot join NATO. This has been the Putin regime’s obsessive worry so far. The invasion apparently was launched as a preemptive move against Ukraine going in for NATO membership.

However, this position by the Ukraine leader is likely to have been a pragmatic initiative aimed at de-escalating current hostilities in consideration of the mounting human suffering they are incurring. It does not rule out the possibility of Ukraine initiating fresh moves for NATO membership in the future. In which case, Ukraine is likely to receive strong backing by the West and its closest NATO neighbours, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, some leaders of which countries were in Kyiv a couple of days back in a strong show of support for Ukraine. The ‘war’ could indeed be long drawn.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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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.

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Queen of Hearts

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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.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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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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