by Sarala Fernando
Before the present crisis engulfed Ukraine most Sri Lankans would have been hard pressed to find Ukraine on the map despite its huge territory and ancient civilization (603,628 km2 , making it the second largest country in Europe after Russia; the territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC according to internet postings). It was the arrival of Ukrainian tourists as the first post-Covid visitors bringing welcome foreign currency that made the headlines in the Sri Lanka press in 2021, despite some scandal that they had also brought a new Covid strain to Sri Lanka. However today since the invasion of Ukraine, security implications override the economic benefits as thousands of Ukrainian and Russian tourists are stranded in Sri Lanka and unable to use even credit cards as international banks withdraw from dealings with Russia.
Yet, lest we forget, Sri Lanka’s relations with Ukraine go back to the time of the armed conflict when the Sri Lankan Airforce had depended heavily on its four Ukraine built AN32 B aircraft to maintain the lifeline with the Palaly complex as described by Dr Gamini Goonetilleke in his book In the Line of Duty on recollections of treating war casualties and armed forces personnel injured in battles in the north. Initially the four purchased aircraft had even been flown by Ukrainian pilots. As I recall one Ukrainian pilot lost his life in a crash. Just recently the remaining planes were refurbished in Ukraine factories and returned to Sri Lanka .
Most of the analysis in the Sri Lanka press and media has been on the economic impact of the Ukraine crisis, the rising oil prices, impact on our exports of tea and garments, impact on tourism, safe return of stranded Sri Lankans etc. Yet we should take cognizance that Russia’s objectives in the invasion of Ukraine are all security related, from dismembering its territory and altering its recognized borders, to its disarmament and neutrality and probably regime-change viz a puppet government to replace the present President elected by 70% of the popular vote. These demands are contrary to the fundamentals of international law and UN resolutions. Yet what has stirred the world to action to support Ukraine is the courage of ordinary people who are resisting the invasion by the aggressor military superpower. Ukraine’s dream of joining NATO is now probably dead as that security organization has firmly stated its goal is “containment”; it will not intervene and risk a larger European war. Did the West give President Zelensky false hopes of support? Several of the Sri Lankan commentaries underline the “hypocrisy” of the US, charging that the military super power had initiated much worse destructive foreign wars and NATO is also blamed for stretching too far east and ignoring Russian concerns.
Quite frequently these analysis refer to the notion of “Finlandization” and neutrality. Yet the thirst for freedom and the power to decide a state’s own strategic path runs deep. As a young foreign service officer sent to the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington D.C. in the late 1970’s, I remember being puzzled by the single line entries for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the back of the American Diplomatic Directory. Much later, appointed as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Sweden covering also the Baltic States, I learned from those leaders how precarious had been their fight for independence from the Soviet Union and how grateful they were for steadfast American support during those long years of suppression. Ukraine’s resistance will reverberate in these states and others freed from the Soviet Union and now within the EU or NATO security umbrella.
Before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Monday, February 21, some amateur analysts were speculating this was just a war of words between the US and Russia. However it seems on this occasion US intelligence has proved “unerringly accurate” on Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine. Moreover, those diplomatic watchers who had learned the lessons of history were worried all along as to Russia’s real intentions, given what had happened in segments of the former republics subsequent to their emergence as independent nations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Transnistria in Eastern Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Northern Georgia and Artsakh in Southwestern Azerbaijan all have seen the rise of freedom movements among local Russian populations, resulting in these slivers of territory moving to depend on Russia for financial and arms support.
In Ukraine territory, Crimea was annexed by Russia without a shot being fired in 2014 and the adjoining People’s Republic of Donetsk and People’s Republic of Luhansk were recently proclaimed and recognized by Russia. These newly proclaimed Republics are much larger territories than the area controlled by separatists prior to Russia’s invasion . Now it seems now no one knows the size of the eventual territorial grab from present day Ukraine with Russia demanding in addition that Crimea be recognized as an integral part of Russia.
In sum, Russia is proclaiming its sphere of influence and what is happening in Ukraine is significant because for the first time, it is not just parts of territory but the whole of Ukraine which is under military threat by Russia. President Putin has claimed that Russia built Ukraine and therefore has rights of ownership. President Zelensky who was elected by 70% of popular vote by the Ukrainian people may be under threat of life yet continues to lead the unequal fight with courage in the face of a much superior military adversary. It is a lesson that we in Sri Lanka should learn as we grow more closely integrated in the present time of economic crisis with our Big Neighbour on supply of energy, use of Sri Lanka ports and even provision of essential foods and supplies. Will this result one day in a similar claim to what President Putin is now making, that Russia has historical claims, had “built” modern Ukraine and therefore had rights of ownership?
There is much speculation in the press as to why the rest of Western Europe had not immediately come to the assistance of Ukraine. The outward reason given is that Ukraine is not a member of either the EU or NATO. However the real reason may be that over the years, perhaps fooled by the thought that Russia could be persuaded to more liberal views, the era of globalization and economic integration has been proceeding apace such that Europe had become over- dependent on Russia for energy supplies and also for essential minerals. It is said that currently even more energy supplies than before the Russian invasion of Ukraine are being transported to Europe from Russia. However this state of affairs is about to change. Finally, in the face of the resistance by the Ukrainians, the West is acting, with economic sanctions against Russian leaders, Russian banks and significantly for the first time providing direct supplies of arms and missiles, even jets to Ukraine along with humanitarian aid. EU countries are increasing national defence expenditure in recognition that Russia is an aggressor nation and a re-set of European security architecture seems to be looming which may lead finally to that elusive European independent security force which has been pushed by France.
So the big question is whether Russia has miscalculated the costs of the invasion of Ukraine in the mistaken belief that Europe was sunk in apathy and NATO unable to act? The Russian propaganda spin based on unfounded charges of Nazism and genocide leveled against Ukraine’s Jewish President , seemed destined to bring along the Russian public. If however the provocation was aimed at Germany, it has not restrained that European powerhouse which has halted the certification of Nordstream 2 pipeline which would have brought Russian gas direct to Germany. Citing “the new reality” in Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also just announced that Germany is taking the first steps to rearming its military forces with major increases budgeted in national defence spending, overturning its pacifist policies after World War 11.
Germany’s depleted armed forces will receive a €100 billion increase in the defence budget and meet NATO’s spending target of 2two per cent of GDP while Germany will diversify its sources of energy supply. European countries, even the traditionally neutral Scandinavians like Sweden, are taking unprecedented steps in offering to send defensive military supplies, anti tank weapons and missiles to Ukraine. The supply of Stinger missiles to Ukraine brings back memories of the Afghanistan conflict and how Al Quaeda rebels were once trained to push back the superior Russian forces.
Some are asking why Western sanctions have been targeted at President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov and the oligarchs? It is tit for tat, in the same way the Russian leaders have targeted the Ukrainian President, trying to create conditions for regime-change by accusing him of being surrounded by “Nazis”. Finally the West appears to have realized that the real threat lies in the aggressive compulsions of the Russian leadership while the economic sanctions against the Russian banks will contribute to weakening their grip on power.
The larger question that the Ukraine crisis poses for Sri Lanka is whether any assessment has been made of the strategic calculations of our Big Neighbour and who are the backroom planners? For example, Sri Lanka has welcomed Indian politicians into its high circles and honored them at academic and other celebrations, yet how many here will acknowledge that at heart India’s leaders work together in support of what they perceive to be India’s national interests? For example, have we taken cognizance of the ramifications of the legal case one leading Indian politician is taking forward to make the whole of Adam’s Bridge a heritage site of India? If this is agreed in Indian courts, what will be the legal ramifications with regard to those islands on the Sri Lanka side which have come under Sri Lanka sovereignty since the bilateral maritime agreements signed in 1974 and 1976?
Is this astute politician counting on his Sri Lanka friends to leverage this quite blatant threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and control of territory? How many in Sri Lanka have taken account of the chains of small islands around our mainland, an essential part of our territorial integrity and the need to protect these islands rather than to offer them for exploitation and sale to foreigners ? For years we have been unable even to reach understandings with India on the sustainable management of the Palk Straits. Surely, it is in the interests of both countries to ensure for example that bottom trawling does not kill off all the marine life in the Palk Straits and joint measures could be agreed between officials concerned with aquatic resources, on fleet size, volumes of catch, no-fishing during breeding seasons etc.
Between Russia and the former territories of the Soviet Union which are now independent states, there exists a similar situation to South Asia in the spill- over of ethnicities, leaving room for separatist movements to take shape with or without the direct intervention or surreptitious support of the Big Neighbour. Sri Lanka’s Jaffna has old historical roots, a proud independent heritage even before the creation of Tamil Nadu in modern day India. At one time prior to independence, Jaffna intellectuals claimed superiority over Madras although today that might be forgotten as Tamil Nadu emerges as an economic power house in India, attracting the largest portion of foreign investment into that country. A key question now in Sri Lanka is how the North’s relations with the rest of the country will develop in the post-conflict era and whether cooperation or conflict will prevail? Ukraine in the throes of the invasion crisis has appealed to the international courts and the UN and it has asked the EU take the extraordinary step of granting Ukraine emergency membership and protection. Whom will Sri Lanka turn to in the event of a crisis with the Big Neighbour?
However one thing we can be happy about and that is the urban renewal in Jaffna post- conflict, which, showcased along with the natural beauty of its white beaches , mangroves and palmyrah groves, makes it such a welcome place to live in and visit, in stark contrast to the environmental pollution and urban chaos in Chennai. But then, that is what people are lamenting today about Ukraine’s capital – they say that Kiev is a beautiful city – which is being bombed into submission. It seems these matters touching the people are of no consequence in the strategic calculations of the Big Powers. In Ukraine, the people are standing up for their values and freedom to chose their way of life despite the unbelievable cost of resistance in winter conditions, in human lives, displacement and destruction of critical infrastructure and buildings.
Sri Lanka’s official statement expresses deep concern about the recent “escalation of violence” in Ukraine , calling upon all parties concerned to exercise “maximum restraint” and work towards the “immediate cessation of hostilities” and to resolve the crisis through “diplomacy and sincere dialogue.” The Sri Lanka Foreign Secretary has been quoted as saying we want to be “neutral” – however this word has uneasy connotations now as Russia had sought guarantees from Ukraine of “neutrality” and has not hesitated to embark on military invasion for lack of such guarantee. For some of us who remember 1987, the “parippu drop” and subsequent signing of the Sri Lanka- India Accord which paved the way for the arrival of the IPKF, the present crisis in Ukraine recalls the vulnerability of small states situated near Big Powers and the difficulty of pursuing their dreams of independence.
Sri Lanka’s lukewarm diplomatic response today even its abstention in the UNGA resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, is understandable given the island’s current precarious economic situation. Yet how prudent is it to turn to Russia for loans today at a time when Western sanctions have been imposed on Russian banks and we may be targeted as a sanctions-breaker? Our shot-gun reactive diplomacy today is a far cry from the early days when Sri Lanka made a principled stand for Japan (in San Francisco), China (despite US congressional sanctions) and even Vietnam during its war with the US.
(Sarala Fernando, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva . Her Ph.D was on India-Sri Lanka relations and she writes now on foreign policy, diplomacy and protection of heritage).
Glimmers of hope?
Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?
What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.
‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.
‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.
‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.
‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.
‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.
Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.
Heartfelt hope of the many
The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”
Still utterly hopeless
Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.
Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.
Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.
Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis
By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)
There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.
The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.
1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.
2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.
3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!
4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.
Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains
We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened
1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.
2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.
3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.
4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.
Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.
1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.
2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible
3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:
Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.
Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.
Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.
Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.
Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.
Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.
Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.
Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.
1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers
All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.
The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of
India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and
There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
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