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Ukraine: The last warning!

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by Kumar David

Ukraine joining NATO or stationing nuclear weapons is intolerable. It is a threat to Russia’s security but much, much more serious it is a stage in the realignment of global power relations by neo-imperialism and finance-capital and a step towards future wars. Otherwise it is not possible to understand why NATO does not give Russia a formal guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join. It’s not that Biden, or NATO or finance-capital want wars; it’s that stuff just happens when conducive circumstances materialise. I have provided a map of how Russia and China are strangled by a multitude of American and NATO military bases.

Having made this crucial concern explicit I add that the invasion that Putin launched on 24 February was premature, unpopular, excessive and the outcome is doubtful. Diplomatic and tactical options had not been exhausted. The 190,000 troops he sent are inadequate for the onerous task of taking and holding Ukraine for any length of time. Frustrated by slow progress and dogged Ukrainian resistance, flummoxed by a tornado of sanctions and illegal acquisition of Russian bank assets, and flustered by a blanket ban on Russian TV and broadcasts throughout the West whose citizens are only aware of half the truth, Western media now alleges that he has unleashed the full force of aerial bombardment and artillery. Yes, this is half the story.

For a long game Putin needed a larger force, deeper pockets, preparation of the Russian people and strong global alliances. He did none of this and is now pretty much isolated. He is said to be a master strategist but this time he has blundered. He promised the world that he would not invade and then did just that and blew his credibility. Russian economic and financial arrangements are being scorched by the West’s economic might. Imperialism’s hope is to bring Russia to heel and eventually forge a grand alliance against the alternative superpower, China. Ukraine and Putin are small change in this grand game of global domination. The West’s objective is to crush a Russia that is not under its control and to this end even a transition of leadership in Russia is possible in the months or year ahead.

It is true that the US, NATO, capitalist Europe and the government in Kiev have for months, if not years brushed aside Russia’s unquestionably justified security concerns. In one of the best analysis I have seen a certain Vladimir Pozner, who I have not heard of before, argues that the West created Putin to be what he is today:

Russia has offered Kiev conditions for stopping the offensive; an undertaking never to join NATO and a promise to never station nuclear weapons in Ukraine; similar to what the Americans did to Cuba in 1962. Kiev should accept the conditions though it will anger America and NATO. In truth, I wonder is it Putin who is being naïve? Has he not learnt from repeated false promises since 1991? But he has no alternative now; he wants sanctions which are biting deep lifted. The West is to blame for not making it clear from the beginning to Ukraine that it would never be allowed to join NATO. Why did it not do so? Because it needed a handle to screw the Russians; but the sorcerer’s apprentice has now broken out of control.

Global strategic and more important economic relationships have entered a period of profound change. The China-Russia economic equation will be transformed in the next decade into an aiya-malli (China-Russia respectively) relationship. The tens of billions China is pouring into the Second Silk Road can be more profitably and reliably invested nearer home. The high points will be energy, Chinese industries in Russia (why waste good money in god-forsaken Africa, Pakistan and Lanka?), high-tech and military high-tech to blunt the edge of American leadership, and most important, enabling a new global financial system that will bypass dollar-dominance. Yes, it’s a decade long process but it will start now. Furthermore, events in these weeks are a dress-rehearsal for when China physically acquires Taiwan; there is nothing Beijing sees more clearly than that.

But Putin should have persisted in diplomatic efforts unless Kiev made a practical move to NATO membership. A decades old clause in the Ukrainian Constitution does not amount to an imminent move. Yes, if Ukraine’s accession to membership was imminent it is tantamount to a declaration of war but that was not the case. However, what is more sinister and dangerous is that the US and NATO have lied time again promising not to expand NATO up to the Russian border and broken that pledge every time inching ever closer. While condemning Putin’s heavy-handed humanitarian, military and diplomatic blunders, Russia is justified in refusing to let anyone cross the aforesaid red-line. But I think Putin could have stopped NATO from enlisting Ukraine without going to such extremes.

The Red Cross estimates that 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled the country. Damage to buildings is extensive (the two sides blame each other), civilian deaths add up to several hundred and thousands of soldiers on both sides have perished. Large anti-Putin demonstrations take place all over Europe each day and sizable spontaneous ones in many Russian cities. The tussle between NATO and financial powers that set its agenda on one side, and the you-know-who other side, seems endless. Please permit me unpoetic bowdlerisation:

Greed and power, ranging for payoff,

With the devil by their side have come hot from hell,

Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war

While carrion men will soon groan for burial.

Next let me do a thought experiment to give my Lankan readers a grasp of what’s similar and what’s not in our own story. The ethnonym Ukrainian is recent, just 20th Century (post-1917); previously, since the 14 hundreds the people called themselves Ruthenian. Afterwards they called themselves Little Russians (Malorossy) especially after Catherine the Great annexed the eastern portion – the two provinces now recognised by Russia as independent countries and the Crimean Peninsula in the 1770s. The larger portion in the west was overrun by different kingdoms till 1917 when all Ukrainians were recognised as a “nation” and the territory incorporated as a republic of the USSR. Compared to the old-Sinhalese, and Chola and Pandya periods of Sri Lanka it was a more recent, complicated and messy story. Nevertheless, the country does have two linguistic groups, about 80% Ukrainian speakers and about 20% Russian speakers.

The cultural relationship, apart from being more recent (one millennium in Ukraine as opposed to a little over two in our case) it is also thornier. Kiev, historically, was the religious, cultural and dynastic epicentre of Russian society since about 900AD. That is, it was Russia’s Anuradhapura but located in the “Tamil part” of the country. Catherine “took it back” nearly two millennia after Dutugemunu took back Anuradhapura. The Russian speaking portion, the Donbas region in which the two independent new states (Donetsk and Luhansk) are located are in the east and border Russia. An interesting thought experiment is, what if the Palk Strait was land, what if the Jaffna Peninsula was joined to India by land as it was for most of the 80,000 years prior to 10,000 BC? In my estimate the history of Lanka, Eelam and the IPKF (a Putinesque invasion) would have been immensely different. It’s not productive for me to speculate but readers can picture all sorts of outcomes in that scenario.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that India has any wish to incorporate our Lanka into the Union. It would have to be mad to wish to acquire this nation of loonies; neither Delhi nor Madras are that insane. India’s motives are related to geopolitical strategy; it does not want China or any great power to secure military facilities on its southern flank. In this the approach is akin to Russian strategy in Ukraine. Those who suggest that Putin is motivated to resurrect the Soviet Union, or a Russian Empire encompassing Russia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine must imagine that Putin is stark raving mad and has no grasp of the difference between the possible and impossible. Putin has blundered (see my “Putin’s self-inflicted fiasco”, Colombo Telegraph March 2) but he is not looney. “Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO; no nuclear weapons can be stationed there; it will have to remain a neutral buffer state”; that’s it. This bottom-line I support. What about a nuclear war? Well the way Putin sees it a nuclear stand-off is already here. Russia’s options are certainty of nuclear war down the line as the West expands its strategic, imperialistic-finance-capitalist options, or a hard bargain now.

In this context then the conditions India has set out for a billion-dollar loan if Basil’s oft deferred visit to Delhi is to materialise are tougher. The demands include maritime security agreements to strengthen India’s strategic interest around Trincomalee, surveillance aircraft for the Air Force, a ship repair dock in Trinco, posting an officer at an intelligence centre, the reopening Palaly airport for commercial operations and cultural projects in the Jaffna peninsula.

In respect of post-Soviet Russia, the question can be asked “Is Putin a communist?” The answer is a resounding NO. Putin’s faith is known and never in doubt; he is a is a devotee of the Russian Orthodox Church. He has helped and channelled huge funds to the Orthodox Church, the rebuilding of churches and to the spread of its tentacles. You may think this good or bad – are the saffron-obsessions of all our presidents and PMs since independence, good or bad? I think bad (ditto Putin), you may think otherwise. That’s not the point; the point is that he is not a communist in theory, ideology or practise; OK fine, that’s his right. Incidentally he is also an anti-Leninist and says the “thesis of the right of nations to self-determination” is harmful and responsible for the fragmentation of the USSR in 1991. Ukraine is confronted by an Orthodox Christian; we have a Hindutva fanatic on our doorstep.

Living next door to a big power is knotty. Infamous instances where war was/is certain if a line is crossed are:

The United States, the Monroe Doctrine and Cuba 1962.

China, the 9-dash line and refusal to permit any foreign forces to be stationed in Taiwan.

Russia and Ukrainian membership of NATO.

India and the point-blank stipulation of no Chinese military bases in Lanka.

The information blackout imposed by both sides turns the Western and Russian public into ignoramuses. Russian TV and broadcasts are banned throughout the EU. YouTube, Google, Meta and all the others prohibit Russian content. Western intelligence has successfully jammed RTV (the Russian channel) from many parts of Asia. The vapid BBC and mouthpiece-Economist are Western tools reminiscent of the Bush-Blair days where no counterpoint was heard. Likewise, Russia has introduced draconian laws including hash prison terms for anyone who opposes Putin’s way of talking or thinking. It is important for the citizens of the world to know all this and not swallow the daily doses of misinformation and false “analysis”. Humanity at large, not just Lanka’s hungry, electricity and fuel deprived masses, is passing through one of the worst of all possible times.

[Wednesday, 9 March 2022, noon GMT]



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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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