The West, Putin and Ukraine

Are there other unspoken rationales behind the promises of Western and US fury should Russia not kowtow to NATO’s growing encroachment into its immediate vicinity?

By Jan Arden

Two weeks ago, in a topical history line, Mrinal Roy described the systematic attempts by US military and deep state establishment since Germany’s reunification, to encircle the remains of the former Soviet Union, namely the Russian Federation, by enlarging NATO to many former East bloc countries. Despite assurances to the contrary, the USA wrought an alarming ring of fire causing a dire growing threat to the former superpower but there was little the enfeebled Russian Federation could do to prevent nuclear arsenals based so close to its frontiers in Germany, Poland and, at one time, Turkey. It was only when NATO made a pressing bid to integrate Ukraine in its military and, no doubt, nuclear orbit, that President Putin decided enough was enough. No great power, as the Cuban missile crisis reminds us, could accept such a military and nuclear noose around its neck in its backyard.

First Ukraine, now Poland?! How Western Tabloids Indulge in Stoking ‘Russian Invasion’ Narrative. Pic – Sputnik International

We are here more in receipt of the Western narrative through their news channels daily recounting the high-level meetings of political top brass and alarming declarations about the impending Russian “invasion” of independent Ukraine and the risks of another unimaginable pan-European war. We heard the economic sanctions promised by all, including the US Vice President Kamala Harris to throw Russia to the Stone Ages, the hawkish stance of Ukraine’s president and the virtual hysteria revved up in liberal western media about Russian boots and tanks in Kiev.

From a Russian perspective though, President Putin had few alternatives left when diplomacy had failed to bring common sense and realpolitik to bear. His counter-move was however deft: as in Georgia after the invasion of 2008, as with Crimea after its annexation by Russia in 2014 and as with Kazakhstan earlier this year – he announced recognition of the two eastern Russian-speaking Ukrainian states, which were breakaway since 2014, and a surgical, limited, “peace-keeping” operation for their protection.

While punitive sanctions will be worked out by the West, while it does not resolve the broader tensions between Russia and the West over the future European security order, we hope this unanticipated but deft Russian operation may deflate the war-mongers and lead to a gradual stabilization in those regions. Ukraine will be what a mystifyingly bad US policy over thirty years has condemned it to be: a neutral, weakened vital buffer zone separating Russian territory from that of the West’s aggressive designs.

There are many speculations afoot about why the US military and establishment were so keen on keeping the thumb ever more firmly on the jugular of a power that no longer presented any realistic threat to NATO, the USA or the Western interests and most certainly not at the level of China, the real superpower challenger to those interests as the latest US National Security Policy document postulated. If all this intense brinkmanship and eyeball to eyeball confrontation with President Putin has only served to get Russia and China closer in the greater chess game under way, would it not be a costly blunder by inexperienced mariners?

What then was the organized rumbling about, with immense energies deployed by diplomats, with high-voltage tensions, with all European leaders jumping into a partition that seemed to have prepared elsewhere, with friends and allies like India being asked, rather pointedly, to take sides? If it was really about Ukraine’s sovereignty, then one may wonder who really put it at risk. Were there other unspoken rationales behind the promises of Western and US fury should Russia not kowtow to NATO’s growing encroachment into its immediate vicinity?

There have been speculations about Russia’s huge gas reserves and pipelines that, to US unhappiness, fuel united Germany and may in the future bring their pipelines down to South Asia, but were these considerations enough to justify such levels of quasi-military confrontation with a former power that had posed no threat to Western Europe for decades? Were the sound of the war drums across central Europe a means to challenge the new West German Chancellor, avoid buddy trade ties building up with Russia or pave the way to a future militarised unified Germany, able to raise its own army/navy/air force, hence meet its own defense expenses and contribute a more effective share to NATO budgets and high command?

As the dust settles over the coming months, we may all start to see clearer behind the narratives.

* * *

Press and social media freedoms

We read of amendments this week to Pakistan’s already draconian cybercrime laws, that has the country’s Human Rights Commission and activists angry, all Opposition parties in arms and journalists infuriated, fearing it will curtail media freedom as any criticism of the government, any humorist’s dig, can be treated as a non-bailable crime carrying up to five years jail.

Under the 2016 version of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act {PECA), parody or satire-based websites and social media accounts could be targeted, investigation agencies were authorized to unlock any computer, mobile phone or other devices for the purpose of investigating any claimed offense. Bad enough and hotly contested but the new legal constraints are another deadlier blow that have been called for judicial review by the Pakistan Union of Journalists.

The Islamabad High Court IHC chief Justice remarked that since even countries such as Zimbabwe and Uganda were removing defamation from their criminal law, why was Pakistan regressing, assailing freedoms further under the guise of protecting cyber users?

As laymen we are fully aware that Pakistan’s twin-headed democracy and constitution are special constructs of its difficult history, but we do not know why the Mauritian constitution and laws prevent direct judiciary reviews by concerned parties for matters that impact our lives and freedoms. We would feel proud to note that Mauritius is not in the league of countries where a Law Minister or top brass political babus condone and defend such ordinances that only remotely democratic countries and autocrats fearful of critical thoughts promulgate. That’s not the case.

* * *

Every penny counts!

Some observers at various times have attributed our ruling political dispensation as being influenced by Modi politics in India. That may be the case or not generally but there is certainly one aspect where both teams, in their governing philosophies, stand miles apart.          

PM Modi comes from a grassroots organizer background with some feeling for the tracasseries of the common man and the judicious use of public funds to attain stated goals. He recently said during a Rural Development webinar: “How can we ensure optimum utilisation of each and every penny to bring changes in the lives of people in villages? If we are able to do this, you will see that no citizen is left behind.”

Whether he would even remotely condone the lifestyles and partying of Boris Johnson during the deep end of the pandemic or the profligate expenses of top brass politicians, nominees and high-level civil service cadres with public funds extracted from depleted public and consumer pockets locally remains very doubtful.

* Published in print edition on 25 February 2022

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