About: the world this week, 27 February to 5 March 2022, war, a country fights for its life, Operation Ganga, Justices, and floods.


Russian Aggression

This week was almost surreal with a full-fledged war developing right in front of our eyes and we being powerless, in the face of numerous odds, to do anything to stop the fighting; despite all the right noises we made at the start. And we, Homo Sapiens, thought we had advanced far enough to call weapons of killing and destruction, that we had cleverly invented, just that. And not use them at all.

The war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine galloped across new frontiers driven by an irrational President of Russia. Sirens howling, guns firing, tanks rolling, missiles flying, and people fleeing to basements of buildings for cover or to the borders, from the ever-growing hot-spots. Unbelievable that this happening in our time when we thought the World’s superpowers would behave with utmost sacred responsibility.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is fast acquiring a pariah status for his dangerous act of invading Ukraine and the unholy, brutal devastation unleashed in the process. If he had hoped for a quick victory it evaporated in the face of fierce resistance by Ukrainian soldiers and its armies of citizen volunteers.

Let’s face it. Russia is attacking-without the slightest needle of a physical provocation-a sovereign, independent, fledgling country, Ukraine, on a perceived, imagined threat to itself, despite it having one of the world’s most advanced and sophisticated security apparatus. In the aftermath of its break-up from the Soviet Union, Ukraine had given-up its nuclear arsenal to Russia with a guarantee that its sovereignty and borders will be respected. Its people freely and overwhelmingly chose to align with the West-the market of the European Union, for their betterment – it’s their choice, and rightfully so. And they were taking the first baby steps in joining the defensive North Atlantic Treat Organization (NATO) – for their own safety against the bewildering next-door giant. The Russian President decided that he did not like a neighbour freely doing all of this-sleeping with the enemy of his mind-hence the invasion. The goal seems to be to overthrow the democratically elected Government and perhaps install a puppet regime that would dance only to its tunes on strings pulled from Moscow.

Death defying circumstances such as these often throw up a hero, and a young Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, 44, is turning out to be exactly that. He refused to be cowed-down by the might of Russia and lay down arms; and in what I call a ‘Winston Churchill moment’, broadcasted to the Russian people on the ills of war, appealing to their belonging as people from the same land, and a call to reign-in their wild President. And to his own people he inspired and motivated them to come out and fight this together, shoulder to shoulder. Blood, sweat, and tears.

When offered an escape from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, by the United States, Zelenskyy was awfully quick to reject it saying. “I need ammunition, not a ride.” It showed selfless leadership and a kind of ‘Hollywood courage’. Zelensky has suddenly emerged as a convincing war-time leader alongside the greats of Winston Churchill and George Washington. He has rallied the nation with his addresses and video selfies and given voice to Ukrainian anger and defiance of Russian aggression.

Going back to his origins, Zelensky’s entry into politics is a case of life imitating art; reel turning into real. Initially, he performed on Ukraine’s version of the American dance competition, television series ‘Dancing with the Stars’, which in turn is the US version of the UK series, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. The show pairs celebrities with professional dancers. And from 2015 to 2018, he played a history teacher frustrated with corruption who accidentally becomes President of Ukraine on a popular TV show called ‘Servant of the People.’ Zelensky then parlayed his success into politics, running for office in 2019 on the back of a political party named after his show, ‘Servant of the People’. He went on to win with 73% of the vote, promising to fight corruption and bring peace in the faction-riddled east of the country.

Zelensky is the son of Jewish parents. He married his school-mate Olena Kiyasko in 2003 and the couple have a daughter, Aleksandra, and son Kyryli . Wife Zelenska studied architecture at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Kryvyi Rih National University.

Ukrainians have been fending off the Russian army for over a week. But attacks have intensified on cities throughout the country: in Mariupol, Kharkiv, and the capital, Kyiv. Now, Russian forces have made key advances on Kherson-a strategic Black Sea port in southern Ukraine. And suddenly Russia is seen to be attacking on all fronts.

Meanwhile, the toll on civilians is mounting with an estimated 2,000 civilians dead as more than 1 million fleeing the country as refugees.

The US, UK, and other Western countries came to Ukraine’s aid by imposing economic sanctions to cripple Russia. The measures imposed are so potent that they have triggered chaos in Russia’s Trillion Dollar economy and prompted Vladimir Putin, to issue nuclear threats by putting the country’s nuclear forces on watch. The instant impoverishment of a big economy is unprecedented and will cause alarm around the world. The West’s priority appears to be, to win the economic confrontation with Russia.

Germany has long soft-peddled policies targeting Russia, but its chancellor, Olaf Scholz, made a moving and extraordinary change, committing an additional USD 100 billion to defense-spending immediately, shipping weapons to Ukraine, and ending the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was constructed to bring gas from Russia to Germany.

Switzerland, which steadfastly held a neutral position over so many decades decided to give up its neutrality and joined the sanctions bandwagon, sanctioning Russia and closing its airspace to Russian aircraft. These are never-before decisions – waking up other kinds of ‘unknown’ powerful sleeping giants.

Civil activism is the lifeblood of free societies, and Ukrainians have been excelling, including the sunflower lady, who cursed Russian soldiers; civilians lining up to collect arms and make Molotov cocktails, or change out street signs to confuse the invaders; and breweries retooling to produce weaponry. These stories will live and be told to build a new nation.

The United Nations is struggling to tame the Russian rogue, but Russia’s veto power renders any effective action from emerging, beyond some kind of a strong-worded condemnation. India abstained from voting due to its own compulsions. I wish it had voted along with the majority of nations, condemning Russia’s unwarranted aggression. India is a great civilisation and has always stood by dharma. I hope it shows more backbone in the days to come.

Now, the build-up on the other side. Russia friendly Belarus announced it was revoking its non-nuclear status after a referendum, allowing Russian weapons to be placed in Belarus. The move provoked rare protests in the country. What’s even more alarming is that Belarus may be preparing to send its soldiers into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion.

There was a fire near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant- the Zaporizhzhia Power Plant responsible for about 20% of Ukraine’s power generation- following ‘unacceptable’ Russian shelling in the vicinity. And there is an imminent danger lurking in such places. For e.g., if something were to happen to this nuclear power station, the impact could be ’ten times larger’ than the Chernobyl disaster. With missiles shattering buildings and killing civilians in Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kyiv, and Russia continued to warn of further escalation, there is little reason for hope for an immediate reduction in hostilities.

Where do we go from here? How do we stop the war in the event there is no clear victory on either side and the fighting drags on?

Russia and Ukraine have met on the border of Belarus to hold two rounds of negotiations, but nothing concrete has emerged, as yet. Still, the two sides are talking. Sooner or later, if a deal is to be reached, concessions will need to come from both sides.

Ukraine will certainly not undergo any ‘denazification’ by ousting its own democratically-elected government led by President Zelensky who happens to be Jewish. He is the strongest person to negotiate with at this stage.

On the Ukrainian side, Zelensky may need to promise Ukraine will not join NATO. This is at the core of Putin’s illogical reasoning for the invasion, and he is unlikely to back down from this demand. Russia will press for demilitarization in Ukraine, and it will be a non-starter for the Ukrainians. But they might well be willing to think about it once peace is clearly established: maybe accept limitations on the amount and types of weapons they can maintain, and also agree not to have foreign forces based in Ukraine. Of course, hedges should be built-in if there is an external threat to Ukraine.

Crimea appears destined to remain under Russia’s control, and Luhansk and Donetsk may likely be granted significant autonomy within the Ukrainian system.

Ukraine will expect commensurate concessions from Russia. Paramount among them will be a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The withdrawal will need to be accompanied by a drastic reduction of Russian forces away from Ukraine’s borders, including eastern Ukraine, Belarus and the Black Sea. Ukraine cannot be expected to rebuild and return to peacetime life with the Russian mill-stone around its neck.

There is talk of imposing a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine, which experts say, should not be done. A no-fly zone is airspace where certain aircraft are not allowed to enter. In the context of conflicts and wars, it is typically used to stop banned aircraft from entering airspace to launch attacks, transport troops and weapons, and conduct surveillance. But then, you need someone to enforce it, which may trigger its own problems. It is best US and NATO avoid stationing their forces in Ukraine; the intent being to avoid pushing a nuclear superpower into a corner when it has no other option than to use it.

The concessions that come with negotiations are often painful when they are a climb-down from the original hard stances. But they are infinitely preferable to an indefinite continuation of battle, and even when conflicts are driven by irrational acts, the logic of diplomacy can take hold. The World prays that is the case here. Meanwhile two countries are being destroyed and one of them can stop it.

Operation Ganga

India has near about 20,000 of its nationals, including students studying in Ukraine, and this week India scrambled its forces to get them out safely, naming the mission as ‘Operation Ganga’. Besides evacuation, another goal was to provide humanitarian assistance to Indians who had crossed over to the neighbouring countries of Ukraine: Romania, Hungary, Poland, Moldova, and Slovakia.

Operation Ganga is being planned and executed by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Indian Armed Forces. Airlines that were roped in are Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Air India Express. Four Union ministers were flown to the neighbouring countries to expedite the evacuation.

The first flight happened on 26 February and over 10,300 Indians have been brought back to India, in 48 flights in a massive exercise. Most had crossed the borders into neighbouring countries. However, one Indian student lost his life in the city of Kharkiv due to Russian shelling, when he went to buy groceries during the curfew relaxation period. Along with him, ten others died in various attacks by Russia. Another was reportedly shot and is recovering in hospital.

Supreme Court Justice

US President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise by nominating the first Afro-American woman Justice to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson a 51 years old former public defender turned federal appellate judge. She’s been a leading contender to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer (who she clerked for). Now, the Harvard-trained judge hopes to head to the Supreme Court of the United States. Jackson may be confirmed as soon as April this year.

The US Constitution states that Justices ‘shall hold their Offices during good behaviour.’ This means they can serve for life– their terms only ending if they resign, pass away or if they are impeached and convicted by Congress.

The President nominates someone for a vacancy on the Court and the Senate votes to confirm the nominee, which requires a simple majority. In this way, both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government have a voice in the composition of the Supreme Court.

Australia Down Underwater

Australia is experiencing its worst floods in decades. Intense rain and record-breaking floods have hit eastern Australia.

A river in the northern New South Wales town of Lismore broke its banks and rose to a level of near about 14.40m, which quickly earned it a place between the ‘once in 500 years to 1000 years flood event’. And in Queensland, the Brisbane River flooded, causing extensive damage.

Nothing better explains the speed and severity of the flooding than the sight of some people with their cars, and a few horses being caught on a bridge over the Richmond River on Woodburn, outside Lismore in northern New South Wales when rising floodwaters cut them at both ends leaving them stranded in the middle, overnight. They could be rescued only in the morning, when the lights came on. Such was the suddenness of the water rise.

This is becoming a recurring event in Australia. Either it’s fire, water, or spiders and rodents giving them one hell of a time.

I’m not leaving Australia, not yet: the last news, I spin this week is the unexpected passing of legendary Australian Cricketer, Spin-bowler Shane Warne at the age of 52, due to a cardiac arrest. His spin was so good that even God did not know it was coming! RIP Shane Warne: you did teach India how to spin better.

More fire and water stories spinning-up in the weeks ahead. Live with World Inthavaaram.


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