Pleasure – and Superego of Pleasure-Seekers

In a recent viral video, the Dalai Lama can be seen asking a seven-year-old boy, at a widely attended public ceremony, to give him a hug and then, “Suck my tongue.” The immediate reaction from many in the West was to


Conflict, Migration, and Demography in Russia and Its Border Regions


Despite the absence of a clear definition of “ethnic group,” the term generally refers to people with a common history, culture, and ancestry. Russians are widely considered the largest ethnic group in Europe, and historically they have lived in a multiethnic state where they formed a majority of the population. Within the country’s vast territory, imperial Russia and later Soviet authorities often encouraged internal migration to help populate barren regions for economic exploitation, typically resulting in cooperation and assimilation between ethnic and social groups.

But cultural fusion has not always been possible nor desired, and conflicts and forced population transfers have occurred both internally and in Russia’s border regions for centuries. Since the Soviet collapse, the Kremlin has attempted to enforce a sense of patriotism among its diverse citizenry by synthesizing Russia’s ethnic and national identities, while weakening the links between the two in other post-Soviet states.

Early Russia to Tsardom

The Russian identity begins with the Slavs, a diverse collection of tribal societies with common linguistic, religious, and other cultural ties who settled across Eastern and southeast Europe in the 5th Century AD. The first Slavic-majority state was the Kievan Rus, declared in 882 and centered around Kyiv. Its Viking and Finnic minorities steadily Slavicized through intermarriage and cultural assimilation, and the Rus adopted Orthodox Christianity from the neighboring Byzantine Empire in 988. But the Slavic-majority state soon became weakened by internal political divisions and in 1240 was destroyed by the expanding Mongol Empire. This left Moscow, a small city on the Rus’ periphery, subservient to the Mongol yoke.

After the Grand Duchy of Moscow, or Muscovy, was established in 1263, the young Russian state, defined largely by its Eastern Slavic and Orthodox heritage, expanded across its sparsely populated territories in the west and north over the next two and a half centuries. It steadily absorbed other Slavic and Orthodox communities, as well as several others, into the developing Russian identity.

By the 15th century, expansion into what is now southern Russia and Ukraine brought the Duchy into significant contact with Cossacks. Typically a mix of runaway serfs, hunters, bandits, mercenaries, and fugitives from Eastern Europe, Cossacks lived in militarized yet lightly organized settlements across border regions in Russia’s south and east. Their diverse ethnic origins and semi-nomadic societies prevented Cossack groups from developing a strong national identity. Many, however, belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church and spoke “in dialects of Russian.”

Following the establishment of the Tsardom of Russia under Ivan the Terrible in 1533, Cossack groups became essential to wider Russian military campaigns against regional Tatar groupsWhile Tatar origins are often debated, they have generally been portrayed as descendants of Turkic nomadic tribes who invaded Eurasia with the Mongol Empire and remained there after the empire dissolved in 1368.

The Russian state also sought to reunify what it saw as “Russian lands,” namely the Orthodox and Eastern Slavic populations in modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, including the Cossacks living in these lands. In 1654, Russia signed the Pereiaslav Agreement, facilitating the absorption of parts of eastern Ukraine, and in 1686 it gained additional former territories of the Kievan Rus. Education, intermarriage, and government service also instigated the “Russification” of Ukrainian nobility. However, there was significant tension between the relatively autonomous Cossacks and the organized states that sought their assistance and incorporation, including Russia. Cossack groups launched several rebellions against Russia in the 1600s and 1700s, which often spurred Russian serfs and other minority groups to join. Cossack military campaigns against Russia, sometimes in coordination with other states, were also common.

But Russian authorities could offer Cossacks something other states could not—an open frontier. In return for military service, Cossacks enjoyed vastly reduced taxes, freedom of movement, and significant autonomy. Cossack groups steadily helped conquer smaller, often warring Finnic, Turkic, Ugric, and Tatar tribes across Siberia and into Alaska, establishing many settlements that later became major cities. Russian expansion was often brutal, but agreements with local elites permitted conquered communities to retain elements of their culture and assimilate into the empire by accepting Tsarist rule. Russians and Cossacks would also adapt to local cultures, and intermarriage between groups was common.

Russian Empire

Following the establishment of the Russian Empire in 1721, Cossack groups steadily became integrated into Russian military command and proved integral to Russian campaigns to expel local Muslim populations to Russia’s south and west. Between 1784 and 1790, 300,000 Crimean Tatars (out of a population of roughly 1 million) left or were forced to leave the peninsula. Hundreds of thousands of Circassians also left or were forced to leave the mountainous Caucasus region in the 1800s.

In both instances, most displaced Muslims settled in the nearby Ottoman Empire, paving the way for Russian settlers to move in. Yet population transfers in primarily Muslim lands were not universally carried out. In the Caucasus, Russian authorities created alliances with some local communities between the 16th and 18th centuries, who were wary of Ottoman and Persian influences in the region. Russian authorities also sought to use the empire’s Muslim minorities to expand into other Muslim regions. Tatar communities who accepted Tsarist rule, for example, were used as cultural emissaries in Central Asia, building relationships with the local populations as the Russian Empire spread further into this region in the 1700s and 1800s. Additionally, many “noble Russian families were of Tatar descent and there was frequent intermarriage between the Russians and Tatars.”

Lacking the population to hold territory as Russia’s empire continued to expand, Catherine the Great’s second manifesto in 1763 invited European settlers to Russia. Without requiring citizenship and enticed by tax breaks, loans, land grants, and religious freedom, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Germany, the Balkans, and other parts of Europe moved to the sprawling empire and its new territories over the next few decades, often maintaining their distinct cultures.

However, the rise of nationalism in Europe in the 1800s began to threaten the loose national identity that Russian authorities had nurtured for centuries. Following the emancipation of Russian serfs in 1861, integration problems also arose as the Russian government began giving land only to citizens and began to more forcefully promote Russification. This included introducing conscription and other obligations for non-Russians, expanding the use of the Russian language among ethnic groups, and identifying “potential Russians” in the European part of the empire. Violence against the Jewish population meant that roughly 2 million Jews also left the empire between 1881 and 1914. But because the Russian Empire required a larger population to sustain industrialization and its enormous territory, a net migration of 4.5 million people arrived in Russia from 1860 to 1917. Immigration and territorial expansion meanwhile meant that ethnic Russians went from roughly 77 percent of the population at the time of the establishment of the Russian Empire to roughly 44 percent at the time of the 1897 census.

In addition, Russification policies caused tension with some minority communities and were one of the major causes of the Russian Revolution in 1905. Ethnic violence among minority groups also broke out across the empire, such as the Armenian-Tatar massacres from 1905 to 1907.

World Wars and the Soviet Union

Ethnic tensions persisted even after Russia became embroiled in World War I in 1914. Disputes between Russian authorities and local populations in Central Asia, including over the unfair distribution of land to Russians and Ukrainians, conscription in the Russian army, and other issues, resulted in the 1916 Central Asian Revolt. Thousands of Slavic settlers were killed, while reprisal attacks, famine, and disease saw 100,000 to 270,000 deaths of mostly Kazakhs and Kyrgyz afterward. Ethnic tensions persisted throughout the empire, and many countries and ethnic groups declared their independence from Russia after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The ensuing Russian civil war saw the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Soviet Union, in 1922. Though Soviet forces were able to recapture much of the Russian Empire’s territories by the early 1920s, Finland, the Baltic states, and Poland gained their independence, while resistance to Soviet rule continued throughout the 1920s in Central Asia.

After consolidating power, Soviet authorities kickstarted a more calculated and ruthless management of the country’s sprawling, multiethnic society. Smaller clan and region-based identities were homogenized in accordance with Soviet nation-building policies, and “by the end of the 1920s people who had not really thought in national terms before the World War [I] found that they now had a national language, a national culture, national histories and national political structures—in short, they had become members of a nation.” Internal borders were established based on ethnic identity under a policy known as national delimitation, followed by Korenizatsiya, or “indigenization,” where minority nations and populations were given significant autonomy as well as power in the national government.

Eventually, 15 major Soviet republics emerged. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), the largest, was further divided into autonomous ethnic minority territories. Both inside the RSFSR and the Soviet Union, Russian cultural dominance was reduced considerably. However, in the 1930s, Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin reversed much of this process to harness Russian nationalism and consolidate power against separatist-inclined republics and regions. While the specter of “Great Russian chauvinism” was carefully repressed in the Soviet Union until its collapse, power began to be recentralized in Moscow and the “petty bourgeois nationalism” of smaller ethnic groups was also curtailed.

Beginning in the 1930s, Stalin also began large-scale forced population transfers of entire ethnic groups, which continued during World War II. Mass rail transit systems allowed Soviet authorities to deport more than 3 million people between 1936 and 1952 belonging to 20 social and ethnic groups. Several were largely removed from their “ancestral homelands,” including the Volga Germans, Kalmyks, Karachai, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetians. And whether true or not, many minority groups—among them Chechens, Ingush, and Cossacks—were accused of working with Nazi Germany during the war. Like others, they were sent to Siberia and Central Asia to labor camps or “special settlements,” where hundreds of thousands perished.

Slavic migration to Central Asia also increased during WWII, as populations sought to avoid the encroaching German army. Additionally, the redistribution of industrial capacity to Central Asia during WWII, as well as urbanization, further changed the ethnic layout of the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s death in 1953 largely ended massive, forced population transfers, and most groups were able to return to their ancestral homelands over the next few years. But Soviet authorities maintained the Stalin-era borders to divide and weaken ethnic groups. By avoiding the creation of homogenous republics, they could more easily suppress separatism and compel ethnic groups to require the assistance of the Kremlin to manage their territorial disputes. Soviet authorities also sought to continue redistributing the labor force, and in the years following WWII until the mid-1970s, 2.7 million Russians left the RSFSR to Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, and Central Asia. However, by the 1970s this trend reversed, and 2.5 million Soviet citizens flocked to the RSFSR from 1975 to 1991.

While Russians (and their culture) enjoyed a privileged position of “first among equals” in the Soviet Union, overt Russification policies were mostly abandoned in favor of “Sovietization,” which instead promoted a non-ethnic national identity. By the 1960s, Soviet sociologists advocated for the existence of a Soviet people “with a shared identity based on common territory, state, economic system, culture, and the goal of building communism.” Yet despite a rise in interethnic marriages, traditional ethnic and cultural ties, as well as grievances, proved difficult to dislodge. Tied by a common east Slavic and Orthodox heritage, Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians dominated the Soviet Union’s political structures. Ethnic solidarity could also affect foreign policy—Central Asian soldiers, for example, were initially used during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but due to fraternization with local Afghans, were largely replaced by Slavic troops in 1980.

The synchronization of Russian cultural identity with that of the Soviet one meant Soviet culture steadily lost its appeal among the non-Russian population, while many Russians also grew disenfranchised by the 1980s. And by 1989, the ethnic Russian majority of the Soviet Union had fallen to roughly 51 percent. Growing avenues for ethnic nationalism among minority groups as a result of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, as well as ethnic Russian frustration with these policies, played an essential role in the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Russian Federation

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the 15 republics became independent countries. Millions of ethnic Russians returned to the Russian Federation in the 1990s from across the former Soviet Union, in addition to non-Russians who sought to live and work in Russia. Initially from European former Soviet states, migrant groups have increasingly arrived from former Soviet states in the Caucasus region and Central Asia in recent years.

Government authority was decentralized away from Moscow to Russia’s other regions throughout the 1990s. And like other post-Soviet states, Russia was afflicted by demands for greater autonomy from ethnic and social groups, as well as outright secession movements. In Chechnya, Russian troops were forced to secede from the region in 1996 following their defeat in the first Chechen war.

Upon his rise to power in 1999 as acting President Vladimir Putin began reestablishing centralized, top-down rule over Russia. His path to the presidency coincided with the launch of the second Chechen war that brought the region back under Russian control in the 2000s. And while Cossack groups were permitted to reemerge as distinct cultural entities in the 1990s, Putin took more formal steps to reintegrate them into national military command, including using them in Chechen counterinsurgency operations.

Russian officials also became increasingly critical of Western-style multiculturalism. Though cultural and political rights were afforded to non-Russians and Putin warned against promoting Russian ethno-nationalism, the Kremlin has supported the need to build a patriotic identity within Russia through a civic identity of common values and traditions—notably the widespread adoption of the Russian language. Non-Russians would be welcomed in the Russian Federation, but it was ethnic Russians that would “cement this civilization.” The ethnic Russian population has declined slightly since 1989, the year of the last Soviet census. Ethnic Russians composed roughly 81.5 percent of Russia’s population in 1989, 79.8 percent in 2002, and 77.7 percent in 2010. The 2021 census showed a remarkable drop to 71.7 percent, though this can largely be explained by “the declining importance of ethnicity as an identifier in ethnically homogeneous areas, such as the predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts of central Russia”, and the rising number of ethnic Russians declining to declare their nationality.

To complement the country’s political and cultural restructuring, the Kremlin merged several territories in the 2000s, and with the addition of Crimea in 2014, Russia boasted 85 federal subjects. Forty-six are ethnic-Russian dominated oblasts, with 22 republics that are home to an ethnic minority. Additionally, there are four autonomous okrugs or districts (with significant ethnic minority populations), nine krais (similar to oblasts), three federal cities, and one Jewish autonomous oblast.

Ethnicity and 21st Century Post-Soviet Conflicts

Russia’s relatively successful efforts to foment patriotism among its multiethnic population and reforge a powerful, centralized state since 2000 contrasts to some other post-Soviet states. Ethnic rivalries within them have been exploited by the Kremlin to challenge their stability and sovereignty. Alongside using ethnic Russians living outside Russia to achieve these aims, Russia’s own ethnic and social minorities have been primary participants in various conflicts and disputes abroad.

From 1989 to the early 1990s, for example, two Georgian separatist territories populated by ethnic minorities, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, waged wars against Georgian forces. Russia provided Abkhazians and South Ossetians with considerable military and economic aid, which increased after Georgia began drifting toward the West following the 2003 Rose Revolution. As Abkhazia and South Ossetia gained increasing autonomy from Georgia, tensions culminated in the 2008 Russo-Georgia War. In addition to aiding the ethnic separatists, the Russian military employed Cossack and Chechen militant groups against the Georgian armed forces in 2008. In the aftermath, the remaining ethnic Georgian populations were largely expelled from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both Cossacks and Chechens were also utilized by Russia during the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the launch of the proxy war in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Russian-speaking Ukrainians (including Ukrainian Cossacks), ethnic Russians in the south and east Ukraine, as well as those from across the former Soviet Union and beyond, filled the ranks of the pro-Russian separatist groups. These militants maintained a proxy conflict for Russia in Donetsk and Luhansk until the official Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, and continue to take part in Russia’s ongoing “special military operation.” Additionally, Russia has used non-ethnic Russian minorities within Russia to fight at the frontline of the conflict, and they are reportedly dying at higher rates in Ukraine than their Slavic counterparts.

After reigniting conflicts in Georgia and launching one in Ukraine, Russia has also taken steps to annex their separatist territories. In the years before Russia’s 2008 campaign in Georgia, the Kremlin steadily gave Russian passports to Abkhazians and South Ossetians, a tactic now known as passportization. The need to protect Russian citizens helped Russia justify the war and allowed it to more easily absorb these territories by granting them freedom of movement to Russia. Days after the war had concluded, the Kremlin recognized Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence in August 2008, and in 2022, South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov declared the region’s intention to join Russia, its “historical homeland.”

And following Ukraine’s lurch to the West in 2014, significant passportization took place in Ukraine. Days before the February 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, likely in anticipation of future calls to join Russia. These two regions were annexed by Russia in September 2022, joining Russia as republics, while two oblasts (Kherson and Zaporozhye) were also annexed from Ukraine by Russia. Russian forces, however, have been unable to establish complete control over all of the claimed territories.

But the Kremlin also sees the Ukrainian war as an opportunity to “integrate” the country’s population with its own amid Russia’s declining population. For centuries, Russian strategists have believed that Ukrainians, viewed as a subcategory of the Russian ethnic identity, could help Russify parts of the country where ethnic Russians do not form a dominant majority. In 2014, more than 1 million Ukrainians fled the country’s southeast to Russia, mostly just across the border. However, in keeping with the Kremlin’s desire to populate other regions, Ukrainian refugees began moving to the Volga Basin, the Ural Mountains, the Far East, and other areas. Since the outbreak of full conflict in 2022, millions of Ukrainians have fled to Russia or been forcibly removed, and have been resettled across the country. Thus, while the war in Ukraine is central to Putin’s foreign policy ambitions, encouraging Ukrainian immigration to Russia is also an important domestic imperative.

Other regions across the former Soviet Union remain vulnerable to Russian attempts to use ethnicity to destabilize them. Since a 1992 ceasefire, Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, populated largely by Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, has been under the control of separatist authorities. Additionally, the Soviet 14th Army, which was stationed in Transnistria, was inherited by Russia after the Soviet collapse. Today, its remnants form Russia’s part of the trilateral peacekeeping force (with Moldovan and Transnistrian soldiers) and the Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRF), which guards old Soviet arms depots in the separatist region. Cultivating pro-Russian sentiment among Transnistria’s Slavic majority, could quickly reignite the conflict. Russian military figures stated in April 2022 that the “second phase” of Russia’s military campaign would annex enough of Ukraine to connect it to Transnistria, though this appears unfeasible for the foreseeable future.

After annexing Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin’s declaration that it would protect ethnic Russians everywhere resonated with many of the millions of Russians scattered mostly in former Soviet states. In Central Asia and the Baltic states, where they are most numerous, ethnic Russians have faced restrictions on the use of the Russian language and other forms of cultural expression since the Soviet collapse, making exploitation easier. Kazakhstan’s roughly 3.5 million Russians make up roughly 18 percent of the total population. Most ethnic Russians migrated primarily to northern Kazakhstan beginning in the 19th century and during the Soviet period, and have significant economic and political power. In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians largely migrated during the Soviet period, and today form roughly 25 percent of the populations in both these countries. In addition to higher rates of unemploymenthundreds of thousands of Russians remain stateless persons in the Baltic states, as their citizenship (and those of their descendants) was denied after the Soviet collapse. Russia has leveraged these realities to help inflame social unrest, such as Estonia’s 2007 Bronze Night incident, as well as wield indirect political representation through Estonia’s Center party and Latvia’s Harmony partySignificant passportization among Russians in the Baltic states has also taken place in the last few years.

Millions of ethnic Russians living in former Soviet states left for Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, reducing the Kremlin’s influence over these countries. However, the Baltic states have seen more Russians immigrate than emigrate in recent years, while more than 200,000 Russians avoiding conscription during the ongoing war fled to Kazakhstan in September 2022. How the Kremlin exploits these changing circumstances remains to be seen. And as in Transnistria, Ukrainian and Belarusian communities in these countries also look to Russia for protection, particularly, in defending the use of the Russian language in their societies.


Russia’s ability to use ethnicity for domestic stability and as a foreign policy tool is not without risk. Nurturing ethnic Russian nationalism is unnerving to minority groups and has occasionally led to the eruption of ethnic violence, such as in the city of Kondopoga in 2006 and in Stavropol in 2007. Historical persecution has led to significant emigration even in modern times, which occurred among Russian Germans and Russian Jews in the 1990s. Giving minority groups greater rights could meanwhile instigate secession attempts, while failed attempts to merge additional federal subjects in 2020 demonstrate the limits of Russia’s federal authority.

Russia’s birth rate has rebounded from a record low of 1.25 children per woman in 2000 and was expected to reach 1.8 children per woman by 2020. But it is still below replacement level and there has been a significant population decline in Russia for years. While the population grew slightly during the 2010s, it is again shrinking. Minority groups often have higher birthrates than ethnic Russians, and though no ethnic minority groups equate to greater than 5 percent of Russia’s total population, its various Muslim minorities amount to 10 to 15 percent of the population. Radical Islam came to partly define the Chechen independence movement in the 1990s, and many volunteer Muslim-Russians from across the country arrived to fight against Russian forces. The Kremlin is fearful of a similar situation in the future with its growing Muslim population.

The Kremlin will also have to contend with managing the delicate alliances it has with its minority groups. Clashes were reported in Ukraine between Chechen soldiers and those belonging to the Buryat minority group in 2022, while tension between Cossack groups and Russian nationalists has been evident since 2014. Russia will also inherit ethnic disputes as it seeks to expand its territory. More than 260,000 Crimean Tatars returned to Crimea after the Soviet collapse, reviving historical animosity between them and local Cossack communities. Russia’s war in Ukraine also risks solidifying anti-Russian sentiment in much of Ukraine’s population.

Regardless of these threats, the Kremlin continues to push ahead with its vision to remake Russian society and disrupt its border regions. Russian officials increasingly define Russianness in cultural terms, inviting minority groups to be absorbed more effectively. Highlighting the importance of revered “Russian” leaders, such as Joseph Stalin (Georgian) and Catherine the Great (German) showcase the important leadership roles that non-Slavs have played in Russian history. Russia has also shown initiative in using other elements of minority cultures to expand its influence abroad. Russia has been an observer state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Countries (OIC) since 2005, and Putin has promoted the idea of the “similarity of the Russian and ‘Islamic’ approaches to many international issues.” Chechen military personnel have been used in Russia’s military campaign in Syria, while Tatar minorities are often responsible for Russian diplomatic and cultural outreach to Central Asia.

The Kremlin has, however, suppressed minority languages in Russia. This policy forms part of its efforts to promote Russian movies, television, social media, literature, and other media forms to Russify other countries. In 1939, for example, more than 80 percent of all Belarus inhabitants spoke Belarusian at home. By 1989, that had fallen to 65 percent, and by 2009, almost 70 percent of Belarusians spoke Russian at home. In 2017, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed open alarm over this linguistic evolution, declaring that “[i]f we lose our ability to speak Belarusian, we will cease to be a nation.” But Lukashenko’s need to defeat the widespread protests against him after the 2020 election only deepened his reliance on Russia. The use of Belarusian territory to assist in the invasion of Ukraine and Lukashenko’s cooperation with Putin will now completely isolate Belarus from the West, increasing its dependence on Russia further. The potential for even greater political, economic, and military integration between Russia and Belarus, formalized through the Union State, will only be further augmented by Belarus’ steady adoption of the Russian language.

But the Kremlin’s campaign in Ukraine will remain its most pressing imperative, and it has focused on efforts to alter and weaken Ukraine’s demographics. For example, the war has prompted millions of Ukrainian citizens to leave the country, and the longer they are away, the less likely they are to return. Reports on the forced transfer of Ukrainian minors from Ukraine to Russia have also been apparent since the beginning of the war, and roughly 20,000 Ukrainian children are estimated to have been sent to Russia, according to Ukrainian authorities. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for both Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian commissioner for children’s rights, in connection with the affair. It is unlikely that either of them will ever be prosecuted, while Russia has stated that the population transfers are part of a humanitarian response to young Ukrainians made orphans by the war. Reducing Ukraine’s population by creating refugees and bolstering Russia’s by transferring orphans further demonstrate the demographic aspect to the conflict.

With centuries of experience in using ethnicity and conflict to redraw borders, the Kremlin has aimed to reconceptualize Ukrainian statehood. Reinforcing the notion that Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians are “one people” may help Russia expand its territory through conflict, and reverse its declining population by assimilating millions of potential Russians into the country. Whether this will be worth the consequences of sanctions and isolation from the West for the Kremlin will remain up for debate for the foreseeable future. A clear Russian defeat, however, would have disastrous implications for Russia’s territorial integrity, and would likely inspire greater calls for separatism in Russia not only from ethnic minorities, but also ethnic Russian communities dissatisfied with living under Moscow’s thumb. Thus, like Ukraine, Russia’s fate will depend on the outcome of the war and its ability to consolidate its diverse population once hostilities decline.

Source: Globetrotter

Manipur: Despicable Politics

The Government of India on June 4, 2023, has notified a Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, to inquire into the incidents of violence in the state of Manipur on May 3, 2023, and thereafter. The Commission chaired by Justice Ajai Lamba, former Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court with Himanshu Shekhar Das, Indian Administrative Service (Retd.) and Aloka Prabhakar, Indian Police Service (Retd.) as members, according to the notification “shall make inquiry with respect to the causes and spread of the violence, which took place in Manipur, and whether there were any lapses on the part of any of the responsible authorities or individuals.”

On the last day of his four-day (May 29-June 1) visit to the state, Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah had assured the Press that “a judicial commission will be set up under the chairmanship of retired Chief Justice of the High Court to investigate the Manipur violence”. He had also asserted that “a peace committee would also be constituted under the chairmanship of the Governor of Manipur, in which representatives of all sections would be included.” This peace committee is yet to be formed. However, several peace committees consisting of different Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have been formed and teams have rushed to the violence affected areas to ‘restore normalcy’.

Ethnic clashes erupted between Kukis and Meitei/Meetei on May 3, 2023, in Churachandpur District, and spread rapidly across the state. According to the latest official figures released on June 2, 2023, at least 98 people have lost their lives and 310 have been injured in these clashes. In all, 4,014 cases of arson have been reported. Since the beginning of the violence, the state police has registered 3,734 cases and arrested 65 people for their involvement. The official release said that, at present, a total of 37,450 persons displaced by the violence had taken refuge in 272 relief camps.

Indefinite curfew was imposed in large part of the state following the violence on May 3. Curfew is still in force though curfew relaxation has been made for 12 hours in the valley and between seven to 10 hours in neighboring hill districts. State-wide internet shut-down that was imposed on May 3 remains in effect till today.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah during the June 1, 2023, press conference, appealed for peace and urged people who had looted weapons from police armouries to return the weapons at the earliest, failing which they would face stern action. [A June 4, 2023, report citing an unnamed official stated that only 18 per cent of over 4,000 weapons, looted or taken away from police armouries have been surrendered to the authorities.] In a clear indication of fear of insurgents becoming active participants in the ongoing violence, Shah warned that those who violate the Suspension of Operation (SoO) conditions would be dealt with sternly. It is pertinent to recall here that a total of 23 insurgent groups in Manipur under two conglomerates [United Peoples’ Front (UPF) – eight; and the Kuki National Organization (KNO) – 15] are currently under SoO Agreements with the GoI, since August, 2008.

The UHM, however, categorically described the present violence as nasli hinsa (ethnic violence).

On June 1, 2023, Army Chief General Manoj Pande, responding to a question regarding the involvement of ‘insurgent groups’, emphasized,

The current situation that we are facing is that of ethnic clashes between two communities… The current situation is a manifestation of law and order… There is also this challenge of misinformation, of narratives which are coming out from both sides. That is another issue which we need to be careful about, and that is another appeal which we had made that for only credible information, and specially for the media and such influencers not to abet this kind of misinformation.

Earlier, on May 30, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan had asserted,

The situation in Manipur has nothing to do with counter-insurgency and is primarily a clash between two ethnicities. It is a law-and-order kind of situation and we are helping the state government with the problem. We [the Army] have done an excellent job and saved a large number of lives.

Thus, both the Army Chief and the CDS termed the violence as ethnic, dismissing allegations of armed insurgent involvement.

In a despicable attempt to polarize populations, however, state Chief Minister (CM) N. Biren Singh, who has for long been widely criticized for his communal politics, favoring the majority Meitei Hindu community, in an irresponsible statement on May 28 had asserted,

The fight is not between two communities (Meities and Kukis), but between Kuki militants bound by the Suspension of Operations agreement and combined teams of the central and state security forces. We are trying to find the culprits behind the killing of innocent civilians. Massive combing operations have been launched along with helicopter surveillance. Till now we have reports that around 40 terrorists have been eliminated.

Several media outlets linked to the Hindutva movement compounded these allegations by declaring that the conflict was a Christian (Kuki) – Hindu (Meitie) confrontation, and weaving a generalized narrative of Christian Missionary activities in the state and Northeast region into allegations of ‘church-sponsored violence’ in the present context, developing another stream of falsehoods, which quickly inflamed social media.

Chief Minister Biren Singh has been adopting an anti-Kuki stand for long. In an interview published on May 9, 2023, his fellow Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Saikot Paolienlal Haokip in the Churachandpur District of Manipur asserted that the Chief Minister was “anti-Kuki”, and “prejudiced and was “maligning the entire Kuki community”, adding “many Meiteis confirm this”.

In his statement on May 28, Biren Singh sought to introduce the ‘insurgency’ angle in order to shift the blame for the violence exclusively on the Kukis, even before an investigation had been launched. Unfortunately for him, the statements that followed – by the UHM, Army Chief, CDS and Security Advisor – challenged his claims and exposed his malicious designs.

It is significant that the present crisis has largely been sparked by the order of a single judge bench of the Manipur High Court on March 27, 2023, comprising Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, directing,

The first respondent (State Government) shall consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list, expeditiously, preferably within a period four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order…

Soon after the judgment, tensions started emerging in the state, eventually culminating in major violence on May 3, with a dramatic escalation on May 27-28, and continuing sporadically thereafter.

It is significant that a Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud has rejected Muralidaran’s order as “obnoxious” and “absolutely wrong”. The CGI noted further,

We have to stay the order of the Manipur HC. It is completely factually wrong and we gave time to Justice Muralidharan to remedy his error and he did not… we have to take a strong view against it…

Though the bench was initially of the view that it would set aside the High Court order, it later chose to direct the petitioners to join the proceedings before the division bench of the High Court hearing the intra-court appeals challenging the order of the single judge bench.

Significantly, and despite the Supreme Court’s observations, Justice Muralidaran failed to rescind his order, only amending it to extend the deadline of “four weeks” to “one year”.

While the security situation has now improved, occasional flare-ups persist, with the most recent flashpoint at Serou in Kakching District, any laxity at this juncture may prove detrimental as ethnic violence has not ended as yet. Indeed, ethnic violence had subsided after few days of major clashes in early May, only to flare up again in end-May.

It is significant that the present eruption of violence comes after years of steady counter-insurgency consolidation in Manipur. The SATP database, which has documented the conflict since March 6, 2000, registers a peak of 496 fatalities in 2008; just seven insurgency-linked fatalities were recorded in 2022.

The previous year had seen an abrupt spike, with 27 fatalities recorded in 2021, but 2020 registered just seven killed, and 2019, nine fatalities.

The multiple insurgencies in Manipur date back to over four decades. Enormous success has been achieved in containing most of the insurgencies, and SF dominance has been secured across the state at enormous cost in blood and money. A small cluster of seven ‘Valley based’ (Meitei) groups – under the umbrella identity of CorCom (Coordination Committee) – and seven other groups – Hmar People’s Convention- Democracy (HPC-D), National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), Kuki National Front (KNF), National Revolutionary Front of Manipur (NRFM) and Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF) – remain marginally active.

The attempts to polarize the populations under these circumstances is nothing short of criminal malice. The High Court’s ‘obnoxious’ order, and the Chief Minister’s equally obnoxious statements, have destabilized the state, provoked widespread violence, and entrenched communal prejudice and hatred even deeper than before. The harm done will take years, if not decades, to repair – if, indeed, there is a sustained and good-faith effort to abandon the despicable politics of polarization. It is unlikely that Chief Minister Biren Singh can spearhead any such good-faith initiative, given his patently communal approach, and the complete loss of faith, certainly, of the state’s tribal population – as well as of at least a section of the Meitei community. It remains to be seen whether a more sagacious leadership will be brought to the helm. If not, Manipur is likely to see worse to come.

Deciphering the Motives Behind Modi’s ‘Extended Dialogue’ for South Asia


India has done more for Sri Lanka than the IMF S. Jaishankar, Union Minister for External Affairs–Indian Express.

China will stand for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, economic development — Visiting Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, when he called on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena last week.

These two statements by representatives of the two Asian giants taken at face value–prima facie as lawyers say — should make our people joyful and relaxed but in terms of realpolitik, should it be so?

The statement of Jaishankar was followed by the Indian High Commission the next day that following a request by Sri Lanka, the State Bank of India had extended the tenure of USD 1 billion credit facility till next year.

Lankans should indeed thank India for their continuing support but a significant difference between the statements of the two powers we noticed was the Chinese government giving priority in their statement for support of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,

Jaishankar’s statement as reported said: The Modi government is working on developing an extended neighbourhood that involves the islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries, and nations in South-East Asia.

“What we are trying to do is for a bigger, influential and ambitious India. We are trying to expand what should be our neighbourhood. We look at what this extended neighbourhood should be. It could be islands in the Indian Ocean, nations in South East Asia and Central Asia or Gulf countries. The relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia has undergone an enormous transformation.”

From traditionally a much more constricted view of our neighbourhood, we have undertaken something much more ambitious, he had said in his speech at Anant’s National University in Delhi.

“If you are the biggest in the neighbourhood, then it is in our interest that our other neighbours have a share in our prosperity, happiness and are linked to us, he had declared in a burst of Indian altruism, not ever witnessed before Lanka’s financial debacle and “gone forward in a way, we ourselves have never done for Sri Lanka” and added that it “is bigger than what the IMF has done for Sri Lanka”.

Jaishankar is indeed correct. Although friendship with its neighbours was supposed to be the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy, commencing with Congress governments, despite Lanka faithfully following the tilted Non-Aligned policy of the Gandhis towards the Soviet Union, massive assistance on the scale given by the Modi government — or any significant assistance — did not come Lanka’s way.

Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in Lanka and the Indo-Lanka Agreement which the then president J.R. Jayewardene had no option but to accept (Remember his plea: ‘What could I do with no foreign power lifting a finger to help me’) and with the Modi government still calling for its full implementation, any reference by New Delhi to Sri Lankan sovereignty will sound hollow.

Narendra Modi has visions of making India a world power and becoming a world leader and in these endeavours he is bound to suffer setbacks such as in the diplomatic rapprochement brought about recently between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Chinese diplomacy, which is what Jaishankar is talking about when he refers to the relationship with the “UAE having undergone an enormous transformation”.

But we in Lanka are not concerned with all that but only about the Modi government working on “developing an extended neighbourhood” that involves islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries and nations in South-East Asia. How would this “extended neighbourhood” apply to South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives which have had long-standing contentious relationships with their giant neighbour resulting in the paralysis of SAARC?

Sri Lankans while appreciating the munificence of the Modi government have noticed that some massive Indian investment projects involve Lanka’s national security concerns. They include the construction of seaports, the Trinco Oil Tank Farm, the use of the Trinco port itself, and energy projects in projects in the Palk Strait. Many agreements have been signed with India by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government when Basil Rajapaksa was the Finance Minister and also after the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime took office. These agreements have not been presented to parliament for ratification making some doubt, especially the trade unions, whether national security has been bartered away for loans which have to be repaid.

Narendra Modi is in an ebullient mood having won two consecutive general elections and going for a third term driving his juggernaut of Hindutva through the Indian electorate, singling out minorities particularly India’s Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world. Most Indian opposition parties despite their myriad differences in religion, race, and caste are attempting to form a united opposition to defeat him at the next parliamentary elections. He is defying democratic practices, traditions and even constitutional provisions at the cost to his fellow Indians and for fair and democratic judgments to be expected in his proposed “Extended neighbourhood” would be the height of optimism.

At a ceremony in New Delhi, on Sunday, Modi inaugurated a new parliament complex built at an estimated cost of $ 120 million and called it the ‘cradle of empowerment’ but the ceremony was boycotted by most opposition parties. He sidelined President Droupaadi Murmu who is the head of state and the highest constitutional authority and inaugurated the building himself.

It is an attempt to revamp the British colonial architecture including the former parliament building although some were of the view that the old parliament is more Indian than Modi’s creation.

Rahul Gandhi, the Indian Congress party leader was in the United States last week meeting Indian expatriates and American legislators accusing Modi’s BJP and RSS of attacking the constitution and attempting to divide the country on caste and religious lines ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit at the invitation of President Joe Biden.

What is so attractive about Narendra Modi to Western leaders like Joe Biden? Modi’s human rights record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat was condemned by the Western world. Is this real politics at play — Modi and the BJP being the biggest and the only countervailing force against the superpower, China?

Turkiye – Strongman of West Asia

Most people think of Turkey – now renamed ‘Turkiye,’ – as an exotic land of spices, little cups of sweet coffee and fierce-looking men with bristling mustaches.

They would be surprised to learn that Turkiye (and ex-Turkey) is the most populated nation in Europe (excluding Russia) and an industrial and military powerhouse.  In fact, Turkiye’s tough military is the second largest fighting force in NATO after the US Army.

This past week, Turkiye’s leader for the past 20 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was re-elected in a landslide electoral victory.  The massive voter turnout again illustrated the wide gap in this nation of 84.7 million between Islamic-oriented conservatives and westernized urban dwellers who support efforts to Europeanise Turkiye and purge it of Islamic culture.  This was the national policy last century of the founder of modern Turkiye, Gen. Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan now has a five-year term to continue his plan to transform this ancient nation into a modern democracy based on Islamic principals of helping the poor, modesty, support of beleaguered Muslims and social welfare – all of which are fiercely resisted by the cash-loving Saudis and the other Gulf mini-states created by Imperial Britain.

After decades of US-backed army rule, financial disasters and inept politicians, Turkiye seems to have finally found its feet under Erdogan.  Finances are still wonky, but manufacturing and exports are up.  The education system and big business are still controlled by anti-Erdogan groups who are profoundly anti-Muslim and eager to be regarded as A-class Europeans. The mighty army has been forced back into its barracks.

Meanwhile, Turkiye remains under siege by its foes, notably the United States.  Why? Turkiye used to be such an important American ally. Its soldiers rescued many US troops in Korea and gave the Red Chinese a solid thrashing. Turks provided the southern bastion of NATO and kept unruly Arabs in line.

But later on, Erdogan, a devout Muslim, kept voicing support for the oppressed Palestinians and giving them more legitimacy.  This put Erdogan on Israel’s hate list.  Turkish influence in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, all of which have sizeable Muslim minorities, troubled the US and the Greek government – which has close military and intelligence ties to Israel.

`My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ as the old Arab saying goes.  Big discoveries of offshore oil and gas in the Aegean Sea are making Israel, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt serious competitors. The US is not far behind.

Most Turks believe the 2016 attempted coup again Erdogan was engineered by CIA and a US-based cult leader to install a more pro-American general in power and return Ankara to Washington’s domination.  Fortunately for Turkiye, the coup failed.  Otherwise, Turkiye might have ended up like an Argentina or military-run Brazil.

Washington prefers to deal with the world through military dictators and strongmen. They are all over the Mideast, Africa and Central Asia. We may see a new wave of military despots coming soon in Latin America. 

Turkiye is now slowly recovering from the monster earthquake that ravaged Hatay province.  This vast natural disaster that smote Turkiye and Syria will retard development by at least six years.  The new government in Ankara will have to enforce proper building codes.  Efforts by the international financial community to undermine and destabilize Turkiye must cease.  Israel’s secret arming and finance of Syria’s rebellious Kurds and Syria’s Sunni rebels will lead to small Mideast wars unless the US acts to end them.

Turkiye is obviously the key to damping down these regional conflicts and playing a major role in some sort of peace deal between Ukraine and Russia.  But a peace deal between Moscow and Kiev is unlikely as long as the US and its allies keep trying to destroy the Russian state.  Brazil’s newly re-elected president, Lula da Silva, rightly warns the West (read USA) must begin respecting Russia’s national interests if there is to be any peace around the Black Sea.

President Erdogan is the result of real democracy at work.  A clean election is grounds for cheers for Turkiye and Europe.  The Pentagon didn’t get the four-star Turkish general it wanted – this time.

Copyright. Eric S. Margolis 2023

Sri Lanka: Success Story of Power Without Mandate

Revisiting Sri Lanka Perspectives after a two-month break, we find the month of May occupies a special place in Sri Lanka’s history with a seamless continuity of events in yesteryears. The effects of wasteful politics failing to one-half decades of peace after the Tamil separatist war that ended in May 2009 with the death of Prabhakaran have continued. The fractured ethnic relations continue to be used as a political ploy by national parties, often using religious leaders to promote hatred. Under the patronage of Rajapaksas, political Buddhism is well entrenched to trigger public opinion.

It was also on a fateful day in May 1991, vengeful Prabhakaran masterminded the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. The slain former Indian prime minister was a friend of the Tamils. He acted proactively to settle Sri Lanka’s ethnic confrontation in their favour, signing the India-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987. The Accord protectes Tamil identity and provides for limited autonomy the Tamils enjoy now. Prabhakaran’s mindless killing of Rajiv dissipated the ocean of sympathy Sri Lanka Tamils enjoyed in India. It is ironical the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) that extended lukewarm support to the 1987 Accord, in its morphed avatar as Tamil National Alliance ( TNA) now wants India’s help to enforce it.

The Covid-19 pandemic added to the plight of the people already groaning under the economic mismanagement under Gotabaya. May 9, 2022 is also remembered for the infamous ‘Black Monday’ attack by goons of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and supporters of Rajapaksas on Aragalaya protesters to disperse them. The Black Monday attacks proved a disaster for the political fortunes of the Rajapaksas. To escape public wrath, they had to quit the government and seek sanctuaries at home and abroad. The Rajapaksas however persuaded Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the United National Party (UNP) rejected by the people in the general elections, to become a proxy prime minister. Ultimately, Ranil was elected President by a majority of parliamentarians.

It can happen only in Sri Lanka that Ranil’s Faustian bargain with Rajapaksas to become President with no popular mandate is leading the fight for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. It is to Wickremesinghe’s credit that he is doing a better job of economic recovery unlike the Rajapaksas whose populist policies plunged the national economy to the south. It is in this overall backdrop the happenings in the month of May 2023 have to be understood.

One year after Aragalaya

One of the key elements of Aragalaya protest was against the introduction of 20th Amendment by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The 20A had superseded 19A enabling the president to accumulate powers in his hands, particularly in exercising control over the so-called independent commissions and in making key appointments to high office. The 21A is a compromise between the motley collection of parties including Rajapaksa supporters that came together to ensure the Aragalaya protests do not push them into irrelevance. 21A makes the President more accountable to parliament and restore independent commissions.

Before the month ended, the continuing standoff between the Minister of power and energy Kanchana Wijesekara over the sacking of the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCL) Janaka Ratnayake, a Rajapaksa appointee, came to a boil when the parliament voted him out of office as chairman.

Ratnayake’s sacking had all the elements of a B grade TV political serial. Minister Wijesekara as minister has brought some semblance of order in the distribution of energy resources to the suffering of the public. Sacking of Ratnayake was part of his restructuring exercise. But the dismissed PUCL chairman refused to budge and used the publicity garnered by the stand-off, to hint at contesting the next presidential election as a candidate. This minor incident showed the lack of spirit among stakeholders for any reform, even though members may speak eloquently on improving governance.

Incidents of corruption at high levels continue to be reported. They justify the common man’s distrust of the political class. Newspapers reported that a Chinese man with a forged Guinea passport was apprehended by the immigration staff while trying to enter Colombo international airport. The reports said the state minister for urban development and Housing Arundika Fernanda, had instructed the immigration authorities to release him and permit him to enter the country as he was a ‘foreign investor.’

In another sordid incident, the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Puttalam MP Ali Sabri Raheem was arrested by Customs officers at Bandaranaike air port while attempting to enter the country carrying undeclared haul of 3.397 kg of gold worth SL Rs 75 million. He was also carrying 91 smart phones worth SL Rs 4.2 million. He was released after paying a fine of SL Rs 7.4 million after a brief inquiry. Customs have confiscated the gold and smartphones.

Unless the government is able to curb corruption and aberrations of governance, we can expect another Aragalaya protest to gather strength among the younger generation.

Economic recovery

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff mission made a 12-day visit to Colombo during the month to discuss the recent economic developments and implementation of the IMF supported programme. In a statement the IMF said “Following strong policy efforts, the macroeconomic situation in Sri Lanka is showing tentative signs of improvement, with inflation moderating, the exchange rate stabilising, and the Central Bank rebuilding reserves buffers. However, the overall macroeconomic and policy environment remains challenging.

The mission said it discussed additional fiscal efforts that will be critical to ensure successful revenue mobilisation. The mission also discussed progress on debt restructuring, noting the ongoing discussions with both foreign and domestic creditors. The IMF expected to formally assess the performance under the programme to be undertaken in September 2023. The mission stressed the need to achieve timely restructuring agreements with creditors in line with the programme targets by then. It said the need to keep up the reform momentum, timely implementation of programme commitments on ensuring the independence of the central bank, improved governance and protect the vulnerable people are key for Sri Lanka to emerge from the economic crisis.

The President will have to bite the bullet to sell the IMF package to the people, tighten government expenditure and introduce tax reforms. Unless there is some consensus on the reforms among mainstream political parties, the President will not be able take the country through this difficult process.

Despite political gerrymandering by political leaders, India with $4 billion largesse is in the forefront of nations helping Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. The month ended with the State Bank of India extending a $1 billion credit facility till March 2024. Japan and Western nations are also helping Sri Lanka particularly in restructuring its economy with the help of the IMF.

During the month China’s vice premier for foreign affairs Sun Weidong visited Sri Lanka. The Chinese minister met Sri Lanka’s prime minister Gunawardena and assured that China will increase investments in several areas such as agriculture, trade and commerce, ports and infrastructure development. He also said that China will continue to provide economic assistance as well as support the country’s debt restructuring programme. However, China, the biggest of Sri Lanka’s debtors, has so far not relented to Sri Lanka’s request to defer Chinese debts.

In a significant move, Sri Lanka has signed an agreement with Sinopec Fuel Production and Marketing Dept, a Chinese company, to import, store, distribute and sell petroleum through a dealer network. The company gets a 20 year licence to operate 150 fuel stations currently operated by CPC and invest in 50 more fuel stations. Sinopec will rely on its own funds for fuel procurement from overseas during the initial year of operation. China is well entrenched in Sri Lanka, probably next only to Pakistan, as its much trumpeted international finance city is coming up on the Colombo reclamation project. As China further firms up its presence in Sri Lanka, India and its Quad allies – Australia, Japan and the US – are likely to draw Sri Lanka strategically closer to further Indian Ocean security. Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is tangled in these strategic moves.

Tailpiece -‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth invited: Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner at Chennai

Dr D Venkateshwaran has invited ‘Superstar’ Rajinikanth to visit Sri Lanka “as his presence will enhance cinema induced tourism as well as spiritual and wellness tourism,” according to a media report. The diplomat is said to have personally invited him to explore the “Ramayana Trail” and other Buddhist sacred sites, promoted by Sri Lanka tourism to attract Indian tourists.

World Bicycle Day –  A Multi Faceted Solution to Our Problems?

Nothing compares to the simple pleasures of a bike ride.  John F. Kennedy

The 3rd of June has been designated by the United Nations as World Bicycle Day.  On 12 April 2018 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 72/272 which recalled that the UN Millennium Development Goals in its  2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognize that sport is  an important enabler of sustainable development, and that the potential of the bicycle to contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, as well as The UN’s new urban agenda is significant. The Resolution further recognized that  the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, coupled with its simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation was invaluable, not to mention its role in  fostering environmental stewardship and health.

The Resolution also refers to the synergy between the bicycle and the user which fosters creativity and social engagement and gives the user an immediate awareness of the local environment.  The bicycle can serve as a tool for development and as a means not just of transportation but also of access to education, health care and sport.  Above all, the bicycle is a symbol of sustainable transportation and conveys a positive message to foster sustainable consumption and production and has a positive impact on climate.

It was also recognized that the bicycle  promotes social development through sport and physical education, including cycling, and mentioned its extremely important role of productive public-private partnerships in financing programmes for organizing bicycle rallies to promote peace and development, preservation of the environment, institutional development and physical and social infrastructure.  Therefore, the conclusion reached was that major international and local cycling competitions should be organized in the spirit of peace, mutual understanding, friendship, tolerance and inadmissibility of discrimination of any kind, and that the unifying and conciliative nature of such events should be respected,

The United Nations therefore invited all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other relevant international organizations, international, regional and national sports organizations, civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, and all other relevant stakeholders to cooperate in observing World Bicycle Day, to celebrate the Day and to promote awareness of it.  Resolution 72/272 encourages Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in cross-cutting development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national and subnational development policies and programmes, as appropriate and to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design. In particular , mention is made to the adoption and implementation of  policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to achieving broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases.

All stakeholders are encouraged by the Resolution to  emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.  In this context Member States are encouraged to adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society, and in this regard welcomes initiatives to organize bicycle rides at the national and local levels as a means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in Society. The Secretary General is requested to bring the Resolution to the attention of Member States and the Organizations of the United Nations system.

My Take

According to this Resolution, the humble bicycle can be a tool for promoting clean air, physical fitness, peace and friendship, social harmony, education, health care, creativity, and sustainable development within a community. In this context it is difficult to envision any other mode of transport, from SpaceX to rail to road transport, or shipping for that matter, or even air transport contributing to all these outcomes. One wonders what the extended use of the bicycle would do in the most polluted cities in the world: Lahore; Hotan; New Delhi; Bhiwadi and Peshawar. Also, what would the effect of cycling to work instead of travelling by taxi do to an executive in terms of obviating diabetes or cardiovascular disease? 

 Apart from disease avoidance cycling plays an important role in promoting physical fitness as an excellent form of exercise that activates  various muscle groups, including the legs, buttocks, and core. It is also medically recognized that regular cycling can improve cardiovascular fitness, build strength, enhance stamina, and help with weight management. Cycling has a distinct advantage over jogging or running as it is a low-impact activity that puts less stress on joints while serving  as an excellent option for those with joint issues or those recovering from injuries. The physical activity generated by cycling boosts mental health and well being, through the release of  endorphins, which can enhance mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Cycling can also improve sleep quality and increase overall energy levels.

Another advantage in cycling lies in weight management, as regular  cycling can help burn calories and contribute to weight loss or maintenance. It increases one’s metabolic rate, helping to shed excess body fat and build lean muscle mass. The balance required by cycling increases flexibility and coordination and the agility associated with cycling helps  improve one’s overall motor skills and enhances flexibility, particularly in the hips and lower body.

Cycling is eco-friendly and cost effective.  It reduces carbon emissions and helps preserve the environment. Bicycles have a minimal ecological footprint and contribute to sustainable transportation. There is also the benefit of commuting convenience where a cycle can navigate through traffic congestion, especially in urban areas, bypassing heavy  traffic by using  bike lanes or paths, and easily find parking.

The bicycle personifies determination, perseverance, and the pursuit of freedom. It highlights the theme of overcoming obstacles and embracing independence. Unlike other modes of transport (which are all driven by motor) cycling encourages cyclists to believe in themselves, The marvels of cycling are brought to bear by those who value it. Mark Cavendish, British pro racer  once said: “[T]o me it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun is shining or whatever: as long as I’m riding a bike, I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”  For the women, Susan B. Anthony, US women’s rights activist said: “The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”

International Flight Attendants’ Day – A Tribute to Our Ministering Angels


“We may travel the four corners of the world, but our job is to make you feel at home.”

International Flight Attendants’ Day – also called International Cabin Crew Members’ Day – falls on 31st May each year. To mark the day this year, The International Transport Workers’ Federation said inter alia:

“ As we mark another Cabin Crew Day, the ITF is proud to take this opportunity to reflect on the essential role these workers play in keeping the world moving. It is hard to imagine what aviation would possibly look like without the dedication, professionalism, and hard work of cabin crew. But today is also a reminder of the enormous challenges these workers face. Today is about celebration, but it is also about redoubling our efforts to fix the problems in the sector. The way employers in aviation work demands long hours and irregular shifts of workers. But this comes at a cost: overworked and under-rested cabin crew members mean that the well-being and safety of both workers and passengers alike is in jeopardy. Fatigue impairs judgement, attentiveness, and reaction times, all of which make the skies less safe.

But it is simply not true that this problem has no solution. Better rostering practices that consider crew members as human beings and provide sufficient rest periods between flights would make an enormous difference for the better – for everyone.

Another major challenge affecting cabin crew workers is the rise in incidents involving disruptive passengers. Whether it’s excessive alcohol consumption or refusing to comply with safety protocols, these kinds of behaviour make the job of cabin crew harder and less safe – but they also make the journey worse for everyone else. This is why promoting a culture of respect and empathy is vital – and why it’s a job that employers must take up”.

There are a few key words which jump out: essential role; dedication; professionalism; and challenges.  Although admittedly, these words can be ascribed to any profession, and in the air transport field they do apply to the confident captain, the humble chap in overalls prepping up the aircraft, and the glamorous cabin crew,  it is the last category that faces challenges posed by humans. They have to cope with emergencies on board; offer kindness and understanding and ensure safety on board. Often, while suffering verbal abuse they are spat on by drunks, kicked by obstreperous  and disruptive elements and even sexually harassed and propositioned by lotharios. Cyberbullying is a new trend that cabin crew are subjected to.

Beneath the glamourous façade,  this special category of employee (be it male or female) is often a font of  empathy, comfort and solace to passengers in distress. They have been known to hold the hand of a nervous passenger, offer a listening ear, and sit with an aged person who has just seen her spouse breath his last after dinner on board, or hold the hand of a nervous flyer during turbulence or other challenging situations. Many passengers are nervous and fearful of flying and the cabin crew step in to allay their fears. Fear of flying, or aerophobia ( also called aviophobia or aeroneurosis)  which could also be caused by acrophobia (fear of heights) is increasingly becoming a unique human factors issue, has many facets, not all of which apply directly to flying itself. Some of these are: heights; enclosed spaces; crowded conditions; sitting in hot, stale air; being required to wait passively; not understanding the reasons for all the strange actions sounds and sensations occurring around; worrying about the dangers of turbulence; being dependant on an unknown pilot’s or mechanic’s judgment; not feeling in control; and the possibility of terrorism. Passenger hostility is a symptom of a blend of emotions and fear of flying is one of them. Other common symptoms are the threat of losing control, fatigue, and personal and environmental stress.

Fear of flying could lead to self protection—in demanding alcohol, a particular seat or the right to smoke in the cabin. In the early days of flying, the role of the cabin crew was to alleviate passenger concerns by explaining the rules of aerodynamics, cloud formations and meteorology. They also acted as tour guides, particularly when the aircraft flew at low altitudes since large windows offered spectacular views that could alleviate fear. Fear of flying does not always result in air rage or criminal conduct on the part of the person concerned. However, the fact that fear of flying has the potential to make a normally calm and law abiding person turn into an offender is real.

 Elderly or Disabled Passengers are particular beneficiaries of prioritization by flight attendants who ensure their well being by assisting them in the process of boarding including reaching for the overhead bins to store their baggage and assisting them in using toilet facilities, particularly when the cabin lights are dimmed.  Children are entertained with colouring books and toys while parents are supported in feeding their children  which could extend to taking care of infants during flight.

Reports abound with instances of  generosity of the cabin crew in offering extra food and drink  and even enabling upgrades when available. Furthermore, they are usually multilingual and facilitate communication in flight, obviating communication barriers.

My Take

So ,what should be done to look after these flying angels better? A few things come to mind.

Some airlines have taken proactive steps in improving work-life balance; offering reduced duty hours and flexible scheduling as well as additional rest hours. Improved health coverage and enhanced wellness programmes are also desirable to ease the stress of service in flight. Hand in hand with comprehensive training on diversity and inclusion should go a supportive work environment which implements policies calculated to obviate harassment,  discrimination, and other workplace issues. Adequate and efficient processes for  reporting incidents are also important. ,

Above all, considering  the extraordinary nature of this profession, incentives and rewards must be offered that recognize and appreciate the efforts of cabin crew. These can include performance-based bonuses, commendations for exceptional service, and opportunities for career advancement or transfers to preferred routes. There must be fora to look into concerns and complaints of cabin crew with feedback mechanisms that ensure transparency and fairness from an ethical standpoint.

Some of the above-mentioned measures have already been addressed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the trade association of airlines.  IATA has introduced well thought through best practices on cabin crew safety operations covering  various aspects such as emergency procedures, crew resource management, and passenger handling, with the aim of ensuring the safety and well-being of cabin crew and passengers. There are other guidelines on cabin crew fatigue risk management; training; health and wellbeing. IATA also focuses on industry collaboration – a key  factor in facilitating collaboration among airlines, regulators, and other stakeholders to address common challenges and promote industry-wide improvements for cabin crew. Additionally, IATA energetically promotes the development of standards and recommended regulations for international organizations and regulators.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also made  contributions by collaborating on standardization with its own safety management systems (SMS) programme,   setting aviation health and medical requirements by establishing guidelines and standards for cabin crew health and medical requirements as well as guidance material and tools for airlines and regulators to implement fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) .

These are all on paper and it is left for prudent airlines to implement them.

India: PM Modi’s Puja Ceremony Sets the Stage for Ethical Governance

The inauguration of India’s new parliament building by Prime Minister Modi was a grand affair, capturing the attention of millions with its splendid display. Completed in just over two years, the building’s magnificent style and structure have been widely praised. However, it was the installation of the Sengol (Sceptre) that truly stood out during this elegant ceremony. Historically, Sengol has symbolized justice and good governance in India.

Amidst Vedic chants by Hindu priests, Prime Minister Modi performed the Ganapathi Puja (devotional prayer) and humbly prostrated himself before the Sengol. Seeking blessings from the priests, he then carried the Sengol in a procession, accompanied by Vedic mantras, and placed it to the right side of the speaker’s chair in the Parliament.

The discerning observers perceive Mr. Modi’s Sengol installation ceremony as a profoundly significant event, indicative of the direction in which he will lead India in the years to come. Following the installation, Mr. Modi delivered a stirring 35-minute speech, employing his characteristic emotional eloquence to paint a vibrant picture of India’s future. It was evident that the Sengol would serve as a constant reminder to those in governance of the crucial importance of probity, honesty, and fair play for all sections of society.

While some habitual critics of Mr. Modi have criticized the Sengol installation ceremony, the majority of Indians have responded with great enthusiasm, regarding the installed Sengol with respect and hope. Those who habitually criticize Mr. Modi have labeled the inaugural function of the new parliament house, carried out in accordance with Hindu practices, as an act against secularism.

In contemporary India, the term secularism is often abused and misused, with anything associated with Hindu practices being deemed non-secular, while religious activities of other faiths are considered secular. Essentially, those who promote Hindu philosophy and way of life are unjustly accused of lacking secular credentials. In India’s democracy, where vote bank politics has become central during elections, many political parties attempt to secure the votes of minority religions by claiming to be secular and progressive, while simultaneously disparaging those who speak about the Hindu ethos.

In this context, Mr. Modi has demonstrated a remarkable level of conviction and courage by openly acknowledging his identity as a Hindu, while simultaneously respecting other religions. During the parliament inauguration program, after performing elaborate Hindu pujas, representatives from all other religions were given an opportunity to offer prayers according to their religious traditions.

Over the past nine years as Prime Minister, there have been numerous occasions when Mr. Modi publicly worshipped in Hindu temples. One of the most significant events was his performance of puja, according to Hindu religious practices, during the foundation-laying ceremony of the Ram Janma Bhoomi temple. While such pujas have been conducted by Mr. Modi in temples in the past, this is arguably the first time he has performed puja, in accordance with Hindu religious practices, during a major official function for the inauguration of a new parliament building, reaching a wide audience both within India and abroad.

Hinduism originated in India and has been an integral part of Indian culture for thousands of years. More than 75% of Indians identify with Hinduism. While various countries incorporate religious prayers into official programs, such as reciting from the Holy Quran in Islamic countries or the Holy Bible in Christian nations, such practices have not been widely followed in India during major official functions. In Christian and Islamic countries, there are also many citizens who belong to other religions, and they do not object to Muslims and Christians practicing their faith during official functions. If these practices are deemed appropriate in those countries, then Mr. Modi following Hindu religious practices for the inauguration of the parliament in India should also be considered appropriate.

India can continue to be a secular country that allows freedom for all religions, much like other democratic nations such as the USA, Canada, and Europe. Therefore, adopting Hindu worship practices in official functions in India should be considered a suitable choice.

It is high time to acknowledge the grievance felt by many Hindus in India, who believe they are being discriminated against by various government policies that favor minority religions in the name of secular principles. A prime example is the government’s interference and control over Hindu temples, including the diversion of temple income for various purposes. In contrast, mosques, churches, and gurudwaras are not under government control but managed by leaders of those religions. Several other examples can be cited as well.

It is crucial for every Indian, regardless of their religious affiliation, be it Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or Buddhist, to recognize that India is fundamentally a country rooted in Hindu ethos, while allowing individuals of other religions the freedom to follow their respective religious teachings. Therefore, objections to Mr. Modi’s observance of Hindu religious practices during the inauguration of the new parliament are unfounded. Mr. Modi has set an example and dispelled unwarranted fears about secularism.

By installing the Sengol, a symbol of honesty and probity in governance, Mr. Modi has brought the nation’s attention to the high principles that should underpin fair governance. The Sengol will serve as a constant reminder, ensuring that the country remains focused on advancing with truth and honesty in governance.

Henry Kissinger Turns 100 – And Talks of How to Avoid World War III


On 27 May this year, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Diplomat Extraordinaire and former Secretary of State, known to be the most knowledgeable living expert on foreign relations, turns 100.  He is known for his strategic wisdom and penetrating perspicacity, and his sage advice to leaders across the world  over the past several decades has been chronicled in journalistic tomes around the world. Additionally, Dr. Kissinger’s book Diplomacy has acted as a beacon to the world of contentious international relations.  At his age he is preparing  his next two books – on artificial intelligence (ai) and the nature of alliances.  Although his voice has slowed down, he  remains as bright as a tick.

The latest issue of The Economist carries an excellent article on Dr. Kissinger on the subject of how to avoid a third world war. The Economist reports: “ Mr Kissinger is alarmed by China’s and America’s intensifying competition for technological and economic pre-eminence. Even as Russia tumbles into China’s orbit and war overshadows Europe’s eastern flank, he fears that AI is about to supercharge the Sino-American rivalry. Around the world, the balance of power and the technological basis of warfare are shifting so fast and in so many ways that countries lack any settled principle on which they can establish order. If they cannot find one, they may resort to force. “We’re in the classic pre-world war one situation,” he says, “where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences.”

Dr. Kissinger attempts to clarify perceived inadequacies of analyses of some academics and pundits who posit that China is intent on world domination and says: “They say China wants world domination…The answer is that they [in China] want to be powerful,” he says. “They’re not heading for world domination in a Hitlerian sense,” he says. “That is not how they think or have ever thought of world order.”  To end the quotations from The Economist  I must add “Mr Kissinger sees the Chinese system as more Confucian than Marxist. That teaches Chinese leaders to attain the maximum strength of which their country is capable and to seek to be respected for their accomplishments. Chinese leaders want to be recognised as the international system’s final judges of their own interests. “If they achieved superiority that can genuinely be used, would they drive it to the point of imposing Chinese culture?” he asks. “I don’t know. My instinct is No…[But] I believe it is in our capacity to prevent that situation from arising by a combination of diplomacy and force.”

My Take

Geopolitics in the context of the world powers is polarized and convoluted at best.  China believes that the United States wants to put it down and The United States goes on the basis that China wishes to dominate the world and obviate the global influence of The United States. At the other end of the spectrum lies Russia and its invasion of Ukraine where Russia claims that NATO expansion to the East threatens Russia’s interests and that nothing is off the table, implying the possibility of tactical nuclear attacks which will in all probability escalate into a full-scale war.  To this melting pot are vast technological strides including information technology which act as catalysts to a US-China confrontation and represent, in Dr. Kissinger’s words a “pre-world war situation”.  The world is rife with politics without policy where in the Far East the issue of Taiwan looms, and in the West, the issue of how to reach a solution to the war in Ukraine is getting cloudier by the day.

The first step could be to start with Cicero’s ancient aphorism Inter arma enim silent leges  – a maxim, which translates as “In times of war, the laws are silent”. In the 21st century, this maxim, which was purported to address the growing mob violence and thuggery of Cicero’s time, has taken on a different and more complex dimension, extending from the idealistic synergy between a rules-based international order and its adherence to established law in instances of confrontation to the overall power, called “prerogative” or “discretion” of sovereign States to violate established principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter.

The enduring conflict between misguided strategy, impulsive diplomacy and the rule of law is at the heart of this maxim. In modern usage it has become a watchword for the erosion of civil liberties during internal and external strife. The implication of Cicero’s aphorism is that civil liberties and freedoms are subservient to a nation’s integrity and sovereign right.

What seems to be required now is what Dr. Kissinger calls “hard diplomacy” coupled with coercive hard power that would likely obviate mutual destruction. In this context a hard look at history is essential, garnished with a strong dollop of collective leadership between a somewhat hapless but well meaning United Nations, a determined NATO and the countries concerned.    The history of mankind has proved that it is part of human nature to learn from past experience. That having been said, we have also acted with foresight in situations where we could not build on past experience. When we look at the history of international relations, we see that we have acted with foresight, as a result of which we have brought about major changes to the international legal system by reacting to past disasters.

The United Nations was built on the failure of the League of Nations which was set up as a reaction to World War 1. The failure of the League of Nations was that its Covenant, although intended to prevent the recurrence of atrocities of 1914, failed to outlaw war but merely provided procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Creators of the United Nations learnt from this mistake and wrote into the Charter of the UN the principle of collective security. The UN Security Council, on behalf of the entirety of UN member States, was empowered by the Charter to take decisive action against delinquents. However, this has never worked in practice when it was most needed. For example, the Security Council was literally impotent during the height of the Cold War. The Security Council has not taken or enforced military action against delinquent States nor has it received military assistance from member States to implement the powers ascribed to the Security Council by the UN Charter. The reactions of the Security Council have allegedly been sporadic and reactive, authorizing member States to take action on its behalf, which has prompted one commentator to say that the Council has not acted or functioned as a constitutional framework for a peaceful world but rather as a fire department reacting to emergencies as they rise.

Common ground must be discussed with an aim at compromise.  At the heart of the goal must not be the triumph of hard power but the preservation of the principles of the United Nations Charter. Perhaps a new world order is needed, and we need giants such as Dr. Kissinger to live on and help us achieve it.

Taiwan’s Quest to Upgrade Its Battle Readiness Continues to Evolve

In early May 2023, a U.S. delegation consisting of 25 defense contractors arrived in Taiwan for a security summit, aimed to increase interoperability between the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries. It marks the latest step toward Taiwan’s years-long efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities and pose credible deterrence to the Chinese military.

The military relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. expanded significantly during the Trump administration. Washington approved major arms sales, increased cooperation with the Taiwanese military, and conducted more naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait to emphasize the U.S. position on Taiwan. During the Biden administration, it was revealed that dozens of U.S. military personnel were training Taiwanese forces on the island since at least 2020, numbers which have increased since.

And while conscription was previously considered an outdated military policy characteristic of the Cold War, the war in Ukraine has reversed this notion. Taiwan’s attempted transition to Western-style volunteer force in previous years now appears far less credible in being able to realistically oppose the Chinese military, and Taiwan’s government has since reverted to upholding its military reserve system.

But though Taiwan’s 1.7 million reservists appear to form a formidable challenge to China’s roughly 2 million active military personnel, Taiwan’s forces largely exist only on paper. Its military currently only has 169,000 active military members and an estimated 300,000 combat-ready reservists, according to Wang Ting-yu of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

The Taiwanese government was therefore quick to explore increasing training times for reservists after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and in December 2022 lengthened conscription from four months to one year, bringing praise from the U.S. By boosting pay and training, the Taiwanese government hopes to bolster its forces and bring it closer to South Korea’s 18-month compulsory military service.

But China’s population of 1.4 billion dwarfs Taiwan’s mere 23 million, meaning additional Taiwanese conscription initiatives are futile if China resorts to additional conscription as well. Taiwan’s $19 billion defense budget also pales in comparison to the $230 billion spent by Beijing.

Washington’s hypothetical efforts to resupply the relatively isolated island of Taiwan during a conflict would meanwhile prove far more difficult than the ongoing Western effort to assist Ukraine. While stockpiling weapons could partially negate this issue, a prolonged conflict or blockade of Taiwan by China would steadily diminish Taiwan’s ability to continue fighting.

With the inherent disadvantages of the Taiwanese armed forces and the unwillingness of even the U.S. to officially commit to the island’s defense, Taiwan’s government has explored increasing engagement with the private sphere to ensure its security. The May 2023 U.S. contractors’ visit was just part of Taiwan’s recent efforts to increase engagement with both domestic and foreign private military firms.

Before the breakout of conflict in Ukraine in 2022, Taiwan had taken incremental steps toward greater privatization in its defense sector, such as privatizing the state aircraft manufacturer Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation in 2014.

However, the war in Ukraine completely altered the Taiwanese government’s view of private war. Russian private military and security companies (PMSCs) have been active in Ukraine since 2014, while the Russian PMSC known as Wagner has played an essential part in the war and in Russian propagandaVarious Western and Russian PMSCs are also fighting in Ukraine, while Chinese civilian drones have been used to great effect by both sides.

The Taiwanese government has since taken significant steps in engaging with Taiwan’s private sector to increase drone production. But more notable are the proposed changes to the Private Security Services Act, which regulates PMSCs operating in Taiwan, early into the war. Taipei has various types of private services to consider, such as those providing security, consulting, and training services, intelligence gathering, logistics support, and cyber and maritime security.

Enoch Wu, a politician from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party and a former special operations soldier, founded the security and civilian defense organization Forward Alliance in 2020. Alongside programs to treat injuries and respond to crises, Forward Alliance’s combat training programs expanded significantly following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. The number of Taiwanese private programs run by various companies “specializing in urban warfare and firearms training” has also increased since the start of the war, according to Voice of America.

In September 2022, Taiwanese entrepreneur Robert Tsao pledged to spend $100 million training 3 million soldiers over three years in the Kuma Academy (also known as the Black Bear Academy). While his claims are ambitious, Russian billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin’s financing of Wagner has already played an integral role in the war in Ukraine, at the same time drastically increasing his stature in Russia and notoriety abroad.

Due to its own limited industry, any Taiwanese effort to promote greater military cooperation with the private sphere would require Western assistance. The U.S. scrapped its mutual defense treaty with Taiwan in 1979 to normalize relations with China but the Taiwan Relations Act enables the U.S. to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, and privatization could make it easier for the West to support the Taiwanese military. Alongside weapons deals, Western PMSCs like G4S have been active in Taiwan for more than two decades and could quickly expand their operations on the island.

Greater cooperation with Western PMSCs may not be able to help Taiwan repel a Chinese assault. But they could complement Taiwanese military efforts to create a volunteer force modeled on Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force and advocated by former Taiwanese defense chief Admiral Lee Hsi-min. The U.S. has explored developing guerilla forces in the Baltic States to harass Russian forces if they were to invade, and growing the multiple private initiatives already underway in Taiwan could form a powerful guerilla network that could remain active even if Taiwan’s military is forced to stand down.

But committing to privatization has its own consequences for Taiwan. The role of Chinese PMSCs abroad has grown significantly over the last few years, with an estimated 20 to 40 Chinese active largely to guard Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects. However, China’s 7,000-plus PSMCs operating domestically “suggests ample opportunity for the future growth of internationally active” Chinese firms according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And, while Chinese law prohibits them from using force abroad except for defense, Beijing’s assertion that Taiwan is part of China’s territory could erode legal and political barriers to using them.

In recent years, China has also deputized maritime militias of fishing boats to swarm parts of the South China Sea and establish control over certain areas. By collaborating with Chinese PMSCs, these militias could even avoid Taiwan and surround the Kinmen, Matsu, or uninhabited Pratas islands. Although these islands are claimed by Taiwan, they are geographically closer to China. This could be justified on the grounds of economic interests or security concerns. The use of these fishing militias to harass Taiwan could make up for significant underdevelopment in Chinese PMSC capabilities and help China to avoid using its official military forces.

The scale of cooperation between the Taiwanese government and private military actors is so far limited. But Taiwan’s manpower shortages and lack of official military and diplomatic ties have made the prospect of private military assistance far more attractive. The lack of international regulations sustaining Taiwan’s recent increased engagement with the private military sphere, however, will further encourage China to respond in kind.

Ukrainian oligarchs had turned to PMSCs to protect their assets in Ukraine after 2014, while Ukraine has come to heavily lean on foreign PMSCs to supplement the war effort. Wagner and other Russian PMSCs have meanwhile grown in importance to Russian military efforts in Ukraine as well. The growing power of PMSCs in Ukraine, as well as worldwide, suggests further military privatization of the dispute over Taiwan may be inevitable.

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