The relationship between Washington and Moscow is already near the breaking point, and early this morning, risked spinning entirely out of control, when a pair of Russian jets first harassed and thenMore
China’s economic data for the year 2022 has been released in Beijing on Tuesday. The striking part is that China’s GDP growth slowed down to 3 percent.
From an Indian perspective, it may seem momentarily that China’s economy is slowing while India’s expanded by nearly 7 percent (per World Bank predictions.) Can India catch up with China in a medium term scenario?
This is where the devil lies in the fine print. The heart of the matter is that China’s GDP growth of 3 percent translates as a year-on-year expansion of its economy touching a whopping $18 trillion.
To put matters in perspective, China has an economy that is five and a half times the size of India’s economy (GDP: $3.5 trillion). (Emphasis added.)
Yet, this is being regarded as a lacklustre economic performance, attributed to headwinds stemming from a combination of adverse circumstances characteristic of 2022 — ranging from the coronavirus and geopolitical tensions to repeated US interest rate hikes and the waning overseas demand due to the world economy tiptoeing toward recession.
The sporadic outbreaks of Covid in manufacturing bases including Shanghai and South China’s Guangdong Province disrupted production in local factories and logistics, which combined with a property market slump.
To be sure, “Zero-covid” has been a well-documented drag on the Chinese economy over the past year; factories suffered when workers were locked down, and consumers reined in their spending as they lost pay checks and jobs.
Externally, the escalating geopolitical tensions due to the western sanctions against Russia drove up bulk commodity prices, subjecting China to imported inflation pressure. Second, the historical reality is that as the Chinese economy and the US economy grew closer and closer during the decades since 1980, the extent and depth of the Chinese economy affected by the US monetary policy also grew stronger and stronger.
That is to say, the US interest rates and the Chinese economy are inversely related, especially in import, export, and China-US exchange rate. 2022 witnessed extraordinary fluctuations in the US financial market, which was bad news for China.
Nonetheless, China’s 3% GDP growth compares by far favourably with those of the US and Japan — “the peer competitors” — whose GDP grew by less than 2% (per IMF projections.) Analysts expect a much better performance in the year 2023, exceeding 5% in GDP growth. (In comparison, the World Bank estimates that global growth will slow from 2.9 percent in 2022 to 1.7 percent in 2023, and the US’ GDP is expected to increase by just about 0.5 percent in 2023, the weakest forecast in three decades.)
This has geopolitical ramifications, as China is well-placed to make a far more significant contribution to global growth than any other major economic power, which would inevitably translate as increased prestige in the world community and create greater opportunity to leverage foreign policy objectives.
China’s consumer-led rebound to buttress global growth implies that its vast market potential will be seen as a locomotive of growth by other economies, especially in the ASEAN region, Africa and Latin America.
Contrary to doomsday predictions, China’s transition away from the “zero-Covid” policy has been relatively smooth. The new regime aims to cope with the Covid mutants that are highly contagious, but less potent and dangerous. In retrospect, hundreds of thousands of human lives were saved in China, unlike in India or America.
Interestingly, the latest economic data from China also showed that notwithstanding the 3% growth rate last year, the country’s GDP per capita has stayed above the $12,000-mark, which is close to the high-income countries defined by the World Bank.
Equally, the Chinese stock markets remain bullish indicative of the optimism. In political terms, this sets the stage for China’s most important annual political gatherings ahead in March, which are expected to unleash the economy once more.
What Indian analysts in their schadenfreude tend to overlook is that an attitude toward China predicated on that country’s misfortunes and setbacks is a road to nowhere. There are some profound conclusions to be drawn from the data on the Chinese economy.
Clearly, with global economic growth likely to decline sharply and global inflation still hovering at high levels in 2023, the economies of major developed economies are likely to show stagflation. Suffice it to say that the European countries will be inclined to view the Chinese market as holding the key to an early economic recovery. Recasting the global supply chains by decoupling from China is going to be easier said than done.
Second, the US simply cannot compete with China anymore as a manufacturing country. In infrastructure, the gap is so patently wide. Ukraine has shown that the US lacks the capability to fight Russia and needs a coalition. It is no different when it comes to China.
Surely, the economic data on the Chinese economy will be taken very seriously in Washington. The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was due to meet with Chinese Vice Premier (“economic czar”) Liu He in Zurich on Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos with view to “expand communication” between the two largest economies in the world.
According to Politico, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Beijing on Feb. 5-6. Blinken’s talks will show whether the dialogue between President Biden and President Xi Jinping at Bali has led to more productive bilateral relations. A serious rapprochement seems difficult to achieve after the US House of Representatives created a committee on strategic competition with China recently.
However, both powers want to put the deterioration of relations on pause or at least keep it under control. They will try to avoid crises, although that is not guaranteed. Typically, it has been Washington who invariably initiated any deterioration of relations.
Addressing the CSIS in Washington last week, Biden’s advisor on China, Kurt Campbell described the Bali summit meeting as “an effort to build a foundation for a new relationship with China.” He said 2023 will be the year “to build some guardrails,” although the dominant feature of US-China relationship will continue to be competitive.
Campbell messaged that the US wants it to be “a productive, peaceful competition” that can be channelled for the betterment of life of the two peoples.
The process toward a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement may lose momentum as a top aide to Turkish President Recep Erdogan threatened to derail it. On Saturday, Ibrahim Kalin, presidential advisor on foreign policy, stated during a media briefing in Ankara that the Russian push for peace did not mean that Ankara was abandoning the option of launching a new campaign in Syria.
To quote Kalin, “A ground operation is possible any time, depending on the level of threats we receive.” But he also added, “Turkey never targets the Syrian state or Syrian civilians.”
This may seem like crying “wolf.” But Kalin’s comments came two days after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said that any future talks with Ankara should aim for “the end of occupation” by Turkey of parts of Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad since said at a joint press conference in Damascus on Sunday with the visiting Iranian FM Hussein Amir Abdollahian that a suitable environment must be created for Syrian-Turkish meetings at higher levels if necessary, and that any political meetings must be built on specific foundations that respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the presence of the armed forces as a real guarantor of the Syrian and neighbouring lands, and this is the thing that determines the possibility of holding such meetings.
Abdollahian’s own remark was equally revealing: “Syria and Turkey are important countries in the region, and Tehran has distinguished and good relations with both of them, and when there were threats of Turkish military attacks against northern Syria, we worked to prevent that, and we are happy that the diplomatic efforts we made led to dialogue taking the place of war.”
Plainly put, Tehran underscored that it has equity in any Syrian-Turkish normalisation. Arguably, Iran creates space for Syria to negotiate with Turkey. Iran is a balancer in the Syrian-Russian equations also, which has its complexities too. Basically, Tehran regards Damascus as part of the “axis of resistance” that is integral to Iran’s regional strategies.
Significantly, this is also the thrust of a commentary recently by the influential NourNews which is wired into Iran’s national security establishment.
Indeed, Assad told Abdollahian that Damascus is keen on “continuous communication and coordination of positions” with Iran, especially since the latter was one of the first countries to stand by the Syrian people in their war against terrorism, and furthermore, such coordination is of the utmost importance today to “achieve common interests” when the two countries are witnessing “accelerated regional and international developments.”
During Abdollahian’s visit, Syria and Iran agreed to renew an economic strategic agreement, which would be formalised during a forthcoming visit by President Ebrahim Raisi to Damascus.
Apart from the crucial security role by tens of thousands of Iran-backed fighters in tilting the balance of forces in the Syrian conflict in Assad’s favour, Iran has also been a critical economic lifeline for Syria, delivering fuel and credit lines worth billions of dollars to help Damascus offset crippling Western-led sanctions. Syria and Iran signed almost a dozen economic deals in 2019 as part of the long-term strategic economic agreement to bolster their commercial ties.
Moscow may have pursued Ankara’s interests more in its relations with Syria lately. But Moscow’s shrinking strategic band width and diminished influence in Syria in the downstream of the Ukraine conflict does not translate as retrenchment.
The redeployment of the Wagner Group from Syria’s southwest and far eastern regions to Ukraine, the transfer of a Syria-based S-300 missile defence system to Ukraine and even possible withdrawal of additional military assets from Syria can only be seen as tactical shift in Russia’s military footprint in Syria.
Plainly put, Iran’s role is a factor of stability in the Syrian situation lest an empowered Turkey feels tempted to expand its presence in Syria. Equally, Russia also plays a trapeze act, leveraging its presence in Syria to encourage a conflicted Israel to navigate a precarious balance between its interests in Syria and its support for Ukraine and the West.
The bottomline is that in the wake of the Ukraine conflict, the Syrian conflict’s power dynamic is dramatically shifting. On the one hand, there is a strategic “pull” toward a greater possibility of Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara working together to push US forces out of northeast Syria.
On the other hand, the power dynamic with Russia may be shifting in Ankara’s favour lately. Erdogan’s capacity to hold Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO hostage; Erdogan’s intensified threats to launch another incursion into northeast Syria; Turkiye’s role as the sole custodian of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits which regulate the access to the Black Sea — these are factors that may encourage Erdogan to press his demands more forcefully once the Turkish elections slated for June get over and Russia’s primary leverage on Turkiye, which is economic rather than military, loses its potency.
Make no mistake that Erdogan’s top priority will be the dismantling of the Kurdish project in northeast Syria. How Erdogan goes about it is the whole point. It may not be a bad thing for Russia since any such shift in the Syrian conflict landscape would ultimately cut down the Kurds, threaten the viability of the US-Kurdish partnership and eventually pressure the US to pull out of Syria.
But the catch is, it may entail another limited Turkish invasion of Syria. Should Erdogan believe that his victory in the forthcoming election depends on another Syrian incursion, Russia will be unlikely to prevent the attack. Hence Moscow’s positive attitude toward Erdogan’s proposal on a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Russia, and Syria to address Turkiye’s security concerns.
Any aggressive Iranian tactics at this point may weaken Russia’s capacity in fostering a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement. But then, the mitigating factor here is that in the present conditions under sanctions, Russia and Iran also have deepened their strategic ties well beyond their cooperation in Syria.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim reported on Sunday quoting an influential member of the Majlis that Tehran expects to take delivery of a number of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets in the coming months plus “a series of other military equipment from Russia, including air defence systems, missile systems and helicopters.”
Su-35 is a 4++ generation twin-engine, super-maneuverable fighter jet and a game changer. It is for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that Iran will be receiving advanced cutting-edge weaponry to boost its deterrence capability.
On January 8, 2023, Mohammad Salim, deputy leader of Block B, Rohingya Camp-8 West, in the Ukhiya Sub-District of Cox’s Bazar District, was killed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
On January 7, Mohammad Rashid, the leader of Block A, Rohingya Camp-15, in Teknaf Sub-District of Cox’s Bazar District, was killed by masked assailants.
On January 6, 2023, an insurgent, identified as Nurunnabi, was injured in a shootout that took place between two terrorist groups at Block B-39, Rohingya Camp-8 East, in Ukhiya. The members of the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) and law enforcement agencies recovered a grenade from the house of the injured insurgent.
Three terrorism-linked incidents of violence in quick succession, resulting in two fatalities, reported from Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there were 18 fatal terrorism-linked incidents which had resulted in 22 fatalities in 2022. In 2021, there were five incidents which had resulted in 17 fatalities.
The prominent incidents in 2022 included:
December 26: A group of 12 armed militants of ARSA shot dead a Rohingya leader in Block 16, Rohingya Camp-8 West in Ukhiya. The dead person was identified as Mohammad Hossain alias Shafique who was the leader of Block B.
November 29: Unidentified assailants shot at and stabbed to death a Rohingya community leader, Shahab Uddin. Uddin was a deputy leader in H-14 Block Rohingya Camp-12 in Ukhiya.
October 18: Unidentified men killed a Rohingya youth, Syed Hossain, at Rohingya Camp-19 in Ukhiya.
ARSA, a lethal insurgent group based in Myanmar, is escalating activities in Bangladesh. Investigations against ARSA ‘commander-in-chief’ Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi and 65 others were launched on November 23, 2022, in the case of the killing of a Directorate General of Forces Intelligence officer, Rizwan Rushdee, and the injuring of a Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) trooper, during an anti-smuggling operation in the Bandarban District on November 14, 2022.In October 2022, ARSA was responsible for multiple incidents of killing, attacks and threats in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. In 30 attacks just between August and October 2022, ARSA killed or injured Rohingyas by shooting, hacking and separating organs, to create a reign of terror among the refugees. According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), in the year 2022, nine ARSA-linked incidents of violence have been reported in Bangladesh, in which five persons (three civilians and two militants) were killed and another six (all civilians) were injured.
Moreover, there has been a marked increase in unlawful activities in the Rohingya refugee camps, through 2022, due to the growing and active presence of organized gangs. According to an August 11, 2022, report, Rohingyas had formed at least 20 organised armed gangs, presently active in the refugee camps, prominently including the ‘Salman Shah Group’, ‘Putia Group’, ‘Munna Group’, ‘Hakim Group’, and ‘Jokir Group’. The gangs were involved in serious crimes such as arms, drugs and human trafficking, gold smuggling, kidnapping, extortion and killing. They were also involved in robberies, burglaries, cybercrime, sexual violence and harassment, as well as illegal SIM card and the hundi (money laundering) trade. They have also been involved in grabbing land from Bangladeshi citizens and also run juvenile gangs.
As reported on August 11, 2022, some 101 Rohingyas have been killed in the last five years in internal conflicts among these gangs. In October, 2021, a report indicated that shoot-outs and clashes between these gangs in the Rohingya camp areas were motivated by efforts to establish supremacy and taking control of the illegal Yaba (a cocktail of methamphetamine and caffeine) and gold smuggling, money laundering, and extortion rackets that have proliferated there. As reported on October 3, 2021, the Officer-in-charge (OC) of Teknaf model Police Station in Cox’s Bazar District, Hafizur Rahman disclosed that a total of 27 cases have been filed against just one such group – the Hakim Group.
Moreover, some 100 armed groups, prominently including ARSA, the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), the Arakan Rohingya Army (ARA), and Jamaat-e-Arakan, are engaged in a turf war to control the camps. The conflict is most violent between ARSA and RSO. ARSA and ARA, led by Nabi Hossain, who was part of ARSA, but left the groups in 2020, are also violently engaged in their efforts to dominate the region. Though no authoritative data is available about the losses faced by these groups, Fawz-ul-Kabir alias Moulavi Abu Anas, ARSA ‘second-in-command’, who reportedly resigned from the outfit in June 2022, has publicly criticized the ARSA leadership for recent casualties suffered by the group at the hands of RSO.
Meanwhile, ARSA has targeted members of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPHR), a group that represents parts of the refugee community. Chairman of the ARSPHR and a prominent Rohingya leader, Master Mohibullah, was shot dead by suspected ARSA militants at his office in Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar District, on September 29, 2021. Subsequently, several ARSPHR members have been killed by ARSA. In the most prominent incident, on October 22, 2021, at least six Rohingya refugees, who were followers of Master Mohibullah, were killed and eight were injured, inside a refugee camp in Ukhiya.
On September 19, 2022, reacting to the rising waves of crime and violence Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal declared that no more Rohingya would be allowed to enter the country. Those who had come earlier, fleeing persecution in Myanmar, have created many problems, he added.
On October 27, 2022, three battalions of APBn arrested at least 41 Rohingyas, including six murder accused, in a special operation, ‘Operation Root Out’, in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
In addition, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region, consisting of three hilly, forested southeastern Districts of Bandarban, Rangamati, and Khagracchari, is experiencing increasing ethnic violence even after 25 years of the signing of the CHT Accord of 1997. According to partial data collated by SATP, in 2022 incidents of violence have risen, with 15 fatalities recorded in 2022, as compared to 10 through 2021. The reasons for the increase are, the emergence of ethnicity based armed group, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KCNF) and the Marma National Party in CHT, which has challenged existing groups such as the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF). The KCNF, an armed organization led by erstwhile PCJSS member Nathan Loncheu Bawm, appeared in 2021. Although it was first announced as the Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO), its latest incarnation as KCNF was declared after KNDO’s head, Nathan Loncheu Bawm, failed to contest the 2018 elections. KCNF’s main demand is the formation of an autonomous state for the ‘greater Kuki-Chin race’, within the CHT.
Moreover, as reported on January 4, 2023, there are concerns in the CHT that a vested quarter has been providing backing and shelter to armed terrorist groups, while meting out suppressive measures and imposing the responsibility for terrorist activities upon the Jumma people engaged in the movement demanding implementation of the CHT Accord. One such terrorist group is the KCNF, which is reportedly providing shelter and military training to an Islamist militant group, the Jamatul Ansar Fil Hind al Sharqiya (JAFHS), in their hideouts in the remote Ruma township in the southern part of CHT. On January 12, 2023, RAB disclosed that 12 operatives of JAFHS and 14 operatives of KCNF had been arrested, to that date, in the ongoing anti-militancy drive that started on October 10, 2022. On October 20, 2022, RAB arrested seven JAFHS operatives. The arrestees confessed that they had an agreement with KCNF to provide them shelter and training in exchange for money.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh government continued to articulate and implement a zero-tolerance policy towards Islamist terrorism and the use of its territory as a terrorist safe haven. Through 2022, there was not a single case of a fatality related to proscribed Islamist terrorist groups reported in the country, continuing with the trend established in the previous year, 2021.
2022 witnessed a total of 263 arrests of Islamist terrorists/radicals belonging to various outfits, including 200 Jamaat-e-Islami-Islami Chhatra Shibir (JeI-ICS), 12 JAFHS, 10 Jamaatul Muslimeen, eight Ansar al-Islam, seven Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), among others. Also, as reported on June 30, 2022, the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) started a process of deradicalizing militants inside prisons under the “Construction of the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Prevention Centre of Bangladesh Police”. Under this process, social, clinical, and educational psychologists; religious clerics, and counterterrorism experts were expected to start deradicalizing jailed militants and also those on bail from June 2022 onwards, CTTC chief Mohammad Asaduzzaman disclosed. While reiterating the zero tolerance policy on November 17, 2022, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated,
Let us all hold peace, the message of Islam in our hearts and eradicate darkness, illiteracy, discord, violence, terrorism and militancy from the society; resist the evil forces which are making misinterpretation of Islam. We’ve adopted zero tolerance towards militancy to uphold the peaceful glory of holy Islam by keeping the country free from militancy.
Meanwhile, the last quarter of 2022 recorded some violent incidents and clashes involving members of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League (AL), including:
November 28: Multiple cocktail bomb explosions occurred in the AL office in the Chanda area of the Kaliakoir Sub-District in Gazipur District. Two cases have been filed against 27 leaders and activists of BNP and more than 200 others for their alleged involvement in the explosions. On the same day, two bombs exploded at a fish farm on the Trimoni intersection in Gangni city in Meherpur District. Police later recovered another three bombs from the site of the explosion. However, no casualty was reported. A case was registered against 11 leaders and activists of BNP and its allied organizations in connection with the blasts.
November 29: Two AL members were injured as a crude bomb exploded in the AL party office in the Dhangora Junction area in Raiganj Sub-District, Sirajganj District. Later, BNP activists and two party leaders were charged. Raiganj BNP municipality unit convener Ainul Haque, its secretary Khairul Islam, and 20 named and 150 unnamed BNP men were accused in the case. Apart from direct violence, BNP and its allies are also working at the international level with various lobbies, to target the AL Government.
Meanwhile, on December 7, 2022, Sheikh Hasina declared that Bangladesh’s next general elections will be held during the first week of January 2024.
With elections in the coming year, and the increased activities of BNP and its cohorts, the situation in Bangladesh is likely to become precarious. Security Forces’ successes against the Islamists are, certainly, a signal achievement, but Islamist radicalization remains widespread, and the disruptive efforts of terrorist formations – some old and some new – persist. Moreover, the troubles in the Rohingya refugee camps have created new and serious threats to the internal peace and security of Bangladesh in general, and the Cox’s Bazar District and Bhashan Char, in particular. The escalating violence in CHT, is another flashpoint of concern. A relatively peaceful for Bangladesh could find itself abruptly destabilized as the General Elections approach.
Those who were born in Tamil Nadu and now living in Tamil Nadu or other states in India or outside India feel proud about the historical traditions, culture and value system inherent in Tamil Nadu for the last several centuries. Unfortunately, in recent times, many undesirable political developments have taken place in Tamil Nadu that mar the image of Tamil Nadu as a cultured state.
In the last eighteen months, some approaches of the Tamil Nadu government have caused considerable concern to the cross-section of Tamil-speaking people now living in Tamil Nadu and across the world.
The political party which won the last election and came to power made many promises in the pre -election campaign, most of which do not make any economic sense but are good enough to please the gullible public. After coming to power, while some minor promises have been implemented, several major promises could not be implemented, as Tamil Nadu’s finances are in extremely bad shape. In such conditions, the political party governing the state is facing criticism, which it is unable to counter by an appropriate response.
In such conditions, the party in power is creating new issues, in such a way that people’s attention can be diverted to such non-issues, so that the criticism against the non-implementation of the pre -election promises by the government would not be focused.
Attack on Hindu religion:
It is a fact that the present government is systematically trying to discredit Hinduism in several ways, by disturbing the smooth functioning of the Hindu temples where poorly trained priests are being appointed and in the process, driving out the experienced and traditional priests from Hindu temples. This could cause serious uncertainty and confusion in the way that Hindu Gods are worshipped in the temples.
The government mislead the people by saying that it is supporting the Hindu temples by retrieving the encroached land and at the same time, it is taking away the gold and silver belonging to temples which do not belong to the government.
Several speeches made by those belonging to the party in power and their allied parties have been decrying the Hindu religious practices. It is ridiculous that they say that those belonging to Hindu religion are the children of prostitutes. Many similar extremely undesirable statements have been made against Hindu religious practices. Obviously, the party in power is causing public debate over such continuous utterances to divert the attention of the people, while such persons speaking against Hindu religion go unpunished and scot-free.
There are so many other incidents that can be readily cited to indicate the diversionary tactics of the party in power, to conceal it’s poor governance.
Weak financial condition:
The finances of the Tamil Nadu government are in very poor shape and several public sector undertakings like transport, TANGEDCO are in deep red. However, the government continues to borrow more money even while the present debt burden on the state is around Rs.7 lakh crore. Meanwhile, unconcerned about the situation, many unproductive expenses are being incurred.
People addicted to liquor in Tamil Nadu are increasing at an alarming rate and social stability and family harmony in the state have been seriously disrupted. Murders and the use of ganja are reportedly increasing, particularly among the youth.
Issue with Tamil Nadu governor:
The recent controversy deliberately created by the state government with regard to its relation with Tamil Nadu governor is extremely in poor taste. The Tamil Nadu governor is conducting himself with a high level of dignity, in spite of many provocations and particularly by the persons belonging to the ruling party and its allies who are using extremely undesirable and vulgar language against the state governor.
To add insult to injury, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister deliberately and in a calculated manner insulted the governor, when he came to the Assembly to deliver his customary speech.
It is said that the governor has not read out the speech prepared by the government, but the fact is that in that particular speech prepared by the Tamil Nadu government, many wrong figures and information have been mentioned which no governor can read out, if the governor would want to maintain the standards of his office.
It is really silly on the part of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to make an issue with the governor, for the governor using the name Thamizhagam instead of Tamil Nadu in his speech. There is really no difference between these two names and traditionally in many forums and writings by the government and the people, the word Tamizhagam is being used for several hundreds of years. This is because people, poets, writers and everyone feel more emotionally satisfied using the word Thamizhaam instead of Tamil Nadu. Now, the Tamil Nadu government is demanding that the governor should be sacked, which is condemnable.
All said and done, the ground reality is that the present party in power in Tamil Nadu has wasted it’s opportunity to govern the state adequately. It seems to be more focused on creating controversies and is not focusing on reducing corruption and nepotism or in enhancing the reputation of Tamil Nadu in the eyes of the world by good governance.
The widespread feeling amongst people in Tamil Nadu is that Tamil Nadu deserves better.
Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. While millions of Ukrainian refugees have since returned home, almost 2.9 million moved to Russia, according to October 2022 figures, and roughly 7.9 million were registered across Europe between February and December 27, 2022. Besides Russia, Poland (1.5 million), Germany (1 million), and the Czech Republic (474,731) have welcomed the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees, while Italy, Spain, France, Romania, and the UK have also accepted more than 100,000 each.
There is little reason to suggest many Ukrainian refugees will return home soon. A June survey by polling group Rating, for example, found that 24 percent of Ukrainian refugees wanted to return but were waiting for a certain time, 48 percent said they would return after the end of the war, and 8 percent said they would not go back to Ukraine. A German government-backed survey from December 2022, meanwhile, found that around 37 percent of Ukrainian refugees wanted to settle in the country permanently or at least for the next few years.
As part of the Temporary Protection Directive that was invoked by the EU in March 2022, Ukrainians can now live, work, and study in EU countries for a period of three years. Many Ukrainian refugees have already found employment in host countries and may—like the temporary guest workers invited to Europe in the 1960s—choose to permanently settle in those countries eventually. Millions of Ukrainians also left their country before the 2022 Russian invasion, with 1.4 million Ukrainians having lived and worked in Poland in 2020 (most of whom came after the initial round of unrest in 2014) and another 250,000 having lived in Italy before the war alone.
The incentive for Ukrainian foreign workers and refugees to return home has been significantly reduced following the widespread destruction across the country since the war began in February 2022. Much of the country’s population has been suffering from limited and sporadic access to electricity, heat, and water, and Ukraine’s economy “shrank by 30 percent in 2022.” Ukraine is now Europe’s poorest country, and its entry into the EU will likely take years. Instability in the country’s Donbas region since 2014 coupled with almost a year of open conflict with Russia means that peace will likely continue to elude Ukraine.
While some Ukrainian refugees have returned, “‘unliveable’ conditions” during winters and the crumbling basic infrastructure will drive more Ukrainians to seek refuge in Europe, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Additionally, it is estimated that 90 percent of Ukrainian refugees are women and children, as conscription prevented most Ukrainian men from leaving the country. The men that remained in Ukraine may try to reunite with their families abroad, while those men that managed to leave may face the risk of being recruited into military service or being punished for evading it if they do return to Ukraine.
Other countries that have suffered from conflicts in recent decades demonstrate that the longer violence continues, the less likely refugees are to return home. “In the Kosovo war of 1999, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia to prevent the brutalization of ethnic Albanians who make up Kosovo’s majority, hundreds of thousands fled, or were forcibly moved, to neighboring Albania and Macedonia.” These refugees eventually returned to Kosovo since the war lasted only 78 days, explained an article in the Economist. During the war in nearby Bosnia, which took place from 1992 to 1995, however, many Bosnians left “and far fewer returned.”
More recently, the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, resulted in 6.8 million Syrian refugees fleeing mostly to neighboring states as well as to Europe until 2021. The conflict, soon to enter its 12th year, has reinforced the perception that both the desire of refugees to return, as well as the ability of host countries to deport them, is limited as long as violence is ongoing.
Between 2016 and 2022, for instance, just 336,496 Syrians returned to the country from neighboring host countries according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). And a UNHCR poll from June 2022 showed that more than 92.8 percent of Syrian refugees in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq do not plan to return to their country within the next year. As a new generation of Syrian children born outside the country emerges, the likelihood of Syrian families returning will continue to decline.
The Turkish government stated in May 2022 that it intends to relocate up to 1 million Syrian refugees back to northern Syria in regions controlled by Turkish-backed forces, and is increasingly using force to move them back across the border, even at gunpoint.
But the failed efforts by Turkey to return Syrian refugees suggest that European countries will struggle to do the same with Ukrainian refugees who refuse to turn home. Additionally, Ukrainian refugees have received a relatively warm welcome across Europe. While poorer EU countries bordering Ukraine, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, may seek to curtail future refugee intake, Ukrainian refugees may instead head further west into the continent.
The creation of millions of Ukrainian refugees has compounded the demographic crisis that Ukraine has faced since the 1990s. Falling birth rates, rising death rates, an aging population, and high emigration even before 2014 saw Ukraine’s population decline from 52 million in 1991 to about 42 million in 2020.
While other Eastern European countries, as well as Russia, have faced similar predicaments, Ukraine’s population decline has been far more acute. Due to low wages and high unemployment, Ukraine has been unable to attract immigrants, while the possible accession of Ukraine into the EU risks further emigration in the future. Furthermore, the large number of casualties of prime-aged men because of the conflict will also undermine Ukraine’s demographic position for decades.
French philosopher Auguste Comte is attributed with stating “Demography is destiny,” noting a link between a country’s future and the youthfulness of its population. A UN report from 2022 predicts that Ukraine’s population will likely never recover from the ongoing conflict and will continue to experience a significant population decline this century. A less populated Ukraine may be part of the Kremlin’s strategy of weakening the country, ominously hinted at by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2022, who declared “If they continue to do what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.”
Russia has of course played an active part in depopulating Ukraine. In addition to launching its destabilizing military operations, since 2014 it has facilitated the migration of Ukrainian refugees into Russia, policies that seem to have continued with additional Ukrainian refugees making their way to Russia since the invasion in February 2022. And in May 2022, Putin signed a decree easing constraints on Russians seeking to adopt Ukrainian children in war-torn regions, while making it harder for relatives of these children in Ukraine to have them returned.
Many Ukrainians in Europe may never come back, including those who traveled to Russia. Thus, without enough Ukrainians to repopulate the country, the ability of the Ukrainian government to reestablish a strong state and national identity in some regions risks becoming increasingly limited as the war drags on.
Ana Belen Montes, the most effective and damaging Cuban spy known to have penetrated U.S. intelligence, was a major warrior in the long nasty war between the United States and its communist neighbor. On Jan. 6, after serving 20 years of a 25 year sentence for espionage, she was released from a maximum security prison, perhaps drawing the curtain on the deadly clandestine conflict involving efforts by Cuban exiles and their U.S. allies to reverse the revolution led by Fidel Castro.
By the time of her arrest in 2001, Montes had been a mole inside the Defense Intelligence Agency for 17 years, feeding U.S. secrets to Cuba during the civil wars in Central America, where Cuba and the U.S. military backed opposite sides in conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Even as the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its lifeline of economic and military support for Castro’s regime, Montes rose in rank and importance in the DIA. She became the agency’s chief analyst in charge of processing U.S. intelligence about the island, earning the sobriquet, “Queen of Cuba,” both for her unrivaled expertise and her imperious manner.
There have been worse breaches of U.S. national security, notably Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, whose spying for the Soviets inside the CIA and FBI led to the deaths and imprisonment of a good number of the CIA’s Russian sources. But Montes’ spying unquestionably dealt devastating blows to U.S. human intelligence and surveillance operations inside Cuba, especially during the 1990s, when Cuban exiles based in Miami were launching what may have been their last concerted effort to overthrow Castro. At least four U.S. agents operating inside Cuba were arrested as a result of information provided by Montes, according to damage assessments conducted after her arrest.
Jim Popkin, an investigative journalist and former senior editor for NBC News, tells the story of Ana Montes and the counterintelligence agents at the National Security Agency, DIA and FBI who finally caught her in his engaging and solidly reported book, Code Name Blue Wren, released only a few days before Montes was freed this month. Spy cases are notoriously difficult to write about, especially those involving the spies working for U.S. adversaries. The existence of a mole inside a major intelligence agency is by definition an egregious failure, and such institutions rarely are eager to share the details of a debacle on the scale of Montes’s penetration of the DIA.
As a lead Cuba analyst in her everyday work at the agency, Montes drafted reports arguing for a softer U.S. policy toward the regime. Popkin, citing his sources, calls her recommendations “disinformation”, but—perhaps ironically—her analysis of Cuba’s deteriorated military capability and conclusion that Cuba no longer posed a significant threat to U.S. national security in the 1990s put her in respectable company. Similar conclusions would become mainstream in policy circles and lead to the eventual rapprochement with Cuba and resumption of diplomatic relations by the Obama administration in 2015.
Popkin seems to have interviewed all the major actors involved in the multiyear counterintelligence operation that —finally—led to her arrest in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attack. (The decision to move against her was accelerated when FBI investigators learned Montes had been promoted and given a major role in the DIA team planning and selecting targets for the U.S. war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.)
Montes was a “true believer,” to borrow the term used by one of the counterintelligence agents who caught her—which differentiates her from better known U.S. moles who turned coat mostly for money. Her parents were from modest families in Puerto Rico, and Ana began the process of radicalization in 1977 during a trip to Spain where her boyfriend was a young leftist who had experienced the worst years of the dirty war in Argentina, Popkin writes.
A gifted academic studying at the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University School in Washington, she opposed the Reagan administration’s sponsorship of the Contra fighters seeking to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. A Puerto Rican friend—who also happened to be a Cuban agent—encouraged her to go to Havana, where she was recruited by the regime’s intelligence service, originally with the sole idea of supporting the Nicaraguan cause. Popkin mentions that, according to evidence gathered after her arrest, Cuba helped Montes pay off student loans and buy a laptop, but otherwise did not pay her to spy.
One of the most fascinating stories in the book is that of a Cuban-American woman at the secretive National Security Agency who gathered details about the unidentified mole (who turned out to be Montes) by decrypting Cuban radio messages. For example, the messages revealed that the suspected spy had visited the U.S. Guantanamo military base at a certain date, had bought a Toshiba laptop computer, and that Cuba had paid off the agent’s college loan.
The NSA official, given the pseudonym Elena Valdes, doggedly pursued the spy chase for three years, leading to the identification of the DIA as the penetrated agency and the arrest of Montes on Sept. 21, 2001. She first briefed the FBI, which is the primary U.S. agency in charge of counterintelligence. After two years, convinced the FBI was getting nowhere, Elena stepped outside established procedure and, in essence, went behind the FBI’s back. She wrangled an invitation to visit DIA headquarters, and there presented her packet of decrypted messages to a secure meeting with DIA counterintelligence official Chris Simmons, who showed the kind of investigative enthusiasm she felt was missing at the FBI.
Simmons quickly spotted a clue that would upend the investigation. One of the messages said the unidentified spy had access to something called “safe” as part of his or her work in the unidentified U.S. agency. “Holy shit,” Simmons said. “SAFE” was the acronym for the DIA’s classified database of analyst reports and other investigative materials shared with the CIA and other agencies. The clue meant the spy had to be working at the DIA itself.
“You’ve been looking in the wrong place,” he exclaimed. “That person has got to be in this building.”
The breakthrough reinvigorated the official FBI investigation. The search now narrowed to the DIA staff, Ana Montes was identified from the other clues, put under surveillance, and taken into custody.
Inexplicably, Popkin omits a key player in this spy vs spy drama. While Montes was spying inside the DIA for Cuba, the CIA also had a mole inside Cuba’s own intelligence apparatus. Rolando Sarraff Trujillo was a cryptology specialist in Cuba’s DGI, the intelligence directorate, and he knew the codes Cuba used to communicate with its spies in the United States. He had been recruited to work for the CIA sometime in the 1990s and remained in place, providing the encryption information that allowed the CIA and NSA to crack the code on intercepted shortwave messages. It was his codes that allowed Elena at NSA to read Ana Montes communications with her Cuban handlers. Sarraff was caught by Cuba’s DGI counterspies and imprisoned in 1995.
The omission in Popkin’s book is curious, because it points to the larger context of how the decades of hostility between Cuba and the United States gave way finally in 2014 to what amounted to a ceasefire. The Obama administration negotiated a renewal of diplomatic relations, allowed Cuban exiles to send money to relatives on the island and relaxed travel restrictions. The truce after a half century of hostility left in place the economic embargo, but introduced an interlude (albeit brief) of almost friendly relations, during which hundreds of thousands of American academics and curious tourists flocked to Cuba, before Donald Trump canceled the detente.
As part of the warming of relations, President Obama negotiated a spy swap. A U.S. government contractor, Alan Gross, who had been arrested in Cuba in 2009 for smuggling military-grade communications equipment into the country, was languishing in prison in poor health. Washington had always denied Cuba’s charges that Gross was a spy, but saw an opening to spring Sarraff. The United States was holding three men who had been arrested in 1998 as part of the so-called Wasp network, a group of Cubans spying on militant anti-Castro groups in Florida.
To break the impasse, Cuba agreed to release Gross on “humanitarian grounds” and to exchange Sarraff for the three Wasp spies held by the United States. In announcing the swap, President Obama, referring obliquely to Sarraff, said the unnamed spy was “one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba.” More relevant to the odd lapse in Popkin’s story, U.S. intelligence officials issued a statement saying the exchanged spy’s information had led to the detection and conviction of Cuban spies working in the United States, not just the members of the Wasp network but also Ana Montes. Spytalk editor Jeff Stein, writing for Newsweek at the time, was one of several reporters to confirm Sarraff’s identity and the link between his cryptography work for the CIA and Ana Montes’ arrest.)
Other than that, Popkin has produced a fine piece of reporting and writing on an intricate, and largely overlooked, spy-vs-spy case. My only other quibble is that he gives barely a nod to the sordid history of the conflict between the United States and Cuba, marked by the U.S. sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, the Soviet Union’s secret deployment of nuclear missiles in 1962, which brought the world to the brink of war, and dozens of U.S. plots to assassinate Castro in the 1960s. Perhaps reflecting the attitudes of his hardline sources, Popkin expresses disgust not only for Montes’s betrayal of her country but also for her leftist friends, notably a prominent SAIS professor whom he ungraciously dismisses as an apologist for Cuba.
Neglecting that history, he is unable to do justice to the remarkable evolution of U.S. relations with Cuba, during and after the time Ana Montes was active, culminating in Obama’s peacemaking with the post-Fidel Castro regime. (He turned over power to his brother Raul in 2006.) Popkin’s portrayal remains stuck in the anticommunist tropes of many decades ago, when Cuba and its Soviet ally did indeed present a clear and present danger, certainly from the point of view of the United States.
I admit: Mine is perhaps the complaint of a Latin Americanist, grasping for the wider framework of the spy story, rather than the book Popkin actually wrote. That said, Popkin’s Code Name Blue Wren is unquestionably the most complete telling of this fascinating spy saga and the story of a occasionally brilliant and always morally complicated woman who decided to spy against her country.
From all the excited cries echoing from the red tide that took over Brasília during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s (known as Lula) inauguration as the Brazilian President on January 1, 2023, the most significant—and challenging, especially from the institutional stance of the new government—was the call for “no amnesty!” The crowds chanting those words were referring to the crimes perpetrated by the military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985 that still remain unpunished. Lula paused his speech, to let the voices be heard, and followed up with a strong but restrained message about accountability.
Lula’s restraint shows his respect for the civic limitation of the executive, standing in sharp contrast to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s notion of statesmanship. After all, one of the characteristics that allow us to properly qualify “Bolsonarismo” as fascism is the deliberate amalgamation between the institutional exercise of power and counter-institutional militancy. As a president, Bolsonaro went beyond mixing those roles; he occupied the state in constant opposition against the state itself. He constantly attributed his ineptitude as a leader to the restrictions imposed by the democratic institutions of the republic.
While Bolsonaro projected an image of being a strongman in front of cameras, which eventually helped him climb the ladder of power, he maintained a low profile in Congress and his three-decade-long congressional tenure is a testament to his political and administrative irrelevance. His weak exercise of power revealed his inadequacy as a leader when he finally took over as president. Bolsonaro catapulted to notoriety when he cast his vote for impeaching former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
Before casting his vote, Bolsonaro took that opportunity to pay homage to Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, “convicted of torture” during the military dictatorship, whom he jestingly referred to as “the dread of Dilma Rousseff!”; Ustra was responsible for systematically torturing the former head of state when she, then a young Marxist guerrilla, was jailed by the dictatorship. From that day until Bolsonaro’s last public appearance—after which he fled the country to make his way to Orlando, Florida before Lula’s inauguration—the only opportunity he ever had to stage his electoral persona was by instigating his supporters through incendiary speeches. That combination led to an impotent government, run by someone who encouraged his supporters to cheer for him using the ridiculously macho nickname “Imbrochável,” which translates to “unfloppable.”
By endorsing the need for accountability while respecting the solemnity of the presidency and allowing people to call for “no amnesty,” Lula restores some normality to the dichotomy that exists between the representative/represented within the framework of a liberal bourgeois democracy. A small gesture, but one that will help establish the necessary institutional trust for fascism to be scrutinized. Now, the ball is in the court of the organized left; the urgency and radicality of the accountability depend on its ability to theoretically and politically consubstantiate the slogan “no amnesty.”
No amnesty for whom? And for what? What kind of justice should be served to the enemies of the working class? To the former health minister who, claiming to be an expert in logistics, turned Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas into a “herd immunity test laboratory” to deal with a collapsing health care system during the peak of the COVID outbreak in Brazil; To the former environment minister who sanctioned the brutal colonization of Indigenous lands by changing environmental legislation; To a government who supported expanding civilian access to army-level weaponry; To the national gun manufacturer who endorsed such political aberration and promoted weapons sale; To the health insurance company that conducted unconsented drug tests on elderly citizens, while espousing to the motto, “death is a form of discharge”; To Bolsonaro himself, who among so many crimes, decided to repeatedly deny science and advertise hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as cures to COVID-19; To the chancellor who used the Itamaraty (Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. State Department) to intentionally marginalize Brazil in the international community; To the media owners who endorsed or tolerated all that misanthropy, whitewashing fascist rhetoric, and offered a megaphone for amplifying racism, sexism, LGBT phobia, and, underlying them all, the brutal classicism.
The list goes on. There are so many crimes, so many delinquent individuals and corporations, and so many victims—starting with the deaths of innocent people because of COVID and the trauma suffered by their families and spreading to all vulnerable populations: Indigenous people, the Black population, Maroons, and LGBTQIA+—that a dedicated agency to investigate and prosecute them all is necessary. Perhaps the substance we must inject into the cry for “no amnesty” is the establishment of a special court. As suggested by professor Lincoln Secco, that should be the Manaus Tribunal, named after the city that was used as a testing ground for Bolsonaro’s anti-vax propaganda, where patients were left to die at the height of the COVID pandemic. And hopefully, the Manaus Tribunal, observing all the rites, all the civility, and all the legal requirements will be capable of bringing about the historic outcome the Constitutional Assembly of 1988 fell short of delivering: close the doors of Brazilian institutions to fascism, forever.
The Biden Administration’s efforts to put on fast track Sweden’s accession as a NATO member petered out as Turkiye balked, exercising its prerogative to withhold approval unless its conditions regarding Stockholm’s past dalliance with Kurdish separatist elements is fully addressed.
President Biden was bullish and insisted publicly that Sweden’s NATO membership was a foregone conclusion. He underestimated President Recep Erdogan’s tenacity and overlooked the geopolitical ramifications.
Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assumed that all that was needed was a face-saving formula to pander Erdogan’s vanity — ie., a few Kurdish militants in Sweden would be extradited and Ankara and Stockholm would thereupon kiss and make up.
However, as time passed, Erdogan kept shifting the goal post and refined his conditions to include issues such as Sweden lifting its arms embargo against Turkiye, joining Ankara’s fight against banned Kurdish militants as well as extradition of people linked to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Turkish government accuses of masterminding the 2016 failed coup attempt, reportedly with American backing.
Evidently, Swedes didn’t realise that Turkiye had such deep knowledge of the covert activities of their intelligence.
To cut the story short, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson finally took the exit route saying on Sunday in exasperation that “Turkey has confirmed that we have done what we said we would do, but it also says that it wants things that we can’t, that we don’t want to, give it.”
“We are convinced that Turkey will make a decision, we just don’t know when,” he said, adding that it will depend on internal politics inside Turkey as well as “Sweden’s capacity to show its seriousness.”
Stoltenberg has reacted stoically, saying, “I am confident that Sweden will become a member of NATO. I do not want to give a precise date for when that happens. So far, it has been a rare, unusual and fast membership process. Normally, it takes several years.”
Meanwhile, Sweden’s defence ministry announced on Monday that negotiations have begun for a bilateral security pact with Washington — so-called Defense Cooperation Agreement — which makes it possible for American troops to operate in Sweden.
As Defence Minister Pal Jonson put it, “It could entail storage of military supplies, investments in infrastructure to enable support and the legal status of American troops in Sweden. The negotiations are started because Sweden is on its way of becoming an ally of the United States, through the NATO membership.
That is to say, the US is no longer waiting for the formalisation of Sweden’s accession as a NATO member but will simply assume it is a de facto NATO ally!
A press release on Monday by US state department said the bilateral security pact will “deepen our close security partnership, enhance our cooperation in multilateral security operations, and, together, strengthen transatlantic security.” It referred to US commitment to “strengthening and reinvigorating America’s partnerships to meet common security challenges while protecting shared interests and values.”
The crux of the matter is that a security will provide the necessary underpinning for a US deployment to Sweden on an immediate basis, which is not possible otherwise without Stockholm formally jettisoning its decades-old policy of military non-alignment.
This ingenuous route signifies a monumental shift for Sweden which has a long history of wartime neutrality. Put differently, Russia strongly opposes Sweden’s NATO membership, but Washington is reaching its objective anyway.
Interestingly, though, Finland, which also had thrown its hand in the NATO ring under US pressure, doesn’t seem to be in a tearing hurry to negotiate a pact with Washington, although it has a 1,340km border with Russia. Finland’s stance is that it would join NATO at the same time as Sweden.
Foreign minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters on Sunday, “Finland is not in such a rush to join NATO that we can’t wait until Sweden gets the green light.” A former Finnish President Tarja Halonen once said, Finland and Sweden are “sisters but not twins.” They have commonalities, but their motivations are not the same.
Unlike Sweden which was all along in the Western orbit and provided secret intelligence to Western powers throughout the Cold War, both bilaterally and through NATO, Finland had a unique relationship with Russia, which was a result of its history.
Finland positioned itself as a neutral country during the Cold War maintaining good relations with the Soviet Union, riveted on the doctrine enabled by the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (1948) with Moscow, which served well as the main instrument in Finnish-Soviet relations all the way until 1992 when the Soviet Union got disbanded.
For sure, the 1948 pact granted Finland enough freedom to become a prosperous democracy, while, in comparison, despite Sweden’s public posture of neutrality throughout much of the Cold War, behind closed doors it had become a key partner of NATO in Northern Europe.
Conceivably, neutrality still could remain an appealing alternative for Finland. Of course, it is a different matter if the balance of power in the region changes dramatically in the event of a large-scale conflict in Europe.
Sweden’s (or Finland’s) NATO membership isn’t exactly round the corner. Sweden is either unable or unwilling to fulfil Turkiye’s demands. Besides, there are variables at work here.
Most important, the trajectory of the current Russian-brokered rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus will profoundly impact the fate of the Kurdish groups in the region — and the Kurdish-US axis in Syria. Washington has warned Erdogan against seeking rapprochement with President Bashar Al-Assad.
What complicates matters further is that presidential and parliamentary elections are due in Turkiye in June and Erdogan’s political compass is set. Any change in his calculus can only happen in the second half of 2023 at the earliest.
Now, 6 months is a long time in West Asian politics. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war will also have phenomenally changed by summer.
Finland is ready to wait till summer, but Sweden (and the US) cannot. The heart of the matter is that Sweden’s NATO membership is not really about the war in Ukraine but is about containing the Russian presence and strategy in the Arctic and North Pole. There is a massive economic dimension to it, too.
Thanks to climate change, the Arctic is increasingly becoming a navigable sea route. The expert opinion is that nations bordering the Arctic (eg., Sweden) will have an enormous stake in who has access to and control of the resources of this energy- and mineral-rich region as well as the new sea routes for global commerce the melt-off is creating.
It is estimated that forty-three of the nearly 60 large oil and natural-gas fields that have been discovered in the Arctic are in Russian territory, while eleven are in Canada, six in Alaska [US] and one in Norway. Simply put, the spectre that is haunting the US is: “The Arctic is Russian.”
Just look at the map above. Sweden can bring quite a bit to the table to secure the Arctic through NATO. Finland may have a strong icebreaker-ship building industry, but it is Sweden’s highly effective submarine fleet that will be crucial — both for polar defence and for blocking Russia’s access to the world oceans.
On September 24, 2022, more than 30,000 people occupied the main roads of downtown Seoul, South Korea, for the nation’s largest climate justice march. The sheer turnout of people from all walks of life and the participation by a wide range of advocacy groups were a testament to the impact of climate change on every aspect of life: human rights, women’s rights, religion, food insecurity, and labor rights. For many of these advocacy movements in Seoul, recent crises like COVID-19 have brought home the urgent need to address the climate crisis.
Opening with a rally in Namdaemun Plaza at 3 p.m., the two-hour march occupied four out of six lanes of Seoul’s main Sejong-daero Boulevard. Standing on moving flatbed trucks, people spoke about the intersectionality of the climate crisis and other issues, including labor insecurity, housing instability, and social discrimination.
Ten megaphone-mounted flatbed trucks placed at regular intervals logistically ushered large crowds of protesters—brightly clad youth in headdresses in sunflower or coral reef shapes, families wrapped in “Carbon Neutral” cloak-like banners, Buddhist monks with globe-painted temple lanterns, Catholic nuns wearing “Save the Earth” tunics and holding “Anti-nuclear NOW” placards, regional community groups demanding a stop to coal plants and new airports, and countless union members in matching vests, flying union banners.
The groups of protesters regularly chanted in unison: “lives over profit” and “we can’t live like this anymore!” Drumming, music, and dance filled the streets. During a five-minute “die-in,” protesters fell to the ground, front to rear, like cascading dominoes.
The march was the result of three months of planning, promotion, and fundraising by Action for Climate Justice, a coalition of more than 400 civic, regional/community, and trade union movements united under the guiding concept of climate justice.
Like previous marches, environmental NGOs played leading roles in the organizing, such as Green Korea United and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM), alongside youth movements. But 2022 also saw a large influx of long-established and new movement groups not exclusive to environmental activism but for whom the climate crisis has become central to their agenda—human rights groups, women’s groups, social movements, political parties, religious networks, food cooperatives, irregular contract workers, and trade union movements.
From the Human Rights Movement Sarangbang, combating the violence of political and economic discrimination and exploitation since 1993, to the recent Human Rights Movement Network Baram working to secure the rights and dignity of discriminated groups, such as women, the disabled, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, and irregular contract workers—the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the climate crisis to the fore of their activities.
Climate policy has likewise become a pressing issue for the Anti-Poverty Alliance, which emerged during mass layoffs and bankruptcies following the 1997 financial crisis and neoliberalization of the Korean economy. This “IMF era” alliance has grown to include 49 member organizations engaged in various struggles for livelihood, from the fight for a universal basic income to alternatives to substandard housing (including polytunnel villages where people live in greenhouse-like shelters made out of vinyl) and housing instability in the face of Korea’s speculative housing markets and climate change.
Religious orders are also a sizable part of the movement now. Building on their legacy of sheltering democracy movement activists in the 1970s and 1980s, Korea’s faith-based groups have been organizing a climate movement that is cross-denominational and transnational such as the pan-Asian Inter-Religious Climate and Ecology Network.
The large outpouring of protesters in September 2022 even surpassed organizers’ expectations. Over the past two years, pandemic restrictions on gatherings and suspension of protest permits in South Korea have brought activism online and into classrooms and have included the unconventional occupation of public spaces. Some of the most visible climate actions in Seoul in 2021 appeared not on the city streets but rather above and underneath them, on large billboards mounted on skyscrapers and LCD screens installed inside subway lines. The yearlong campaign from 2020 to 2021, Climate Citizens 3.5, which was jointly conducted with artists, environmental groups, and researchers, used a chunk of its total budget, the largest allotted by Arts Council Korea, to rent 30 large-scale outdoor electronic billboards, 219 digital screens inside 21 subway stations, and all of the advertising space in 48 subway cars. Spread across the city, the billboards and displays were tailored to convey climate change-focused messages targeted to each location—climate policy changes for the traffic-heavy city center at Gwanghwamun and consumption-related taglines for shopping districts in Myeongdong and Gangnam: “Spend Less, Live More!”
Such overlapping and expanding networks in the climate justice coalition attest to the burgeoning consciousness of the climate crisis for a population whose Cold War-divided peninsula placed North Korea and South Korea in the shadow of a nuclear winter long before the threat of exterminism via global warming became an issue. As policy researcher and activist of the Climate Justice Alliance Han Jegak states, “while climate change denial is not a widespread problem in South Korea as it is in other countries, there is still a generalized denial about the urgency to act, the attitude is that we can follow what other countries are doing.” He adds, “people express fear and depression over climate change, but such feelings do not lead to proactive actions. We need to forge alternatives collectively in place of mostly individualized actions like hyper-recycling. The movement needs to harness the anger related to the climate crisis and mobilize that.” One such concrete outcome from the march was the exponential rise in signatories successfully introducing a civil memorandum to stop the opening of new coal plants to the National Assembly floor.
For many in the movement, the unprecedented rainstorms and flooding that took the lives of several people including a family in a semi-basement flat in Seoul in August 2022 has inflamed the call to action. For the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), this incident came as a personal loss, as one of the deceased was a union activist. The largest independent democratic trade union association in Korea with 1.1 million members, KCTU formalized its participation in climate action networks when it voted in a special committee on climate justice within its organization in February 2021. Environmental groups have long reached out to KCTU for more active participation in the movement as “public and energy sector unions and irregular contract workers are situated at the forefront of struggles over policy changes as well as facing the brunt of its effects,” as emphasized by KFEM activist and member of the climate coalition Kwon Woohyun. In many ways, the union’s participation in the climate movement was a significant development, explains Kim Seok, KCTU policy director, because “it was a decision to make the climate issue a key component of KCTU policies, including the collective bargaining agreement process, which is the most fundamental activity for unions.” In 2022, KCTU members circulated the most posters and mobilized 5,000 union activists to join the climate march.
For a country whose export economy is centered on energy-intensive industries, environmental activism by labor unions faces complicated challenges. KCTU must contend with internal pressure from rank-and-file workers seeking compensation for job losses from the transition to clean energy as well as the broader national context in which the state has relinquished the development of clean energy industries to profit-seeking private sector companies.
In the face of these challenges, KCTU’s proactive participation in the Action for Climate Justice coalition and its actions to work jointly with wide-ranging environmental and social movements hold the promise of broadening and solidifying the foundations of the climate movement going forward, while signaling the beginning of a potentially powerful new form of climate activism taking shape in South Korea.
The coup attempt is underway in Brazil by supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro. Today, a far right mob numbering in the thousands stormed the headquarters of the Supreme Court, Presidency, and Congress of Brazil in the capital and ransacked them. They are calling for military intervention against the government of president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva of the progressive Workers Party, who defeated Bolsonaro in democratic elections held last year.
Right now, Jair Bolsonaro is in the United States, having fled here right before Lula assumed office last Sunday. Anderson Torres, formerly Bolsonaro’s Justice Minister who was appointed the Minister of Public Security of the capital city Brasilia last week, is also in the United States. Torres appears to have played a key role facilitating today’s attack, and Bolsonaro has clearly been intentionally laying the political basis for such a coup attempt for months with his false claims of election fraud. Neither should be given safe haven by the government of the United States – they should face justice in Brazil for their crimes.
Brazil’s Congress, Presidential Palace, and Supreme Court headquarters are located in a single plaza in Brasilia, whose governor is a Bolsonaro supporter. A mob of thousands with the apparent assistance of some elements of the security forces gathered today and marched on the plaza. Gleisi Hoffmann, the head of the Workers Party, stated that, “The [Federal District] government was irresponsible in the face of the invasion of Brasília and the National Congress. It is a crime against democracy.”
Lula was out of the capital, assisting victims of flooding in the city of Araraquara. Several hours after the attack, he addressed the nation and announced that he was mobilizing federal security forces to reestablish order and defend democracy in the face of this outrageous assault. “Those people we call fascists, the most abominable thing in politics, invaded the [presidential] palace and Congress,” Lula said, and denounced the, “incompetence and bad faith of the people who take care of the security of [Brasilia]”. Earlier in the day, Minister of Justice Flávio Dino pledged that, “This absurd attempt to impose their will by force will not prevail.”
Bolsonaro appears to be isolated internationally, but not because he is an opponent of the United States and other imperial powers — even the Biden administration and other western governments know that openly supporting a Bolsonaro putsch, just after his electoral defeat, would only further destabilize and discredit imperialism in Latin America and worldwide.
This coup attempt comes as Brazilian politics is at a crossroads. From 2019 through the end of last year, Bolsonaro’s government has pursued policies that caused disaster after disaster in Brazil. He is responsible for criminal mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic, anti-worker economic policies, massive environmental destruction, and much more. He has promoted vicious, deadly racism targeting Afro-Brazilians and Indigenous Brazilians, and espouses disgustingly bigoted views against women and LGBTQ people.
Bolsonaro’s fascistic tendencies have deep roots in Brazilian politics – he is a supporter of the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985, which was an ally of the United States. Lula emerged as a national political figure as an opponent of this murderous regime, and the people’s movements of Brazil remain determined to defend hard-won democratic rights.
Bolsonaro’s rise to power was made possible by the parliamentary coup that removed the Workers Party from power in 2016. Then-president Dilma Rousseff was impeached from office on trumped-up charges by the right wing-controlled Congress. And in a plot that has now been exposed to the public, right-wing prosecutors and judges conspired to manufacture bogus corruption charges against Lula, the most popular political figure in the country who had led the first Workers Party administration from 2003 to 2010. In 2018, Lula was sent to prison on these completely baseless accusations. This prevented him from participating in that year’s presidential election, where all the polls predicted him prevailing over Bolsonaro.
But thanks to a mass movement of people in Brazil, joined by supporters the world over, Lula was freed from prison in 2019. He won last year’s presidential election, pledging to rebuild the country after the devastation of the Bolsonaro years, implement social programs to tackle hunger and poverty, and pursue an independent foreign policy that supports the unity of Latin America. The events of today are a desperate attempt by the far right to overturn the democratic will of the majority of Brazilians.
[Article based on the statement issued by the Party for Socialism and Liberation]