A war for whom?

A war for whom?

TETIANA SHYSHKINA-UNSPLASH

The Russian government’s Tass news agency reported on Tuesday that two breakaway regions of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR) — have set a “referendum on joining Russia” for Sept. 23 to 27. The Russian-language independent news outlet Meduza cited two sources close to the Kremlin that said referendums will also be held in the Russian-occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, on the same dates (newsweek.com Sept. 20, 2022).

The referendum scheme was already successfully used after Russian forces, on Feb. 27, 2014, took control of Crimea which had been transferred to Ukraine at the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia since 2000, fielded a referendum on March 16, 2014, asking Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority if they wanted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. With 97% of its citizens voting “Yes!” Russia formally added Crimea on March 21, less than a month after the Russian invasion. Kyiv and the West said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law. But Crimea remains annexed to Russia.

Notably, the referendum that Russia now seeks for it to annex about 15% of the total Ukrainian territory (about the size of Hungary or Portugal) will be in regions that have large ethnic Russian populations, as Crimea was when it was annexed. Per the last official census in 2001, Donetsk Oblast was 38.2% ethnic Russian, Luhansk 39%, Zaporizhzhia 24.7%, and Kherson 14.1% who still identify themselves as Russians more than Ukrainians. The same census showed that 95.9% of Russians in Ukraine consider the Russian language to be native for them, versus 3.9% who named Ukrainian as their native language. Perhaps Russian President Putin is counting on the outdated statistics, which will give some credibility to the expected overwhelming “Yes!” of Ukrainian hostages to the Russian-controlled referenda. And there really are some protest and separatist groups in Ukraine who have gained self-confidence with the aggression of Russia initiated in February 2022 — now a seven-month war escalating to a possible global conflict.

The Ukrainian side has recently been winning in many strategic regions that had been attacked and subsequently controlled by Russia, and the biggest blow to Ukraine would be for its ethnic Russian-descent citizens to become Russian citizens. The ballots being distributed on Friday and the weekend had one question: “Do you wish to secede from Ukraine and create an independent state that will enter the Russian Federation?” Putin has cleverly redirected and redefined the casus belli of the Russian aggression to a noble fight for the freedoms of both Ukrainians and Russians.

Political analysts point out that “after referendums have joined all four regions to Russia then Ukraine and potentially its Western backers too, would, from a Russian perspective, be fighting against Russia itself. That would raise the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the NATO military alliance, a scenario that President Joe Biden has said could lead to World War Three, because NATO-members are supplying arms and giving intelligence to Ukraine.” (Reuters Sept. 20, 2022).

Washington and the West have so far said that the weapons they supply to Ukraine should not be used to fire on Russian territory. Ukraine says it will not rest until every Russian soldier is ejected from its territory. Kyiv says it will never accept Russian control over its territory and has called on the West to supply more and better arms to fight Russian forces (Ibid).

In a short, televised address to the nation on Sept. 21, Putin warned the West that he was not just bluffing about his threat to annex regions in Ukraine and will use all the means at his disposal to protect Russia’s territory, including using nuclear capability. “To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said (Associated Press, Sept. 21, 2022).

In the same address Putin publicly announced the calling to active military duty of the initial batch of 300,000 reservists to augment the fight to regain “rightful” Russian territory. It is the first mobilization in Russia since World War II (Ibid.). Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a sharp spike in demand for plane tickets abroad, even though far fewer of those have been available since the start of the war and they are much more expensive than before. Hordes of “escapees” from the mobilization draft hastily crossed to the nearest friendly border by cars, trucks, or bicycles before restraints could be imposed. A clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts and leaving service until the partial mobilization is no longer in place. The call-up sparked protests in major Russian cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg on Tuesday, resulting in a reported 1,300 arrests (BBC News, Sept. 23, 2022).

In the four targeted regions of Ukraine, one of the first consequences of annexation by the referenda would be the conscription of Ukrainians into the Russian military. That is already the case in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk occupied by Russia since 2014 (New York Times, Sept. 23, 2022). Ironic and pathetic. Is not the deathly war between Russia and Ukraine a fight for the rights and freedoms of these conflicted people whose minds and hearts have been confused by insistent former parent-country versus protective present allegiance?

Ukrainian forces said that 10,000 of their soldiers were killed, 30,000 wounded, 7,200 missing (5,600 captured) from Feb. 24 to June 3, 2022. Russians claim they have actually killed and wounded 110,575 Ukrainian soldiers (61,207 killed, 49,368 wounded) from Feb. 24 to Sept. 21, 2022.

The US estimates that between 70,000 to 80,000 Russian and their allied forces were killed and wounded from Feb. 24 to Aug. 8, 2022. Most saddening is that the United Nations counts 5,916 civilians killed, 8,616 wounded (confirmed minimum, thought higher) from Feb. 24 to Sept. 18, 2022.

But the casualties of the war are not only the pitiful dead and wounded in the battlegrounds. The economic unrest from the direct intervention in the already-haywire markets from the sanctions and embargoes between the opposing sides and their allies in the war have added to the deep recession caused by the long-staying COVID pandemic. Russia is the world’s 3rd largest oil producer, the 2nd largest natural gas producer and among the top five producers of steel, nickel, and aluminum. It is also the largest wheat exporter in the world (almost 20% of global trade). On its side, Ukraine is a key producer of corn (6th largest), wheat (7th), sunflowers (1st), and is amongst the top 10 producers for sugar beet, barley, soya, and rapeseed (coface.com March 7, 2022).

On the day the invasion began, financial markets around the world fell sharply, and the prices of oil, natural gas, metals, and food commodities surged. The escalation of the conflict increases the likelihood that commodity prices will remain high for much longer. In turn, it intensifies the threat of long-lasting high inflation, thereby increasing the risks of stagflation and social unrest in both advanced and emerging countries (Ibid.).

But the most devastating punishment of the war is the erosion of the harmony and peace among nations in the modern world, slowly built up from the razing of the last World War.

We pray for a peaceful resolution of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Soon.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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