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Ukrainian flare-up: Devastations, Diaspora

| Updated: March 08, 2022 13:44:31


Thousands of refugees at Kyiv railway station trying to flee the country, photo from BBC website Thousands of refugees at Kyiv railway station trying to flee the country, photo from BBC website

With the physical wars increasingly proving futile and no large-scale wars taking place now, the spectre of war-spawned Diaspora do not fit in with the 21st century world. Both the Western camp, and those outside of it, ought to attach serious thought to the dilemmatic situation. Being the larger player in the Ukrainian impasse, Russia should have the chance of using the opening gambit --- thanks to its weight, writes Shihab Sarkar

The brazen invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the following trail of casualties and destructions and the rising displacement of the war-struck people remind many of similar nightmares dotting the recent history. Few militarily powerful nations invade a relatively weak country just for invasion's sake. There must be a reason, and a cogent one at that. Britain invaded Falklands in Argentine waters in 1982, in an expedition through the rough seas from another continent, just to let the world know of its presence. Despite being a South American state under dictatorial rule, Argentina was no match to the British naval might. Ironically, the instigation came from Argentina. It was complemented by an allegedly British act of revanchism.  The senseless and foolishly egotistic war remained limited to a 74-day global heat generation in the Cold War chill.

The paranoiac military ruler of Argentina apparently passed sleepless nights until he shelled a British warship. In retaliation, a British royal submarine sunk a long abandoned Argentine warship. The whole war was an exercise in futility, or, to speak scathingly, a sudden outburst of ego-clash. It witnessed the deaths of 649 Argentine army men coupled with a few shepherds on the veritably deserted island. On the British side, 255 military personnel died. Great Britain, finally, retook control of the Falklands from Argentina, with the latter becoming weaker regionally. In the meantime, Leopoldo Galtieri, the dictatorial Argentine ruler, started hearing his bell tolling.

Let us turn to the Russo-Ukraine conflict, now being drawn to the capital and the other cities of the former republic of the now-defunct Soviet Union. The strained ties between the two territories date back to the early 19th century. The bad blood reached its climax during the Crimean War (1853-1856) fought between the Russian empire and a European coalition. The military alliance comprised France, the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and Piedmont-Sardinia. The British side won the Crimean War. However, in 2014 the Russian naval forces and army annexed the Crimean Peninsula. For Ukraine and the non-communist Europe, the act remained a thorny issue. The EU and the alliance of NATO later followed suit.   Throughout the history of the czarist and, later, the socialist Russia, the relations between Russia and Ukraine have hardly been comfortable for long. Both of them boasted their rich past and cultural heritage.

In the post-Soviet times, the reason for a mutual suspicion lies in the Ukrainian territories' close proximity with mainland Europe. In size, Ukraine was the largest republic in the former Soviet Union after Russia. Even in Europe's territorial context today, Ukraine is the second-largest state after the Russian Federation.  Despite some of Ukrainian rulers' conciliatory approach towards Moscow, during both communist and post-communism rules, the Ukrainians in general have preferred to remain closer to the West. It's this popular trend that continued to cause discomfort to the post-socialist Russia.

Compared to these developments relating to psychological twists and turns of a state's citizens, the British invasion of Falklands to 'retake' the island appeared to be a banal exercise. But it didn't involve human casualties and the trails of destructions unleashed by the invading superpower. Nor did it cause even a minor disruption to the chores of life in the overrun country's citizens --- unlike Ukraine's. The Falkland Islands or the Malvinas lies at a distance of 1,521 kilometres from the mainland Argentina. The Argentines were curious to see how their despotic president coped with the deadlock. The anti-autocracy Argentine activists termed the whole mess a making of their military ruler. Except his loyal army and a few supporters at his side, Leopoldo Galtieri appeared to have fought the Falklands War alone. Yet the one feature the two episodes had in common was the brazen act of invasion. Besides, the Falklands War presaged the encounters between the Western superpowers and two West Asian nations suspected of testing chemical and nuclear weapons. The 1980s-1990s Gulf War later came to be known as the first-ever prolonged armed face-off, though regional, after the World War-II.

Though in a different way, the invasions of Ukraine by superpower Russia, and that of Iraq and Iran by a US led coalition and the US respectively have things in common. The results were grim, especially, in the case of Iraq. Following repeated air attacks on Iraq and the arrest and subsequent hanging of Saddam Hussein in 2006, the panic-stricken Iraqis began fleeing the war-ravaged country. Later, Libyans, Syrians, Egyptians and many others from northern African countries were found among these boat people fleeing their war-torn countries. Many migrant experts would like to term this West-bound journey a 'Diaspora'. The phenomenon of Diaspora refers to the global dispersion of the Jews after the Nazi-triggered holocaust in occupied Poland during the World War-II. Nowadays attempts to flee killings, persecutions, hunger and famines in one's own country are broadly termed diaspora. The Ukrainians' fleeing their motherland following the Russian invasion has already been defined as a diaspora. Despite their last-ditch battles to defend their country, the Ukrainians have found it difficult to hold out. The formidable Russian military machine appears to be firm in its resolve to occupy the country lying on the borders of Europe.

Over a week after the start of the Russian assault, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the war-battered country keeps swelling unabated. Modern warfare experts brace for the number reaching a mind-boggling figure of nearly 1 million. By that time the capital Kiev and all the cities and towns are feared to turn into heaps of concrete rubble. A few diehard patriots, holding out against the enemies with rifles without ammunition, and nearly deranged and infirm elderly people might be found sleepwalking on the deserted streets. For Russia the 'war' involves existential questions. It is not going to tolerate even the faintest hint of Ukraine's tilt towards the West, which is on the prowl just across Kiev. The most pragmatic action thus would be to take its earlier republic, and use it as its exclusive buffer zone. For Ukraine, entering the EU-NATO orbit has emerged as a Hobson's choice. Either you remain being protected by the West, or let Russia dictate you at every step. The displaced Ukrainians who took shelter in the EU and the European NATO member-countries might one day emerge as a drag on the people in those societies. This is how history proceeds.

The days of the Armenian persecution-cum-genocide followed by their veritable 'diaspora' during the times of WW-I haven't fully faded out of the pages of history. These chapters of ruthless treatment of the Armenians remain a dark spot on the conscience of the nations concerned. Apart from the regional wars centring on petty issues, the world is now more or less free of great hostilities. It's because the superpowers know well what a heavy price they may have to pay on letting themselves be drawn into the global feuds. The US, France, UK and China know it; so does Russia. On the question of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UN and the many other regional bodies might sit for brainstorming. But no superpower is prepared to cross the red line. It's because if the line is crossed to elicit awe and honour from the smaller nations, what will await humanity is a premature apocalypse.

Given these realities, the present status quo with occasional disagreements and bellicosity ought to be preferred to a continent-wide outburst of animosity. The stark truth is wars have long been proved anachronism. Trade wars have filled the gap. With the physical wars increasingly proving futile and no large-scale wars taking place now, the spectre of war-spawned Diaspora do not fit in with the 21st century world. Both the Western camp, and those outside of it, ought to attach serious thought to the dilemmatic situation. Being the larger player in the Ukrainian impasse, Russia should have the chance of using the opening gambit --- thanks to its weight.

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