Ukraine Update 21 Sept. 2022: Putin Ups The Ante

Vladimir Putin has upped the ante in Ukraine and made it clear that he is determined to end the war on terms favorable to Russia. In an address to his nation Putin announced the call-up of approximately 300,000 reservists. The Russian leader cited Western material support for Ukraine as the primary reason for the mobilization. He labeled the move ‘necessary and urgent’ in light of the advanced weapons that the United States and European nations have been pouring into Ukraine since February. Russia’s standoff with the West has not dissipated. Putin accused the West of ‘nuclear blackmail’ and warned that Russia has nuclear weapons of its own. Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast has alarmed the Russian government. This was made apparent by Putin’s support for referendums being hastily set up in territories occupied by Russian forces. Annexation of these areas will make them part of Russia. After that, any potential Ukrainian attacks against them can be considered aggressive action against Russia itself. Putin has declared he is prepared to use every weapon in Russia’s arsenal to defend ‘Russian territory.’ 

 “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in the address. “This is not a bluff.”

As for the partial mobilization, 300,000 is a significant number of reservists. It will be some time before these citizens-turned-soldier are ready for duty. How useful they will be on the frontlines in Ukraine remains to be seen. Some will inevitably end up there, but not all. Most likely, not even the majority. The move also runs the risk of sewing domestic dissent inside of Russia. Protests broke out across the country in response to the callup. Russian police and security forces detained over 1,300 demonstrators. Although unsanctioned protests can result in prison terms for those found guilty of organizing or attending them, a significant number of Russians chose to take part. The prospect of reservists being called up hits close to home for many Russians. Suddenly the war in Ukraine, which has seemed far away and of little consequence for the average Russian citizen, is now standing at the front door.

Sri Lanka Is Coming Into Play

Uncertainty is growing in Sri Lanka as the nation’s top political leaders have not been heard from in the aftermath of Saturday’s takeover of the presidential residence and offices. The prime minister’s own residence was overrun by protesters as well. Since Saturday’s unrest, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not been heard from. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge has gone radio silent too. There have been reports the president plans to resign on Wednesday, however Rajapaksa has not addressed the reports or his intentions. At the present time it is unclear who, if anyone, is leading Sri Lanka. The longer Rajapaksa remains incommunicado, the greater the chances are of a vacuum forming in Colombo. Opposition leaders are trying to determine if Rajapaksa will in fact resign on Wednesday, and if so, what will the nation’s new government look like. At first glance the speaker of parliament appears to be the probable choice to lead the nation after Rajapaksa’s departure, yet it is unclear what meetings are going on behind the scenes.

Events over the weekend make it clear Sri Lanka is just about in play on the geopolitical chessboard. Whoever takes the reins of power in Colombo next will be faced with the daunting task of preventing the country from careening off the cliff into economic oblivion once and for all. To stop this from happening, large amounts of financial and material aid will be needed. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, its moment of need comes in the midst of global instability brought on by the Ukraine war and subsequent surging energy prices. India, which has been Sri Lanka’s guardian angel of sorts for a long time, has already contributed billions of dollars in an effort to keep the nation afloat. Yet more funds, fuel and food will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

Should India fail to stabilize Sri Lanka, the door will open for China to move in and attempt to save Sri Lanka while at the same time dragging the island nation inexorably into Beijing’s sphere of influence. Attention should be locked on Sri Lanka and the entire Indian Ocean region in the upcoming week. Things are happening there which will have a significant effect on regional security as well as the growing India-China rivalry.

Sri Lanka In Crisis

Public anger and frustration is threatening to boil over in Sri Lanka amid a growing economic crisis that has greatly diminished the standard of living and now threatens to unseat the current government. Sri Lankans are defying the present state of emergency which bans public gathering and protests. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared the emergency on Saturday, hoping to prevent the large-scale demonstrations that were scheduled for today (Sunday, 3 April, 2022). Along with restricting public movement and imposing a curfew, internet access was also severely limited, a move that has caused dissent within the Sri Lankan government.

The government’s heavy-handed moves come in response to a demonstration involving thousands of people outside Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home in Colombo. The protest began peacefully but turned violent when security forces used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd. Demonstrators responded by throwing rocks and setting fire to vehicles used by the security forces. Over fifty demonstrators were arrested, and two dozen security officers suffered injuries.

The root cause of the present situation is the government’s handling of the worst economic crisis to hit the island nation in decades. Conditions have been going downhill for some time owing to a combination of events and circumstances that started with the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019. Those attacks, which killed over 250 people, hit Sri Lanka’s tourism-reliant economy very hard. Next came the COVID-19 pandemic which placed heavy pressure on the currency. Along with a host of other factors, these landmark events have combined to produce a situation where Sir Lankans find it increasingly difficult to purchase fuel, medicine and other essential goods.

All eyes are now on Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government. How the nation’s leaders react to public defiance of the curfew and state of emergency will determine what the next phase of the crisis will bring. Already, many politicians from parties in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s governing coalition are starting to grow antsy. Calls that he appoint a caretaker government that represents all eleven parties represented in parliament are growing louder. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a coalition member, announced on Friday that it will leave the coalition unless Rajapaksa takes measures to “alleviate the economic crisis, after which an election must be called for.”

Kazakhstan Update 9 January, 2022

Kazakh authorities on Sunday said that order has been restored and the nation stabilized following a week of the worst unrest seen there since it gained independence in 1991. The office of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has also reported that all of the buildings and locations previously taken over by the protesters. On Friday, Tokayev said as part of the effort to restore order he authorized police and military to shoot-to-kill. The Kazah leader’s office also reported 5,800 people have been detained since the protests morphed into a violent uprising. According to state media 164 people were killed last week.

As it became apparent how threatening the uprising had become, Tokayev wasted little time in requesting help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet states. 2.500 troops have either been deployed or are in the process of moving into Kazakhstan. The majority of troops are Russian and have those that are on the ground in the country are reportedly securing strategic locations and government buildings. This has freed up Kazakh police and military to participate in the ‘counter-terrorist operations’ in Almaty and Nur-Sultan.

As far as the big picture goes, Vladimir Putin wasted no time in answering Tokayev’s call for help. Russian troops were packing and moving within hours of the order. The Kazakh uprising came at the worst possible moment as the Ukraine situation is moving towards a possible climax this coming week with meetings between NATO, the US and Russia on the schedule. To have allowed Kazakhstan to fall into chaos would’ve been counterproductive to Putin’s plan. By most appearances, the situation in Kazakhstan has calmed down and the government is back in control.

Protests Break Out In Cuba

Protest rallies broke out in Cuba today as citizens took to the streets and voiced their discontent with the current government, as well as shortages of food and medicine that have grown significantly worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nation where dissent is often dealt with swiftly and brutally, the protests appear to have taken the government by surprise. The protest rallies took place in cities and towns around the country. Santiago, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Holguín all saw protests, as did a number of smaller towns. Eventually, they came to Havana where a strong police presence was waiting. Thousands of people took part nationwide, making today’s protests the largest in Cuba since the Balsero crisis in 1994.

A shortage in COVID-19 vaccines seems to have been a contributing factor for today’s events too. Cuba has been setting record highs in the number of COVID cases of late. Efforts to control transmission of the virus have not kept up with the rise in cases. Cuba’s economy is also in the midst of a contraction. Economic sanctions and multiple layers of bureaucracy have combined to bring production in agricultural and essential food sectors to a near standstill. Of course, these problems are all symptoms of the main ailment facing Cubans: the authoritarian government in Havana.

It did not take very long for the Cuban government to lay blame for the protests at the feet of the United States. The next step in the government’s response will be watched closely by the US and other nations in the region. This is the first major test for Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel since he assumed power in April of this year.

For the US, the Cuba demonstrations could serve to bring about another test for the Biden administration which is now contending with Haiti and the aftermath of its president’s assassination last week.