Developments in Russia and Ukraine
In sudden and surprise developments in the course of the conflict, Ukraine has launched a sustained counter-offensive to take back its Russia-occupied territories. The Ukrainian forces’ offensive in Kharkiv region has liberated almost all its Russian-occupied territory. Ukrainian forces’ Balakliya-Kupyansk offensive operation (September 6–14) could likely be treated as the turning point in the all-out Ukrainian-Russian war – when Ukraine gained the initiative. In approximately one week, Ukraine liberated more than 8500 square kilometers (km) of its sovereign territory in Kharkiv region – much more than Russia has managed to occupy since mid-April 2022 in that region. The occupation administration installed by the Russians there during March 2022 has now been evicted, although a very large chunk amounting to about 19% of the Ukrainian territory (including Crimea) is still under Russian occupation.
Militarily, the Ukrainian offensive showed the speed with which Ukrainian forces managed to penetrate Russia’s tactical defense in depth. The offensive stands in stark contrast to Russian attempts to advance in Donbas since April 2022. Despite a preponderance of firepower and numerical advantage in armor, Russian units failed to quickly penetrate Ukraine’s tactical defense in depth in numerous places, and was unable to encircle and destroy major Ukrainian groupings or cause them to flee. In truth, all Russian forces managed to do is slowly push Ukrainian forces from Popasna, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
In contrast, in its offensive operation, the Ukrainian side recovered most of the lost territories in Kharkiv region. Ukrainian forces proved to be masters of maneuver warfare and operational art despite such objective constraints as lack of artillery, armor and piloted aviation. Most of all, the offensive was a major strategic coup for Kyiv, as successful actions on the ground debunked the consensus that the Ukrainian-Russian war will be a protracted stalemate (or a war of attrition) in which neither side is able to attain key political objectives by major offensive operations. Armed resistance within the occupied territory, coupled with Ukrainian army counterattacks along the front lines, have cornered Moscow.
This military success is further buttressed by the deteriorating conditions within Russia, regardless of whatever Putin projects to the world.
Inside Russia, the internal opposition to Putin is growing and it is coming from the people. A militant anti-Putin movement is taking shape inside Russia with the blowing up of draft centers and sabotage on rail lines. The appearance of Ilya Ponomarev, a Russian émigré in Ukraine who claims to represent the Russian National Republican Army and seeks the support of all those opposed to the Putin regime to carry out attacks on it, and other such figures have further emboldened the anti-Putin movement. Indeed, it is estimated that not since the 1920s has there been such a large Russian emigration committed to change at home, with at least some members prepared to support or even organize violent attacks on the regime in Moscow. In the aftermath of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and Putin’s desperate declarations, around 98000 Russians fled to Kazakhstan.
The deterioration of Russia, on both internal and external fronts, has increasingly pushed Putin towards the brink of madness. After the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Putin began the large scale mobilization of reservists and initiated a referendum in occupied Ukrainian territories of Donbas, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. He also issued the threat to turn this into a nuclear war and alleged that some of Western military supply to Ukraine amounts to declaration of war. The referendums have been denounced by the world as stage-managed by Russia and the initial results announced by Russia claim that more than 95% of the population in these regions want to join Moscow. The absurdity of the claims which have not been bought by the world.
Nevertheless, recent events have escalated tensions between Russia and the West. The U.S. has increased its military aid to Ukraine, approving another USD 12 billion. Energy tensions are also at an all-time high, as the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russian gas supply to Germany via the Baltic Sea were mysteriously blown up. This act is being viewed as an act of sabotage.
At present the U.S.-Russia tensions are at an all-time high. The U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking at the NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, the 25th September, made it clear that Russia would pay a high price if it made good on veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in the conflict. He said, “If Russia crosses this line there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively.”
The Taiwan-China escalation accelerated during August in the wake of the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is the highest-level visit by an American official to the Island in a quarter century. She has been critical of China on multiple fronts over the decades, and even now visited ignoring multiple warnings and threats from China that her plane will be shot down. For China, the presence of a senior American figure in Taiwan would indicate some kind of US support for Taiwan’s independence, despite the fact that the US has maintained a ‘One China’ policy since the 1970s.
America stoutly responded to the Chinese threats by alerting its Nuclear forces and sending 24 fighter planes to safeguard Nancy Pelosi’s plane and also posted two of its Naval Fleets in the seas around Taiwan. China failed to carry out its threat but in response to the visit, China launched a series of aggressive military exercises aimed at Taiwan. They involved live-fire drills, air sorties, naval deployments, and ballistic missile launches. The live-fire drills were unprecedented in recent history and took place in six zones that surrounded the island’s busiest international waterways and aviation routes. China announced an end to the exercises on 10 August, but also stated that regular “patrols” would be launched in the Taiwan Strait.
The exercises, for a brief time, raised the specter of a looming war, ahead of China’s 20th Party Congress in October, where Xi hopes to strengthen his stranglehold over power. Taiwan also responded with its own set of strong military exercises, involving live-fire drills. In a further escalation, another set of US lawmakers from a House Committee also landed in Taiwan sometime after Pelosi’s visit. The US government has also approved USD 1.1 billion in weaponry to Taiwan. The proposed deal includes a radar system to track incoming strikes and anti-ship and anti-air missiles. Further, the US Senate foreign relations committee also passed a bill to provide $6.5bn to fund weapons and other support for Taiwan.
The entire escalation sent jitters through the Indo-Pacific region, threatening the security of the countries in the region.
Disengagement at the LAC
In a significant development, India and China have disengaged completely at the LAC. The last of friction points – Patrolling Point 15 at the Hot Springs – was resolved. Thus, the advancements made as a result of the Galwan border clash of 2020 have been retracted. With the latest withdrawal of troops from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, buffer zones have now been established by the two sides in five locations, including in Galwan Valley, north and south of Pangong Lake, and at PP17A in Gogra.
The arrangements in the four earlier established buffer zones have so far helped keep the peace over the past two years. No patrolling is to be undertaken by either side in the buffer zones, which have been established on territory claimed by both India and China. The latest disengagement came just three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan. The two leaders have not directly spoken in more than two-and-a-half-years and they have also not met at the sidelines of the SCO summit, where PM Modi held bilateral talks with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
However, border issues at the LAC continue to fester. In particular – two areas, Depsang plains and Demchok – are still under confrontation with advanced Chinese incursions in these areas. China has neither agreed to resolve stand-offs in Demchok and Depsang, suggesting they pre-dated the current tensions, nor shown any intent to de-escalate, instead continuing to build forward infrastructure aimed at permanently housing a large number of troops closer to the LAC.
The elections for the 14th vice president of India saw the victory of BJP candidate and former West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar. He defeated the Opposition candidate, Margaret Alva, by 528 votes.
SCO Summit at Samarkand
The recently concluded summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Samarkand, Uzbekistan was significant for many reasons. The world was keenly watching the summit as this was the first in-person SCO plurilateral summit after COVID19 pandemic. The summit was influenced by the backdrop of the following events.
First, the Russia-Ukraine war and the Ukrainian counter-offensive had considerably dented Putin’s authority at the summit. The world was keenly watching how countries would react to Russia at the event, in particular a large and powerful democracy (also, a strategic partner of the western countries) like India, and a powerful country like China.
India’s PM Modi, in his opening remarks to Putin, did not mince words in denouncing the war. His opening remarks to Putin that the present era is ‘not an era of war’ gained wide attention at the global level and was seen as a signal of India’s discomfort with the Russian prolongation of the invasion, and a public reprimand to Russia.
China, similarly, maintained its position that the war should cease and dialogue was the way forward. Indeed, in a significant development, the Chinese premier, Xi Jingping, first visited Kazakhstan prior to entering Samarkand, where he said that, “No matter how the international situation changes, we will continue to resolutely support Kazakhstan in protecting its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The statement is clearly a warning to Russia that Kazakhstan has China’s full backing, since Kazakhstan has been spooked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China’s warning is a message to Russia to never even try to attempt in Central Asia what it did in Ukraine. China has significant interests, investments as well as security alliances in the region. Its expanding role in the region has marginalized Russia, and shows that Sino-Russian friendship is based on a union of convenience and power, and has nothing stronger to ground it.
Other member-states of the SCO are similarly placed. Most of them are uncomfortable with Russia’s war against Ukraine. Being former Soviet republics, they feel threatened by the Russian actions. The Russian announcement of unilateral referendums in occupied territories of Ukraine, in particular, has shaken the Central Asian republics, with Kazakhstan announcing that it refuses to recognize such arbitrary referendums.
Second, the strained relations between India and China at the LAC set an awkward background to the SCO. Interestingly, it was just before the summit that the LAC stand-off between the two countries was resolved. However, despite this, the bilateral meeting of PM Modi with Chinese premier, Xi Jingping, could not get through.
Third, from India’s perspective, the meetings on the sidelines were more important than the formal SCO outcome. India held four bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the SCO summit, including with Iran, Russia, Turkey and Uzbekistan. In terms of the main outcome, many of India’s concerns including those on terrorism, and denial of transit rights to member states and others were included. India also succeeded in getting Varanasi (Kashi) in Uttar Pradesh declared as the first ever SCO tourist and cultural capital for the year 2022-23.
The Delhi Liquor Scam
The Delhi liquor scam has created ripples across the country and badly exposed the Aam Admi Party (AAP). The liquor scam was exposed in July this year when Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar found irregularities and procedural lapses in the new liquor policy implemented by the Delhi govt last year.
The new liquor policy of Delhi was floated in 2020 and implemented in November 2021, which brought several changes to the way alcoholic drinks are sold in the city. The policy marked the exit of the government from selling liquor, handing over the operations to private retailers. Delhi was divided into 32 zones and each zone had 27 liquor vends, which means each municipal ward had 2-3 vends.
The new policy allowed home delivery, opening of shops till 3 AM, and allowed sellers to offer unlimited discounts. However, in the audit of the files related to the policy it was found that undue benefits were extended to private parties, causing loss to the govt exchequer. Deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia was pulled into the matter as excise is one among the 19 portfolios held by him. Subsequently, a CBI probe was ordered into the matter by Delhi Lt. Governor. As soon as the probe was ordered, the Delhi govt announced the decision to scrap the new liquor policy and revert to the old one. The CBI conducted raids on Manish Sisodia, excise officials and private beneficiaries of the new liquor policy and prepared chargesheets against at least 15 people, including Sisodia. In recent days, CBI made the first arrest in the case by arresting businessman, Vijay Nair, who is also a close aide of Sisodia.
Rise of Islamic Radicalism: Leicester Communal Violence and Iranian Women Protests
The communal violence in Leicester, UK that erupted in mid-September reflects how Britain is increasingly becoming susceptible to the expanding tentacles of Islamic radicalism. The violence erupted between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester, initially over the issue of an India-Pakistan cricket match played on August 28th. The precise sequence of events leading up to the violence is not clear, as many contrasting sets of reportage, mixed with misinformed, has ignited a blame game.
However, it has been reported that a group of Indians celebrating India’s victory in the match was attacked by disgruntled Pakistani Muslims. The latter, in turn, were thrashed by Indians, leading to further series of incidents which took the form of Hindu-Muslim religious violence. On September 4th, a group of Muslim boys attacked some Hindu boys going to Ganesh Puja. As per reports, for about a fortnight or so post the September 4th incident, people walking on the streets were stopped and asked about their religion. If they turned out to be Hindu, they were harassed. As a result, for some days, initially Hindus were living in fear – mob lynching by Muslims was a real possibility.
However, things changed on September 17th when Hindus began to organize themselves. Around 200 Hindus took to the streets on September 17th in protests against the violence against the community. The Muslim contingent was present as well. Both groups confronted each other outside Shivalaya Mandir on Belgrave road, Leicester. The temple flags were then burnt by the Muslim side and a window was heavily damaged.
This act of temple vandalism by the Muslims was noted and condemned across the spectrum, with the reverberations reaching India. While the local police has been able to control the violence, it has kept flaring up every now and then. Subsequently, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs took up the issue and stated that India will not stand for attacks against the Indian community and the Hindus living in the UK. After this statement, the local police in Leicester swung into further action and there was mass detention of around 47 potential culprits, mostly Muslims. After Leicester, the Hindu-Muslim tensions had even spread to other English regions, like Birmingham, Nottingham and Smethwick, but no major incident took place.
The entire episode shows that we are now witnessing the rise of Islamic fundamentalism showing its undeniable colours which even the so-called secular lobby finds hard to defend. While in the case of the UK violence, much of the biased western media attempted to give misplaced accounts painting Hindus on the wrong side, the eruption of yet another instance of Islamic terrorism became globalized simultaneously. The death of Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of Iran’s ‘morality police’ with three days of her detention – due to torture and beatings – has led to global and Iranian Muslim women outrage against the Iranian regime. Amini was arrested simply because few strands of her hair was visible out of her burkha – an Islamic women attire compulsory in several Muslim countries, including Iran.
Her death sparked widespread protests led by the Iranian women against the regime. While initially the protests were limited to this particular issue, later they took on an even bolder hue with women across Iran publicly throwing away their headscarves or burning them on a pyre, and even cutting their hair. At least more than 41 protestors and police have died in these protests as a result of the shootings by the Iranian authorities desperate to control the protests. However, the more the state tries to repress these women, the more vociferously the protests are spreading. Presently, the protests have reached a stage involving Iranian youth – both men and women – now demanding a “revolution” against the state. Chants of slogans like “death to the dictator” rend the air in Iran.
Whether these protestors are truly able to dislodge the regime as they want to – without any external resources and support – is difficult to say. But the sheer assertion of will by the women and youth is unprecedented in the Islamic state. The significance of the protests lies in the fact that they are now inspiring millions of Muslim women across the globe. Soon after Iran, the protests have spread to the neighbouring Afghanistan, where the Afghan women have taken to the street to express solidarity with their Iranian counter-parts and protest against the terrorist Taliban regime. In Syria, the Kurdish women are also protesting against the events in Iran leading to the death of Amini.
In all these developments, the western intellectuals are conspicuous by their silence. Having supported the Muslim lobby for decades – and indeed, been actively complicit in furthering the Muslim culture of oppression against their women, in the name of secularism – the western intellectuals have nothing to say. Same is the case with Indian intellectuals who have maliciously supported the wearing of hijab and burkha as freedom of choice, although in India’s West Bengal women activists led a protest against the killing of Amini.
Ban on PFI
The Indian government, over the last few days, conducted a series of country-wide raids against the Islamic militant outfit, Popular Front of India (PFI), and its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). After the evidence recovered from these raids and based on PFI’s terrorist activities across the country, the government has now banned it as an ‘unlawful association.’
The chargesheet by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) reveals the extent of PFI’s terror activities over the years. The outfit was formed in 2006 during the time of the UPA government and has operated mainly from Kerala. It came into limelight for chopping off the hand of a Christian Professor in Kerala for the latter’s alleged ‘blasphemy.’ It has since been an antagonist of Kerala Christians for promoting ‘Love Jihad.’ Even then – and despite years of adverse intelligence inputs by Kerala intelligence agencies – successive “secular” governments have allowed the PFI to virtually thrive and flourish without any compunction.
In recent times, the outfit has become a familiar name across India. It was involved in murders of RSS people in Kerala and Maharashtra and in fomenting protests and riots, like the Delhi Riots of 2020, anti-Hindu Bengaluru violence in 2020, the anti-CAA protests etc. More stunningly, it has effortlessly – over the past one-two years – expanded and held huge public rallies with green flags across Opposition-ruled states like Rajasthan, West Bengal and Telangana.
Initially, the Central government allowed the PFI to expand and indeed expose itself. Once it became established and famous for its credentials of fomenting Islamic terrorism, the government swung into action. In the interim period, the intelligence agencies got the opportunity to map its footprint and keep it on radar, and allow it to be exposed to the Indian public.
In the raids, a huge trove of incriminating evidence was recovered. This includes documents on ‘Mission 2047’ to Islamize India, huge amounts of money, videos related to ISIS, and Gajwa-e-Hind, IED explosives, communication devices etc. Its links to foreign terrorist Muslim outfits as well as funding from Turkish and Pakistani NGOs was also revealed. It had a huge trove of information for assassination of RSS targets. It was also revealed that many of its members worked as intellectuals, lecturers and government employees to spread Islam and for intelligence-gathering purposes. Many of them were revealed to have even infiltrated the RSS’s ground level Muslim cadre.
The blowing up of the entire scandal comes as a wake-up call to the country and especially its majority community who are already a target of a demographic invasion by the Muslims.