Developments in Russia-Ukraine War: Deeper Costs for Russia
There are two components to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. On the one hand is the visible component – that which is conveyed to us based on information on temporary gains and losses in the ongoing war. On the other hand is the less visible component – that which is based on near-permanent, long-lasting effects of this war, on both Russia and Ukraine.
On the visible front, Russian gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine have been clear. Russia is steadily expanding in the eastern region, albeit at a slower pace and riddled with setbacks. However, on the less visible front, the costs of this expansion are not discussed much. These costs – ranging from military fatigue of the Russian military and underground rebellions in Russia to steady de-modernization of the country – are going to have a highly damaging and long-lasting effect. In particular, the de-modernization of the country has been progressing even as Russia seeks to desperately make some gains in the war.
Since the war began, Russia is gradually and deliberately reversing whatever modernization took place in its state system, economy and society in the post-Soviet period. It is undertaking this de-modernization as a part of its massive unspoken policy change, in a bid to ‘self-sustain’ amidst rising global isolation. It is a huge and risky gamble, as post-Soviet Russia had gained access to the most high-tech products and services and still remains deeply involved in global supply chains.
Manifestations of this de-modernization can be seen in the form of Russian reversion to crude warfare techniques harking to the Second World War period and in the form of import substitution policies for which Russia doesn’t have the resources. Russian announcement of ‘import substitution’ as an answer to Western sanctions is set to lead to de-modernization as it relies on a return to low-tech industrial structures and designs. This is visible in the unmodern Russian technique of attempting to liberate Donbas by destroying it completely. Even Moscow experts admit that this will prevent Russia from establishing airspace control over Ukraine, further aggravated by logistics obstacles due to Western sanctions. The manpower shortages in the Russian military are so pronounced that Russia is recruiting soldiers from volunteer units formed in North Caucasus republics to involve them more in the war effort and tame down their opposition.
Indeed, since the war began Russia exhausted most of its missile arsenal at around over 2,100 cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles in Ukraine, leading to questions about how long it will take or even if Russia will ever be able to fully restore its depleted missile arsenal. This also includes hundreds of Soviet-era missiles which are close to exhaustion and are non-reproducible. Before 2011, Russia relied mostly on tanks and armoured vehicles built in the Soviet era and had not invested much into rearmament. Before the invasion of Ukraine, the total number of modernized and newly manufactured tanks and armoured vehicles stood at 650.
Overall, the Russian Armed Forces have lost, at a minimum, over 830 tanks and 1,650 different types of armoured vehicles as well as dozens of combat aircraft and helicopters and many other pieces of military equipment. Another issue Russia faces in Ukraine is a looming deficit in artillery munitions, which will become almost inevitable by the end of 2022. Russian reliance on mass artillery shelling raises questions about the amount of ammunition Russia still has in storage or that will need to be replaced.
All these difficulties will take several years to solve, even under favorable economic circumstances. This means that Russia will have to increase its rate of manufacturing modern missile variants. Thus, the paradox of resorting to the old Soviet way of war based on the massive application of force, while having neither the human resources nor the industrial base necessary to carry it out, undercuts whatever gains Russian forces are able to make in Donbas. With every delivery of Western weapon systems, the Armed Forces of Ukraine take a step forward in modernization, while the Russian military falls back to unsustainable World War II patterns.
This process will have a devastating effect on an already battered Russian economy. Economic indicators do not reflect this. For, the quality of the Russian recession is sharply different from the quality of possible recessions in Western countries. For instance, in Russia, the main driver of inflation is the severe cuts in imports, which helps to keep a positive trade balance but results in a steady expansion of poverty. New measures of social support announced have limited real scope compared to rise in consumer prices.
Due to de-modernization and economic contraction, Russia doesn’t even have the wherewithal to build basic infrastructure and is increasingly relying on China for that, as Chinese firms build railways in the Russian north in order to secure access to the enormous reserves of natural resources there. This is yet another indication of how far Russia has fallen behind the outside world over the last three decades, as China today feels entitled to enter Siberia and the Russian Far East—precisely reminiscent of the European colonial powers’ attitudes toward Africa and Asia in the past.
The de-modernizing trends in Russia will also have a devastating impact on Russian society. The war has become a major tool used by Russian authorities to re-cast the society into an old-fashioned paternalistic mode, dominated by the oppression of freedom. Already, young Russians with means are fleeing this oppressive state of affairs geared towards turning Russia inward.
Communal Riots Over Nupur Sharma’s Comments
The unity of the Islamic world was on full display in recent times – against India and her ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The Islamic world – all major Arab countries, Maldives, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan – was united in its varying degrees of condemnation of BJP spokesperson, Nupur Sharma’s comments on Prophet Mohammad. The latter had – in a television debate – allegedly made ‘derogatory’ comments against the Prophet by saying that he married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine years old.
Her comments were made in retaliation against the jokes, derogatory remarks and pointed innuendos being made about the Shiv Lingam found at the Gyanvapi mosque. In response, her life was openly threatened and Muslims staged arson and riots in Kanpur and various other cities. Nine days after her comments, Qatar became the first country to summon the Indian envoy over the remarks. It was immediately followed by a long list of other Muslim countries. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also issued a long statement not only condemning Mrs Sharma’s remarks but also criticizing India for its list of discriminatory acts and treatment of Muslims in general.
The BJP’s response was to suspend Nupur Sharma and another party-bearer, while the Indian government distanced itself from these remarks and lambasted the OIC for crossing its boundaries. While the response of the Indian government was expected (although a country like France had not bent before the OIC), that of the BJP has polarized and demoralized the vast majority of its supporters.
First, among other things, it is being rightly perceived that BJP suspended its members under pressure from Qatar and some Arab countries, bending to external forces humiliating India for the sake of a country like Qatar. In contrast, the recent example of the French confrontation with the Muslim world in the wake of a beheading in France set an example of how not to compromise with nationalism for the sake of perceived short-term interests. The Muslim boycott of France was much more comprehensive, virulent and violent than India’s could ever be. Yet the French fought back against Islam with vigour, taking a leaf out of China’s book and responding to Muslim fundamentalism with ‘de-radicalization camps’ and other measures.
Second, it is worth mentioning that Qatar and other Muslim countries of the world have a dismal record of freedom and minority protection. Qatar, especially, has consistently hosted the Taliban, allied with Muslim Brotherhood and sheltered Iranian terror groups. For its support of terrorism, it even faced a collective embargo from other Gulf countries. For these countries to ‘lecture’ India on minority rights and for BJP to respect their diktat particularly showed the party in a weak light at home.
The aftermath of the BJP’s display of reticence has cost the country. The fact that none of the BJP leaders stood up for Nupur shows how the party can throw one of their own to the wolves simply for political calculus. This calculation has emboldened the Islamic community. The results were visible in the form of a spate of attacks by the Muslims on Hindus – especially those Hindus perceived to be ‘supporting’ Nupur Sharma on social media. The terrorist beheading of a Hindu tailor in Udaipur, the similar lynching of a man in Amravati, incidents in Bihar and open threats issued by leaders of the Muslim community – including top management leaders of Ajmer Sharif Dargah – show that they have rightly perceived the Hindu cowardice in general and BJP cowardice in particular.
Further, the mindless comments made by a Supreme Court bench against Nupur Sharma have further whitewashed and emboldened the radicalizing Muslim community. The comments – not given as part of written order – blamed Nupur for the Udaipur and other incidents of Muslim terrorism, and refused to grant her basic Fundamental Rights, in direct contravention of the Constitution as well as its own past judgements.
Throughout all these developments, the BJP has only been concerned with its political calculations. This was evident by the PM’s unfortunate comments at the BJP’s meet in Hyderabad, where Mr Modi called for outreach to the backward classes among the minority communities. These ill-timed and misbegotten comments further show how a party claiming to be based on ‘Hindutva’ has been plumbing utter depths of calculation and insincerity, doing more harm than good to the Hindu cause.
The only positive thing that the BJP can be credited with is arresting anti-national elements (like Mohammad Zubair who instigated the whole propaganda against Nupur Sharma) despite international hue and cry, giving police protection to Nupur Sharma, and not interfering with spontaneous Hindu expressions of anger. In the wake of the beheadings, murders and open Muslim threats to Hindus, the Hindus appear to be finally mobilizing. This was initially seen under the leadership of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. They released helplines for Hindus to contact in case of Muslim threats and also organized a massive ‘Hindu Sankalp March’ in the heart of Delhi. The success of the march was resounding, with over 50,000 people participating in rallies, speeches and recitation of Hanuman Chalisa. It saw the participation of saints/sadhus, Hindu activists, some BJP members and common people on the streets of the capital.
The success of such events not only shows Hindu mobilization but would also send out a message to the secular-Islamic axis that Hindus are not cowards. Indeed, recent surveys show that tourism to Ajmer dargah has dropped drastically in recent days. It appears that one Nupur Sharma has led to unprecedented national changes and mobilization across the country. It appears that these changes are irreversible and set to continue.
Rajya Sabha Election Results
Elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats were held across 15 states. While 41 seats had single candidates who were elected unopposed from 11 states, the real contest took place in 16 seats in 4 states – Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka – due to there being more contestants than the available seats.
|Maharashtra (6 seats)||3||1||1||1||–|
|Rajasthan (4 seats)||1||3||–||–||–|
|Karnataka (4 seats)||3||1||–||–||–|
|Haryana (2 seats)||1||–||–||–||1|
In this round of Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP has managed to retain 22 of the 24 seats it held in the biennial polls. The party bagged one extra seat in each state besides retaining its own, except in Rajasthan where it was outsmarted by the Congress. The overall performance of the BJP across states underscores the ability of the BJP to attract disaffected candidates within opposition ranks and the Independents as well as its craft of causing division within opposition ranks.
The BJP’s ascent in the Rajya Sabha had lifted its tally to 95 before this round of biennial elections. Despite maintaining this number more or less, the NDA’s tally went down by one seat as BJP’s ally JD(U) saw a net loss of one seat.
The BJP’s biggest gain came from Uttar Pradesh. Out of the 11 Rajya Sabha seats that went to poll from the state, the BJP won 8 seats—an addition of three seats to its earlier tally of five. The Congress’ net gain was one seat in these elections. It won a total of 10 out of the 57 seats that went to the polls. The party gained 3 seats in Rajasthan and one in Chhattisgarh while losing a seat each in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Karnataka and Haryana. The other big winner was the Aam Admi Party, which won both Rajya Sabha seats of Punjab that went to the polls in this round, taking its Rajya Sabha tally to 10.
These elections will further have bearing on the scheduled Presidential elections.
Fall of Maharashtra Government
In recent days, Maharashtra has witnessed immense political turmoil. BJP victories in recent successive elections followed by the revolt of several Shiv Sena MLAs have led to the fall of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. It was a grand fall indeed. After desertion by 39 MLAs led by Eknath Shinde and drama over legal proceedings between the Thackrey camp and the Shinde camp, the government finally fell. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Shinde camp, as anti-defection law did not apply in this case, and the constitutionality of the floor test called by the Governor was also valid. Realizing this, Thackery resigned in advance. There was little that either the Congress or the NCP led by Sharad Pawar could manipulate.
However, the real surprise was not simply the fall of the MVA, but also the fact that Shinde’s name was announced as the Chief Minister by the BJP instead of choosing their own Devendra Fadnavis. Not only that but also the decision by the BJP – and its graceful acceptance by Fadnavis – to appoint Fadnavis as the deputy Chief minister came as a huge shock to the political community. The perceived ‘demotion’ from the post of Chief Minister to a deputy Chief minister is unheard of in politics.
The acceptance of such a sacrifice signifies unselfishness and the readiness to forgo one’s own interests and ambitions for the larger welfare of the party and the country. It is a spirit that can only be evidenced among the most nationalist of people. In contemporary times, where politics has become a gross, utilitarian ‘profession’, such a spirit is rare indeed. It is reformist in nature and sets the bar high. In ancient India, this was the norm rather than an exception, where politics often implied self-giving and the following of the Dharma on the part of the ruler.
These actions on the part of the BJP have dealt an unanticipated blow to the Thackreys, the Congress and the NCP, and their echoes have been felt throughout the nation. The developments in Maharashtra have several implications –
First, it signifies an end of a culture of decadence and luxury masquerading as secularism, and the rise of a new culture based on Hindutva and nationalism. The skeletons of the Thackreys are now tumbling out. It is being acknowledged how Uddhav Thackrey was a sloppy worker slow in disposing of files, with widespread complaints that he desisted from meeting his own people and had cultivated his own exclusive ‘inner circle’. It is also well-known how the family had openly started cavorting around with the drug-consuming Bollywood elite. His mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis is well-known, with Maharashtra not only always being at the top of infections, but also being infamous for imposing the most severe lockdowns and quarantines.
His regime was also infamous for vigilante attacks on nationalists and common people. His prominent cabinet ministers were languishing in jail, a state DGP was removed and implicated in corruption on behalf of the government, and yet the MVA was shamelessly and complacently carrying on its propaganda. Every criticism of Thackrey or MVA – even the slightest sharing of news or jokes – was met immediately with draconian arrests of common people. Maharashtra police had openly and unabashedly become the slave of the political class. Important infrastructural projects were stalled, due to the desire to appease a section of self-proclaimed urban social workers and obstructive environmentalists. Corruption was the ever-pervasive force behind the government. The MVA constituents also constantly squabbled amongst themselves for the prioritization of their personal selfish interests and consistently lost local elections to the BJP.
Despite this massive scale of incompetence, misgovernance, and chicanery, it is a surprise that this excuse for a government managed to survive for 2.5 years. The lowest point of this government – and one that likely infuriated the public the most – was the open appeasement of the Muslim community against the Hindus. There are many instances, including the Amravati riots, to prove that. Maharashtra police arrested those supporting Nupur Sharma, and even chanting Hanuman Chalisa had become an offence. Hindu lynchings by Muslims – such as the one in Amravati over the Nupur Sharma issue – were illegally presented by the police as ‘theft’. The police now admit that they did this under the pressure of the previous government. The list of transgressions is endless. That is why ‘Hindutva’ became the main reason for Shinde and others to separate from Thackreys. Under Uddhav’s ineptitude, the Shiv Sena had become a de facto Muslim party.
Second, the events in Maharashtra herald a likely demise or at least irrelevance of the Thackrey family to Maharashtra politics. As it is, the influence of this family was limited to areas around Mumbai. Bal Thackrey was known to have the view that Shiv Sena should wield power as king-makers instead of hankering after the crown. He probably realized the strategy of how to wield maximum power by leveraging limitations into advantages. Such thinking – as well as the commitment to Hindutva ideology – is missing in his progeny, who are known to be puppets of Sharad Pawar and the Gandhi family.
After Shinde’s rebellion, Shiv Sainiks have little to complain about. The BJP has not left even an iota of scope for that. The Chief Minister is a Shiv Sainik and a former BJP CM is his junior. The move was meant to completely cut off the roots of the Thackrey family from Shiv Sena itself, and thereby save the Sena’s future in Maharashtra’s Hindutva landscape. The results are visible in the form of support Shinde is receiving from Shiv Sainiks, as various cadre members and corporators from key municipal corporations join Shinde en masse. Municipal corporations were the de facto seat of power and earnings for the Thackreys for decades. This – and the wider support – is not coming to an end. Even the Congress legislators are known to be unhappy and may not survive long with the party, as was clear by their tactics in MLC elections which the BJP won.
The developments in Maharashtra are still at a nascent but rapidly progressing stage. They herald the beginning of a new phase for the state as well as the country.