Is Ukraine heading for partition?

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Is Ukraine heading for partition?

Tuesday, 20 February 2024 | Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Is Ukraine heading for partition?

Western involvement in conflicts like Ukraine serves as a stark reminder of waning efforts and increasing apathy amidst grim realities

American conservative journalist Tucker Carlson demonstrated somewhat compelling journalism in his recent interview with Russian President Putin, despite facing severe criticism from proponents of weapons and ideological bravado for Ukraine. In the face of such opposition, Carlson courageously unveiled the hypocrisy surrounding freedom of expression and other noble ethics purportedly championed by Western values, revealing them to be nothing but a hollow dream.

During his discourse at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week, subsequent to his interview with Putin, Carlson astutely highlighted a crucial analogy, likening superpowers to responsible fathers. Just as a father intervenes to halt his children's squabbles, irrespective of the underlying causes, so too should a superpower prioritise peacekeeping over political posturing. Regrettably, the prevailing sentiment among US political elites, along with their most trusted friends in Europe, seems indifferent to advocating true power in the global arena.

Despite the contentious nature of the interview, it provided a vital platform for gaining authentic insight into the conflict in Ukraine from the Russian perspective. Putin, appearing rational and contemplative, articulated his stance with a measure of credibility. While some of his claims may have raised eyebrows, his demeanour served to underscore the legitimacy of his position to the American audience. Recognising his role as a patriot working in the interest of Russia, we must interpret his assertions within this context, recognising his commitment to his nation's welfare.

However, as noted by geopolitical forecaster George Friedman, Putin's rhetoric serves a strategic purpose, aimed at influencing both domestic and international audiences. His communication strategy prioritises persuasion over absolute truth, leveraging carefully crafted narratives to exert pressure on other governments.

In the wake of Russia's military operations in Ukraine, it becomes increasingly evident that mere factional unification without a mutually acceptable mediator is a futile endeavour. The West, regrettably, has yet to grasp the underlying causes of the conflict, opting instead to pursue narrow political agendas. Resorting to sanctions as the primary tool against Putin reflects a myopic approach devoid of meaningful intervention strategies. Can we truly cite any instance where sanctions have catalysed positive change? On the contrary, they inflict untold suffering on innocent populations without addressing socio-economic issues, perpetuating human suffering rather than alleviating it.

In our recent history, we've witnessed the ebb and flow of nations, with empires rising and falling, borders shifting, and new countries emerging. Yet, amid this dynamic landscape, Ukraine finds itself ensnared in yet another tragic chapter-a story of sovereignty threatened and division looming. Two years after Vladimir Putin authorised a so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, ostensibly for the purpose of "demilitarisation and denazification," we're witnessing the grim spectre of partition casting its shadow over this once-sovereign nation.

Nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory now lies under Russian occupation, with pro-Russian enclaves clamouring for separation from the central government. What began as an ill-fated offensive has now unravelled into a labyrinth of internal discord, epitomised by the dismissal of esteemed General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, further deepening the nation's woes.

In an essay purportedly penned by Zaluzhnyi for international audiences, a resounding sentiment echoed: Ukraine's destiny rested firmly within its own grasp. However, this powerful assertion was swiftly eclipsed by President Zelensky's decision to remove him from his position. Zelensky, lacking a military background, now shoulders the weighty burden of command. His selection underscores the precarious balancing act he must navigate-treading through a landscape marred by political turbulence and grappling with dwindling resources that empower private interests. The imminent question for Ukraine is: How long can Zelensky effectively balance the administrative and military dynamics in his favour, and what lies on the horizon after him?

Meanwhile, on the front lines, the Russian advance continues unabated, with Ukrainian defences buckling under relentless pressure. Cities like Avdiivka teeter on the brink of collapse, their strategic significance magnifying the stakes of the conflict. Ukrainian soldiers, facing overwhelming odds, resort to desperate measures, booby-trapping their own strongholds before retreat. 

Ukraine's plight serves as a poignant reflection of conflicts that have entangled the West in recent decades, leaving behind indelible scars and haunting legacies for generations to come. Across continents and through the annals of time, from the sun-scorched deserts of Africa to the rugged terrain of the Balkans, the echoes of past conflicts reverberate, reminding us of the enduring human cost of war.

Consider, for instance, the partition of Sudan in 2011-a momentous event hailed as a triumph of self-determination. Yet, beneath the veneer of newfound independence lies a fractured reality, where South Sudan remains ensnared in the throes of internal strife and humanitarian crises, while Sudan grapples with its own internal challenges. The legacy of the Second Sudanese Civil War, with its staggering death toll numbering in the millions, serves as a blunt illustration of the profound trauma inflicted by conflict.

Similarly, the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s unleashed a maelstrom of violence and upheaval, shattering lives and communities across the region. Beyond the well-documented conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, lesser-known tragedies unfolded in the shadows- from the blood-soaked battlefields of Slovenia to the plight of ethnic minorities in newly formed states. Western powers intervened, offering aid and mediation, yet the toll of civilian casualties continued to mount, leaving behind a trail of shattered dreams and fractured identities.

The partition of British India in 1947 stands as a graphic depiction of the human toll exacted by geopolitical upheaval. While much attention has been rightfully directed towards the massive violence and displacement that accompanied the creation of India and Pakistan, lesser-known are the stories of communities along the eastern borders, such as Bengal and Punjab, which also bore the brunt of turmoil and mass population movements. Influenced by Western colonial powers, particularly Britain, the partition was a product of colonial policies and decisions that left a devastating legacy of communal violence, resulting in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilian deaths.

Similarly, the division of Korea into North and South following the Korean War exemplifies the enduring legacy of Western interference in Cold War dynamics. While the war and subsequent division are well-documented, lesser-discussed are the ongoing experiences of separated Korean families and the persistent efforts for reconciliation between the two Koreas. Western powers, particularly the United States, played a pivotal role in shaping the division, with Cold War ideologies driving their support for South Korea. The conflict inflicted significant civilian casualties, with millions of lives lost amidst the crossfire of global power struggles.

These instances expose the intricate interplay of geopolitics, colonial legacies, and the often overlooked internal dynamics that shape the destinies of nations. Amidst this complex web of influence, it's glaringly evident how interventions by the West frequently serve self-serving agendas, devoid of genuine comprehension of ground realities.

Two years after the war, the spectre of Ukraine's division looms ever larger, threatening to plunge the nation into the abyss of full-scale civil wars.

The scars of history, compounded by external interventions and internal divisions, have brought Ukraine to the brink of fracture, leaving countless communities torn apart and countless lives hanging in the balance. The urgency of the hour cannot be overstated-finding a pathway to a ceasefire and initiating meaningful peace negotiations is not merely a moral imperative but a pressing necessity for the preservation of human lives and the safeguarding of Ukraine's future.

Amidst this grim reality, the history of Western involvement in conflicts like Ukraine stands as a sobering reminder. While certain interest groups may pay lip service to Ukraine's plight, their underlying motives often prioritise self-interest over the genuine welfare of the Ukrainian people. In this pivotal juncture, the international community must transcend petty politics and self-serving agendas, uniting behind a shared commitment to peace and stability in Ukraine. When actions diverge from rhetoric, it's imperative to speak truth to power. Without authentic solidarity, trust remains elusive-an all too familiar sentiment in today's world. 

(The writer is a Sri Lankan journalist, Views are personal)

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