March 2022 Vol 2 No 13

In this edition of Let’s Talk! Contributing Editor, Firdaus Daud, has provided an excellent analysis on why Russia has acted the way it had in the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the Op-Ed segment.

  • Your Editor, Jamari Mohtar, is in a shock and awe mode and very pleased to see the bravery of a woman, Ms Fadhilah Daud, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the Malaysian Embassy in Ukraine, in leading the charge to bring to safety a group of 12 people from the hotspot Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, to the Polish border following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • In a Facebook post on Sunday (Feb 27) the Malaysian foreign ministry, Wisma Putra said the group of nine Malaysians, two Ukrainian dependants, and a Singaporean arrived at the Korczowa-Krakovets border of Ukraine and Poland on Feb 27 at 5.45am.
  • “The convoy was received by two officials from the Embassy of Malaysia in Poland,” the foreign ministry also said, adding that all evacuees and accompanying officials will be heading to Poland’s capital, Warsaw.
  • “Wisma Putra is in constant contact with officials of the embassies on their location, safety as well as of the accompanying convoy,” it added.
  • Meanwhile, the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and Consulate-General in Johor Bahru wrote in a Facebook post on the same day that it is “grateful” to Malaysia’s foreign ministry for assisting the Singaporean to evacuate from Kyiv under difficult circumstances.
  • “A friend in need is a friend indeed!” it added. An excellent example of an act of international relation between the two countries, which should be a model par excellence for all nations.
  • Russia launched its invasion on Ukraine by land, air and sea on Thursday (Feb 24) in the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.
  • At least 137 people were killed and 316 injured in Ukraine on the first day of fighting, with explosions heard in Kyiv early in the battle. As of Sunday (Feb 27), more than 198 Ukrainians have been killed and 1,115 people wounded, according to Ukraine’s Health Ministry.
  • In a dramatic escalation, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on alert on Feb 27 in response to what he called “aggressive statements” by leading Nato powers and punishing sanctions from the world’s wealthiest nations.
  • The move means Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons prepared for increased readiness to launch, raising the spectre that the tensions could boil over into a nuclear war.
  • From the Ukraine, US and their allies’ perspective, it was an unprovoked invasion by Russia after months of amassing its troops on the Ukrainian borders.
  • But from the Russian perspective, and some analysts, there are more than meets the eyes with just this simplistic notion of unprovoked invasion.
  • There was a parallel to this situation some 60 years ago on October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The protagonists then were the US (who seemed to be in a similar situation like Russia now because of the threat of a missile installation near its shores) and the Soviet Union who then seemed to be in a difficult position of whether to blink first (a similar predicament like the US now on whether to take on the Russian or not) with Cuba then playing the role of Ukraine.
  • During the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the US and the Soviet Union were engaged in a tense, 13-day political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from US shores.
  • In a TV address on Oct 22, President John F Kennedy (1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the US was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralise this perceived threat to national security.
  • Following the news, many feared the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. However, disaster was averted when the US agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev’s (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the US promising not to invade Cuba.
  • Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove US missiles in Turkey. In this crisis, the Monroe Doctrine was invoked by him.
  • Although the Monroe Doctrine has evolved to mean different thing from when it was first enunciated by the fifth president of the US, James Monroe in 1823, by Kennedy’s time in simple term it means a concern about the security of one’s backyard lest intruders or those with sinister intentions loitering around may inflict some misfortunes on you.
  • As argued by our Contributing Editor, Firdaus Daud, Putin sees an existential threat to his country where in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union, democratic and pro-West countries have mushroomed along the Russian border.
  • In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined Nato, amid much debate within the organisation and Russian opposition. Another expansion came with the accession of seven Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
  • With Nato membership came Nato military installations and missiles, coming closer to Moscow. In June 2020, Ukraine became a partner (if not a member) to NATO.
  • In Putin’s words, if missiles were to be installed in Ukraine, they could hit Moscow within 10 minutes, as there are no natural geological formations along the Russia-Ukraine border.
  • In a way, they share the same backyard. From Luhansk near the southeast Ukraine border, forces can travel 750km to Volgograd and cut off Russia from the Black Sea.
  • This is a very similar scenario painted by Kennedy in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the only difference is the missiles was already installed in Cuba, while in the present crisis the missile hasn’t been installed yet in Ukraine.
  • Kennedy’s bellicose attitude then was quite similar to Putin’s belligerency now in that both made it very clear they were prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralise this perceived threat (missile threat near their shores) to their national security.
  • While Kennedy was saved from actualising his military threat to invade Cuba, courtesy of the magnanimity of Soviet’s Khruschev backing down in agreeing to dismantle the missile installation, in return for Cuba not to be invaded, there is no such magnanimous statesmen or leaders from the US, EU, UK, Nato, UN or even Ukraine currently who can give, in all magnanimity, a solid assurance to Putin that he should have no worries about missile installation in Ukraine should the latter become a member of Nato.
  • As Firdaus argues, the current escalation has been decades in the making and there was never any quick fix. But when someone decided to draw a line in the sand years ago – Nato and non-Nato – those lines were created in anticipation of a conflict.
  • So, why is anyone surprised? Who would have listened to anyone advocating for de-escalation and for Nato to be phased out while nations invested instead in diplomacy centered on energy co-operation?
  • So by their words and deeds, escalation is actually in the mind of all the protagonists, not just Putin.
  • And to make matters worse, part of Ukraine along the Russian border has been held by pro-Russian separatists. These are Ukrainians of Russian descent.
  • Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbas even held elections in an attempt to exercise the international right to self-rule, to align itself with Russia. But the elections were rejected by the Ukraine government in Kyiv and the US as a Russian ploy.
  • Analysts are unanimous that the root of the present crisis went back to late 2013 when the then pro-Russian government of Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych was caught between a rock and hard place.
  • There was a tussle for influence between Russia and the EU when then Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov had asked for €20 billion (US$27 billion) in loans and aid.
  • The EU was willing to offer €610 million (US$838 million) in loans, but Russia was willing to offer US$15 billion, as well as cheaper gas prices.
  • In addition, the EU demanded major changes to Ukraine’s regulations and laws, but Russia did not.
  • President Viktor Yanukovych then refused to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the EU at a meeting of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, Lithuania, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.
  • This led to a wave of large-scale protests in November 2013 known as Euromaidan, which went on for months as a prelude to the Maidan Revolution in February.
  • In February 2014, clashes between the protestors and the special riot police became violent, and resulted in the deaths of nearly 130 people, including 18 police officers.
  • On February 21, an agreement between President Yanukovych and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition was signed that called for early elections and the formation of an interim unity government.
  • The following day, Yanukovych fled from the capital ahead of an impeachment vote. The protesters proceeded to take control of the capital buildings.
  • On the same day, the parliament declared that Yanukovych was relieved of duty in a 328-to-0 vote (out of parliament’s 450 members).
  • Yanukovych said that this vote was illegal and possibly coerced, and asked the Russian Federation for assistance.
  • Russia considered the overthrow of Yanukovych to be an illegal coup, and did not recognise the interim government.
  • Widespread protests, both in favour of and against the revolution, occurred in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where Yanukovych previously received strong support in the 2010 presidential election.
  • These protests escalated, resulting in a Russian military intervention and the establishment of the self-proclaimed proto-states Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • There was also an episode of US involvement prior to the Maidan Revolution when in December 2013, Republican senator John McCain in company with Democratic senator Chris Murphy visited Yatsenyuk and Tyahnybok and later addressed the crowds.
  • “Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better, we are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe.
  • “What we’re trying to do is try to bring about a peaceful transition here, that would stop the violence and give the Ukrainian people what they unfortunately have not had, with different revolutions that have taken place – a real society.
  • “This is a grassroots revolution here – it’s been peaceful except when the government tried to crack down on them, and the government hasn’t tried that since. I’m praising their ability and their desire to demonstrate peacefully for change that I think they deserve.
  • “These people love the United States of America, they love freedom – and I don’t think you could view this as anything other than our traditional support for people who want free and democratic society.”
  • Meanwhile in a recorded phone conversation leaked on February 4, then Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt were heard discussing their wishes for a Ukraine transition to an interim government, and specifically, the roles in which they hoped to see the prominent opposition leaders played.
  • So all these parties – Russia, EU and US – have had their hands muddied in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. But it is Russia, which would have felt the consequence most because all these events took place on its backyard.
  • US and EU wouldn’t dare to get involved had Russia had an equivalent Monroe Doctrine and if it was still a superpower then.
  • As for Ukraine, when you know your nearest neighbour was a former superpower and you had been under its rule during the Soviet regime, it is in your national interest to maintain good relations with your neighbour by being sensitive to its concern.
  • Policies like joining Nato should be weighed very carefully, and eliminating the Russian language as the official language when Ukrainians of Russian descent form a sizeable minority in your country was indeed very provocative.
  • Ukraine should have taken heed of the example of neighbouring Sweden and Finland, especially the latter, which is a country ruled by Russia from 1809 to 1917 in observing strict neutrality.
  • Nothing has stopped these two countries from having an excellent relationship with any democratic countries of the west including the US but they didn’t harped on becoming a Nato member.
  • If this sounds unbelievable, there are actually six EU member states, all who have declared their non-alignment with military alliances, and therefore are not NATO members: Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden.
  • Additionally, Switzerland, which is surrounded by the EU, has also maintained their neutrality by remaining a non-EU-member.
Read more on the genesis of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Monroe Doctrine, pro-Russia separatist states of Donbas, and Russian, EU and US’ involvement in the lead up to the crisis:
  • When Putin ordered Russian nuclear deterrent forces put on alert, some Muslim scholars commented that this could lead to the Malhama (Great War) in Islamic eschatology.
  • Eschatology refers to the branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind.
  • Specifically it is a set of belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind.
  • The End Time, which features prominently in the various eschatology of several world religions is a period in the future also known as end of days, last days, final days or eschaton.
  • From the Islamic perspective, eschatology or Ilmu Akhir Zaman is therefore the branch of Islamic scholarship that studies Yawm al-Qiyamah (the Day of Resurrection) or Yawm ad-Din (Day of Judgement).
  • This is believed to be the final assessment of humanity by Allah, with annihilation of all life, resurrection and judgment.
  • A central feature of Islamic eschatology is the prophecies on events very near to the Last Hour foretold in many authentic Ahadith (plural of Hadith) of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him).
  • One of these events is the cataclysmic and apocalyptic Malhama, which generally corresponds to the battle of Armageddon in Christian eschatology, and occurs soon before the emergence of the Dajjal (Antichrist).
  • Since the Ahadith on the events preceding the Last Hour are, more often than not, allegorical (mutasyabihah) with respect to details and chronology, analysis (a form of ijtihad – independent reasoning) is required because the nature of prophecies is such that they are not precise or exact in details, for otherwise they would no longer be a prophecy.
  • The Malhama is actually a series of wars culminating in the Malhama al Kubra (The Greatest Battle) just before the three main actors of End Time will appear one after another on the world stage i.e. the Dajjal, Jesus (Prophet Isa peace on him) and the Mahdi (the Awaited One).
  • The Malhama Al-Kubra is found in multiple hadith narrations with varying details. However, the basic narrative framework of the cycle of prophecies found in Islamic eschatology is firstly this battle is said to occur after the Muslims and Christian Romans victoriously fight alongside each other against a common enemy.
  • Following their victory a conflict will break out in which a Christian claims that the cross brought them victory, a Muslim in response claims that God brought them victory and proceeds to destroy the cross, which leads to further reprisals from the Christian side.
  • This culminates in the Malhama Al-Kubra, an apocalyptic scale battle so intense, according to some hadith narrations, that were a bird to pass their flanks, “it would fall down dead before reaching the end of them.”
  • This is being interpreted by some scholars as alluding to a nuclear war. In fact in another prophetic Hadith, where the ten signs of the End of Time were listed by the Prophet, it mentioned about Ad-Dukkan (the Smoke) as one of the signs.
  • Some interpret this to mean the fallout in a nuclear war where the intense smoke in the atmosphere will render useless all electrical and electronic equipment, marking the end of aerial warfare.
  • Henceforth, war will not only be conducted by land and sea but it is back to the medieval war of using swords and horses because the reliance on electricity and electronics which is a cornerstone of modern civilisation will come to an end.
  • So is the current Russia-Ukraine conflict a sign of the impending Malhama, when one ingredient of the Malhama is the threat of a nuclear war?
  • It depends. In the first place before the Malhama takes place, there must be a battle (non-nuclear) featuring the alliance between the Muslim and Rum (Rome) against a common enemy.
  • Now when the Hadith speaks about Rum, it refers to the Byzantine Empire with Orthodox Christianity as the official religion, and Constantinople (present day Istanbul) as its capital.
  • The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople.
  • It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until Constantinople fell to the Muslim Ottoman.
  • The plot thickens when after the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox Christianity moved to Russia.
  • Some contemporary Muslim exegesis suggests that the Romans referred to in the prophecy correspond to the Russians, because Russia is the most populous Orthodox Christian country and considers itself the inheritor of the Eastern Roman Empire.
  • So in the current conflict, whether it will lead to the Malhama or not, we will have to watch Turkey, the only Muslim country which is a member of Nato, to see what stance and move it will make.
  • Also, there is a need to watch Saudi Arabia where many Ahadith have prophesised that dynastic struggle there will lead to event where the Mahdi will make an appearance.
  • Another two countries to watch – Syria and Israel. The former is said to be the venue of the second coming of Christ, while the latter is the place where the Dajjal will be setting up his HQ in Jerusalem.
  • If events in all these countries are just the usual conflict between and among nations, involving the use of conventional weapons, then the Russia-Ukraine war is just an isolated event that does not herald the coming of the Malhama.
Read more on Islamic eschatology:
  • The Singapore Straits Times reported that air taxi pioneers Volocopter and Skyports are set to co-launch commercial air taxi services in Singapore in just two years’ time, beginning with frequent flights in Marina Bay and Sentosa.
  • This could then expand to include cross-border air taxi trips to Indonesia and Malaysia, possibly flying directly from terminals in areas like Seletar and Changi to cities including Melaka, Batam and Bintan.
  • An air taxi flight from Changi Airport to Batam would take less than 20 minutes, German aviation company Volocopter said in a roadmap for Singapore that it released on Feb 14.
  • A business traveller going to Ibrahim International Business District in Johor Bahru could reach his destination in just 30 minutes, compared with three hours by car, the company said.
  • At the Singapore Airshow on Feb 15, the air taxi companies said the technology is now close to commercial roll-out.
  • For Malaysia, air taxi could be the answer to the frequent traffic snarls in KL and its vicinity here.
For more info on air taxis:
  • When tragedy struck, the sole solace is to see how it brings the best in us together to help the victims.
  • There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
  • For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others.
  • The response of Malaysians in helping the flood victims is just incredible and praiseworthy – from donation drives, to providing shelter, and rescuing people including a cat from the rising water.
  • There’s even one NGO catering assistance specially for flood victims who have disabled children.
  • Blessed are those who help others in extraordinary time for they are the embodiment of humanity at its best!
For more on these helping angels:

Let’s Talk! PRESENTS: If parties in the current Russia-Ukraine conflict are not willing to give Russia what it wants, the current conflagration will likely continue. Does it mean then the invasion is justified? Definitely not. A young kid is waving a bread knife at a bully's door saying he has a new gang and the bully is taking out his shotgun. But if the only conclusion one can draw from this is that Russian leader, Vladimir Putin is a sociopathic, irrational bully who wants to conquer neighboring countries to expand the Russian empire, you'd be severely short-changed. FIRDAUS DAUD analyses why Putin has acted the way he did in this first ever invasion of a European state since World War II.

By Firdaus Daud

If the only conclusion one can draw from the current Russia-Ukraine war is Russian leader, Vladimir Putin you is a sociopathic, irrational bully who wants to conquer neighbouring countries to expand the Russian empire, you’d be severely short-changed.
    Imagine instead that Putin is rational and shrewd: a strongman authoritarian.
      In his eyes, he sees an existential threat to his country because in the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR), democratic and pro-West countries have mushroomed along the Russian border.
        In 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined Nato, amid much debate within the organization and Russian opposition. Another expansion came with the accession of seven Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
          With Nato membership came its military installations and missiles, coming closer to Moscow. In June 2020, Ukraine became a partner (if not a member) to NATO.
            In Putin’s words, if missiles were to be installed in Ukraine, they could hit Moscow within 10 minutes. There are no natural geological formations along the Russia-Ukraine border.
              In a way, they share the same backyard. From Luhansk near the southeast Ukraine border, forces can travel 750km to Volgograd and cut off Russia from the Black Sea.
              Pro-Russian separatists have held the part of Ukraine along the Russian border. Donetsk and Luhansk even held elections in an attempt to exercise the international right to self-rule, to align itself with Russia but the Ukraine government in Kyiv and the US as rejected this as a Russian ploy.
              Does all this justify the invasion? Definitely not, especially in today’s world order. A young kid is waving a bread knife at a bully’s door saying that he has a new gang and the bully is taking out his shotgun.
              But why it is happening now?
              Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine has piled up its military might. Give Ukraine 5 to 10 more years and Russia would have had to fight hard.
              Russia is Europe’s supplier of natural gas and energy costs are skyrocketing all over Europe. Why bite the hand that keeps you warm in winter? Of all these countries, Germany is affected most.
              Germany wants to transition to renewables and has committed to shut down its nuclear plants. Natural gas is a big part of the transition, and Germany and Russia are on the precipice of commissioning the Nordstrom 2 project – a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea connecting the two countries.
              In the years that Angela Merkel was at the helm, Germany’s influence in Europe grew and often Merkel played a key role in bridging the interests of Europe and Russia.
              The Green Party, being part of Germany’s coalition government, now lead on foreign policy and climate policy – and a key European nation finds itself between a rock and a hard place. (Apparently, the only thing Germany sent to Ukraine during the first week of the war was a field hospital and 5,000 helmets. Even Turkey sent predator drones and Canada put boots on the ground).
              Russia has been the target of crippling sanctions for almost a decade. Its people had to suffer through massive inflation while Putin moved the country away from relying on the US dollar – not easy when its main exports (oil and gas) are predominantly priced in US dollars.
              Why didn’t the disincentives work? Because, for Russia, it’s an existential issue and not about conquest or economics.
              Also, on Feb 21, Russia’s ally, China, flew 39 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone. Why? So that the US will have to contend with possibly two major war theatres in two separate parts of the other side of the Earth. And Biden’s bark is worse than his bite.
              Conveniently, Putin waited for China to be done with the Winter Olympics before executing the war.
              What could have been done to prevent this conflagration?
              This escalation has been decades in the making and there was never any quick fix. But when someone decided to draw a line in the sand years ago – Nato and non-Nato – those lines were created in anticipation of conflict.
              So, why is anyone surprised? Who would have listened to anyone advocating for de-escalation and for Nato to be phased out while nations invested instead in diplomacy centred on energy co-operation?
              So, what’s next?
              Russia will likely make inroads into Ukraine but experts suggest that it would not be viable for Russia to conquer and hold the whole country. It might take a sizeable chunk as leverage for negotiations.
              Russia wants a commitment to Nato de-escalation. In exchange, they will “retreat” but will most likely hold on to Donetsk and Luhansk.
              Now, the remaining tools in the economic sanctions arsenal involve hitting Russia on the oil and gas exports – which is where Europe will feel hardest hit.
              Strategically, the US would prefer an all-out economic war rather than a physical one, which is why Biden (and even Obama) has said that Nato allies must be willing to suffer the effects of the sanctions as well but that they are a “necessary” response to Russia’s unilateral actions.
              If parties are not willing to give Russia what it wants, the conflict will likely continue. Economic warfare might spill over to cyber warfare. And excessive sanctions have become the prelude to physical warfare in the past.
              If you push any country into a corner such that the only choice that remains is between starvation/death and fighting, that’s not much of a choice, isn’t it?
              De-escalate Nato. Hold enough arms to have an effective detente in place. Ukraine needs to accept a neutral stance that allows its democratic, pro-West citizens to unify with the Russian-leaning ones.
              Form multilateral cooperation on energy exports and technology exchange. Get Russia reliant on your countries. That’s how you build peace.
              It’s a mind-set shift, which should be embraced even by world bodies. But we are still calling it the UN Security Council and not the UN Peace Council. We are all not there yet.
              It’s easier to demonise than to understand, empathise and align. We do the former all the time – even here in Singapore and Malaysia, wherever there are lines drawn.
              Peace is hard work and often ridiculed.
              Regards,
              Jamari Mohtar, Editor
              Firdaus Daud, Contributing Editor
              Let’s Talk!

              Let’s Talk! is a free, monthly e-mail service on current happenings in Malaysia brought to you by Usrafalah Sdn Bhd. It is edited and managed by a group of volunteers.

              It promotes a balanced discourse on news and current affairs to prompt the public to reflect and digest issues in order to understand how their daily lives are affected.

              Let’s Talk! is edited and managed by a group of volunteers.

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