Ukraine Winter

We Will All Pay For Crimea, Except For The War Criminals

It will take the international community years to recover from the trust Russia violated over its illegal interference in Ukraine. But Putin and his close collaborators will never be punished.

Self-defense on the Maidan
Self-defense on the Maidan
Jacek Żakowski


WARSAW — As a prominent Polish commentator puts it: “This is a bizarre war. Day after day the invasion crawls foreword like a snake on hot sand. Even if there are no shots, explosions or blood, we will not escape the costs of the conflict in the future.”

The bizarre dynamics of the conflict in Ukraine blurs its possible impact on our future. Not because it may cause a war between NATO and Russia, which is unlikely. No, what makes this conflict bizarre is the focus on not triggering a war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin moves through eastern Ukraine like a moose in the bog: slowly and carefully. The West tries to make the animal turn back, but without startling it because it could drown trying to escape.

Putin’s success or failure in Crimea could bring consequences worse that the overall conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Western diplomats are therefore trying to ensure a scenario in which Russia neither wins nor loses. This goal guides Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in his theory that Ukraine should follow the example of Finland and seek balance between the West and East. But achieving this goal requires a certain diplomatic finesse in this geopolitical game — which is difficult when one of the game’s players prefers to use a hammer and a sickle.

Regardless of what happens next in Ukraine, the world order will be licking the wounds inflicted by Putin for a long time.

The world’s Lex Luthor

According to international law, Putin is already a war criminal. As Russian president, he committed the crime of aggression described in Resolution 3314, which the UN adopted in 1974. In it, aggression is defined not just by military invasion, but also by blocking maritime ports, sending irregular troops or mercenaries to run military operations against another country, and using armed forces in another country contrary to any agreement regulating their presence there.

Public servants entangled in decision-making processes or the execution of orders are also guilty of crimes against peace. That includes Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, high-ranking military officers, ambassadors, and even civilians such as businessmen and opinion leaders, if they have supported Putin’s interference in Ukraine.

In another words, the war criminals are the very Russians with whom the West must negotiate with to quell this conflict. But for the sake of a bigger and more important cause, their sins must remain an open secret. Negotiations with criminals are always a moral hazard.

For hundreds of years the world has been making small steps towards more civilized relations between countries. It has been replacing military conflict with legal ones, and conditioning the use of force on approval from the international community. If Putin was and is genuinely concerned about the Russian minority in Ukraine, he could have chosen from legal ways to claim their rights. But he didn’t even try.

Lavrov is right when he says that the West has intervened many times, bending the law. But each time, it did so with some legal permission, while Russia have never bothered with international rules or appearances. Impeding the work of observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe (OSCE), Moscow has spoiled the achievements, spanning 50 years, in regulating international politics. Who knows how many years it will take for international trust to be regained. It will cost us all, including Russians, a fortune, because military spending will undoubtedly rise.

The only people who will not pay for Crimea are the criminals responsible for the conflict. Neither Putin nor any of his close collaborators will be judged by the International Criminal Court at The Hague for their crimes against peace. Which is why we must ask ourselves, what is the point of adopting toothless laws and paying the high prize for the illusions they create?

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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