Current Affairs (February 27- 2022)

Posted On : 2022-03-05 23:07:20

Current Affairs

February 27- 2022

The Hindu Coverage


  • Russia­Ukraine conflict: what history shows


  • ‘Disturbed’ India abstains from vote against Russia at UNSC
  • ‘Kerala may take 37 years to finish Silverline’
  • Multi­nation air exercise cancelled
  • ‘Judiciary needs more HC judges, not just money’


  • Wait for cheetah to get longer
  • Trees on forest edges may grow faster than those inside

Russia­Ukraine conflict: what history shows

  • In an address to the nation on February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to recognise the two breakaway republics of Ukraine — Donetsk and Luhansk — as independent states, which turned out to be a prelude for Russia’s eventual military operation in the region.
  • In the speech, Mr. Putin blamed Soviet leaders, especially Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, for the disintegration of what he called “historical Russia”. Lenin’s idea of building the country “on the principles of autonomisation” (“the right of self-determination, up to secession”) eventually led to the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), he said. “Lenin’s principles of state development were not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake, as the saying goes. This became patently clear after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991,” said Mr. Putin. From the speech it appears that Mr. Putin’s main grievance is the collapse of the Soviet Union — not as a communist superpower but as a geopolitical entity.

What was the context of the USSR’s collapse?

  • The unravelling of Soviet power began in the late 1980s with protests in the Eastern Bloc as well as in Soviet republics and the ignominious Soviet exit from Afghanistan.
  • The Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up the communist regime and after 10 years of fighting the Mujahideen, who were backed by the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Soviets had to pull back in February 1989.
  • Within months, Soviet-backed communist regimes in Eastern Europe started collapsing, practically bringing the Cold War to an end. It started in Poland, which hosted the headquarters of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact security alliance.
  • Protests spread to Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. In June 1989, the anti-communist Solidarity movement, led by Lech Wa??sa, won an overwhelming victory in a partially free election in Poland, leading to the peaceful fall of communist rule. It triggered a chain reaction across the Eastern Bloc.
  • In November 1989, the Berlin Wall that had separated the capitalist West Berlin and the communist east, fell, leading to the German reunification a year later.
  • Domestically, the Soviet Union was going through a tough economic phase. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, stated that “an era of stagnation” gripped the country in the mid-1960s. By the time Gorbachev became the Soviet leader in 1985, the USSR was already in dire straits. Foreign trade was falling. Lower oil prices led to a fall in state revenues and an explosion in debt.
  • Gorbachev introduced economic reforms, such as decentralisation/restructuring (perestroika) and opening up of the economy for foreign trade. The reforms made the nationalists in the Soviet republics (administrative units) stronger, but failed to revitalise the economy.

How did the Soviet disintegration unfold?

  • The fall of communist states in the Eastern Bloc and the economic stagnation within the country had a debilitating impact on Moscow’s hold over the Union. In 1988, Estonia, a tiny republic on the Baltic coast, became the first Soviet administrative unit to declare state sovereignty inside the Union.
  • On March 11, 1990, Lithuania, another Baltic republic, became the first to declare independence from the USSR. The old regime was falling under its own weight. The Eastern Bloc had collapsed. After the German reunification, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expanded to East Germany.
  • Crisis was spreading across the Soviet republics and Gorbachev was planning to decentralise much of the central government’s powers to the 15 republics through the New Union Treaty, which was also a bid to renegotiate the original treaty that established the USSR in 1922. In August 1991, faced with the crisis in the Union, a group of communist hardliners, including top military and civilian leaders, tried to take power in their hands by ousting Gorbachev in a coup. But the coup failed, and a further weakened Gorbachev continued to cling on to power.
  • On December 8, 1991, leaders of three Soviet republics—Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Belarusian Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich — signed Belavezha Accords, announcing that the USSR no longer existed. They also announced the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that would replace the USSR. Within weeks, Gorbachev announced his resignation.

What are Russia’s equations with the former Soviet States?

  • Of the former Soviet republics, nine are members of the CIS — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. And Turkmenistan is an associate member.
  • Russia retains enormous influence in these countries. Russia has also formed a security organisation, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), with former Soviet republics. Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are CSTO members, besides the Russian Federation.
  • Of the 15 republics that became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union, the three Baltic countries — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all sharing borders with Russia — became members of NATO in 2004. Ukraine and Georgia were offered NATO membership in 2008. But in the same year, Russia sent troops to Georgia in the name of protecting two breakaway republics — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — against attacks from Georgian troops. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean republic, a Black Sea Peninsula, from Ukraine. This month, Russia recognised two more breakaway republics from Ukraine — Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region — and sent troops there on Thursday.
  • Russia also maintains a military presence in Transnistria, a breakaway republic from Moldova, and has dispatched troops to the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, to end a conflict between the two countries over Nagorno Karabakh (Republic of Artsakh), another breakaway republic.

Why did Ukraine fall out with Russia?

  • After it became independent in 1991, Ukraine largely adopted a neutral foreign policy. It was one of the founding members of the CIS, but did not join the CSTO, the security organisation. Ukraine stayed away from NATO as well. But the NATO offer of membership in 2008 started changing equations between Moscow and Kyiv. After the regime of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych was brought down in the 2014 Euromaidan protests and a pro-West government was established in Kyiv, relations turned hostile.
  • Russia moved swiftly to take Crimea, which also hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and started supporting separatist rebels in Donbass. Ukraine later exited the CIS and wrote its desire to join NATO into its Constitution. These developments pulled the countries apart, setting the stage for permanent hostility, which led to the current conflict.

‘Disturbed’ India abstains from vote against Russia at UNSC

  • India, along with China and the UAE, abstained from the UNSC resolution sponsored by the U.S. and Albania on Saturday, and co-sponsored by about 80 countries that sought to condemn Russian aggression and called for the immediate cessation of violence and withdrawal of Russian military from Ukraine.
  • As expected the resolution, which was supported by 11 UNSC members was vetoed by Russia. The U.S. vowed to take the issue to the General Assembly, where Russia does not have a veto.
  • “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine,” said India’s UN Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti explaining India’s vote. “We are also deeply concerned about the welfare and security of the Indian community, ” he added.
  • The vote at the UNSC had to be postponed twice, for an hour at a time, as U.S. and Albanian diplomats, the “penholders” of the resolution, negotiated with other countries, trying to build a consensus for the draft.

However, according to officials who saw the draft, the original version was too strong, as it invoked UN Chapter VII, which authorises the use of force against Russian troops in Ukraine.

  • After several rounds of heated negotiations, the U.S. agreed to soften the resolution and drop the Chapter VII reference, which is believed to have ensured that China, which had earlier voted with Russia, abstained from the latest resolution, leaving Russia was alone in voting against it.
  • India’s decision to continue to abstain, as it did in the past, was seen as disappointing by Western countries, who had lobbied hard all week with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla to shift India’s position, where it has consistently refused to criticise Russia for its intervention. Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya took a shot at India on this count, when it was his turn to speak.
  • Government officials said India has been speaking to all parties including Russia and Ukraine to return to the negotiating table. They also pointed out that while there was no reference to Russia’s actions in any of their statements, India’s language had grown tougher over time, and the latest statement made a specific mention, not there earlier, of respecting the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”
  • “By abstaining, India retained the option of reaching out to relevant sides in an effort to bridge the gap and find the middle ground with an aim to foster dialogue and diplomacy,” a source said.
  • Ahead of the vote, the U.S. had said any UNSC member to vote “No” or “Abstain”, would face the charge that they “do not uphold the charter, and align with the aggressive and unprovoked actions of Russia”.

‘Kerala may take 37 years to finish Silverline’

  • Though the State government is hopeful of completing the work on the proposed Silverline semi-high-speed rail network in three years once the final approval is granted for the project by the Centre, the critics of the project are not ready to buy the argument of the State government on mainly two counts. First, the best work output time scenario in the rail project was demonstrated by the Delhi Metro so far in the country.
  • “It took 25 years to complete the 375 km of rail line in Delhi, i.e. 14.3 km per year. Even if the State government replicates the best output time scenario demonstrated by the Delhi Metro, it will take at least 37 years to complete the 530 km long rail network from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod. When it comes to Kochi metro, 25 km long rail network was completed in six years, i.e. 4.17 km/year. If we could construct the Silverline at the pace of the Kochi metro, it would take 127 years to complete the 630 km long rail line,” said K. P. Kannan, Honorary Fellow, Centre for Development Studies.
  • Another point is that when the cost and time overrun of the various infrastructure projects in Kerala for the past couple of decades are considered, the cost and time projected in the detailed project report of the Silverline is not realistic. For instance, a study by Prof. Kannan has revealed that the average cost overrun of 20 infra projects of the Electricity Board subjected for the study was 3.8 times of the estimated cost, while the time overrun was 2.62 times of the project time estimated in the DPR.
  • Similarly, when 15 infra projects of Irrigation Department were subjected for cost and time overrun comparison, the cost overrun was 25 times of the anticipated cost and time overrun was 5 times of the projected deadline in irrigation projects. This is the actual scenario of the infrastructure projects in Kerala,” said Prof. Kannan.
  • “When we apply the cost overrun of electricity board projects in Silverline project, the original cost would come around ?2.47 lakh crore for the rail project and if apply the cost overrun of irrigation project in Silverline, the actual cost would come around ?16.05 lakh crore on time of completion. So there is no point in believing the cost and time projected in the DPR of the Silverline submitted as it has underestimated cost and time and overestimated the benefits, said its critics. The semi high speed rail project connecting Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod with trains running at a maximum speed of 200 km/hour is estimated to cost ?63,940 crore and the work on the project can be completed in three years as per the DPR.

Multi­nation air exercise cancelled

  • The multi-nation air exercise Cobra Warrior with NATO countries Belgium, the U.K. and the U.S. along with Sweden and Saudi Arabia scheduled to be held in March, which the IAF was to join for the first time has been cancelled in the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.
  • Citing “recent events”, the IAF on Saturday said on social media it has decided not to participate in the multi-nation exercise Cobra Warrior scheduled to be hosted by the U.K., but the post was subsequently deleted. Diplomatic sources stated that the U.K. has decided to cancel the exercise in view of the Russian invasion and offensive in Ukraine.
  • “In light of the recent events, IAF has decided not to deploy its aircraft for Exercise Cobra Warrior 2022 in U.K.,” the IAF said in a post on Twitter on Saturday morning. The post was deleted in a few hours, though no explanation was given as to why.
  • The U.K. informed the IAF on Friday night that the exercise was cancelled, diplomatic sources told The Hindu on the status of the planned exercise. “The decision to cancel the exercise makes sense with the situation in Ukraine,” an official from one of the participating countries said.
  • Earlier this week, the IAF announced that it would deploy the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the exercise at Waddington, U.K., which would have been the maiden deployment in an international exercise for the indigenous fighter. “The IAF will participate in multi-nation air exercise #CobraWarrior at RAF Waddington, UK from 06 to 27 March 2022,” it had said in a tweet on February 23.
  • Five Tejas aircraft were to fly to the U.K. with transport support for induction and de-induction provided by C-17 transport aircraft. This year, the U.K. was to host India for the bilateral air exercise Indradhanush, and instead of which had asked the IAF to join the multi-nation exercise Cobra Warrior. The IAF was keen to join it as a multi-nation exercise offers better “operational exposure and sharing of best practices.”

About Ex Cobra Warrior 22:

  • It is one of the largest annual Royal Air Force exercises (United Kingdom) and aims to train both pilots and other air specialists in planning and executing complex airborne missions.

Other Joint Exercises between India and the UK:

  • Navy: Konkan
  • Air Force: Indradhanush
  • Army: Exercise AJEYA WARRIOR

‘Judiciary needs more HC judges, not just money’

  • Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Saturday said there is a need to both increase the number of judges in High Courts and to urgently fill up existing vacancies.
  • Not only do we need to fill the existing vacancies on an urgent basis, but there is also a need to increase the number of judges, Chief Justice Ramana said.
  • The CJI said the government has to do more than just mechanically allocate funds for the judiciary. It has to better the conditions of the judiciary.
  • Judicial infrastructure does not even meet the “basic minimum standards”, the Chief Justice said.
  • The top judge was speaking at the national seminar on adjudication of intellectual property rights disputes. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was present along with judges of the apex court and the High Courts.
  • The CJI said additional and new challenges like dealing with intellectual property rights (IPR) cases can be taken by the High Courts only if more and more talent opts to join the judiciary.
  • “With better service conditions, we may be able to attract more and more talents into our fold,” the CJI hoped.
  • Judicial infrastructure too needs an overhaul, he said.
  • “Unfortunately, we are not even meeting the basic minimum standards in this area. It has been my endeavour since assuming the office of Chief Justice of India to put in place an institutional mechanism to co-ordinate and oversee the improvement of judicial infrastructure... Mere allocation of funds is not enough. The challenge is to put the available resources to optimum use. I have been pursuing the government for setting up of statutory authorities, both at the Centre and at the States. I hope for a positive response soon,” the CJI said.

Wait for cheetah to get longer

  • It could be many months before cheetahs from Namibia make it to India. An expert team of wildlife officials from Madhya Pradesh, the Indian Forestry department and Wildlife Institute of India that visited Namibia for a site visit last week is reportedly “satisfied”, but a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the transfer is yet to be signed.
  • Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav launched an “action plan” at the 19th meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on January 7 saying, “The cheetah that became extinct in independent India, is all set to return.”
  • The action plan states that a cohort of around 10-12 young cheetahs that are ideal for reintroduction would be imported from Namibia or South Africa as a founder stock during the first year. The animals’ lineage and genetic history will be examined to ensure that they are not from an excessively inbred stock and are in the ideal age group, so that they make up a suitable founding population. Mr. Jhala said that around 35 cheetah would be needed over time to establish such a stock.
  • The proposed site for introduction is the Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh, though at least three other reserves in Central India are being considered.
  • According to the plan, the Central government, along with the Environment Ministry and the Cheetah Task Force, will create a formal framework to collaborate with governments of Namibia and/or South Africa, through the Ministry of External Affairs.
  • A press release from Namibia noted that a delegation from India had visited the Cheetah Conservation Fund and had held “bilateral and technical discussions” on introducing the animals.
  • The Kuno National Park was also supposed to be a site for the Asiatic Lion that is now confined to Gir. However, the Gujarat government, as well as the Centre, for more than a decade, has been dragging its feet on sending the lions to this habitat.
  • Independent conservationists have warned that introducing the cheetah, the only big cat that went extinct in independent India, would mean shifting the focus away from the more urgent need to have a second home for the lion.

Trees on forest edges may grow faster than those inside

  • Is a tree in a forest the same as one outside it? The belief that it is, allays the conscience of government-backed afforestation programmes where dense forests are often razed for mines, and multiple saplings are commissioned in alternate locations that are usually outside forest boundaries.
  • Conservationists have on the other hand pointed out that this isn’t the same because a loss of a section of forest means destroying an ecosystem that can’t be easily substituted for. To account for these losses more minutely, Lucy Hutyra, a bio-geochemist and ecologist at the Boston University, Massachusetts, U.S., has been analysing the terrestrial carbon sink.

Storehouses of carbon

  • This is made up of the billions of square kilometres of forest in the world that are major storehouses of carbon. In net, forests store more carbon dioxide than they release and an estimated 30% of carbon emissions from emitting fossil fuels are absorbed by the forest, making them a terrestrial carbon sink.
  • Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO 2), release oxygen by way of photosynthesis, and store carbon in their trunks. When they shed, soil microbes work to decompose the leaves and other organic matter that releases the trapped carbon dioxide. A major prong of countries’ climate change strategy, including India’s, is to increase the terrestrial sink area.

Consequences of loss

  • Hutyra, who has been researching the consequences of forest loss, examined if the same species of tree had different patterns of carbon dioxide storage when located at a forest edge or further away.
  • The textbook assumption was that trees at forest edges release and store carbon at similar rates as forest interiors, but Hutyra and her colleagues report this isn’t true.
  • In two papers published in the peer-reviewed Global Change Biology, and Nature Communications, Hutyras team found edge trees grew faster than their country cousins deep in the forest, and that soil in urban areas can hoard more carbon dioxide than previously thought.

Differential growth

  • Using data from the U.S. Department of Agricultures Forest Inventory and Analysis program – which monitors tree size, growth, and land use across the country – Hutyras team looked at more than 48,000 forest plots in the Northeast United States. They found trees on the edges grow nearly twice as fast as interior trees – those roughly 100 feet away from the edge.
  • This is likely because the trees on the edge dont have competition with interior forest, so they get more light, says Luca Morreale, a PhD candidate in Hutyras lab, in a press statement.

Soil behaviour

  • In another related study, Hutyra found differences even in the way soil in forests and outside released carbon dioxide. Warmer temperatures at the edge of the forest caused leaves and organic matter to decompose faster, as it forced soil microorganisms to work harder and release more carbon dioxide than their cooler, more shaded peers in the forest interior. But, in urban forests, where the ground was significantly hotter and drier, those soils stopped releasing as much carbon, they note in a press statement from Boston University.
  • Though these studies were specific to Massachusetts, there are implications for India too. Conservationists have noted that plantations outside forests dont capture carbon efficiently and dont make up for biodiversity losses.

Indian context

  • The India State of Forest Report (2021) released in January found that nearly 28% of the forest cover is outside the recorded forest area. About 12% of the forests classified as ‘very dense’ is also outside the recorded areas.
  • Following a trend and noted in previous editions of the forest surveys, the increase in forest cover between 2019 and 2021 was led by growth outside the recorded area and the sharpest increase was in so called ‘open forest’ where any patch over a hectare and having a canopy density more than 10% counts as ‘forest.’ This brings in man-made plantations of cash crops such as tea and coffee plantations and mango orchards and even tree-lined avenues in densely built-up cities were being classified as ‘forest’.

Role of plantations

  • Ecologists M. Madhusudan and T.R. Shankar Raman note: “In one stroke, just between the 1999 and the 2001, this redefinition helped raise India’s forest cover by over 38,000 sq.km.” They highlight research in the Western Ghats that finds plantations deplete groundwater, have higher surface water runoff, poorer soil infiltration, compared to trees in natural forests.

They also report that carbon stocks in plantations such as teak and eucalyptus were 30% to 50% lower than in natural evergreen forests and were generally less stable and resilient. The biggest loss, however, was that species dependent on forests—from insects to primates—were ripped apart from their natural habitats and plantations, which were mostly monocultures, rarely had the capacity to support a rich, biodiverse system.

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