Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 19 December 2023



Record Number of India’s Opposition Suspended From Parliament



India’s parliament has suspended a record 92 members from both its chambers in the past week, with the country’s opposition decrying the move as a fresh blow to democratic norms.

The Indian National Congress, the largest opposition party, says its members were suspended for pressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for a statement on the recent security breach in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

While the government has refused to engage in a debate over the security lapse, Home Minister Amit Shah, at an event outside the parliament last week, gave assurances of strengthened security and said the investigative report will be ready within three weeks.

Pralhad Joshi, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, said the bulk of the opposition members were suspended for the remainder of the winter session of the parliament ending on Friday for “misconduct,” which included defying the speakers and abusing rules of the house.

The Congress Party described the suspensions as yet another autocratic move by the government. “In an opposition-less Parliament, the Modi government can now get important pending laws passed by the muscle of majority without any discussion, debate or disagreement,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, the president of Congress party, in a post on X.

The suspension of parliament members is the largest in the country’s history. In 1989, 63 lawmakers of the Lok Sabha were suspended during a debate of a report on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, according to a report in the Hindustan Times newspaper.


What If Putin Wins? US Allies Fear Defeat as Ukraine Aid Stalls

With critical aid for Kyiv snarled up by political infighting on both sides of the Atlantic, European officials are starting to think through the consequences of a victory for Russia.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir PutinPhotographer: Alexander Kazakov/AFP


The impasse over aid from the US and Europe has Ukraine’s allies contemplating something they’ve refused to imagine since the earliest days of Russia’s invasion: that Vladimir Putin may win.

With more than $110 billion in assistance mired in political disputes in Washington and Brussels, how long Kyiv will be able to hold back Russian forces and defend Ukraine’s cities, power plants and ports against missile attacks is increasingly in question.

Beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences for Ukraine, some European allies have begun to quietly consider the impact of a failure for North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. They’re reassessing the risks an emboldened Russia would pose to alliance members in the east, according to people familiar with the internal conversations who asked for anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public.

The ripple effects would be felt around the world, the people said, as US partners and allies questioned just how reliable Washington’s promises of defense would be. The impact of such a strategic setback would be far deeper than that caused by the spectacle of the botched US pullout from Afghanistan in 2021, they said. And that’s leaving aside the prospect that Donald Trump might win next year’s presidential election and realize his public pledges to pull back from major alliances, including NATO, and make a deal with Putin over Ukraine.

The growing sense of alarm has slipped into leaders’ public statements. They’ve taken on an increasingly shrill tone as backers of the aid exhort their opponents not to hold the vital assistance hostage to domestic political priorities, something which rarely happened in previous debates.

“If Ukraine doesn't have support from the EU and the US, then Putin will win,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said last week at the European Union summit, where leaders failed to overcome growing opposition to next year’s €50 billion ($55 billion) aid package and only barely managed to approve the largely symbolic gesture of opening the way to membership for Ukraine sometime in the future.

In the US, President Joe Biden last week pledged to back Ukraine for “as long as we can,” a rhetorical shift from previous vows to do so for “as long as it takes.” Hardline Republicans in Congress have refused to approve $61 billion of support for next year until Biden gives in to their demands for tougher policies on the US southern border. So far, efforts to reach a deal have failed. Monday, the Pentagon warned that the money for new weapons for Ukraine will run out Dec. 30 if legislators don’t act.

In addition to growing public skepticism about the cost of support for Ukraine, the disappointing results of Kyiv’s counteroffensive this summer — its troops made only modest gains against Russia’s heavily entrenched forces — have fueled questions about whether Ukraine’s publicly declared goal of retaking all the territory occupied by Putin is realistic. Lately, allied officials have sought to highlight Kyiv’s more recent military successes, including its successful strikes on the Russian navy in the Black Sea, rather than the sweeping advances on the ground seen in the first year of war.

“There is increasing concern about lack of movement on aid for Ukraine on both sides of the Atlantic and frustration that there is this stagnation with dire battlefield consequences,” said Kristine Berzina, managing director at the German Marshall Fund in Washington. “The possibility of Ukraine losing additional territory and even its sovereignty — that is still on the table.”

Russia is likely to push to take more territory and destroy more infrastructure if Ukraine doesn’t get the weapons it needs to defend itself, according to European officials. Unable to defend itself, Ukraine might be forced to accept a cease-fire deal on Russia’s terms, they said.

Ukraine’s backers in both the EU and US contend aid is likely to be approved in some form early next year. But that’s unlikely to yield a major breakthrough on the battlefield, officials said. Beyond that, the outlook is increasingly murky, even as the stalemate on the ground makes it increasingly clear that the fight could go on for years to come.

A Ukrainian tank crew in the Chernihiv region, Ukraine on Dec. 5.Photographer: Roman Pilipey/AFP

In the Baltic states, officials are already telling the public to be ready for the next war because Putin’s forces aren’t going to be destroyed in Ukraine. The discussion has moved from ‘if’ Russia might attack to a focus on concrete preparations for that once-unthinkable prospect. Despite Biden’s public assurances, questions about whether the US and other allies would actually put their troops at risk to defend tiny countries that were once part of the Soviet Union are growing.

“Russia is not scared of NATO,” Estonia’s military chief Martin Herem said in an interview with a local TV station last week, estimating that the Russian military could be ready to attack NATO within a year once the conflict in Ukraine — not a member of the alliance — was over. Other western officials said it would likely take Putin at least several years to make up for the tremendous losses his military has taken in Ukraine, let alone threaten NATO’s much more capable forces.

But the earlier confidence that the invasion would be a ‘strategic defeat’ for the Russian leader has faded, replaced in some quarters by a growing sense that Putin’s bet that he can outlast the US and its allies may prove right.

Finland, which joined NATO this year amid the growing threat from Russia, has stepped up its own defense buildup and is seeking to lock in security ties with the US. Putin Sunday warned that Russia plans to deploy more troops along its border, the longest between Russia and a NATO member. “There were no problems,” he said. “Now there will be.”

One western official described how a Russian victory would trigger an outpouring of refugees heading for the EU, piling pressure on services in those countries and exacerbating tensions between members. At the same time, the official said, the Ukrainian resistance would switch to guerrilla tactics meaning that the fighting would continue at a lower lever, perpetuating the instability on the EU’s eastern border.

Some European countries might seek to strengthen their ties with Moscow or Beijing to avoid having to rely too much on an unreliable US, other officials said.

With Russian forces potentially much closer to the borders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and Crimea giving the Kremlin a dominant position in the Black Sea, the US would need to make a significant investment in its European forces to pose a credible deterrent, the Institute for the Study of War said in a report released last week.

The US would have to deploy a “sizable portion” of its ground forces as well as a “large number” of stealth aircraft. Given the limitations of US manufacturing, that could force the White House to choose between keeping sufficient forces in Asia to defend Taiwan against a potential strike by China or deterring a Russian attack on NATO.

“The entire undertaking will cost a fortune,” analysts led by Frederick W. Kagan said in the report. “The cost will last as long as the Russian threat continues — potentially indefinitely.”

— With assistance from Alberto Nardelli, Ott Tammik, Natalia Ojewska, and Demetrios Pogkas



The Philippines should revamp its approach in dealing with Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea as “traditional methods of diplomacy” are being disregarded and current efforts are heading in a “poor direction,” according to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“We have to come up with a new concept, a new principle, a new idea so that we move, as I say, we move the needle the other way,” Marcos said in a statement on Tuesday. “We’ve gone down the wrong road,” he said, as he rallied allies to come out with a joint position, in remarks first made before the Japanese media on Saturday.

China and the Philippines have been locked in an escalating territorial spat in the South China Sea, a key trade corridor with huge energy potential that both sides want to take advantage of. The Philippines has been filing diplomatic protests, summoning China’s envoy after increasingly tense encounters in contested waters and also calling out China’s coast guard.

The Southeast Asian nation has also floated the idea of filing another case against Beijing, and holding separate talks with neighbors for a sea code. China has maintained its maritime actions are lawful.

Marcos, who discarded his predecessor’s non-confrontational approach in the South China Sea when he took office last year, suggested increased involvement among other stakeholders that will promote peace and also resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

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The Philippine leader said the situation in the disputed sea will not improve if his nation continues to deal with China in the same way. The nation must also move quickly in resolving the issue as it’s already affecting the livelihood of its fishermen.

Marcos, on weekend, also said energy exploration in the West Philippine Sea — the portion of the South China Sea that the nation claims — must start before the country’s Malampaya gas field is commercially depleted in the coming years. China for its part said it will conduct sea trials for deepwater drilling vessel, according to a Reuters report.

“It’s time that the countries that feel that they have an involvement in this situation, we have to come up with a paradigm shift,” Marcos said.

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