It was Ash Wednesday when news broke of a third big earthquake in Turkey. The first devastating earthquake of 7.8 on the Richter scale hit in the early hours of Feb. 6 (4:17 a.m.), with the epicenter in the Pazarcık district of Kahramanmaras province. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 41,156 people lost their lives and 108,068 people were injured in the panicked 17 days of the calamity. Damage surveys indicate that 139,000 buildings in 11 provinces collapsed or are heavily damaged. Four million people have left the earthquake-affected area (reliefweb.int, Feb. 23, 2023).
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Fate and destiny have allowed Nature to run its cycle of Life and Death. Yet in the sobering slowdown of the Christian Lenten season, one might wonder — why does Man seem to hurry and accelerate these natural cycles by killing each other and by destroying Nature and the structures of humankind? The great temptation to this most grievous sin is Man’s obsession for money, power and glory.
The war on Ukraine has been going on for a year now, since Russian President Vladimir Putin first sent up to 200,000 soldiers into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 in the biggest European invasion since the end of World War Two. The attack started in the thick of the COVID pandemic, which contagion has killed 6.87 million people worldwide to date. The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where the Russian troops were concentrated, estimated last April that 21,000 people had died there alone. Russia and Ukraine have each seen at least 100,000 of their soldiers killed or injured, according to the US military. More than 13 million people were made refugees abroad or displaced inside Ukraine (BBC News, Feb. 23, 2023). Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused $108.3 billion in damage to the country’s infrastructure, according to a study from the Kyiv School of Economics (Forbes Magazine, Aug. 2, 2022).
“Vladimir Putin has described the Soviet disintegration in the early 1990s as one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century, and one that robbed Russia of its rightful place among the world’s great powers” (nytimes.com, Feb. 21, 2023). That the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, once parts of the Soviet Union, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as did Poland, Romania and others, heightened his paranoia that “the West,” meaning basically the US and its allies, was surrounding Russia and stifling its competitive strength politically and militarily, and cornering vital economic supply sources.
“In December 2021, months before invading Ukraine, Russia presented NATO and the United States with a set of written demands that it said were needed to ensure its security but were impossible for the West to meet. Foremost among them were a guarantee that Ukraine never join NATO, and that NATO draw down its forces in the Eastern European countries that had already joined” (Ibid.).
This drove Putin to attack Ukraine, which he believes is fundamentally part of Russia, culturally and historically — after so easily grabbing back Crimea (which is part of Ukraine) in March 2014. Analysts point out, “Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance and does not come under its commitment to collective defense, and (US President Joe) Biden wants to avoid direct conflict between Russian and American forces, which he has warned could lead to world war” (Ibid.).
A world war is what the world prays will not happen. In these perilous times, weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical) in the hands of ruthless world leaders can maim and kill most of humankind.
On Feb. 20, North Korea had launched four intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula towards the Sea of Japan. It was the third such “super-large multiple rocket launcher exercise, which is a means of tactical nuclear attack,” as North Korea unabashedly acknowledged it to be — and followed through with a fourth “target practice” the day after. Kim Yo-jong, one of the country’s top officials and sister of North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un said “the frequency of using the Pacific Ocean as our shooting range depends on the nature of the US military’s actions,” according to a statement posted on the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) (cnn.com, Feb. 20, 2023).
South Korea’s military said it “strongly” condemned the ICBM launches as an act of “significant provocation”; Japan lodged a strong protest and forcefully condemned North Korea (Aljazeera.com, Feb. 20, 2023). But North Korea said it was a defensive reaction to the ongoing joint US-South Korea military drills that augmented the 28,500 US troops already stationed in South Korea in the settlement of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Moscow’s state-owned nuclear-power firm Russian State Atomic Energy Corp. (Rosatom) is building a nuclear-power plant on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast that the Russian company will own and operate. A second plant on the Black Sea is planned for this year. Russia transferred $5 billion to Turkey for the construction of the first power plant and is expected to spend another $10 billion more (wsj.com, Dec. 24, 2022). Today Rosatom holds first place in terms of the number of simultaneously implemented nuclear reactor construction projects, with two units in the Russian Federation and 35 abroad at various implementation stages (cnpp.iaea.org, updated 2021). Russia owned 40% of the total uranium conversion infrastructure in the world in 2020, and 46% of the total uranium enrichment capacity in the world in 2018, according to a Columbia University report (cnbc.com, May 23, 2022).
In October 2022, Russia proposed establishing a hub for Russian natural gas in Turkey. The plan is being finalized — representing the completion of a long-held Turkish ambition to become a hub for gas exports to Europe. Gas and alternative energy sources: that would explain why Turkey, a NATO nation with recent history of contentious relations with Russia (in wars in Syria, Libya, and the South Caucasus region), would break away from the EU and NATO hardline protests and economic sanctions on the Russian aggression in Ukraine. G-7 countries and the EU have largely stopped importing Russian crude. Turkish imports of the much-cheaper Russian crude oil more than doubled in the months after the Ukraine invasion. Turkey has also stepped in to supply Russia with goods that Moscow can no longer import from Europe. Some say goods from the EU to Russia have been rerouted through Turkey to circumvent G-7, EU and other countries’ trade restrictions and economic sanctions on Russia (wsj.com, Dec. 24, 2022).
“Ukraine has stopped seeing its relationship with Turkey as part of its partnership with the West. In a way, this is what Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan had long been trying to achieve: to become more self-sufficient on the global stage, and stand between the West and the non-Western world,” some political observers say (carnegieendowment.org, July 10, 2022).
Just like Russian President Vladimir Putin obsesses with Russia regaining its former position as a world power and its territory before the dissolution of the USSR. Just like North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who is so determined to be a feared world leader, that he threatens with his ICBM target-practices. Do the vanities of leaders ever justify the means to an end?
An earthquake says No.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.