FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

While we are hunkered in our respective COVID-19 foxholes, the clouds of war gather in Eastern Europe.

Last week, the US rushed deliveries of lethal weapons to Ukraine in a move to forestall a feared Russian invasion. A few days ago, the Americans decided to remove all their non-essential personnel from their mission in Ukraine.

Frantic, high profile, diplomacy has been going on among American, Russian and European diplomats. A hundred thousand Russian troops are positioned on the border with Ukraine. They seem ready to move across, at the very least to occupy and annex the Russian-speaking provinces of eastern Ukraine.

There is precedent for such a bold move. A few years ago, Russian troops in unmarked uniforms (nicknamed the Little Green Men) filtered into Crimea and eventually took control. The vital peninsula with its large naval base was annexed to Russia. The West could do little to reverse that act of aggression.

Success at annexing Crimea, confronted only by the escalation of Western economic sanctions against Russia, appears to have emboldened Vladimir Putin. He demanded that the Europeans agree to a treaty that would prohibit Ukraine from joining NATO. The Europeans, naturally, disagree with such a curtailment of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Russians, for centuries, have looked at the eastern European countries as a buffer against the Western powers. Putin lives in that mindset. He fears that if Ukraine joins NATO, Russia will be naked and defenseless. He longs for a revival of the ancient Greater Russia that was lost when the Soviet Union crumbled.

He is not without the means to conserve the Russian sphere of influence, as we saw earlier this month when Moscow sent military forces to quell unrest in Kazakhstan. Last week, Russian forces engaged in joint maneuvers with Belarusian military forces. A pro-Moscow tyrant ruthless in crushing dissent rules Belarus.

British intelligence analysts are now saying Putin intends to have a pro-Moscow government installed in Ukraine. Ukrainians had expelled a pro-Moscow tyrant not too long ago and would likely not want to see another unaccountable puppet installed. The Ukrainians have a clear preference for moving closer to Europe, including joining NATO.

Western Europe is reliant on Russian natural gas flowing through pipelines that cross Ukraine. The continent is likewise reliant on Russian oil supplies, vital in this age of shortage and high prices. This gives Putin great geopolitical leverage. But if Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe, it will shut down an indispensable source of foreign exchange.

Then, of course, Russia has powerful armored divisions that could quickly cut across the wide plain that stretches from Germany to Ukraine. NATO, so far, has shown little desire to field its own forces to thwart a Russian incursion.

Military experts believe that if Russia is planning any aggression, it will have to happen this winter. When spring comes and the ice thaws, that large plain transforms into a vast muddy wasteland that will trap the armored divisions. Russian tanks will be sitting ducks for the lethal weaponry recently delivered to the Ukrainian army.

Napoleon and Hitler, in their respective times, tried to invade Russia by crossing this plain. The mud defeated both.

If Russia invades Ukraine, the worst possible but not unlikely scenario, this could encourage China to seize Taiwan. Last week, the largest Chinese air flotilla ever ventured into Taiwanese air space, testing the small island’s defenses. This will create a secondary flashpoint.

Such aggression brings the drums of war closer to home.

Helicopter theft

Here at home, our concerns are much smaller. A helicopter was stolen and a Filipino lawyer wants to deny Philippine jurisdiction over the matter.

A few months ago, CAPP Industries filed a suit claiming Taiwanese executives of the Chialease Group collaborated with Airbus Helicopters Philippines Inc. to steal an Airbus H130 helicopter with registry number RPC 8625. The Pasay City RTC ruled in favor of CAPP Industries and issued an arrest warrant against several Taiwanese nationals working in the country.

On Oct. 4, 2021, the court issued a hold departure order to prevent the Taiwanese nationals from leaving the country. On this basis, CAPP Philippines sought the help of Interpol for the extradition of the Taiwanese named in this case. There is no information on the whereabouts of the respondents in this case. It is not clear if the helicopter reported stolen has been found.

This would have been a funny story if it were not so true.

It becomes funnier when the lawyer of the Taiwanese company comes forward with the claim that the decision of “probable cause” made by the Pasay City RTC was “without basis.” He says he has “overwhelming documentary evidence” to prove CAPP Industries Inc. was not the owner of the helicopter but only a lessee.

This does not answer the question of what happened to the subject helicopter that was leased to the Taiwanese businessmen. Notwithstanding, a Filipino lawyer is maneuvering to internationalize the dispute.

The lawyer for the Taiwanese executives is now advising his clients to take CAPP Philippines to arbitration in Singapore or New York. In doing so, he is defying the jurisdiction of a Philippine court over the case. This is contemptuous behavior.

The complainant in this case does not seem interested in arbitration. They simply want the return of a helicopter they claim was stolen.

The PNP-CIDG is now investigating the incident. A Philippine court has found “probable cause.” The matter is now under litigation.

The Filipino lawyer, however, wants to deny our jurisdiction over the case. This is almost like an invasion.


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