Author Archives: Tom Arms

Observations of an Expat: Not So Evergrande

Uncertainty – political and economic – is the buzzword doing the rounds as the world faces the imminent collapse of Chinese property giant Evergrande.

And the market – in fact everyone – hates uncertainty.

No one knows how the secretive Communist Party leader Xi Jinping will react. Will he take the view that Evergrande is too big to fail or too big to save?

What will be the reaction of the millions of Chinese who are set to lose the money they gave to Evergrande and Country Garden (the other Chinese property company on the brink of collapse) for unfinished homes?

Will the problem of Chinese homelessness, high youth unemployment (currently running at 21.3 percent) and slow recovery from Covid create social unrest? And if it does, past performance indicates that Xi would respond with increased repression.

Can the ruling Chinese Communist Party escape the political consequences of its high-growth policies by shifting blame onto the shoulders of the companies’ management?

Evergrande’s debts total $300 billion. Country Garden’s liabilities are estimated at another $100 billion. Between them they directly employ more than 250,000 workers. Indirectly, millions of jobs will be impacted in industries servicing the property market.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


Ukraine has approximately 30 days before the autumn/winter rains bring their counter-offensive to a muddy halt.

To date they appear to have broken through the first line of a three-line Russian defense in an area around Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia. There is an outside possibility they can achieve a major breach, but that is highly unlikely.

There is more depressing news for Ukrainian troops. For a start the bromance between Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will keep the Russian troops supplied with artillery shells to help keep the advancing Ukrainians at bay.

Then there are problems with Poland. Up until this week the Poles have been a driving force behind EU and NATO support for Ukraine. But Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – with one eye on the farming vote and next month’s general election – has stopped military supplies to Ukraine because Ukrainian grain is driving down Polish wheat prices.

Poland has the support of Slovakia and Hungary and wants EU-wide restrictions on the import of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainians, of course, are exporting their grain to EU countries because the Russian blockade makes it impossible for them to ship it to their usual customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The next problem is signs that US support is waning. This week Volodomyr Zelensky turned up in Washington to assure American lawmakers that Ukraine is slowly but surely winning. President Biden responded with a $325 million military aid package. Zelensky also has the support of the leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But a group of far-right Republican Trump supporters are threatening to block a financial package which includes an extra $24 billion in aid to Ukraine.

And then, finally, there is the fact that Trump has pledged to stop military aid to Ukraine if he is elected in 2024.


It has taken seven years, but it looks as if the investigation of France’s right-wing leader Marine Le Pen may end up in court.

She and 23 members of Her Rassemblement National – including her father Jean-Marine Le Pen – are accused of misuse of EU funds. They allegedly used a total of about $620,000 of money which was meant to be spent on EU administration to fund party activities.

The accusation comes from the Paris Prosecutor’s office and still has to be confirmed by the prosecuting judges. But it seems highly likely that that is a formality.

If she is found guilty, Marine Le Pen faces the possibility of a $1 million fine, 10 years in jail, and a 10-year ban on holding public office. Her conviction would have a major impact on the French and European political landscape.

According to the Paris Prosecutor, Ms Le Pen spent $45,000 of EU funds to pay her personal bodyguard. On another occasion she is alleged to have diverted EU funds to pay for a meeting to discuss party activities and hung an EU flag outside the meeting room. When the meeting started she told party members “take that s**t down.”

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Observations of an Expat: The Great Indian Escape

India is likely to escape the consequences of allegedly murdering a Sikh Canadian on Canadian soil.

And this in turn will have consequences for democracy and political structures in India, the sub-continent’s relations with the rest of the world, Canadian relations with its allies and the international rule of law.

Let’s start with the fact that the claim that Indian intelligence agents were responsible for the murder of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is – so far – an allegation. And that the government of Narendra Modi has dismissed it as “absurd.”

But, at the same time, it is inconceivable that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have stood on the floor of the Canadian parliament and announced that he had “credible evidence” that India was behind the murder given the dire repercussions of such a claim.

India is fast becoming one of the most important countries in the world. It has overtaken China as the most populous. Its economy is growing at 7.8 percent and is set to overtake Japan as the world’s third largest.

It has become a go-to destination for Western companies seeking to “de-risk” their investments in China. And as a member of the Quad Alliance it is a key counter-balance to Chinese influence in the world.

All this means that the US and its allies – including Canada – have been actively courting the Delhi government of Modi and this courtship has turning a blind – or at least blinkered – eye to its excesses.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin – and the nine other passengers on his private plane — this week joined a long and growing list of “Putin’s Bodies.” Those on the grisly register share one common fatal flaw: They dared to cross the Russian president.

The tally starts with 1,300 innocent victims. It was 1999. Putin was yet to become president. But as prime minister and head of the FSB he needed a false flag operation to win support for his war in Chechnya. It is alleged, therefore, that he bombed a Moscow apartment building and blamed it on Chechen terrorists. Three hundred died and 1,000 were injured. Putin got his war.

Politician Sergei Yashenkov made the mistake of uncovering evidence linking Putin to the bombing. He was shot in the chest in 2003. Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko also accused Putin of the apartment block bombing. He was poisoned in London in 2006 with polonium-laced tea.

Journalists are a favourite target of the Russian president. Paul Klebnikov, chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, was busy writing a series on Kremlin corruption when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2004. Anna Polikovskaya accused Putin of turning Russia into a police state. She was shot in the lift of her apartment building in 2006. Natalia Estemirova specialised in exposing human rights abuses. She was abducted outside her home and later found in a wood with a bullet in the head.

Human rights lawyer Stanislaw Markelov was walking down the street with his friend Anastasia Buburova when they were both gunned down in 2009.

Russian media mogul Mikhail Lesin was in Washington and on the verge of cutting a deal with the FBI on corruption charges. He was found beaten to death in his hotel room in 2015.

Boris Berezovsky fled Russia for exile in Britain after daring to challenge Putin. He was found dead in his Berkshire home. The inquest returned an open verdict. Boris Nemtsov accused Putin of being in the pay of corrupt oligarchs. He was shot in the back on a Moscow street in 2015.

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Observations of an Expat: The Almighty Dollar

The Almighty Dollar is a bit too mighty for a growing number of countries. They want to curb it.

That was one of the driving forces behind this week’s 5-nation BRICS meeting in Johannesburg and the reason why another 40 want to join the latest political/economic organisation. Six of the applicants were admitted to the club this week.

BRICS is the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—the current membership of the 14-year-old organisation. It controls 26 percent of the world’s GDP as opposed to the G7’s 30.7 percent, although the G7 is dropping and will drop further faster with BRICS expansion.

For BRICS you could easily substitute China which dominates the BRICS economies. And for G7 just say America. Which means the two economic groupings have become political/economic weapons in the Sino-American clash.

BRICS has thus become a diplomatic vehicle for the Chinese attempt to constrain the dollar as the world’s reserve currency or replace it altogether.

It has its work cut out for it. The dollar is indeed almighty. Eighty-seven percent of the world’s trade is conducted in dollars. The currencies of 65 countries are pegged to the value of the dollar and the American greenback is the official currency of five US territories and 11 foreign countries.

Being the world’s reserve currency bestows advantages on the US economy and the government that controls it. Chief among them is lower borrowing costs on the international market, which allows America to carry a bigger public spending debt then other countries.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Donald Trump

Donald Trump will never see the inside of a prison. Neither will he be fitted for an orange onesie.

Not because he is innocent. Based on the evidence I have read to date, he is guilty as Hell. And I am sure a lot more will come out during the numerous trials he faces.

No, he will remain a free man for several reasons. One is that his lawyers will use every trick in their legal library to delay, delay, delay. They will appeal against the Washington venue for the trial there. They will also claim that the Washington judge is biased. The same with New York.

Their objections will be dismissed. But justice requires that they be heard and that takes time.

Next, there is the jury selection. One recent trial took several months to select the jury because they went through over a thousand potential jurors. In the case of Trump, the difficult is in finding 12 people in politically polarised America who do not have an opinion of the man and his election lie.

Even if a jury is selected, a venue is agreed for all four trials and impartial judges are found, there is a reasonable chance that a dedicated MAGA supporter will find their way onto a jury and block a guilty verdict.  Unanimous jury decisions are required in American trials. That is a high bar for the Trump prosecutors.

Let us suppose he is found guilty on a felony charge in a court by a jury somewhere in America. The verdict is then likely to outrage and activate his MAGA base to such an extent that Trump wins the 2024 election. If that happens he will simply pardon himself and his many co-conspirators. The case in Georgia will be more difficult because he can only give pardons for federal crimes and Georgia is a state crime. But his highly paid lawyers should be able to find a loophole.

If they don’t, there is the appeal process. If Trump is found guilty he will appeal. The appeal process can extend for years, possibly up to and beyond Donald Trump’s allotted time on this Earth.

Russian spies

Spies, spies, everywhere – especially the Russians. Which is not surprising. They had a huge spy network in Tsarist days. It was massive under the Soviets and, of course, Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany.

There is also the fact that Russia is at war, oops, I mean conducting a “special military operation” (SMO) in Ukraine. The SMO means that Russia needs intelligence on who in NATO is supporting what, when, where, how and why in Ukraine. Also, who they can support to espouse the Russian cause, scatter seeds of division and discontent and maybe even overturn a government or two.

And finally, if the war escalates, how best to attack NATO.

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Observations of an expat: Enemy of my enemy

The well-worn phrase “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has ancient roots.  It dates back 7,000 years to the Sanskrit literature of India’s Vedas. The Romans and the Koran adapted it to their political needs.

In Modern times it has been repeatedly applied. Possibly the most famous examples are Churchill and Stalin, and Mao and Nixon.

This weekend President Joe Biden will use the well-worn diplomatic axiom to try and persuade the leaders of South Korea and Japan that they should bury deep-rooted historical animosities to unite against the common enemies China, North Korea and Russia.

All three leaders will gather at Camp David on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are expected to issue a communique agreeing to closer economic ties, intelligence sharing, a Tokyo-Seoul-Washington crisis hotline, a first ever joint statement of principles and trilateral military exercises.

What they will NOT do is agree to a formal treaty. Neither will Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida formally apologise for Japanese atrocities committed before and during World War two.

There are lots of good and obvious reasons for Japan and South Korea to be friends. Both of them are threatened by China and North Korea and, to a lesser extent Russia. From the US point of view there are 85,000 American troops costing an estimated $15 billion. Washington desperately wants Seoul and Tokyo to shoulder more of the burden.

The South Koreans and Japanese have the means to assume a bigger role but until recently have lacked the will. Japan is the world’s third largest economy and fourth largest military establishment. Fast-growing South Korea is not far behind, ranking 13th in the world GDP list and sixth on the size of its defense establishment.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


Pakistan is sliding back into military rule. Actually, it never really left it. The military and its friends in the intelligence services have for decades been the puppet masters pulling the strings of successive nominally democratic governments. Quite often they don’t even bother with the veneer.

Imran Khan knew this. That is why he came to a modus vivendi with the army early in his premiership. Unfortunately for the cricketing star that arrangement did not last. He tired of both the orders and the corruption and decided to be his own man and clear the Augean Stables. Unfortunately he ended up being cleared out himself.

He is now languishing in gaol and barred from elected office. His crime was failing to report an estimated $600,000 in gifts from foreign dignitaries. It is an interesting crime. If properly enforced a large chunk of the Pakistani political establishment would be sharing Imran Khan’s jail cell.

Not satisfied with jailing their opponent, the military have also organised a postponement of elections. Under the Pakistani constitution, elections have to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of parliament. The Pakistani parliament was dissolved on Thursday, but new army-friendly Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif said elections would be “postponed for several months”. This was ostensibly because the electoral commission needed time to re-draw constituency boundaries following the acceptance of a census report just last week.

But before dissolution, the government did manage to rush through two bills increasing the powers of Pakistan’s omnipresent intelligence agencies. They can now search and arrest anyone they suspect of a “breach of official secrets”. Furthermore, anyone who reveals the identity of an intelligence agent will now be automatically sentenced to three years in prison.

Possibly in anticipation of this new law, 157 Pakistani political activists “disappeared” last month.

History control

George Orwell famously wrote in his book “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future.”

The words are profound, wise, correct and often followed. Which is why we have two examples of history control this week. The first, perhaps not surprisingly, is out of Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s educationalists have rushed through a new secondary school textbook aimed at “educating” 16-18-year olds about the Ukrainian political facts of life.

The new “patriotic curriculum” declares that Ukraine is an “artificial state.” Russia launched its “special military operation” as part of a programme of “denazification and demilitarisation.” The goal of the West is to “destabilise Russia” and Moscow is “a victim of Western aggression and fighting for its very existence.”

On the other side of the world, in the sunshine state of Florida, we have another attempt to control the political debate through teaching. There the target is wokeism. To battle it, presidential hopeful Ron de Santis has employed the skills of Prager University to produce a series of history online and off-line videos.

Prager University is not a university. It is a conservative video production company run by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager with the avowed intent of spreading conservative values to counter the “evil liberal elitist values” of most American universities. Its videos are completely unaccredited and disavowed by most serious educationalists.

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Observations of an Expat: Immigration – Analysis and Suggestions

There is a total absence of holistic joined up thinking on the emotive topic of immigration.

The solution does not lie simply in quotas, walls, barbed wire, African exile, indecipherable application forms or even hunting down people traffickers.

It needs to be recognised that the human souls washing up on the shores of the developed world did not materialise out of the ether. And furthermore, that demographic realities dictate that immigration is not an unalloyed evil.

But politicians – especially the more populist variety – prefer to pander to an electorate which has been fed a diet of fear of cultural and racial pollution. They offer short-term solutions and headline-grabbing sound-bites while failing to acknowledge the causes or offer long-term resolutions.

The fact is that immigrants are being driven northwards by basic survival instincts. If given the choice, few people would choose the maybes of immigration over the safe certainties of family, financial security and their own familiar culture. Millions of Palestinians and Syrians have lived for decades in overcrowded refugee camps because they nurture the dream of returning “home.”

Unfortunately, the home grown safety nets are being destroyed in increasing numbers by war, famine, and climate change

There are currently famines in Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Madagascar and throughout the Sahel Region to name but a few. There are wars in the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and South America. Gang Warfare in Central America has displaced 600,000 people.

There are 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; six million Syrians in refugee camps in five countries and 2.7 million Afghans who have fled the Taliban. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported recently that there are 108.4 million displaced people in the world—the largest at any time in history.

Climate change is causing the world’s deserts to grow, displacing even more people. Scientists reckon that by 2050, 25 percent of the world will be desert. The Sahara is expanding by 30 square miles a decade. Even faster-growing is the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and Northwest China. 2023 is the hottest year on record with temperatures reaching 58 centigrade in the Sahara, 50 in India and 48 in Kuwait.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The Ukraine war has resulted in the world facing a shortage of every grain product and the prospect of widespread starvation in the developing world and spiralling food prices in the developed.

Shortages of corn and wheat – Ukraine and Russia’s two biggest grain exports – have increased demand for that other major grain product – rice. This has led India to ban exports of non-basmati rice “to ensure adequate domestic availability at reasonable prices.” India exports 40 percent of the world’s rice.

To compound the problem other major rice producing countries – Thailand, Pakistan and Vietnam – have all suffered bad harvests this year due to deteriorating weather conditions.

But back to Ukraine where Vladimir Putin has ended the Turkish-brokered deal to allow grain ships past the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. He followed that up with a devastating drone attack on Izmail which handles about a quarter of Ukraine’s grain exports. An estimated 40,000 metric tonnes of grain bound for Africa, China and Israel was destroyed and the port has been closed indefinitely. Since withdrawing from the grain deal on 27 July, Russia has destroyed an estimated 200,000 metric tonnes of grain as well as civilian ships, port facilities and grain storage silos.

It should also be noted that Ukraine’s Izmail is at the mouth of the Danube and on the opposite bank is NATO member Romania.


Vladimir Putin has weaponised food. He has created a worldwide shortage and is now using access to Russian-produced grain to blackmail/bribe selected countries.

This was obvious at the recent Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg where he promised free grain to carefully selected African countries. Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Eritrea and the Central African Republic have all been rewarded for their support at the UN and links with the Wagner Group.

The summit, however, was not the big success Putin hoped for. The last such gathering was in 2019 when 45 African leaders turned up in Sochi. This time only 27 made the trip north to Russia’s Baltic port.

The drop in numbers was largely due to Putin’s failure to deliver on his promises. In 2019 Russia promised to quadruple direct investment in Africa. But since then it has dropped by two thirds and now represents only one percent of the total inflow of Sub-Saharan Africa’s capital investment.

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Observations of an expat: The Big Lie is finally in court

Donald Trump will get his wish. He desperately tried to air his election fraud claim in court. He made over 50 attempts to do so, including two to bring it before the Supreme Court.

But Trump’s problem is that the wrong person – or entity – is charged with lying. It is not the swamp, deep state, establishment elite or the blob that is being hauled before the court accused of porky pies in pursuit of naked power. It is Donald Trump.

The cornerstone of the case of Special Counsel Jack Smith and the Department of Justice is that Donald Trump lied when he claimed electoral fraud. That he – and his co-conspirators – knew that he lied and that he used the lie in the criminal pursuit of subverting the US constitution, the electoral laws and the proceedings of Congress.

If he didn’t lie. If Donald Trump is indeed the victim of an elaborate conspiracy involving the Department of Justice, his own Vice President, over 50 courts and tens of thousands of individual vote tellers, then Jack Smith’s case collapses into an ignominious legal heap.

Trump’s lawyers hope they have a constitutional ace up their sleeves – the right to free speech as enshrined in the First Amendment. Freedom of speech protects the right to lie – up to a point.

Bill Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, was prominent among those insisting that the ex-president accept the election results and attacked him for not doing so. This week, the country’s former top lawyer, dismissed the First Amendment defense. He said: “They (the Department of Justice) are not attacking his First Amendment rights. He can say whatever he wants. He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The upsurge in violence in Israel is no surprise. It is a direct result of the government’s swing to the far-right. In fact Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is, relatively speaking, now one of the more liberal members of his cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s time, however, is increasingly occupied by court appearances in an effort to fight charges of corruption, bribery and fraud. He also has to deal with the ongoing demonstrations against government plans to curb the independence of the Israeli judiciary.

The daily business of fighting Palestinian terrorism is dominated by ultra-orthodox politicians. These include several West Bank settlers who totally reject the concept of the two-state solution; demand the removal of all Palestinian settlements and, in one instance, have connections with right-wing terrorist organisations.

The latest round of violence started in the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin. Like most such sites it is plagued with poverty, high unemployment and poor services. In short, an incubator for Palestinian terrorist groups.

The current round of violence started just over two weeks ago when an Israeli military jeep was blown up. As usual, the military responded and a 15-year-old Palestinian girl died. The cycle of violence continued and after two weeks the death toll had reached 12 Palestinians. But perhaps more importantly, the Israelis resorted to deadly air strikes for the first time in 20 years.

As of this writing Jenin is quiet. But violence has broken out in the West Bank Palestinian camp at Nablus where two people have died.

The Israeli army is reported to have been eager to withdraw as quickly as possible from Jenin and Nablus. They do not believe that a military solution is possible. The politicians disagree.

Leading the anti-Palestinian charge within the cabinet is National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. He is an illegal West Bank settler who wants to completely dismantle the West Bank Palestinian authority. He is a former member of Kahane Chai, a right-wing Jewish terrorist organisation which is banned in Israel and the US. In 2007 Ben Gvir was found guilty of incitement against Palestinians and terrorism.

Aryeh Dei, another West Bank settler and the Health Minister was actually sent to prison for three years for bribery. The Supreme Court has tried to block his appointment to the cabinet which led to the current battles between the court and the government.

Aryeh Dari, Interior Minister; Yoav Galant, Defense Minister; and Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister, are all illegal West Bank settlers.

The two-state solution: a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living side by side, remains the preferred resolution of the Biden Administration, the UK and EU. According to International law, the 600,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank are there illegally. But there has been no real effort to pursue the two-state option since 2014 and the Trump Administration more or less rejected it.

This has encouraged the ultra-Orthodox parties who are now in coalition with Likud to press for the dismantlement of the refugee camps and the Palestinian Authority and open the area to Jewish settlement only. The result can only be more violence.


France has a history of riots. The French Revolution, the 1848 revolution which ended Bourbon rule, the 1871 Paris Commune which followed the reign of Napoleon III and the 1968 student riots which brought about the downfall of Charles deGaulle are some of the better-known examples.

In more recent times there were the yellow vest demonstrations against fuel taxes and the protests about raising the pension age.  But the most recent riots are on a different scale then these two.

They started when a 17-year-old ethnic Moroccan-Algerian boy named Nahel Merzouk was stopped and shot by police at a traffic light in the Parish suburb of Nanterre. The “Justice for Nahel” riots spread throughout France. At the last count 5,000 cars had been burned, 1,000 buildings and 250 police stations were attacked and damaged and 170 police were injured.

There are several reasons for the riots. One is a basic approach to policing in France. In Britain and the US the police are seen as servants of the public. In France and most other continental countries, they are viewed as controlling the public.

It is in this context that in 2017, a law was passed giving police the right to shoot any car driver who failed to stop when challenged. The law was quickly challenged by the UN Human Rights Council. In the past 18 months, 17 people have been shot under the terms of this law. They are overwhelmingly ethnic Black Africans or of Arab origin.

Most of them also live in what are called the Banlieues such as Nanterre. These are poverty stricken suburbs which encircle the wealthy city centres of France. The average unemployment rate in many of the Banlieues is 70 percent compared to seven percent for the rest of France.  Drug use and crime are rampant. Public services are poor. No-go areas are common. The residents feel forgotten and angry.

Roughly twenty percent of France’s population is from an ethnic minority—one of the highest proportions in Europe. This high percentage of Arabs and Black Africans has created resentment from both the ethnic people and large sections of the White indigenous French community.

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Observations of an expat: Ukraine and NATO

Vilnius is about to enter the history books. The capital of Lithuania will next week (Tuesday and Wednesday) be the scene for a potentially historic NATO summit.

At the top of the agenda will be the question of NATO membership for Ukraine.

Needless to say, a decision to invite Ukraine into the Western Alliance would have global repercussions. It would both deter and infuriate Russia. Extend the Eastern borders of NATO. Strengthen the European arm of the Alliance. Allow the US to move more resources to the Pacific which would anger the Chinese.

As of this writing most of the European members of NATO – with the exception of Hungary and possibly Turkey – favour the admission of Ukraine. The Biden Administration is not so keen because of the fear of Russian retaliation. On Fri c day, Moscow conducted nuclear air drills over the Baltic region. It was a clear pre-summit warning of the possible consequences of Ukrainian NATO membership.

However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, made a compelling case for Ukraine half in NATO in this week’s issue of Foreign Policy magazine. “Today,” he writes, “Ukraine is a net contributor of security protecting the European-Atlantic Community from an aggressive and revanchist Russia… When Ukraine wins the war it will have battle-hardened Ukrainian troops protecting NATO’s Eastern flank.”

He appears to accept the political and security problems that would accompany full-fledged membership of the Western Alliance. “We are not seeking immediate membership,” he writes. “We will not drag NATO into this war. We have never requested foreign troops on the ground in Ukraine. With the generous assistance of our partners we will defeat Russia on our own. This war is ours to fight.”

But he adds that the “next war” can be avoided by admitting Ukraine into NATO. However, Kuleba leaves open when that membership would be finalised. Instead he suggests that NATO publicly accept that Ukraine is as important to NATO to as NATO is to Ukraine. Furthermore that Ukraine is an “inseparable part of the Euro-Atlantic security” framework and finally that Ukraine is invited to join NATO and that that membership will take effect “when all the conditions are met.” The foreign minister does not spell out what the conditions should be.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The World reacts to Russian Mutiny

World Reaction to the Wagner Group Mutiny ranged from the supportive to the thoughtful to the frightened and everything in between.

A Russian exile in Turkey told America’s National Public Radio: “The Putin regime is a circus because they don’t have power. They can’t even control their pets.”

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky was understandably jubilant. “Anyone who choose the path of evil,” he said, “destroys himself… Russia’s weakness is obvious…And the longer Russia keeps its troops and mercenaries in our land, the more chaos, pain and problems it will have for itself later.”

The immediate comment from Washington was “No Comment” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ordered US diplomats to stick rigidly to that line. He was concerned that any American remarks would lead to Russian claims of US involvement. It took four days before President Biden specifically denied US backing and said “This was part of a struggle within the Russian system.”

India has been a key supporter of Russia during the Ukraine War. It has lobbied on behalf of Moscow among developing countries and its purchases of Russian oil and gas helps finance Putin’s war machine. India has long-standing close relations with Moscow which supplies the country with half of their weapons. But that weapons supply has been disrupted by the Ukraine War and Prime Minister Narendra Modi just completed a successful state visit to America. The comment from New Delhi was a non-committal: “India prefers a strong, stable and influential Russia.”

The European Council met on Thursday to discuss the implications of the mutiny. The 27 members are worried. Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and they are concerned about the sanity of the person who has their finger on the nuclear button, or that Putin feels backed into a corner. “Russia,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “has become unstable and more dangerous.” Joseph Borrell, Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, said: “A weaker Putin is a greater danger.”

The Chinese reaction to the Wagner Mutiny was guarded. Party mouthpiece “The Global Times” was quick to point out that the insurrection was short-lived and relatively bloodless. But at the same time, Beijing diplomats were saying that it was important that their “limitless” partner put his house in order. They are also adamant that they were not wrong to “bet” on the Putin horse.

Xi Jinping is as worried about the domestic repercussions of Putin’s problems as the diplomatic. China’s party-dominated governmental structure is different from Russia’s feudal system. But they are allied autocracies and both the domestic Chinese and world public opinion are quick to draw comparisons. Chinese social media has been awash with veiled and unveiled criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party in the wake of the failed Russian mutiny. Some bloggers have even used the banned words “Tiananmen Square.”

The Wagner Group’s activities are not confined to Ukraine

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Observations of an ex pat: Russian chickens

The Kremlin skies are turning black with the wings of chickens coming home to roost.

The Russian mutiny may have caught Putin and the rest of the world off guard, but its roots were there for all to see.

It is the direct result of hubris, decades of corruption, lies, autocracy and an over-reliance on uncontrolled non-state players.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin may have been exiled to Belarus but the problems raised by his largely unopposed march on Moscow are still there.

They start with the structure of the Russian military and government. Vladimir Putin has created a feudal edifice with a complex chain of command that rivals that of any medieval monarch.

If any of his nobles (aka oligarchs) looked as if they were accumulating too much power then he simply dismissed, exiled or murdered. Those who remained loyal were transformed from crooks and spies into billionaires.

This feudal structure extended to the military. The Wagner Group is not the only Russian private army. There are ten of them, including one which owes its loyalty to Army Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov and a praetorian guard for President Putin.

The divided army is the main reason that Prigozhin could successfully occupy the major Russian military depot at Rostov-on-Don and march to within 120 miles of Moscow. There are unconfirmed reports that he had the support of General Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian forces at Rostov and in southern Ukraine and General Mikhail Mizintsev, better known as the “butcher of Mariupol.”

Surovikin is reported to be under arrest. The whereabouts of Mizintsev is unknown. Both men were praised by Prigozhin in his numerous social media rants along with Alexei Dyumin who must also now be under a cloud.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

Did Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden talk this week? On the surface it would seem they did not.

Blinken spent a constructive few days in Beijing repairing Sino-American relations, at least to the stage where the two sides were talking to each other even if they were failing to agree on very much.

Then, almost as soon as Blinken steps off the plane, his boss calls China’s President Xi Jinping a dictator. The Chinese foreign ministry immediately responded by attacking Biden’s comments as “blatant political provocation.”

The American president is well known for his foreign policy gaffes and when they occur the State Department jumps in to pour oil on troubled waters and restore diplomatic calm. Not this time.

The State Department spokesman said the following day: “We will continue to responsibly manage this relationship and maintain open lines of communications with the PRC. But that, of course, does not mean we will not be blunt about our differences.”

He added: “We have been very clear about the areas in which we disagree, including clear differences about the merits and demerits about democracies versus autocracies.”

It would appear that Blinken and Biden are playing a good cop, bad copy routine. This is partly for domestic consumption. US administrations aim for a bipartisan foreign policy, but that is difficult to achieve in the current polarised climate with China the whipping boy of the Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats.

Africa and Russia

Africa went to Moscow this week. It also went to Kyiv, but the most important and interesting leg of the trip was to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

Of course, it wasn’t all of Africa. It was the heads of government of Egypt, South Africa, Congo, Comoros and South Africa. The delegation was led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who has come under attack for refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and allowing Vladimir Putin to visit South Africa in August despite a warrant for his arrest issued by the International Criminal Court.

The African leaders called the trip a “Peace Mission” and justified their involvement by the fact that their continent suffered a 30 million tonnes of grain shortfall in 2022 because of the war in Ukraine. They issued a ten-point plan which called for guaranteed grain supplies, an exchange of prisoners of war and the return of all children to their country of origin.

In Kyiv that had to run for air raid shelters during a missile attack and were told by President Zelensky that there could be no peace without Russian withdrawal.

In Moscow, President Putin told them that the grain deal could be cancelled altogether; that the “special military operation” would drag on and that the thousands of Ukrainian children taken to Russia were moved to protect them. In short, there was no joy for the Africans in either capital.

Back in South Africa, the trip has been branded a poorly conceived and badly executed effort to repair Ramaphosa’s tarnished image. The South Africans were especially humiliated when the plane carrying Ramaphosa, his advisers, journalists and 15 containers of weapons, was stopped at Warsaw Airport because it did not have the correct paperwork. The plane had to return to South Africa and start all over again.


Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are planning their own diplomatic offensive to back up their military counter-offensive.

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Observations of an expat: India

The Washington red carpet rolled out for Narendra Modi this week underscores India’s emergence as a cornerstone of America’s foreign policy.

Delhi is seen not only in military terms as a regional counterbalance to China, but increasingly as a major economic partner and a key to reducing Western dependence on Chinese factories.

But there are trip holes in the carpet of which all players need to be aware.

The biggest gaps are historical. India’s democratic institutions are the latest layer of centuries of political and cultural veneers that pre-date the Greco-Roman traditions that are the roots of American and European civilisation.

In many ways, India and China have more in common than the US and India. They are both Asian. They are both proud of their ancient histories, and they both endured the rigours and humiliation of colonialism. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of independence, this perceived commonality with China encouraged Jawaharlal Nehru to pursue a close relationship with Beijing. It foundered on the rocks of a disputed Himalayan border.

The two countries also have a common cause in that they both assert that the current legal structures that underpin the world order are disadvantageous to their interests and the interests of the wider developing world. They were written by Western countries for Western countries in the wake of World War Two. They need to be adapted to the 21st century. For a start, India wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Then there is Russia. Again, the relations between India and Moscow go back to the struggle against the British, when many members of the independence movement visited Russia and received training and support. When independence came, it was only natural that the links forged in the shadows emerged as public policy and Russia became India’s arsenal and a major aid supplier.

The US responded to the Russian presence by supporting India’s arch-enemy, Pakistan and then, from the 1970s until about 2010, China which also threw its weight behind Pakistan and launched a border war with India in the Himalayas.

The US is keen to wean India’s military off their Russian suppliers and is offering not only weaponry but defense technology to allow India to expand its own defense industry. This sits well with Modi’s “Make in India” policy. Moscow, however, still supplies 49 percent of India’s weaponry although it is down from 70 percent a few years ago. The US in 2022 supplied only 11 percent of India’s military needs.

India’s continuing attachment to Russia is evident in Modi’s refusal to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. His purchase of discounted Russia oil and gas has been a major factor in Moscow’s ability to finance its war machine. In fact, India has increased its purchases of Russian energy ten-fold.

India is unlikely to abandon Moscow for Washington and the Biden Administration appears to have reconciled itself to this political reality. China, it argues, is the bigger long term threat to American interests and is emphasising the anti-Chinese Quad Alliance of India, America, Australia and Japan.

The problem with the Quad is that India almost instinctively rebels against formal alliances. Delhi was one of the driving forces behind the 1961 creation of the Non-Aligned Movement (along with Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and Indonesia). It is still a key member. Indian’s strong attachment to non-alignment is one of the reasons that the Quad is not a formal alliance like NATO, but rather a structure for security dialogue. In fact, its formal title is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

India’s foreign policy is based more on relationships rather than formal alliances. It prefers a transactional form of mutual back scratching then strict commitments. As the world’s most populous country and the fifth largest – soon to be third – economy in the world, India is becoming increasingly aware of its diplomatic heft, and is acting accordingly.

It was during the Clinton Administration that the State Department first starting courting the emerging India. But the big breakthrough came during the George W. Bush years when in 2005 the two countries signed the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. India thus became the only nuclear weapons state that had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty who was allowed to conduct nuclear commerce with other states.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


War Is Hell and as Zelensky’s troops enter the second week of their counter offensive it is clear that Ukraine is the seventh circle. The Ukrainians are taking heavy losses for so far minimal gains as they hurl themselves against an elaborate Russian “defense in depth.”

President Zelensky has said that the counter offensive is going according to plan. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, more phlegmatically reported: “It is a very difficult fight.”

The Ukrainians have had some success in the Donetsk region where they appear to have regained about 40 square miles of territory. They are also advancing on Bakhmut. But the Russians appear to have the edge in the vital Zaporizhia region where the Ukrainians have lost a number of tanks, including recently supplied German Leopards and American tanks. Having said that, Putin has admitted to losing 54 tanks in the past ten days.

To a large degree the counter-offensive appears to be a big step up from a probing exercise but not yet a full-scale frontal assault. The Ukrainians are still looking for weak points in the 600-mile long Russian defensive line and neither side has committed its reserves.

Among the major developments in Russia this week have been the Russia Day celebrations on Monday and a new enlistment law. The first marks the day that Russia seceded from the old Soviet Union and was used by Putin to deliver a rally around the flag speech while warning of tough times ahead. The second allowed the recruitment of convicts into the regular army. This will enable the government to reduce unpopular conscription levels but will also exacerbate the conflict between the Wagner Group and the army, as prisons are also the main recruiting ground for the mercenary group.


Teflon Trump can’t win. His arraignment on federal charges this week may have failed to dent his popularity among hard-right Republican voters, but the wider voting public is thoroughly unimpressed. The numbers don’t stack up for a third Trump attempt at the White House.

Registered Republicans are 38.8 million of the voting population. At a guess I would say that roughly 3.8 million of them are either so sick of Trump that they will either abstain or vote against him.

Democrats are 49 million of the voting population. I reckon that they will all vote for the Democratic candidate – even if he is an octogenarian – to insure that Trump stays out of the White House.

That leaves the Independents who are 41 percent or 65.68 million of the registered voting population. The latest opinion polls show that they are split 40/60 with the 60 percent adamantly opposed to Trump returning to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

That means that if all the registered voters cast their ballots tomorrow for one of the two main candidates that Trump (assuming he is the Republican candidate) would receive about 44 million votes and the Democratic candidate (whomever that may be) would receive 78.8 million.

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Observations of an expat: Bad week for populists

It has been a bad week for populists. Boris Johnson out of Parliament. Donald Trump arraigned on espionage charges and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi buried.

But it has also been a bad 21st century for the anti-populists. Trump elected and threatening to return. Brexit, Johnson and Truss in the UK. Viktor Orban in Hungary. Putin in Russia. Bolsonaro in Brazil. Modi in India….

Electorate after electorate has fallen victim to a string of self-serving narcissists prepared to exploit irrational fears, issue empty promises and bend, ignore or break the law in blatant pursuit of power and self-interest.

Silvio Bunga Bunga Berlusconi led the way. He started his working life as a cruise ship crooner before moving into property development and the media. His Mediaset television empire broke the Italian’s TV’s puritanical mode with topless models and secured 90 percent of the viewing audience.

In 1993 Berlusconi formed his own political party; persuaded 33 of his advertising executives to stand with him for parliament and then harnessed his media empire to his campaign. The result was first of Berlusconi’s four terms as Italy’s prime minister.

Scandal and corruption dogged Berlusconi throughout his political career. By his own account he made 2,500 court appearances in 106 trials. Not all of the mud stuck, but enough did for him to be convicted of tax fraud and banned from holding public office for ten years.

This should have been the end of Berlusconi. But he bounced back to join the Senate and become the acknowledged kingmaker of Italian politics. He was a junior member of the current government of Giorgia Meloni. He is a clear object lesson of the political establishment’s inability to hold down the bad boys of politics.

Victimhood is one of the major weapons of the populist. Trump says he is target number one of “The Deep State”. Boris Johnson blames “The Blob” for his problems.  This amorphous political entity which can means anyone and everyone opposed to the populist has become the ultimate scapegoat for the evils of the world.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The Ukrainian counter-offensive has begun. It has coincided with the at least partial collapse of the Nova Kakhovka Dam which has literally muddied the waters.

Ukraine’s generals are continuing to wrap their military plans in a dense fog of war. For weeks artillery barrages, drone strikes and the occasional incursive attack have been softening up the roughly 600-mile Russian defensive line. Then the attack started Tuesday with the war’s first night attacks on Wednesday and Thursday.

Given the length of the frontline, Russian troops are inevitably spread thinly. But at the same time they are well dug in. Moscow’s ground forces may be lacking but, according to the Royal United Services Institute, their army’s engineers are world class. They have constructed several lines of defense involving minefields, trenches, mini-fortresses and “dragon’s teeth” tank traps.

Ukraine’s main thrust appears to be aimed at the politically strategic town of Bakhmut and in the Zaporizhia Region. Detailed reports are being withheld but President Biden declared he was “optimistic” and Volodomyr Zelensky said he was in hourly contact with his generals.

There have been some reports that Ukrainian troops advanced a mile into the area around Bakhmut and a slightly greater distance near Zaporizhia. In the case of the latter, however, the Russians are believed to have beaten the Ukrainians back and regained most of the ground lost. It is too soon to declare any successes or failures by either side.

It is believed that the Ukrainian objective is to drive a 20-mile-wide corridor to either Melitopol or Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. This would sever the land bridge connecting Russia to the bulk of its forces in Crimea and, it is hoped at the very least, force Putin to the negotiating table.

According to Western experts, the apparent sabotage of the Nova Kakhovka Dam should be seen in the context of the Russian defensive effort. A sort of literal opposite of a scorched earth policy.

The road across the dam was one of the main intact links across the Dnieper River from Ukraine to the Russian-occupied eastern region. And the flooding downstream has tied up the Ukrainian military in rescuing thousands. It has also left 2,250 square miles of Ukrainian agricultural without vital irrigation water; poisoned drinking water with spilled sewage, oil and chemicals; and renewed fears about the safety of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant whose reactors were cooled by water from the reservoir created by the dam.

At the same time, however, the Russians have to deal with the problems of flooding on the eastern bank of the Dnieper. On top of that, the strategic Crimean Peninsula is almost completely dependent for drinking water on a canal which starts just north of the dam. This canal is running dry as reservoir levels drop.

Britain and China

Britain will host an AI summit – without China. This is one of the outcomes of this week’s Washington visit by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The exclusion and containment of China was one of the underlying themes that ran through the Biden-Sunak White House talks.

But first Artificial Intelligence. The summit will be held in London sometime in the autumn. It will involve all Western countries. Its purpose will be to establish international regulatory ground rules.

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Observations of an expat: Enemies of the people

“Enemies of the People” that is how The Daily Mail described the UK Supreme Court Judges who ruled that the government could not bypass parliament in implementing Brexit.

The same cry is being taken up by populists and autocrats the world over. Increasingly they are either attacking, packing or controlling the courts.

It is a core principle of democracies that the actions of politicians are subject to the same laws as everyone else and those laws are based on centuries of tradition and legal precedent. The laws are ineffective if the courts are controlled by political diktat.

The courts are a brake on unbridled political power. Which is why populist politicians seek to control them.

In Turkey and Hungary the populist governments have in recent years packed the judicial benches with government supporters. Israel has suffered months of demonstrations against a government attempting to do the same there.

The Russian courts are a farce. An estimated 90 percent of the defendants brought to trial are found guilty. And in China, the constitution makes it clear that the judiciary is subject to the whims of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Polish legal system has become the latest victim of a populist government’s attack. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party has had an uneven relationship with the law since gaining power in 2015—especially EU law. But its latest moves have brought half a million protesters onto the Warsaw streets.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The current Arctic military exercises are relatively small by NATO standards. But they are hugely significant. They are they the first manoeuvres in which Finland has participated as a full member of the Alliance.

In fact, 12 countries are participating; two of whom are NATO partners: Sweden and Switzerland. The latter has been neutral for more than half a millennium.

There is no chance that the Swiss will end their neutrality, but in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Sweden decided that the NATO umbrella was more important than its 200-year non-alignment policy. Unfortunately, NATO membership requires the support of all 31 member countries. Two members, Turkey led by President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and Hungary led by self-declared illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orban, blocked it.

The hope of the rest of the Alliance is that Erdogan will be more receptive to compromise following his 28 May re-election for a further five years. In the next few weeks there will be a constant stream of visitors to Ankara to try to persuade the Turkish leader to drop his veto. They will be led by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg but will also include senior officials from the US, UK, France, Germany, the Baltic states and, of course, Sweden.

The aim is to change Erdogan’s mind so that the Alliance welcome the Swedes into NATO alliance at the heads of government summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on 11-12 July. But NATO has to overcome Hungarian objections as well as Turkish.

Hungary’s veto is based on two important foreign policy pillars: good relations with Russia and Turkey. The former is rooted in land-locked Hungary’s total dependence on Russian oil and gas. This is also the reason Hungary continues to defy Western sanctions by buying Russian energy. The Turkish connection is based more on a common ideology between the two right-wing populists – Erdogan and Orban.

The official stated reason for Hungarian opposition is Swedish criticism of Orban’s democratic credentials. “Stockholm,” wrote a Hungarian government spokesperson recently, “sits on a crumbling throne of moral superiority.” It is a weak argument. Swedish criticism of Orban is no greater than that of most of Western Europe, and the hope is that if Erdogan has been brought into line, Orban will follow.


America will NOT default on its debt. That is a near – but not quite – certainty. The House of Representatives has voted to raise the debt ceiling. The Senate has to follow suit by 5 June and is almost certain to do so.

In the end there was the inevitable compromise between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic President Joe Biden. To please the Republicans $1.3 trillion was shaved off the federal budget.

There were some cuts to welfare spending but not enough to alienate Democratic Congressmen but enough for Republicans to point to an achievement. The biggest White House concession was to allow the building of an oil pipeline through West Virginia in order to secure the support of troublesome Democratic Senator Joe Manchin as well as Republican congressmen.

In the context of the bigger picture the amount saved is insignificant. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will spend $80-plus trillion over the next ten years.

The problem that both parties face is that there is virtually no room for discretionary spending cuts. To start with there is defense. Both parties support a large defense establishment. The result is that US defense spending is 3.1 percent of GDP and 12 percent of the federal budget.  American government spending on its military represents 40 percent of military spending in the entire world.

But an untouchable military is only part of the budget problem. Two-thirds of federal spending is the even bigger sacred cow of social security (state pensions) and medicare (medical insurance for the elderly). Both of these are increasing in line with an ageing American population.

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Observations of an expat: AI and international politics

Dependent on whom you listen to, AI is either going to save or destroy humanity.

In common with most leaps in human knowledge, the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Winners and losers are guaranteed.

Technology will race blindly ahead with society attempting to play catch-up and unable to do so because of its inability to know the unknown.

The one known is that the AI genii is well and truly out of the bottle and won’t/can’t be stuffed back in. The trick therefore is how to regulate it in order to maximise the upside and minimise the downside.

One of the most pressing AI-related needs is for an agreed international framework. The technology has the potential to impact military capabilities to such a degree that it could dwarf the significance of nuclear weapons. A nationalist-driven AI-race is bad. Unfortunately it has already started.

Britain’s post-Brexit economy is declining and the government sees AI as an opportunity to harness the country’s small but effective high-tech industry to reverse the trend. It has issued a White Paper which emphasises a Wild West approach to Artificial Intelligence in a bid to become an AI super power. It will avoid “heavy-handed legislation which could stifle innovation” and “take an adaptable approach to regulating AI.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The ultimate Pyrrhic victory is the best way to describe the Russian capture of Bakhmut. The town has minimal strategic victory. It has cost 20,000-plus Russian lives and 50,000 casualties. Tens of thousands of artillery shells, missiles and drones have been expended. The siege has tied up Russian forces for months and left Putin’s army of a pile of rubble.

While the Russians have been throwing themselves against the Bakhmut brick wall, the Ukrainians have been taking delivery of hundreds of state-of-the-art tanks, training on F-16s, building up their drone arsenal and gathering forces for their counter offensive.

Exactly where that counter offensive will be aimed remains a top secret. A hint might be in this week’s cross-border raid on a military base in the Russian provide on Beogorod which is more or less right in the middle of Russian-Ukrainian border

The Ukrainians are not supposed to attack targets on Russian soil. This would seriously worry their Western backers who do not want to widen or escalate the conflict. So Volodomyr Zelensky’s government have denied any involvement in the attack.

In this denial they are helped by two Ukrainian paramilitary groups – Freedom of Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps—who have both claimed credit for the operation. Both these groups say they have filled their ranks with Russians living in Eastern Ukraine and defectors from the Russian army. The declared aim of both is the overthrow of Vladimir Putin as well as an independent Ukraine.

In the shadowy world of paramilitaries it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially as both groups are based in the Russian-occupied Donbas Region. But Freedom of Russia is believed to be the largest of the two group with 1,000 armed men. They are also believed to surreptitiously receive training and weapons from the Ukrainian military, but operate independently.

The Russian Volunteer Corps has virtually no links with the government in Kyiv. This is because they and their leader Denis Nitikin are far-right White Supremacists who want to overthrow Zelensky as well as Putin because the Ukrainian leader is Jewish. They are Russian ultra-nationalists who want Moscow to concentrate on protecting ethnic Russians inside Russia’s existing borders.

Russia and China

The Sino-Soviet love fest continued this week with a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries.

At the end of the two days of talks Moscow’s Mikhail Mishustin declared that due to “sensational pressure” from the West, Sino-Russian cooperation had reached an “unprecedented high.”

During his talks with Chinese counterpart Li Qiang, The Russian prime minister signed a series of agreements to bolster trade in services, agriculture and sporting links.  But conspicuous by its absence was a Chinese commitment to provide Russia with military support for its invasion of Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that China is locked in an irreversible ideological battle with the West and that Russia is an essential partner if it has any chance of success. He and Vladimir Putin are as one as regards the strategic goal. But they differ on tactics.

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Observations of an expat: De Santis – Trump with Brains

Governor Ron DeSantis is a clever version of Donald Jesus Trump. And because of that, he could be even more dangerous than the most dangerous person to ever occupy the White House.

Trump was fond of boasting that he was “the smartest US president ever.” Well, that was obviously another one of his lies, and there was a reason his academic records were kept under wrap.

DeSantis can legitimately lay claim to a well-stocked cranium. He graduated top of his class at Harvard and near the top at Yale Law School.

Trump spent the Vietnam War years doing his best to not acquire a venereal disease while sleeping with as many women as possible. “My own personal Vietnam,” he said.

DeSantis went almost straight from law school into the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office where he received a bronze star for his attachment to Navy SEAL teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only blot on an exemplary medal-strewn military career is a claim that he oversaw force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

DeSantis went straight from the navy into politics and in 2012 was elected to Congress where he became a founding member of the Freedom Caucus which can be described as the right-wing of the far right wing of the far right of the right wing of the Republican Party.

In 2016 Ron DeSantis was narrowly elected Governor of Florida and started putting his far-right views into practice. The teaching of critical race theory, gender identification and sexual orientation has been banned in state schools. Asylum seekers were flown to Martha’s Vineyard. Transgender girls were banned from competing in school sports. Corporation tax been lowered. Florida was one of the most open states during the pandemic. Abortions after six weeks were banned….

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 21 May 2023

Diamonds are sexy.

That is why they are at the top of the new list of sanctions against Russia. They also represent only $4 billion of Russia’s exports. This is a fraction of what Russia is earning in sales of oil, gas and weapons to countries thumbing their noses at Western sanctions.

That is why Japanese Premier Fumio Kishida has invited eight additional world leaders to the G7 Summit in Hiroshima this weekend. Gone are the days when the top seven industrialised countries could dictate terms to the rest of the world. If sanctions against Russia are going to work they have to be world sanctions, not just western sanctions.

The additional countries at the table this weekend are India, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Comoros and Cook Islands. They have been invited either because they are major economies and political powers in their own right or represent a region of the world.

Most of them are sceptical about Western sanctions and some of them—such as India—are flagrantly flouting them and helping to fund the Russian war machine. India has also refused to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vietnam has a long history of close relations with Moscow that go back to the French colonial wars and the Vietnam War. It still buys 60 percent of its weaponry from Russia. Indonesia is also a big buyer of Russian weaponry.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (aka Lula) projects himself as a friend to everyone. He has met with American, Russian and Chinese leaders; and wants to set up a “peace club” to resolve the Ukraine War.

China is also high on the G7 agenda, especially as regards the sabre rattling around Taiwan. Prime Minister Kishida wants the expanded G7 to make a clear statement in favour of Taiwan. This will be difficult given that almost all of the countries represented are heavily invested in the Chinese economy.

The world is so much more complicated than in 1975 when Giscard d’Estaing hosted the inaugural G7 summit at Rambouillet.

Syria has become a Narco state

And its new found position in the world is one of the reasons that President Bashar al-Assad is hugging Middle East leaders at the Arab League summit in Jeddah this weekend.

Syria and its leader were effectively expelled from the Arab League 12 years ago when Assad responded to the Arab Spring with bullets and chemical weapons. Since then 500,000 Syrians have died and 6 million have been displaced. Assad has managed to cling to power with the help of Iran and Russia.

But Assad needed money to pay for the weapons needed to fight his civil war. The factories and markets had been largely reduced to rubble. The farmers have fled their fields for refugee camps. So Assad turned to the manufacture of drugs.

More specifically, a synthetic amphetamine called captagon which is also known as fenethylline. The drug was first developed in the US in 1961 and given to soldiers in Vietnam to help their combat performance. But by the 1980s the dangerous side effects had become known and the amphetamine was banned.

The Syrian captagon is a super-charged version of the 1960s amphetamine. It is highly addictive and causes irreversible damage to the brain’s circuits that govern impulse control and judgement. It basically takes away the ability to reason or think rationally.

This was the perfect drug for ISIS who have bought in large quantities from Syrian dealers in order to turn their fighters into a cross between screaming banshees and mindless zombies.

In recent years the market in the drug has expanded from ISIS fighters to include upper the young social elite in Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Recently a cache of 157 million tablets was found in shipment of flour bound for Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf States have been unable to stop their young people popping the Syrian-produced pills. So, they swallowed their pride and re-admitted Assad to the Arab fold in the hope that they can persuade him to shut down to the captagon labs.

Turkish elections

It looks bad for Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the second round of the Turkish elections on 28 May. Opinion polls predicted that he would top the three-man race last Sunday and possibly even win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to topple 20-year incumbent Tayyip Recep Erdogan in the first round.

The opinion polls were wrong. It was Erdogan who came out on top with 49.4 percent of the vote. Kilicdaroglu won 44.9 percent. Ultra nationalist Sinan Ogan secured five percent and his voters are more likely to back Erdogan than Kilicdaroglu in the second round.

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Observations of an ex pat: US Debt crisis

The US Congress and the Biden Administration are playing a dangerous game of chicken with the world economy.

Failure to raise the government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling by early June would lead to a default on the US debt with car crash results for the US and world.

Respected economists Joseph Bruselas and Tuan Nguyen reckon that an “actual default” would lead to US unemployment soaring from 3.4 percent to 12 percent; inflation rising to over 10 percent and the American economy contracting by 11 percent.

Interest rates would rise affecting household and business borrowings. America’s credit rating would be downgraded which would hit the value of the dollar. And since 70 percent of the world’s trade is conducted in dollars, the cost of everything would increase everywhere.

The saying goes that when America sneezes the rest of the world catches cold. The US is the world’s biggest importer of foreign goods and many countries are heavily dependent on the US market for their economic survival.

America swallows 20.6 percent of British exports, 19.2 percent of the European Union; 18.2 percent of Japan’s; 17.9 percent of Indian exports and a whopping 73.25 percent of Canadian exported goods and services.

Any repercussions will almost also include less predictable political and security implications. Empty stomachs create political instability which in turn lead to simple solution promises from the far left or right. They also create openings for autocracies such as China, Russia and Iran.

On Wednesday Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said there could be “an agreement in principle” by this weekend to raise the “or suspend” the debt ceiling. He added that this could clear the way for a vote in the House next week. President Biden meanwhile is cutting short an Asia-Pacific tour to return for more talks.

McCarthy’s assurances, however, are suspect because of his lack of control of far-right Republican congressmen. To start negotiations, McCarthy required a vote on a proposal that would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion contingent on federal government savings of $4.8 trillion. It passed by the narrowest of margins: 217 to 215 votes. Four Republican congressmen voted against and have made it clear that if McCarthy tries to force through anything which does not include big cuts in welfare spending then they will vote him out of the Speaker’s chair and force a default.

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Tom Arms’ World Review


Pakistan is a nuclear power with an estimated 165 nuclear warheads and bombers and missiles to deliver them. This is important to remember as the country slides into political, economic and social chaos. Also remember that Pashtos are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan (18 percent) and the largest (42 percent) in neighbouring Islamic fundamentalist Afghanistan.

Mustn’t forget either that Pakistan’s Pashto community are supporters of the Taliban and that Al Qaeeda and ISIS are re-establishing bases in that benighted and dangerously unstable Afghanistan. Then there is also the fact there have been 434 terrorist attacks in Pakistan this year, the majority by Islamic fundamentalists with links to groups based in on the western side of the Hindu Kush.

Another concern is that China holds 30 percent of Pakistan’s $100 billion debt. The country’s foreign reserves have virtually disappeared to pay for oil imports. General inflation is running at 34 percent and food prices are soaring at an estimated 50 percent.

Finally, Pakistan’s army and intelligence community pull the country’s political strings. Politicians cannot stay in office without their support. Which is big part of Imran Khan’s problems.

He had the military’s support when he became prime minister in 2018 at the head of a coalition. But the former international cricket star was the wrong person to head a coalition. Khan is used to giving orders rather than compromising, and was soon publicly attacking his coalition partners. But the final straw came when he began toying with the idea of curbing the power of the military.

Last April, Khan lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence. He rejected it and has refused to resign. In response the succeeding government has charged him with more than 100 offenses ranging from fraud to blasphemy. It should be said that this is standard political practice in Pakistan. The successor prime minister to Khan – Shehbaz Shaif – was released on bail for corruption charges to enable him to lead the government.

The 232 million Pakistanis have meanwhile split between pro and anti-Imran Khan Factions with the military leading the anti-faction. Riots and demonstrations have become a daily feature of life in Pakistan.


The much anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive remains much anticipated. The promised 230 Western tanks have arrived as well as 1,500 armoured vehicles. An estimated 60,000 Ukrainian troops appear to be ready to attack. The assault could literally be launched any day.

The most likely battle site is in the south around Kherson. A strike there could sever the land bridge between the Russian forces in Crimea and the Donbas Region.  The problem with that plan is that the Russians have constructed one of the most elaborate defensive systems ever seen. The Ukrainians could end up hurling themselves against a 160 mile long Russian brick wall off trenches, mines, anti-tank traps and razor wire.

They could suffer the same fate that has befallen the Russian Wagner Group in their months’ long attempt to capture Bakhmut. Russians casualties in Bakhmut are estimated by Western intelligence to be as high 60,000 with 20,000 of them being fatal. The town has been reduced to an unrecognisable pile of rubble.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigorzhin blames the failure of his prison-recruited force on the official military’s refusal to provide his convicts with enough ammunition. He has even released an expletive-laden diatribe attacking Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of the armed forces, Valery Gerasimov.

Prigorzhin is probably right. The Russians are reported to be low on ammunition and the official military establishment wants to husband its resources for the coming Ukrainian counter offensive. But the row between the Wagner Group exposes a deep division and absence of a clear command structure within the Russian military establishment. This can only benefit the Ukrainians when they finally launch their much anticipated assault.

Northern Ireland

There was really nothing new in the substance of Biden’s remarks this week about Northern Ireland. What was new and unfortunate was the language he used.

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Observations of an expat: Trump

Americans are divided as to whether this has been a good, bad or pretty much the same as always week for Donald Trump.

The ex-president is now legally stigmatised as a sex abuser. Journalist E. Jean Carroll also managed to legally out him as a serial liar. Of course, most people have for years regarded Trump as a lying sex pest, but it is another matter having it unanimously confirmed by a courtroom jury of your peers.

The Trump sex abuse trial was quickly followed by a CNN-organised town hall meeting in New Hampshire where the former president continued to defame Ms Carroll (which may end up costing him even more money). He also refused to back Ukraine and said he would end the war in 24 hours; plunge the world into economic chaos rather than raise the US debt ceiling; would pardon most of the January 6 Capitol Hill rioters and, of course, claimed that he won the 2020 presidential election race.

Anyone who disagrees with him continues to be a nasty, lying peddler of fake news.

So what impact will all the above have on Trump’s bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and a possible Trump-Biden re-run in 2024. I put that and several other questions to my podcast co-host Lockwood Phillips. You can listen to his replies on TransAtlantic Riff at

Lockwood, I should add is a Trump-supporting conservative Republican. He reckoned that this week’s events will have no impact on Trump’s election chances. His base and position within the Republican Party is secure and Biden’s unpopularity will sweep the ex-president back into the White House.

Lockwood is representative of a Trump supp0rter. But not all conservative Americans. Others whom I canvassed were adamant that they voted for him in the past but would never cast their ballot for him again.

One senior Trump-appointed official told me: “Trump will be toast by the time the primaries actually take place… still more legal shoes will drop…. He is a dead man walking.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review


The advisers to King Charles III have scored an own goal on the eve of his coronation.

The crowning of a new monarch is the obvious opportunity for the British public – and the Commonwealth – to re-examine their monarchical v republican sympathies. And the resultant opinion polls make grim reading for King Charles III and his “heirs and successors.”

A YouGov poll for the BBC this week showed that a majority of the British public – 58 percent – supported the monarchy. However, among 18-24 year olds the figure was only 32 percent.

King Charles is also head of the Commonwealth and head of state in 15 Commonwealth countries. A straw poll of the 15 indicates that almost all of them are likely to become republics during the coming reign. As for the head of the Commonwealth, that is an elected position and Charles had to campaign hard to succeed his mother in the role.

In the midst of this monarchical uncertainty, Buckingham Palace (or possibly the Archbishop of Canterbury) has dramatically changed a key part of the coronation ceremony and in doing so alienated millions. The king’s subjects watching the ceremony on television are being asked to stand and swear “that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty and to your heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.”

I have no problem with this because I separate the person from the institution. To my mind the monarch is the physical repository of British history, tradition, culture and law. Swearing allegiance to him (or her) is a bit like Americans swearing allegiance to the Star Spangled Banner.

But most people fail to see this distinction, and the wording of the oath does not help.  They don’t go beyond the person, whose faults include committing adultery against the glamorous and much loved Diana. They may support the monarchy but not necessarily the monarch and resent being asked to do so.


France appears to have a self-image problem. It also has a problem with economic realities, political crises and their relationship with their president.

This week the annual May Day parade descended into riots which in turn led to accusations of heavy-handed police tactics. Another general strike (which probably means more riots) has been scheduled for 6 June.

The immediate cause of the general discontent is President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to a decree that raised the pension age from 62 to 64. The rise made was backed by sound economic reasoning and undermined by poor political logic and tactics.

The row over the pension age was the straw that broke the back of the French body politic. Voters have been disturbed for some time by Macron’s tendency to do what he thinks best with scant regard for the views of his fellow Frenchmen.

This week the French president has been on a countrywide tour to try to explain his pension policies. It is too little too late. Almost everywhere he has gone his speeches have been drowned out by the angry banging of pots and pans.

On top of that, a recent survey exposed an underlying French discontent with their lot in life.  The poll revealed that 67 percent believe that France ranks with the United States in social and economic inequality. The United States is 71st out of 169 countries with 169 being the least equal. France is 6th, just below the Scandinavians.

Discontent has political consequences. It feeds populist politicians who promise simple solutions to complex problems.  A poll last month by the Elabe Group for BFM TV revealed that if a presidential election was held then it would be won by Marine Le Pen, leader of the Far Right National Rally. She would, according to the survey, garner 55 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for Macron.

Marine Le Pen has already announced that she will stand again for the presidency in 2027. Macron is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term. His greatest fear is that he will be known as the president who paved the way for Marine Le Pen entering the Elysee Palace.


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