Tag Archives: russia

Britain faces a new global alliance

Next month there are planned peace talks with the Taliban … in Moscow, with the support of China.

This is a small symptom of the biggest tectonic shift in political alliances for more than 70 years. UK Liberal Democrats will be ahead of the curve if they appreciate the significance of this shift and have an opinion on the UK’s response.

As China reaches the point when its economy becomes the world’s largest, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is pressing ahead with his ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. This is the new Silk Road from China to Europe across the land mass. Unlike the old Silk Road, this time it comes with vast Chinese investments in the countries involved, as China seeks global influence and new places to put its cash resources. There is a maritime equivalent; the ‘String of Pearls’, as China takes over ports at strategic points from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Djibouti and Greece

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Observations of an ex pat: Iranian ripples

Donald Trump has dropped a massive boulder in the world’s diplomatic pond. Its ripples will be felt in every corner of the globe and in some cases the ripples could quickly grow  to tsunami proportions.

Let’s start with the epicentre– the Middle East. The region is already peppered with smouldering short fuses: The Arab-Israeli conflict; Syrian civil war; Yemeni civil war; Turks v. Kurd; Qataris v Saudis and Emirates; Saudis v. Iran; The Russian presence; threatened American withdrawal; Hezbollah… .

The Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Consultative Plan of Action) was one of the region’s few diplomatic success stories—albeit a limited one.

Since President Trump announced American withdrawal from the Accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has announced that his country will resume work on building a nuclear weapon.

In return, Israel has bombed an Iranian base outside Damascus; announced the preparation of bomb shelters; called up reservists for air defence, intelligence and home front command units and deployed missile defence batteries in Northern Israel.

Iran’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Mohamed Bagheri, warned: “If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts even a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time.”

Back in Washington they are celebrating. Not the problems in the Middle East, but the release of three American citizens from North Korean prison.  President Trump hailed the release as a diplomatic triumph for his administration and the best of auguries for his forthcoming summit with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un.

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Moldova: on the edge of the Union, looking in…

The expansion of the European Union over the past two decades seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being, leaving the countries of the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region in a position of being accession candidates without much prospect of actual accession any time soon. It was with this in mind that I set off to find out about the situation in Moldova last week.

Moldova is a country with a unique set of challenges. First of these is its frozen conflict on the River Dnieper, where the predominantly Russian population fought, and won, …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 1 Comment

Welcome to my day: 19 March 2018 – the chilly breeze of reality…

Another difficult weekend of cold weather over, it’s time for me to return to my editorial duties for another week, on the 739th anniversary of the Mongolian victory at the naval Battle of Yamen, which ended the Song Dynasty in China. Also, on this day in 1628, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was granted land for settlement.

Admittedly, this isn’t quite as much of a challenge as it might be, because the stocks of submitted articles are close to non-existent. However, we do have a report from Chris Bowers on the “Reclaiming Liberalism” fringe at last weekend’s Federal Conference, challenging you all …

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Brake: UK must build coalition to end Putin’s murderous adventurism

It’s a shame we’re on the way out of a strong international institution just at the time people are carrying out state sponsored executions with military grade nerve agents in our quiet pizza restaurants.

Tonight, we’ve called for a series of sanctions against Russia in the wake of their alleged attack on British citizens.

We agree with the government that Russia is either directly or indirectly complicit in the attack and suggest five things we could do:

  • Boycott the World Cup in Russia and finding an alternative venue.
  • Seize the UK-based assets of those implicated in this attack, and previous attacks through the creation of a UK Magnitsky Act
  • Introduce travel bans for top Russian officials
  • Suspend arms sales to Russia
  • Ensure that the forthcoming register of beneficial ownership trusts is publicly accessible.

Tom Brake gave some advice to the Government and had a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn too:

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I hope the Russians love their children too

As I made my way to work I noticed an increased police presence on the Moscow Metro on that frosty April 3rd. A football match? Arriving there, I saw my Russian colleagues scrambling for their phones to call relatives in St Petersburg. A 22 year Kyrgyz-Russian Islamist had unleashed an improvised suicide bomb on a metro carriage near Sennaya Ploshad. The death toll has now come to fifteen, with forty-nine people injured.

When in November two years back terrorists laid siege to a night club in Paris, Muscovites lit up their Ostankino Radio tower in the French tricolour to express shared humanity; when St Petersburg’s atrocity occurred the Eiffel tower did not display the white-blue-red colours of the flag of the Russian Federation. Indeed, when there came a terrible, but less dramatic, attack in Stockholm four days later Russia’s loss seemed to become forgotten by the Western media.

Meanwhile the U.K seems intent on becoming what George Eaton, in the New Statesman, calls `Russia’s greatest foe`. The Tory government has sent out 800 troops and long-range missiles to Estonia. May, meanwhile, has discouraged M.Ps from attending Anglo-Russian parliamentary groups on grounds of the `security risk` (N.S, 11/4/17). Johnson – who Corbyn was right to call a `cold war warrior`- has reneged on a scheduled diplomacy mission to the Kremlin. This is at the same time that May is going cap in hand to the Saudis for trade deals!

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Yabloko: Keeping Russia’s Liberal flame alight

Last September an all too rare event could be seen at the exits of some Moscow metro stations: young people were dishing out leaflets in a campaign for candidates in the municipal elections of that year. They stood before stalls and banners emblazoned with a green circle intersected by a red wedge: the emblem of the Russian United Democratic Party – Yabloko.

Whilst ever more stereotyped as a `centre of illiberalism`, the Russian Federation can boast its own liberal heritage – and one that culminated in the short-lived provisional government of early 1917. Yabloko might be viewed as the contemporary legal and constitutional heir to that facet of Russian history.

Yabloko (`apple`) emerged in 1993 and became an official political party eight years later. They adopted a unique stance of supporting the post-Soviet democratic reforms yet criticising Yeltsin’s authoritarianism and his so called `shock therapy` privatisation drive. Without doubt, they are something of a voice in the wilderness in the climate of sociocultural conservatism in Russian society.

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A new propaganda

Very nearly every political movement since the late 18th century has its roots in the enlightenment, from American constitutionalism to the rational imperialism of Napoleon. It is hard to overstate its influence on every strand of modern political thought, from conservatism to socialism to liberalism. All built on this revelation: that facts matter more than faith, and reason is greater than fear.

The fascism of Italy, that spread like wildfire across Europe and then the rest of the world, was not built on the foundations of the enlightenment. It was instead a rejection of the values espoused by it, a direct reaction to reason and humanism. Fascism dictates that acting as one is more important than what is actually true, and that the truth dictated by those in power is supreme to any other, no matter what evidence might say. As Sartre said: “ have chosen hate because hate is a faith to them; at the outset they have chosen to devalue words and reasons.”

I recently finished reading Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev, a harrowing account of the post-Soviet media under Putin’s regime. He describes how the propaganda under Putin, like that of the Nazi Party and the Italian Fascists before it, works not by espousing a single version of the truth, but by undermining the very concept of truth. It calls into doubt all sources, until the public believes none, and instead sees all truth merely as an act of faith. Evidence is not of intrinsic worth in a such an environment, but is instead perceived to be a rhetorical tool like any other.

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Observations of an ex pat: Tough for Trump

Donald Trump is in a no-win situation as regards  Russian hacking vs. American intelligence agencies vs Donald Trump.

Putin, as we all know by now, has been accused by all the American intelligence agencies (and several foreign ones) of hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and leaking the contents to help Trump win the US presidency.

The Russian President has denied this as he has denied many other misdeeds. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, he channel for the leaks, has backed him up. So has Donald Trump.

On the other side of the fence are, not surprisingly, a Democratic Party in search of a scapegoat to explain the inexplicable and America’s spy nerds.

Trump can’t really say that he agrees with the intelligence agencies. To do so would leave him branded as Putin’s poodle and undermine his mandate to govern. 

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Aleppo must be a wake up call

Amid the humanitarian catastrophe that has been the siege and fall of Aleppo, both supporters and opponents of earlier calls for military action by the West against Assad have been claiming vindication by events. Perhaps some are relieved that the TV pictures of bloodied children in rubble can be attributed to Russian bombs rather than Western ones.

And perhaps we are guilty – as the EU is supposedly guilty of welcoming closer ties with Ukraine – of seeing a potential for good in the Arab Spring. Torment nobody with the promise of freedom and democracy unless you can deliver it, at gunpoint if necessary? Don’t start a civil war you can’t win, however bad your government?

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Lib Dem peer takes part in World War Three

Kishwer Falkner has taken part in a gripping and chillingly realistic BBC Two TV programme.

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‘Iraq 2’. Why the Lib Dem’s Syria conflict position in parliament is militarily and politically unwise

On Tuesday, Tim Farron expressed the party’s position on the coming ‘Syria conflict’ vote in parliament in a letter to PM David Cameron.

It set out five conditions for Lib Dem support for an escalation of British involvement in Syria. It will no doubt be taken by the UK government as conditions for Lib Dem support for a general major escalation.

The first ‘condition’ was that military action against Islamic State in Syria should follow international law. The letter expressed acceptance of UN Resolution 2249. This UN resolution however does not authorise actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force generally against IS in Syria or in Iraq. It only supports states in doing what they are already doing under existing international laws, specifically on IS-held territory. As such this supports existing Russian and Iranian military involvement as much as existing Western involvement.

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Hawks and doves: equidistant foreign policy?

Five years ago, the Liberal Democrats held the centre ground in the coalition formation negotiations between left and right. Equidistance is a loaded word, one that cynics will laugh at as vacuous. However, five years later, neither of the two main parties seem sufficiently interested in foreign affairs.

This party could be equidistant between doves and hawks in foreign policy. To illustrate the dove-hawk twin hybrid, below are three examples. I am not necessarily endorsing the following as solutions and they are not exhaustive in terms of detail. They are merely prompts for a debate.

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Russia, ISIS, globalisation and the EU – Norman and Tim answer foreign affairs questions

LDV recently put some questions on foreign affairs to the two leadership contenders. Here are their responses.

1. Can you summarise in around 100 words what a liberal foreign policy looks like in your view?

Tim Farron:

Liberals are proud and passionate internationalists because we believe in the rights of all people – no matter what they look like, what they believe or where they are – to live in peace, free from poverty, ignorance and conformity. We understand that only by working with other countries through strong international institutions can we make that a reality and build a fairer, greener, freer world.

It is in neither Britain’s interests nor the world’s to close ourselves off, but also that intervention abroad must be rooted in international law, decided through international institutions and clearly justified on humanitarian grounds.

Norman Lamb:

Our Party is proudly internationalist. Our leaders have often been lone voices, Paddy demanding rights for British citizens from Hong Kong, Charles opposing the Iraq War, Nick in taking on Nigel Farage‎

I share these courageous liberal values‎. Liberal values are universal – they do not respect borders.

For me Britain should play a global role and prompt Europe to do more for peace, in tackling poverty and climate change, and in standing up to oppression.

We must also be able to defend those who need our protection, our allies, and ourselves. Enduring adequate funding for our armed forces means debating Trident’s future when our world is far more threatened by terrorists and cyber attacks than by nuclear war, and pursuing reform to make sure our forces are effective and efficient.

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The Liberals Putin can’t bear to have in Russia

I was very amused by this tweet from former Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Edward McMillan-Scott.

If you look at the list, you’ll see that Edward, who was a powerful voice for human rights in the European Parliament, is viewed as more dangerous than Sir Malcolm Rifkind who was chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Edward is at 45 and Rifkind is 16 places further down at 61. It shows off your values when you are more horrified by people who want your citizens to have rights than someone who’s scrutinising the people who might be spying on you.

Edward is not the only dangerous liberal on that list, though:

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A foreign-policy-free election?

RAF lightning II aircraft photo by defence imagesFor all its crudeness, the barrel bomb has to be one of the most brutally effective weapons around. An old oil drum, filled with that now all too familiar combination of explosives and steel detritus, dropped onto its fuse-laden nose from a helicopter, it seems, kills and maims in just the right proportions to terrorise those left behind.

It is little wonder, then, that the barrel bomb is Bashar al-Assad’s weapon of choice in his effort to wear down those parts of Syria with the impudence to have thought they could do better. It tells you all you need to know about the man that, having discovered that the wretched things seem to be particularly effective when aimed at young children, the regime, like so many despots before, has found schools to be an especially desirable target.

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Opinion: Liberals must stand up to Russia over Ukraine

The weekend after the party gathered in Liverpool, Liberal Youth gathered in Leeds for our spring conference. There was plenty of campaigning, socialising and of course stimulating debates on policy. Stuart Wheatcroft has already written an excellent summary of the motion we debated and voted for on Ambitious Liberalism; for my part, I submitted a motion on Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

In writing this motion, I aimed to cover the two principal reasons I believe any self-respecting Liberal must stand against what Russia is doing in the region. Firstly, they are attempting to forcibly thwart the will of the Ukrainian people. When the Ukrainian people expressed a desire to look to the EU, they did not at the same time express a desire to go to war with Russia. They are seeking a better life; one bounded by democratic accountable institutions – the same promise extended by the EU to the former Warsaw Pact countries. In attempting to smear the Kiev government as a group of “fascists” as well as sending troops to occupy portions of Ukraine, Russia has attempted to corral the Ukrainian people into giving up these hopes for a brighter future.

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Opinion: All for one and one for all

flag-russiaRussia has been busy in the Baltic recently – they have been harassing their neighbours and it seems to me they are acting as if the Baltic is their ‘mare nostrum’ as it were. The Polish Defence minister noted that Sweden seems to be the main object of Russian attention.

How do we help Sweden, and Finland for that matter? Finland and Sweden are in a slightly odd position – they are members of the EU but not members of NATO. In the Cold War they were ‘neutral’ but whatever that meant then it means even less now. What does Britain and other EU/NATO countries do if Finland and Sweden are threatened or even attacked by Russia? Finland and Sweden not being in NATO, Britain is not bound by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all) but it seems inconceivable that we would stand idly by if these two countries were in danger.

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: We must embrace Putin to beat Islamic State

Paddy Ashdown has been writing in the Times about the need to get Russia onside in the fight against Islamic State.

Russia has so far been excluded from our coalition that is fighting Islamic State (Isis). Why? It has a dog in this fight, too — arguably a much bigger one than we have. Sunni jihadism is roaring away in the Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, almost as much as in Iraq and Syria. We in Europe may be concerned about jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is one of the battlefields.

Washington friends tell me that the reason for this reluctance to draw in Russia is the personal animus between presidents Putin and Obama. If so, get over it. A wider coalition that includes the Russians, actively or passively, could open the way to a UN security council resolution, provide the best means of limiting the spread of the crisis and vastly enhance our horsepower in resolving it.

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Actually, this having the World Cup in England might be a good idea

I am not a huge football fan. Unless it involves Inverness Caledonian Thistle, I really don’t care and even then it’s more of a spiritual thing. I don’t actually need to watch 22 men kick the bag of wind around the field. But my antipathy to the game wasn’t the only reason my heart sank when I saw the new Liberal Democrat campaign, “Bring the 2018 World Cup to England” this morning.

Certainly, having just had a month of nothing but football anywhere, I was screaming for respite. It’s bad enough on the other side of the world but if …

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A longer read for the weekend… Edward Lucas on the threat posed to peace by Russia and what the West should do about it

edward lucasEdward Lucas worked for Paddy Ashdown, has helped at by-elections, and was active in the National League of Young Liberals (NLYL) and the Union of Liberal Students (ULS). He’s better known, though, for being a senior editor at The Economist and an expert on energy, cyber-security, espionage, Russian foreign and security policy and the politics and economics of Eastern Europe. In 2008 he wrote The New Cold War, a prescient account of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In 2011 he wrote Deception, an investigative account of east-west espionage. And earlier …

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott: EU values are in stark contrast to Putin’s

European FlagLiberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Edward McMilan-Scott, who is also the European Parliament’s Vice President for Human Rights, has been writing in the Yorkshire Post about the contest between the values of the EU and those of Vladimir Putin. The EU is built on democracy and liberal values while Putin seeks to build a Eurasian alliance built on homophobia and nationalism.

To understand what is happening in the Ukraine, we have to know something of President Putin’s Eurasian dream that is steering events. This involves the

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Opinion: Russia and the Great Illusion

imageIn 1910, British journalist Norman Angell published “The Great Illusion”, arguing that the integration of the global economy was so all-embracing and irreversible that future wars were all but impossible. Released shortly before the outbreak of the Great War, the idea that humans had outgrown their propensity to mass slaughter did not stand the test of time for long.

We face today a similar dichotomy in Putin’s Russia. Europe and Russia are intertwined in mutual trade dependency and the major oil companies – BP and Shell among them – are increasing …

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Clegg slams Farage over “extreme” and “utterly grotesque” Putin comments

Nigel Farage MEPMost Liberals would have been choking into their Corn Flakes this morning upon reading that Vladimir Putin, who apparently has designs on Finland, is the object of Nigel Farage’s admiration.

I just think it is utterly grotesque that Nigel Farage apparently admires – and that was the question to him, ‘Who do you admire?’ – admires someone, Vladimir Putin, who has been the chief sponsor and protector of one of the most brutal dictators on the face of the planet, President Assad, who has blocked at every single

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Opinion: Ukraine – Next Steps

ukraineAn international affairs policy wonk could be forgiven for thinking that April Fools’ Day had come early. After all, the last 72 hours have seen the Russian Federation occupy Ukraine’s Crimea, and apparently threaten to attack Ukrainian forces in Crimea if they don’t surrender. Such an action is in direct violation of the 1994 Bucharest Memorandum, the OSCE’s Helsinki Final Act, and Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.

The use of force without the explicit authorisation of the UN Security Council has a very specific name: aggression. The Nuremburg Tribunal described aggression as the “supreme international crime”: aggression starts wars, destroys lives and is a visceral attack on the international rule of law.

Simply, aggression is international gangsterism of the highest order.

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott MEP: Cameron’s EU policy plays into Putin’s hands

Edward McMillan Scott, Vice President of the European Parliament with responsibility for human rights and democracy has been writing about how David Cameron’s European policy has enabled Russia’s President Putin to develop his strategy for a Eurasian Union based on illiberal and anti-democratic values.

He opens by outlining the problems faced by Angela Merkel with the rise of the eurosceptic right wing AFD:

Events in Ukraine may still overshadow Thursday’s trip to London by Angela Merkel, during which David Cameron will seek her support for EU reform.  She will not be pleased that Cameron has allowed his Eurosceptics to continue talks with

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott MEP: Tories are playing into Putin’s hands in high stakes game

Edward McMillan ScottYorkshire and the Humber MEP Edward McMillan-Scott has a longstanding interest in human rights. He’s travelled all over the world to make the case to governments who don’t respect their citizens’ freedoms. He’s understandably not wildly chuffed about the Winter Olympics taking place in Sochi and how this might fuel Putin’s ambitions. He explained why in the Yorkshire Post.

Putin has international ambitions for Russia: this is the new Great Game, the 19th century strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Eurasia.

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Call Clegg: On the Somerset floods and Sochi

Nick Clegg LBC squareOn his weekly phone-in today on LBC, Nick was asked what the Government was going to do to help gay people in Russia, in the light of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. This is what he said:

I am appalled as you are about this law in Russia. It’s just the most regressive law imaginable, it has a very chilling effect, intimidating effect, on many people in the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay community in Russia and elsewhere.

I’m not in favour of sports boycotts, in fact I’m  a big fan of winter sports. We’ll be cheering our athletes as much as anyone else when watching the Sochi games, but I am not going to go and I certainly wouldn’t want any Liberal Democrat minister to go there given the strength of feeling in my party, and I feel this very strongly as well, that what Russia has done, on that legislation, is just plain wrong.

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LibLink | Nick Clegg: Celebrate Pride but don’t forget the countries that discriminate against LGBT people

lds_prideNick Clegg has an article over at PinkNews.co.uk, in which he highlights how the forthcoming same-sex marriage legislation means this weekend’s Pride in London celebrations will be a “landmark” event. However, he contrasts the strides of progress made here with continuing repression against LGBT people around the world. Here’s an excerpt:

Civil partnerships were a huge stride forward, but only the right to marry – if you choose – is real equality. This isn’t just a ‘gay issue’. It’s about the kind of society we want to be.

This year we are flying

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Opinion: Support for emerging democracies – we’ll do it our way

Speaking at the recent Munich Security Conference, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said “Americans and Europeans must send a clear and common message to despots that they must respect the rights of their people….America and Europe stand shoulder to shoulder.”

However, the UK role in encouraging emerging democracies must be determined through a process of working closer with the EU and by identifying limited areas in which tangible gains can be made through shared resources. That is to say that we do what we can with our European partners to achieve the best results within our areas of influence. Continually …

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