Tag Archives: russia

Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29th May 2022

The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil and gas. It may not happen. Decisions have to be unanimous. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has signalled that he will block the move.

Hungary is dependent on Russian fossil fuels for 100 percent of its energy needs. These can only be delivered by pipelines because Hungary is landlocked. All the pipelines run from Russia. The other EU countries have offered to give Hungary a two-year grace period to find alternative sources. But Orban maintains that he has no alternatives and that stopping imports of Russian gas would destroy the Hungarian economy.

At the same time, the newly re-elected Hungarian leader has used the war in Ukraine to declare a state of emergency which allows him to effectively rule by decree.  Orban claims that the Ukraine war “represents a constant threat to Hungary.” He has already used his new powers to impose fresh taxes to finance an increase in defence spending. Many fear that Orban will abuse the state of emergency to bypass parliament and suppress critics. He is already under attack from Brussels for damaging Hungary’s democratic institutions and the EU is threatening to withhold development funds because of that and allegations of corruption. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Hungary was already no longer free, now it is no longer a democracy”.

With all this talk about Taiwan and ambiguous or clear US policies on the issue of whether or not to defend the island, one thing has been slightly overlooked – chips. To be precise advanced semi-conductor computer chips. Taiwan produces 92 percent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor computer chips. The remaining eight percent come from South Korea. These tiny electrical conductors are to technology what oil and gas are to industry and transport. Without them our computer-dependent world would come to a sudden halt.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Russians have changed generals as well as shifting the focus of their attack from the north to the east and south. The new man is Lt. General Alexander Dvornikov, aka “the butcher”, a title he earned for his merciless bombardments in the Second Chechen War and Syria. In the first he levelled Grozny and the second left Aleppo a smouldering ruin whose streets were littered with the bodies of civilians. General Dvornikov is wanted for alleged war crimes in Syria and has been blacklisted by the EU.  Vladimir Putin has awarded him with the Hero of Russia medal.

Dvornikov’s appointment also signals a change in strategy. Previously, daily operations were directed from military headquarters in Moscow. Dvornikov, who has been in Eastern Ukraine for the past two years, is expected to have much more control. His experience is with mechanised artillery units and the terrain of Eastern Ukraine is more suited to his tactics. The north and west of the country is heavily-forested. The south and east is the breadbasket of Europe with wide open plains resembling the American Midwest. His problem is that the Ukrainian military have prepared for his attack with trenches and anti-tank traps. He should also bear in mind that being a general in the Russian army is a dangerous job. The Ukrainians have killed eight so far.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Vladimir Putin is resorting to the tactics of the man whom he has repeatedly said he admires – Joseph Stalin. The Soviet dictator used a combination of fear, the media, the police and repression to ensure adherence to his policies. Putin is doing the same. The enemy, according to Putin and Russian television, is no longer Neo-Nazis in Kyiv. It is the West “attempting to destroy Mother Russia.” Ukrainians are no longer fellow Slavs awaiting liberation, they are “traitors who deserve only to be ground into the dust.”

Also guilty of treason, is anyone who disseminates “fake news” about the “special military operation” in Ukraine (“fake news” is defined as anything other than news that originates in the Kremlin). So far 15,000 people have been arrested for refusing to toe the Putin line. They face up to 15 years in prison.  To further keep the lid on the dissidents, authorities are encouraging family, neighbours and friends to inform on each other – another Stalinist tactic.

For the moment the strategy is working. Vladimir Putin appears to have the overwhelming support of the Russian public. This may change with a worsening of the economic situation. When Western sanctions were initially imposed the rouble nose-dived and overnight the savings of millions of Russians were wiped out. Since then the central bank has intervened, buying roubles from its reserves. This has blunted the effect of the sanctions and stabilised the currency, but the head of the central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, has warned that this policy is unsustainable beyond the short term. But no matter, President Putin, has decided he wants a result by the 9th of May, the anniversary of the end of World War Two, which means that eastern Ukraine can expect a rough next few weeks.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: “Butchers of Bucha”

Here’s a good one: In the wake of the Bucha massacres, a Russia Today commentator opined this week that the dead Ukrainians littering the street were killed by British intelligence because Bucha sounds like butcher in English. This made it easier, he continued, for British newspapers to write headlines such as the “Butchers of Bucha.”

How SIS and/or British troops managed to sneak undetected into Bucha, blow up homes, tanks and roads and kill the inhabitants is left unexplained. But that is of no consequence.  The problem is that too many Russians believe him. In fact, what passes for a reasonably independent opinion poll in Russia this week showed that 80 percent of the population accept the Kremlin version of events. A big part of this support is because the Russian people are denied access to news reports produced from outside Russia.

But this is only part of the story. Putin knows that domestic support is essential for success in Ukraine and he has been laying down the foundational lies since 2007—perhaps even before. These included: Ukraine is governed by Nazis. NATO is threatening to overrun Russia. Russian culture is under threat from the West. Russia is being denied its rightful place as a great power. With this firm propaganda bedrock in place – and total state control of the media – it becomes easier for the Russian public to swallow the inevitable mountain of lies that follow.

It is unsurprising that Russian soldiers are being accused of violent war crimes. Violence begets violence and Russia, according to their own statistics, is a violent society. Russian police have reported that one in four Russian households have suffered domestic violence at some point. The figures are considered a major embarrassment, so much so that the Duma recently voted to massage the statistics by decriminalising several categories of domestic violence in an attempt to improve the national image.

The roots of the problem are directly linked to chronic national alcoholism.  Twenty-five percent of Russian men die before the age of 55 alcohol-related diseases. On average, each Russian downs 1,500 shots of vodka a year. Various governments over the years have tried to curb Russians’ love affair with the bottle. The latest attempt was in 2010 when President Dmitri Medvedev introduced a minimum charge of $3 a bottle of vodka and banned drinking and driving. The legislation, however, appears to have little effect on drinking habits and recently the Kremlin gave into public pressure and amended the drink driving law to allow “one for the road.”

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How to help Ukraine Part 2 – Knit a Jumper

You can do it. You can hit the Russians where it hurts—in their pockets. Russian oil and gas is still flowing westward. This is because a strict embargo would hurt Europeans as much, if not more, than the Russians. Europe has to keep producing and trading to become Ukraine’s arsenal for democracy.

So the East-West energy trade has been compartmentalised—for now, and the money being paid for Russian fossil fuels is being used to buy artillery shells that kill Ukrainians.

The continued energy trade smacks of political and economic common sense. But that does not mean that individuals—YOU—cannot use your own initiative to reduce Russia’s income from oil and gas sales.

Cut your energy consumption. Wear an extra sweater and maybe even a heavy woollen scarf indoors. Ask Aunt Agatha to quickly knit you a jumper in the bright sky blue and sunshine yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag. Then put it on and turn down the thermostat.

But there is more. Stop baths. Take showers. Even better, shower with a friend or reduce the number of your showers and increase your usage of deodorant. You can be certain that a million-plus Ukrainian refugees are not showering twice a day, and they won’t be seeing a bath tub for the foreseeable future.

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Ukraine’s Chinese characteristics

Today’s FT headline reads “China offers role as peacemaker”. The article says more carefully “China signalled it was ready to play a role in finding a ceasefire in Ukraine…” But would it be a trusted impartial negotiator?

At the Olympic Games last month, Presidents Putin and Xi said that friendship between their countries had “no limits” and no “forbidden” areas of cooperation. Beijing has joined Moscow in opposing further NATO expansion.

Since then, even if Beijing has refused to term President Putin’s assault on Ukraine as an “invasion”, it has been profoundly uneasy about Russian recklessness.

Clearly this is because of China’s unequivocal stance on sovereignty and territorial integrity concerning Taiwan, used as an excuse as well to justify its claims in the South and East China Seas which they are asserting militarily.

Hence China’s abstentions at the UN Security Council twice on the invasion of Ukraine. And comments by China’s Foreign Policy Chief Wang Yi just before the invasion at the Munich Security Conference about the importance of maintaining territorial integrity “including Ukraine’s”.

China’s fence-sitting so far allows it to take advantage of the current situation where it can: the famous win-win situation quoted often by Chinese leaders which many interpret as China wanting to have it both or all ways.

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Davey: Use ‘oligarch tax’ to insulate the UK from Putin’s gas price spike

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has called for an ‘oligarch tax’ to offset increased gas prices at a time when households are already facing a cost of living crisis.

The Liberal Democrats said this would ensure that Putin’s cronies and Russian energy companies foot the bill for any gas price spike following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The oligarch tax would comprise of two elements:

  • Freezing and beginning the process of seizing the assets of Putin’s cronies who have money and property in the UK, using Unexplained Wealth Orders.
  • A windfall tax on oil and gas superprofits, including those of Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, whose trading arm is based in London. Gazprom recently announced a £179m dividend. This can then be used to reduce UK dependency on Russian gas.
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Absence of Gazprom and Rosneft from sanctions list is “elephant in the room”

Responding to the additional sanctions on Russian companies and individuals announced today by Boris Johnson, Liberal Democrat Leader and former Energy Secretary Ed Davey said:

The absence of Gazprom and Rosneft, part-owned by BP, in today’s sanctions list is the elephant in the room. The UK must do everything we can to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Russia’s state-owned oil and gas giants stand to profit from this war and soaring prices. We must start treating Putin’s Russia like the rogue state it is and immediately cut off UK investment in these firms.

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Ukraine: Live thread on the political reaction

You know things are bad when you wake in the early hours and hear the announcement on the BBC World Service that it is to broadcast rolling news from 4am. There is almost no space for other news items other than the situation in Ukraine.

As in the early days of any war, reports are partial, sometimes confused, sometimes contradictory and sometimes downright lies. This is war in Europe and the full impact of the conflict cannot yet be predicted.

We will be adding reactions from Lib Dems to the conflict throughout the day.

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Ed Davey on Ukraine: Freeze and seize assets of all Putin’s cronies in UK

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Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has today called on the government to freeze and begin seizing the assets of Putins’ cronies in the UK, as part of a tough package of measures responding to Russia sending troops into Ukraine.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced the government would be sanctioning just three Russian high net-worth individuals, falling way short of the number believed to be allied with Putin and holding assets in the UK.

Ed Davey has also backed a boycott of international sporting and cultural events hosted in Russia, starting with moving this year’s Champions League final from St Petersburg. The Liberal Democrats have written to the government asking them to prepare Wembley in the event of the final being moved.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said:

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Problem of Russia and Ukraine or anywhere inextricably linked to China

Vladimir Putin would not be poised to crush Ukraine without the tacit support of President Xi Jinping. He received it when he was one of a handful of heads of state who graced the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics with their presence.

The statement that followed their meeting pledged mutual protection and stressed their common interests (Taiwan and Ukraine). But it fell short of a blanket approval for a Russian invasion.

China has too much to lose if Russia invades Ukraine and destabilises Europe and the US. It has spent many billions on its Belt/Road initiative linking Chinese factories to European markets. It wants those pesky Europeans to be able to buy Chinese goods. Beijing also holds over a trillion dollars in American debt. Full-throated support for a Russian invasion of Ukraine would hit the value of the dollar and devalue that debt.

The Chinese are an autocracy. They don’t like democracies. They see them as a threat to their interests, values and the all-embracing Chinese Communist Party. But at the same time their growing stake in the success of the economies of the democratic West dictates caution and a long-term approach.

China is a challenge to the West. It is not an immediate threat.

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Davey: We need leaders who can act over energy supplies

Writing in today’s Times, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey says that Boris Johnson has spent much of the past two weeks shacked up in his parliamentary office pleading for his own skin. Meanwhile, one hundred thousand Russian troops have massed on Ukraine’s border threaten the largest military action in Europe since the Second World War. Telling the Tories they need to get a grip fast, he warns that the gas Russia supplies to Europe could fall by up to 30 per cent and that already high gas prices will treble or worse.

Liberal Democrats have called for a “Robin Hood tax” on the super-profits of oil and gas producers and traders, including Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

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Observations of an Expat: Ukraine and Geopolitics

Ukraine is now firmly on the East-West, US-Russian agenda. This is a victory for Vladimir Putin. He has proven that even though Russia’s GDP is $400 billion less than chaotic Italy it is still a Great Power who can flex its muscles and demand concessions from Super Power America.

But what are those concessions? Well the big one is, the US will not come to Ukraine’s aid with troops, missiles or drones if Russia attacks Ukraine.

That does not mean, however that President Joe Biden is giving Putin the green light to attack. No, he is threatening sanctions. And this time they appear to be more than the usual slap on the wrist.

The main threat is banning Russia from the Belgian-based SWIFT banking system which manages payments across international borders. This same sanction against Iran has resulted in a drop of 50 percent in their oil exports and 30 percent in their foreign trade.

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World Review: French elections, Barbados, Russian security pact, MI6 and abortion rights in America

The French Presidential elections are hotting up. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy this week. He is Euro-sceptic, virulently anti-immigrant and possibly the most anti-Semitic Jew in European politics. The 63-year-old journalist claims that he will save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority.” Zemmour is neck and neck with seasoned extreme right campaigner Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party. Which means that the extreme-right vote is split. The left-wing parties are in disarray and have been effectively written off by the French media in the April presidential elections.

On Sunday, primary elections for the Gaullist-oriented Les Republicains ends. There are five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valerie Pecresse. In the past Les Republicains were described as centre right. But no longer. Emmanuel Macron has stolen those clothes, especially the economic threads. In response, all five Les Republicains candidates have moved to the right with anti-immigration and Eurosceptic policies. All of the above is good news for Macron, who is staunchly pro-European and staying aloof from the immigration debate. Not that he is popular. His approval ratings have slipped from a high of 48 percent in 2017 to under 20 percent. But he stands alone in the winning circle of the centre/centre right. At this moment the betting is on Macron to win as the last man standing.

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Observations of an Expat: Two Step… One Step

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is indulging in that well-known two step, one step diplomatic dance. That is two steps forward. One step back.

Sometimes he throws his fellow Europeans off balance by taking a third step and half a step back, or he may refuse to move from his new position.

He prods and pushes, establishing new boundaries both physical and political. Using strategies developed as a high-flying KGB agent, Putin simply denies everything. It is all Western “balderdash,” he claims.

Belarus is a Russian satellite. Its Soviet-style dictator Alexander Lukashenko would hardly dare breathe without first seeking the approval of his Moscow mentor.

One of Putin’s main aims is to destabilise the EU. And it is no secret that the issue of migrant refugees from the Islamic world is a divisive and destabilising issue. The East European Visegrad 4 (which include Poland) are especially against it. So Lukashenko sent agents off to Syria, Turkey and Iraq to recruit thousands of refugees to press against the Polish border fence.

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Observations of an Expat: Belarus and State Sponsored Human Trafficking

Up to 20,000 Middle Eastern refugees are stuck in a narrow strip of no-man’s land as winter descends upon them. To the west—the dreamed of destination—is a razor wire fence and armed Polish guards. To the east are tens of thousands of armed Belarussian troops to prevent them from going back into Belarus proper.

These refugees have paid thousands of dollars to the agents of Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko who are scouring the Middle East in search of displaced persons in search of a better life in Europe.

They collect their money. Tell them they are going to the promised land of Germany. The refugees are then put on flights to Minsk from Damascus, Dubai or Istanbul. In the Belarussian capital they are met by armed guards who herd them into lorries that transport them to the border with Poland, Latvia or Lithuania. They are unloaded and told to march west. That is when the dream becomes a nightmare.

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World Review: COP26, French fishing, Taiwan territory and Russian gas

COP26 finished its first week with a super abundance of world leaders making a plethora of pledges about climate change. Deforestation is to end (except maybe in Indonesia). More money is to be made available for green technology in developing countries. Eighteen countries (most of them small) have agreed to move away from coal generated energy. Now the leaders have flown home in their gas guzzling carbon emitting private jets and left it to officials to hammer out the devilish details and attempt to wring out concessions from the biggest polluters, mainly China and India who together are responsible for over a third of the planet’s carbon emissions. On the latter point they will have a tough job. India refuses to commit to climate change targets until 2070 which most climatologists reckon is much too little much too late. China, for its part, is continuing to build and export electricity stations powered by its massive coal reserves. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon emissions are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, with India rising by 12.6% and China by 4% between 2020 and 2021. The climate watchdogs predict that 2022 could see record levels of carbon emissions as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

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World Review: Coups, budget, Brexit, hypersonic China, dictatorships and weaponizing energy

This year the world seems to be suffering from a pandemic of coups. Myanmar, Guinea, Mali, Chad Ethiopia (although technically it is a civil war) and now Sudan. There were also attempted coups in Madagascar and the Central African Republic. It is not surprising. The combined forces of covid-19, Jihadism and long-standing ethnic divisions are taking their toll and the first victims are almost always the poorest countries. Sudan is a prime example. The per capita income is just under $4,000 a year. It ranks 181 out of 225 countries in the wealth stakes. In Sudan’s case neither covid nor Jihadism appear to have played a direct role in the military power grab, although both contributed to general dissatisfaction. It seems, however, the prime driver was good old fashioned greed coupled with fear and a hunger for power. For the past two years the country had been in a political transitional period following the removal of Omar al-Bashiri. The military was gradually returning control to civilians, in particular to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. But according to the military, problems arose when competing civilian politicians tried to develop individual power bases within the army, thus raising the spectre of civil war. Their argument carries little weight with either Washington or Brussels, both of whom have cut off aid to Sudan. The Western capitals are concerned about Sudanese developments because of the danger of the civil war in neighbouring Ethiopia spreading into a destabilised Sudan and the combined problems of the two countries destabilising the upper reaches of the Nile River basin and the Horn of Africa.

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Observations of an Expat: Russian Pivot

While the world public’s attention was focused on submarine rows between allies and the rising Chinese threat, Vladimir Putin was making disturbing diplomatic and political moves to change the security map on the European side of the Eurasian land mass.

The focus of Putin’s efforts is Belarus and the faltering regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Ever since his clearly fraudulent elections, “Europe’s last dictator” has suffered riots, demonstrations, defecting Belarussians and Western sanctions. All of this presents opportunities and problems for Vladimir Putin and headaches for everyone else. A Lukashenko/Putin summit plus a major military manoeuvre underscored both.

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Observations of an Expat: A Black Russian Sea

The landlocked 420,000 square mile Black Sea straddling the Europe Asia divide is fast becoming a maritime hotspot to rival the manmade islands of the South China Sea.

That is why this week the Russians buzzed the British warship HMS Defender, shot missiles into its path and then summoned the British Ambassador to the foreign ministry.

The British Type 45 frigate, said the Russians, had invaded Russian territorial waters. Wrong, said the British. Their ship could not possibly have been in Russian waters because it was off the coast of Crimea which was unilaterally annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. This annexation was not recognised by Britain or the rest of the world. Therefore, HMS Defender was in Ukrainian waters not Russian and was establishing its legitimate rights under international freedom of navigation law.

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Observations of an Expat: The Alex Problem

Often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Belarussia’s Alexander Lukashenko can blatantly break international law with an act of air piracy and kidnapping because he thinks he can get away with it. He feels politically secure.

He feels secure because he has total backing from Russia’s Vladimir Putin who regards the maintenance of a pro-Russian Belarus as vital to Russia’s national interests. And because he knows that the rest of the world—especially the European Union—is frightened of stepping on the toes of the Russian bear.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

America’s Republican Party is at a political crossroads. Does it ditch or back Donald Trump? Kevin McCarthy, Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, knows which direction he prefers. He recently flew to Florida to visit Mar a Lago to kow tow to ex-president Donald Trump. The fact is that most of the Republican members of the lower house represent rural constituencies whose voters continue to declare their loyalty to The Donald. These Congressmen and women are up for re-election in one year and nine months. On top of that, Trump has let slip the rumour that he is considering setting up a third political party to be called The Patriot Party. This would, of course, split the Republican vote. Some polls claim that as much of the third of Republicans would move to a Trump party. But Republicans also have their anti-Trumpists. Most of them are in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader, was a Trump acolyte for four years. But after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and the Capitol Hill riots, the worm turned and declared: “I never want to speak to the man ever again.” Senators, unlike the lower house representatives, are elected for six years and their state-wide constituencies include large left-leaning urban constituencies. Republican senators, therefore, are more likely to join the ditch Trump campaign. But even in the Senate the anti-Trump movement is not so strong among Republicans that they can find the 17 Republican members needed to convict the ex-president in his forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning this week about the future of the unity of the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that the UK was in acute danger of fracturing and becoming a “failed state.” The main current causes are the political stresses and strains caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Scotland is leading the threatened break-up. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In its 2014 independence referendum one of the main reasons the independence route was rejected was fear that the Scots would lose membership of the European Union. In May there were will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and polls indicate a landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. Its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised a demand for a fresh referendum if the pollsters are correct. Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit and the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire. There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer. The Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic has worsened matters. There has been little effort by Westminster to consult or coordinate public health actions in the regions. In fact, in most instances the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken the initiative which Westminster has belatedly followed. Gordon Brown wants a commission to review how the UK is governed and a campaign that that emphasises the advantage of union such as the NHS and a common defence. Is it too little too late?

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Observations of an expat: Start talks Start

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US-Russian talks started this week in Vienna between US and Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires in February.

Negotiators face massive obstacles – for lots of reasons.

For a start, Presidents Trump and Putin are fond of their nuclear toys. They have both effectively scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty and announced significant investment in new nuclear weapons.

Both men are keen on the more “bang for the buck” theory of nuclear war.

The other big reason the talks are headed for failure is the Trump Administration’s insistence that China is included in the negotiations. China’s nuclear arsenal is miniscule (300 warheads compared to an estimated 6,185 American and 6,800 Russian). But the Americans view the Chinese as the greater medium to long-term threat to American interests.

The French and British nuclear deterrents have been accounted for in the complex alphabet soup of Soviet-American nuclear weapons accords. But France and Britain are American allies. China and Russia are – at the moment – close – but not allied. The Chinese argue that if they are included then why not also India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly even Iran. This would, of course, turn negotiations into an incomprehensible farce as each country has a different strategic reason for its nuclear deterrent.

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Observations of an expat: Coronavirus exploitation

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A pandemic is a perfect excuse for politicians to exploit public fear for their own political advantage—and many of them are doing just that.

Let’s start with Trumpland where the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic means that the country is fast heading for a world-beating 100,000-plus deaths. Trump is using coronavirus to stoke the fires of Sinophobia. China has been the US administration’s chief bogey since 2016 when advisers such as Steve Bannon were warning that a Sino-American war was inevitable. The anti-Chinese stand is also proving popular with the voters in an election year with 70 percent of the electorate critical of China.

China’s President Xi Ji-ping is just as bad. Between Beijing and Washington an increasing number of outrageous conspiracy theories have been launched by both sides. The Chinese have also used the pandemic to boost military operations in the South China Sea and is selectively dispatching its medical equipment to countries where it thinks it can establish a stronger foothold. It has also used Covid-19 to crackdown on Hong Kong dissidents and is claiming in capitals around the world that its relatively successful handling of the pandemic demonstrates the superiority of the country’s political system. The latter claim is a leaky bucket as increasing doubt is poured on Beijing’s death statistics.

One of the most blatant pandemic power grabs is in Hungary. President Viktor Orban has managed to persuade his parliament that the danger of the pandemic means he should rule by decree for an unlimited period. As a result, the already sycophantic press has been further muzzled and public protests have been banned and in some cases criminalised.

In Turkey, President Erdogan, released thousands of prisoners from jail—except the political prisoners. He has also blocked fundraising efforts by opposition city councils in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

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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, …

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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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