Tag Archives: turkey

Tom Arms’ World Review

China and USA

The Sino-American goalposts have changed. Two years ago, the Chinese economy was booming and the US was struggling to emerge from a damaging coronavirus pandemic.

But as Presidents Biden and XI met in San Francisco this week the American economy was booming at 4.7 percent. The Chinese economy was reeling from a burst property bubble and government crackdowns have led to a flight of foreign capital.

When the Chinese star was in the ascendant so were the sabre-rattling “Wolf Warriors”. But the changed circumstances has led to the dismissal of bellicose foreign minister Qin Gang and last month Xi replaced Defense Minister General Li Shangu who was under US sanctions for overseeing the sale of weapons to Russia.

Beijing cannot afford poor relations with Washington at the moment. And Washington – with the problems of Ukraine, Gaza and forthcoming presidential elections, doesn’t want to have to worry about China. All of which could explain why the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries managed a cordial meeting in San Francisco this week.

But will it hold and can they build on it? The question is still hanging. A week before the meeting US and Chinese diplomats held a meeting to discuss each other’s nuclear arsenals. It was the first such a meeting and a good sign.

Climate change is clearly a topic to build on. It is difficult for the two biggest economies to dispute the importance of saving the planet. There are differences on how to handle fossil fuels but agreement on methane gas emissions.

A big topic in the US is opioid abuse, in particular fentanyl. A sizeable chunk of the drug is produced in Chinese laboratories and shipped to America. Last year fentanyl was responsible for 75,000 American deaths. The two leaders agreed to discuss the issue further Xi stressed that the easiest way to stop the problem would be for Americans to stop buying the drug.

Touchiest topic is Taiwan. On that Biden-Xi agreed to disagree. But they did agree to resume communications between each other’s military establishments. These were suspended after the visit to Taiwan of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both sides that it was vital for the opposing militaries to talk to one another to avoid accidents. As Xi put it: “Conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.”

Taiwan

The potential spanner in the Sino-American diplomatic thaw is January’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan.

At the moment the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) controls both the presidency and the parliament and opinion polls show them way ahead to stay in power.

This is not good news for either Washington or Beijing. This is because the DPP is moving Taiwan to declare itself an independent sovereign nation. This is opposed by Beijing because Taiwan would then be able to offer itself as a multi-party capitalist democratic alternative to the one-party autocracy on the mainland.

The US administration would be unhappy because an independent Taiwan would undermine its policy of “strategic ambiguity” which allows it bestow de jure diplomatic recognition on communist China while enjoying de facto relations with Taiwan.

The problem is an old one. It dates back to 1949 when the Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan and claimed to represent all of China from the offshore island. Until 1979 successive American administrations agreed with him.

The unilateral independence route is not a foregone conclusion. The Kuomintang Party (KMT) is committed to watering down the independence demands and improving relations with Beijing. This week the party announced it was joining forces with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) to fight the elections. The outcome could have far-reaching consequences.

Turkey and Germany

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Observations of an Expat: Pivotal Turkey

Turkey is emerging as a pivotal country in the Ukraine War. As the fighting on land grinds to a bloody stalemate, the importance of naval power has dramatically increased.

As far as Ukraine and Russia are concerned this means the Black Sea and the Bosphorus and Dardanelles that links the sea to the wider world.  Turkey has control over these straits through a series of conventions dating back to the early 19th century.

Unsurprisingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is using his position to extract every possible concession from the Russians, Ukrainians and NATO.

At the start of the war the naval balance weighed heavily in Russia’s favour. The Ukrainians had one warship stuck in the repair yard. Moscow, on the other had its Crimea-based Black Sea fleet of 40 surface ships and seven submarines.

Putin used his naval superiority to good advantage. A successful amphibious landing was staged at Mariupol and the Sea of Azov and Kerch Straits were closed to Ukrainian shipping. Odessa and other southern Ukrainian ports were effectively closed by a Russian blockade, bombardment and minefield.

Then the Ukrainians hit back with shore to ship missiles and drones. The first major victim was the fleet flagship, the cruiser Moskva. Then the bridge connecting Russia to Crimea was bombed and now Russian naval installations on Crimea are under bombardment.

Putin badly needs to reinforce his Black Sea naval forces with ships from the Pacific, Baltic and Mediterranean commands. But he can’t. And the reason for this takes us back to the 19th  and early 20th centuries and Moscow’s perennially unsuccessful efforts to gain control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

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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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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Tom Arms’ World Review

Pakistan

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.

Ukraine

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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The fight for Turkey’s soul

He hasn’t been successful throughout his career. A former civil servant and ex-accountant, his political party has lost every general election since he became their leader in 2010. And yet, despite this, millions of Turks now look to him to save their country from their autocratic President and fulfil his promise to restore democracy to their country.

He is, of course, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party and head of the National Alliance. Comprised of six opposition parties, many hope the National Alliance will finally unseat incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ending his grip on power.

In four days Turks will go to the polls in the 2023 Presidential Elections. It is estimated over 60 million Turks will cast their vote and elect a President for a new five year term. The opposition leader has been cast in the role of Turkey’s saviour; his signature hand gesture is to hold them in the shape of a heart, and he professes to live as ordinary Turks do (he has claimed he will eschew living in the presidential palace if elected).

Having lost every general election since elected as leader of the CHP, it is perhaps surprising that Kılıçdaroğlu has become the frontrunner to defeat Erdoğan. But actions speak loudly, and Kılıçdaroğlu has campaigned tirelessly to restore democracy to a country on the steep, dangerous slope towards complete autocracy. In 2017, a CHP politician and member of the Turkish parliament was sentenced to 25 years in prison, accused of leaking state secrets. Kılıçdaroğlu organised a 28-mile walk from Ankara to Istanbul in response – the “Justice March” – which, despite being attacked with stones and manure, carried their peaceful mark over 25 days to end with a rally in Maltepe.

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Observations of an expat: Turkish Elections

Turkey is the ultimate political straddler. It straddles the Dardanelles – Eastern Europe’s gateway from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It also straddles the continents of Europe and Asia and has historically bridged the cultures of East and West.

For all those reasons and more any Turkish election would be important. But the vote next weekend (14 May) is crucial for Turkey, Europe, the Middle East, NATO, and the Ukraine War and beyond. For the first time, Turkish voters have a clear choice between a populist Islamist autocrat and a politician who promises to return the country to the secular democratic roots that Kemal Ataturk introduced exactly 100 years ago.  Opinion polls indicate that the result could go either way.

The most likely scenario for this weekend is that none of the four candidates will win an outright majority this weekend. In that case, there will be a second round on 28 May which will almost certainly be between incumbent Recep Tayip Erdogan, populist leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Kemal Kilidaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and representing a six-party anti-Erdogan coalition.

For most Turkish voters the key issues are the economy and the recent earthquake that killed more than 50,000 and displaced an estimated 6 million. On the first, Erdogan suffers. In the past two years, the Turkish lira has lost 60 percent of its value against the dollar. Runaway inflation at a peak of 86 percent through millions into poverty. It is currently 50 percent. Unemployment is running at 9.7 percent. Erdogan is universally blamed for mismanaging the economy.

The earthquake is another matter. The president was quick to visit the disaster-struck zones, organise relief operations and allocate money for rebuilding. But the quake was in Erdogan’s political heartland which means up to a million displaced people will be unable to vote for him.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Northern Ireland

It may be that the British lion may be learning how to wag its Irish tail instead of the reverse. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has negotiated a settlement of the Northern Ireland Protocol which has bedevilled UK-EU and UK-US relations and Britain’s standing in the world since the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

The chief stumbling block has been Northern Ireland’s ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative, ultra-protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). For them Brexit was an opportunity to reverse the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which they never liked even though it ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The DUP’s hopes were seemingly dashed by Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit it Done” settlement which moved the UK-EU border to the Irish Sea and left Northern Ireland in Europe’s Single Market and Customs Union. Then faith was restored by Johnson’s threat to withdraw from the agreement he made, damaging relations with the EU; undermining belief in British adherence to international law and, because the US is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, making an eagerly-sought US-UK trade deal a distant prospect.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has replaced ideologically-driven threats with pragmatic compromise and negotiations and come up with what is called the “Windsor Framework.” It is not perfect. It leaves the EU with a great deal of say in Northern Irish affairs, but is possibly the best deal that could be secured with a weak British hand.

For a start, the Windsor Framework establishes “red and green lanes” for goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain. The green lanes are for goods staying in the province and are customs free. The red lanes for goods transiting on to Eire and are subject to EU tariffs.

Of perhaps greater importance is the sovereignty issue. Disputes will now be discussed by a joint EU-UK consultative body with final arbitration by an independent arbitrator working within the framework of international law. The Stormont Assembly will have a say through a mechanism called “The Stormont Brake”, but this cannot be used for “trivial reasons” and Westminster can veto Stormont.

The “Stormont Brake” can be used if the Assembly is in session. At the moment it is not because the DUP refuses to attend as a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP has neither accepted nor rejected the “Windsor Framework.” It has said it wants time – lots of it – to consider its options. Sunak has said fair enough. Take all the time you want. But the framework will be approved with or without your support. This is no empty threat. The prime minister has support from the Opposition Labour Party and Liberal Democrats and can easily outvote the DUP and any rebel right-wing Tories.

Covid-19

Donald Trump’s number one conspiracy theory may be right. That is according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.  Covid-19 may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory specialising in coronavirus research. America’s Department of Energy agrees with Christopher Wray and even the World Health Organisation is making noises about reversing its previous position and saying that the claims are worth a fresh investigation.

However, the CIA and other US intelligence agencies continue to report that the most likely scenario is that the virus jumped from animals to humans via the Wuhan food market. The vast majority of the world’s scientists agree with the spooks at Langley, Virginia and the White House says there is no firm proof either way.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese steadfastly maintain that the virus started in animals, not their lab. In fact, some officials have come up with a counter conspiracy claim that the virus was manufactured in a US research facility in Ft. Derick, Maryland and released in Wuhan by American agents.

Beijing is determined to avoid any blame. Not only does it undermine their claims to scientific competency, it also lays them open to lawsuits. Notoriously litiginous Trump has demanded that the Chinese pay $10 trillion and thousands of Floridians have signed up for a class action suit with Miami-based law firm the Bernard Law Group. Of course, the chances of collecting any money is nil.

Whether the virus started in a lab or a bat is important to know. The knowledge will help public health officials to prevent future pandemics. For that reason alone the lack of Chinese transparency is disturbing.

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Observations of an Expat – Quake Problems

The death toll of Turkey’s earthquake has passed the 20,000 mark. It will soar further as freezing weather and disease sweep through the refugee camps and devastated towns and villages to replace falling rubble as the primary cause of death.

But the earthquake has also created and exacerbated political problems and opportunities whose rippling aftershocks have the potential effect of toppling political as well as physical structures.

The first possible victim is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is coming under attack for his failure to build sounder structures in the middle of the one of the world’s most dangerous earthquake zones. It should be noted that Erdogan rose to power on the back of Bulent Ecevit’s failures after a 1999 earthquake.

The destruction in southern Turkey came at both the best and worst of times for President Erdogan. His popularity is plummeting amidst economic problems and increasing dissatisfaction with his autocratic rule. There is a real possibility that he could lose the parliamentary and presidential ballot set for 14 May.

But at the same time, the natural disaster has created opportunities for Erdogan. He has declared a three-month state of emergency which will take him right up to Election Day. This will enable him to deploy troops and tighten his stranglehold on the media. Already social media users have been arrested for criticising the government’s earthquake policies.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA and Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week subtly attacked Benjamin Netanyahu.  He didn’t directly criticise him, but the inference was clear. With a poker-faced Netanyahu standing next to him, Blinken pointedly listed the “core values” that the US and Israel shared: “respect for human rights. The equal administration of justice for all. Equal rights for minority groups. The rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary and a robust civil society.”

Israel’s conservative press immediately and viciously attacked Blinken for “interfering in domestic Israeli politics.”  This is because by highlighting these “core values” Blinken implied that Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government is veering away from them and heading towards what Hungary’s Viktor Orban calls an “illiberal democracy.”

The government’s claim to the disputed West Bank (now populated with 400,000 Israeli settlers) undermines Israeli claims that it protects human rights and the equal rights of minority groups. As did the continuing and spiralling violence which in January claimed 30 Palestinian and seven Israeli lives.

The rule of law and an independent judiciary is threatened by plans to politicise the Israeli Supreme Court and empower the legislature to override Supreme Court Decisions. It is further damaged by the fact that Netanyahu himself has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, bribery and corruption.

Azerbaijan and Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh is threatening to explode again. Either that or an estimated 120,000 Armenian civilians, including 30,000 children, will starve to death or die of disease because of an Azerbaijani blockade.

The Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh goes back to the 1917 break-up of the Russian empire. Stalin’s purges pushed it into the background but when the Soviet Empire dissolved frictions reappeared. The two countries have gone to war over the region in the 1990s, 2016 and most recently in 2020.

In each case Russia backed its traditional proxy Christian Armenia (the oldest Christian country in the world) and Turkey supported Muslim Azerbaijan. Turkish support has paid off for autocratic oil-rich Azerbaijan which has been able to buy the latest military equipment from Turkey. They soundly defeated the Armenians in the last conflict and substantially reduced the territory occupied by Armenians.

But that is not good enough for Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev. On 12 December he sent in troops to block the Armenian community’s only access to the outside world, the Lachlin Corridor. He then told the Armenians they could either leave their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, become Azeri citizens or starve.

They are starving. They are also without medical supplies, electricity is rationed, schools are closed and there is limited communication with the outside world. The Armenian Society of Fellows claims that Ilhan Aliyev is guilty of attempted genocide. The blockade has condemned by the EU, the US, The Council of Europe, Amnesty International and just about every developed country and a big chunk of the rest of the world.

But Aliyev ignores them all. His hand is strengthened by 1- Russia being distracted by Ukraine and 2- oil. Armenia was the birthplace of modern oil production and remains one of the world’s top producers. The current energy crisis is keeping prices high and allowing to hold at bay energy-poor Europeans. In the meantime, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh starve.

Tyre Nichols, USA

The sad case of Tyre Nichols has highlighted America’s problem of police brutality. It doesn’t matter if it is blue on black, black on black or white on black; America has a problem with police forces too quick to resort to violence.

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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 – 11 April 2021

Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. “Fear Factor” retorted the Brexiteers. “It won’t happen.” But after a week of sectarian violence it looks as if there was something to fear. The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South. The Good Friday Agreement kept the dream alive for the Catholics and kicked it into the long grass for the Protestants. The north/south border was to stay open. Why not? Both countries were members of the EU. The aspiration of Irish unification was allowed to remain on the table, but no date or form was agreed. Perhaps the two EU members would gradually move towards some sort of federation under the auspices of an overarching European Union. After all, the EU was a guarantor of the peace along with the US, Britain and Ireland. Then came Boris Johnson’s easy-peasy-oven-ready-you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-too deal. In a major concession to Brussels, Washington and Dublin, Johnson stabbed the Protestant Union Democratic Party in the back and agreed to keep open the north/south border and draw a new customs border down the Irish Sea, separating mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Protocol. It immediately complicated trade between the Ulster provinces and Britain and it moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass. The result is that this time the Protestants are taking the lead in violence and they can be even more stubborn than and just as nasty as the IRA.

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Open letter to the Foreign Secretary on global human rights

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The Rt. Hon. Dominic Rennie Raab MP
First Secretary of State
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Dear Foreign Secretary

Please accept my best wishes.

With the merger of the FCO and DfID in mind and the incorporation of development policy into your brief, I was encouraged by your statement in Parliament on July 7th 2020 which included the words:

‘As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world … on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.’

I wish to raise with you two examples where the UK has up to now supported EU efforts to impose sanctions and take other measures to apply pressure on ‘the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses’ as you put it; Cambodia and Turkey.

As you will be aware the world’s longest-serving Prime Minister is Hun Sen of Cambodia, former member of the government of the genocidal Pol Pot regime. An international post-civil-war peace treaty in 1991, the ‘Paris Peace Accords’, set out a path to democracy, human rights and key freedoms, with UK support.

However, step-by-step Hun Sen consolidated power and eroded democracy and human rights provided for in the Accords, a process which accelerated after Hun Sen developed a close commercial relationship with Xi Jinping and his ministers in China. That is the same Xi Jinping that you condemned in an Oct 6th 2020 statement as committing ‘serious and egregious’ human right violations. The erosion of democracy and human rights in Cambodia was carefully documented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur.

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Multiculturalism on the defensive

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Ever since the then Prime Minister David Cameron declared that “multiculturalism has failed” the concept has found itself on the back foot in Western political discourse. This has been a matter of dismay for many – I suspect most – Liberal Democrats, as multiculturalism is part of our DNA. This means not just tolerating but accepting difference, be it about ethnicity, religion, language, ability, sexuality or other forms of collective and personal identity.

Alas, with a few noble exceptions, political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have tapped into a seam of populist fear or resentment of The Other. This is not just a phenomenon of right-wing extremism, as represented by Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, France’s Marine Le Pen or Brexit’s Man in the Pub, Nigel Farage, all of whom have demonised Muslims and refugees. Listen to Donald Trump’s rambling speeches or read Boris Johnson’s journalism and you soon sense the undercurrent of prejudice and discrimination.

One of the reasons so many LibDems love the European Union is because the EU actively celebrates diversity. The Lisbon Treaty (the nearest to a Constitution that the EU has adopted) specifically declares that the Union respects cultural diversity and national identities. It would be nice to think that all member states treat this pledge equally seriously, and that those who don’t can be nudged back into line. Ideally, as a European Liberal Democrat I would moreover hope this could be a template for the rest of the world to follow.

However, I am enough of a realist to recognise that this is far from the case in 2020. Moreover, core European values, such as a respect for human rights and the Rule of Law, which were placed at the heart of post-War multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, no longer hold sway over much of the planet. Indeed, some totalitarian regimes argue that promoting these values is a form of neo-colonialism.

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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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12-13 October 2019 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Lib Dems: Compulsory voter ID is an attempt to rig our elections
  • Lib Dems: Govt must ban arms sales to Turkey

Lib Dems: Compulsory voter ID is an attempt to rig our elections

Responding to the reports that the Government are set to announce it will be compulsory for voters to show identification at the next election, Liberal Democrat shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Tom Brake said:

The move by the Government to make voter ID compulsory is a thinly-veiled attempt to rig the results of future elections. We know from the pilot back in 2018 that voter fraud was inconsequential, whilst what

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LibLink: Sarah Olney: Theresa May’s visit to Turkey betrays our liberal values

Fresh from her meeting in Washington with a man who has extolled the effectiveness of torture, admitted sexually assaulting women and who thinks building walls between nations is a good idea, our Prime Minister heads today to meet the leader of a so-called democracy where human rights mean nothing and journalists are imprisoned.

Sarah Olney has written a blistering article in the Guardian, attacking the PM for betraying our liberal values instead of safeguarding our trading relationship with the democracies on our doorstep.

This tawdry tour shames Britain. This is a defining period on the international stage and we must consider to what extent this new course is safeguarding both our interests and values around the world.

In an age of “alternative facts”, there is no doubt about the realities of the Erdoğan regime. Even before last July’s failed coup, Erdoğan had begun systematically dismantling Turkey’s democratic institutions. Since the coup, he has embraced full-frontal authoritarianism. He is not only locking up journalists, but teachers, professors and policemen – all without due process. Not quite the outfit you’d have in mind for a regime described yesterday as an “indispensable partner” by Theresa May.

>Indeed, turn the clock back eight months and our now foreign secretary was slating the Turkish president. Yet Boris Johnson has fallen unusually silent – refusing to call Erdoğan out on his shocking crimes. There is a pattern here: ministers pursuing business deals on the international stage at odds with Britain’s best traditions and values.

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Tom Brake calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO

As the human rights situation in Turkey worsens, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Tom Brake has called for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and for the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU to be scrapped.

He said:

Erdogan’s ongoing purge of newspapers, academics, teachers and judges has nothing to do with Turkey’s security and everything to do with blocking any opposition to his increasingly authoritarian rule. Today’s news that dozens more media outlets have been shut should send shivers down the spine of any person who believes in a free and open society.

The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty refers to it being “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, all of which are under threat in Turkey currently.

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LibLInk: Edward McMillan Scott: Turkey’s EU membership will remain in the EU’s deep freeze, no matter what Leave says

The Leave campaign continue to peddle the lie that Turkey is about to join the EU.

This is not going to be happening any time soon despite the disgraceful leaflet which shows the 76 million figure and an arrow going straight from Turkey to Britain (and actually in Scotland, the arrow pointed to Scotland).

Former Liberal Democrat MEP Edward McMillan has outlined the issues surrounding Turkey’s application in an article on politics.co.uk.

Turkey has always been a divisive issue for the Tories, whose Ukip tendency see Turkey’s membership as the final nail in the EU’s coffin. I witnessed this for several years in the 1990s, when I was the European parliament’s spokesman on Turkey’s accession bid. Leading Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has waded into the Warsi resignation debate this week. He says he asked her to join Leave and now claims she declined, although his friend, Ukip MP Douglas Carswell, told the Huffington Post that Hannan had indeed recruited her.

But internal Conservative politics aside, the fact remains that Turkey’s entry into the EU remains a very distant prospect. The EU’s response to Turkey’s often blunt courtship has traditionally been: “We don’t think either of us is ready for this yet, but let’s keep working on the relationship”. However, recent thuggish behaviour by President Erdogan’s hoodlums against any dissent to his corrupt regime has made even EU diplomats use much stronger language.

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LibLink: Tim Farron: Cameron must veto this poisonous deal with Turkey before our response to the Refugee Crisis becomes immoral

Strong words from Tim Farron in today’s Independent about the proposed EU deal with Turkey which would see refugees returned from Greece to Turkey. Rather than create safe and legal routes for refugees, Tim argues that this deal would violate international conventions.

For instance, collective expulsions of people seeking international protection are condemned by the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights. We know Turkey has failed to fully implement the Geneva Convention on refugees and has no functioning asylum policy. David Cameron would do well to re-read the international human rights agreements and principles Britain has committed to, before he signs on the dotted line in Brussels.

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Putting in a good word for Turkey and the Turks

I couldn’t believe the UKIP Party Political Broadcast (PPB) earlier this week. It really is a new low for a PPB to comprehensively denigrate an entire country and its people.

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Sal Brinton on Question Time tonight – will she confront Farage over UKIP’s awful broadcast?

So much for my early night tonight. I have to get up before the Cool Kids have gone to bed to get a flight to Cardiff to go to Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference. I can’t miss Sal Brinton on Question Time (BBC1, 10:45pm), though. Especially as there may be a bit of an awkward moment for Nigel Farage. He’s on the programme yet again on the day that Tim Farron and Meral Ece have complained to the BBC and Ofcom about UKIPs Party Political Broadcast last night. They say that it incited religious and racial hatred.

I don’t normally go out of my way to watch UKIP broadcasts. Life is just too short. However, I steeled myself to look at this one and, sure enough, my skin was soon crawling. It was basically a brash and ugly attempt to create division and distrust and gives a very false impression of Turkey and its people. It made me feel very uncomfortable. The premise was that Turkey was just about to join the European Union and this was a bad thing. It’s not as if that’s likely to happen any time soon, but they made it sound like it was going to take place next week.

UKIP are using exactly the same tactics as they did in 2013 over Romanians and Bulgarians. It’s truly horrible. I remember people in Eastleigh telling me on the phone that 40 million Romanians and Bulgarians were going to come to Britain – a massive proportion of the populations of those two countries – because UKIP leaflets were full of it. In fact, this time last year, there were 172,000. Those figures estimated that there were 1.9 people here from other European countries. There are 2 million British people elsewhere in the EU. Freedom of movement works both ways.

Tim explained why they had reported the ad to OFCOM:

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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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A picture postcard from a Liberal Democrat in Gezi Park

I’m leafing through the 2,077 photos I’ve taken so far of Turkey’s protests. Having sat down to shed a ‘liberal’ light on what’s happening here, I realize I may make a further claim to your attention: I am seeing, as it were, both sides of the coin.

Watching protests in Beşiktaş, Taksim & Gezi Park, marching to the outskirts of Istanbul & being pepper-sprayed is one side. Working in a conservative, pro-government school where colleagues refer to protestors as “terrorists” and tut gruffly every time Taksim gets mentioned is the other.

A Tale of Two Turkeys 

This is a tale of two Turkeys. …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 3 Comments

Nick Clegg: “Turkish entry into the EU is a strategic necessity”

Nick Clegg is on a trade mission to Turkey today, and has announced £500m of business deals and £1m of funding for the Turkish Red Crescent in Syria.

He wrote this morning in Turkey’s Sabah newspaper, on the Turkish economy, trade between Turkey and the UK, visas for Turkish travellers, and the the response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. You can read the article in Turkish over at Sabah; the English translation is below:

This summer for a few, glorious weeks the United Kingdom became the centre of the world as we hosted the London Olympic and Paralympic

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Lord John Sharkey’s maiden speech

LDV has been bringing you the words of our new representatives as they speak for the first time in the Houses of Parliament. We bring you maiden speeches from new MPs and new members of the House of Lords. You can find an archive of all maiden speeches we’ve published by clicking this link. If you think we’ve missed someone, do please drop us a line.

Lord Sharkey: My Lords, it is a great privilege and a great honour to join your Lordships’ House. It has also been a great pleasure because of the immense kindness shown …

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The Saturday Debate: Should Turkey be admitted to the EU?

Here’s your starter for ten in our Saturday slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate:

In all the recent controversy surrounding David Cameron’s recent foreign policy pronouncements some of the substance has perhaps been lost: here was the leader of a major European country unequivocally urging that Turkey be admitted as a member of the European Union.

This has tended to be an uncontroversial view among the British political classes, who regard Turkey as a vital fulcrum in reconciling the West and the Islamic world. It is far less popular among the voters of Europe, as a …

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Daily View 2×2: 11 October 2009

It’s Sunday. It’s 7am. It’s time for the Daily View, today with an science fiction meets ukulele musical extra.

2 Big Stories

English Defence League takes to streets, violence follows

Perhaps someone should tell the English Defence League that the best way for them to defend the values they claim to stand up for would be to wind themselves up given how little of that traditional English value of tolerance its members display. But in the meantime, here’s the latest news:

More than 40 people have been arrested during two political demonstrations in Manchester city centre.

At least 2,000 people attended the protests, by the English Defence League (EDL) and members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) on Saturday afternoon.

Witnesses said “ugly scenes” broke out between rival protestors and police.

Forty-eight people have been arrested, four among them were held on suspicion of affray. Most of the other arrests were for public order offences. (BBC)

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