Tag Archives: ukraine

Observations of an expat: Ukraine tanks conundrum

Supplying tanks to Ukraine is not as simple a matter as it may appear at first glance.

It is an issue that is interwoven with competing and overlapping problems of military strategy, political pitfalls, German guilt, Russian nationalism and expansionist ambitions, Ukrainian self-determination, nuclear blackmail, the long-term prospects for peace in Eastern Europe and the age-old battle of good versus evil.

The solution to send perhaps a total of 200 tanks from various NATO countries to Zelensky’s army is insufficient to satisfy the Ukrainians and more than enough to fuel the Russian propaganda machine.

Ukraine is flat tank country. Ukraine wants NATO tanks – especially the German Leopards – to launch a counter-offensive to regain territory.

NATO initially rushed to Ukraine’s aid with defensive equipment; primarily anti-tank and anti-missile weaponry to stop the massive Russian tank attack from Belarus and to blunt Russian artillery barrages.

It worked. In fact, better than expected. So much so that Volodomyr Zelensky appears determined to build on his success to drive the Russians out of all the territory which Ukraine has lost since 2014 (and Russia has annexed) including Crimea.

This would seem quite reasonable as international law is quite-rightly wedded to the principle of self-determination and in 1994 Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s pre-2014 borders and its territorial integrity in return for Ukraine relinquishing its nuclear weapons and signing the nuclear non- proliferation treaty.

But Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian-speaking. The majority of its inhabitants have traditionally looked east to Moscow. As for Crimea, it has been Russian since 1783 and one of Moscow’s most important naval centres.

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Tanks to Ukraine

Like many living in Germany, the Federal Government’s hesitancy in supplying weapons to Ukraine is not only puzzling to me, but frankly massively embarrassing. German profited massively from the Peace Dividend at the end of the cold war – and so reduced its spending on defence that the Bundeswehr is a shadow of its former self. Despite the clear threats to European stability, particularly after the Crimean annexation, previous governments, led by the Christian Democrats, had given little attention to active threats.

The “traffic light” coalition government is itself divided on the provision of tanks to Ukraine. Ministers from the …

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Ukraine is tank country. It is part of the flat and fertile North European plain which stretches from the Urals to the North Sea. That very same corridor has throughout history doubled as a military highway for invading armies head East or West.

This geopolitical fact is why Russia started the Ukraine War with a massive arsenal of 10,000 tanks and Ukraine had 2,500.  Since the fighting started nearly a year ago, the Russians have lost about 1,500 of their tanks. But relatively speaking to the initial size of their forces, the Ukrainians have fared worse with a loss of about a quarter of their tanks.

The Ukrainian losses on the tank battlefield, coupled with the importance of armour in the flat terrain, is the reason why Vlodomyr Zelensky is pleading with NATO for more armour.

The three countries that have tanks to spare are the US, Germany and Poland. The UK and France decided ten years ago that another North European war was unlikely and ran down their tank forces. France has only 200 main battle tanks and the UK about 220.

The US is well short of the Russians at 6,612 tanks, but if you add Germany’s 2,761 Leopard tanks and Poland’s fast-growing arsenal, the Ukrainians could match Russia tank for tank.

The problem is that the Germans are reluctant to be seen to escalate the conflict and the Biden Administration needs a strong European (which in this case means German) commitment to justify sending state of the art M1 Abrams tanks.

This leaves Poland, with some help from Finland and the Baltic states, to fill the yawning gap in Ukrainian armoured battalions. In the meantime, Ukraine is preparing for Russia’s inevitable tank-led spring offensive.

New Zealand

Jacinda Adern, has voluntarily, out of the blue, resigned. The prime minister of tiny New Zealand is one of the most respected international figures. She successfully introduced strict gun laws after the Christchurch mosque shooting left 51 dead; led her Labour Party to an historic landslide victory and organised one of the few successful containments of the covid virus. But Ms Adern has decided her work is done and is stepping down.

Now compare the New Zealand leader to other Western politicians who are prepared to lie, cheat and twist the law to cling to power. Britain’s Boris Johnson and America’s Donald Trump immediately spring to mind. Trump with his unfounded claim that he won the 2020 presidential election and Boris with who claimed ignorance of Downing Street parties during the covid lockdown. Ms Adern led by example when she was in office and she is doing same with her departure and is being praised for doing so. Politicians who are concerned about their legacies should take note.

USA

The moral high ground is where every politician wants to be. Donald Trump has never managed more than a foot or two up the mountain and his failure to climb higher was a factor in his 2020 electoral defeat at the hands of “relatively honest” Joe Biden. Now, Biden has suffered a major downhill slide: classified documents have been found where they should not be – in his office and even his garage.  Their discovery has inevitably been compared to the discovery of classified material in Trump’s Mar-a-lago home and led to another special counsel investigation of another president.

However, document-gate does not appear to have adversely impacted on Biden’s popularity. His approval ratings have actually gone up this month from 38 to 44 percent.  Pundits believe that the voters are inured to moral shortcomings but have been impressed that the US is enjoying record unemployment, lower inflation and impressed by the Democrats’ performance in the mid-term elections.

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My hero of the year – Volodymyr Zelenskyy

For many Ukrainians, this year’s Christmas will be held by candlelight Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Congress yesterday. In what may have been his first outing outside Ukraine since the war started 300 days before, Zelenskyy didn’t don a suit for the occasion. Ever the role player, he turned up on Capitol Hill wearing his signature khaki fatigues.

I watched President Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress in the early hours (UK time). I couldn’t help welling up at times. Here was a man once dismissed as a comedian that once pretended to be a president and incredulously became the real thing. Now he is standing on the world stage. Leading the fight for peace against Putin and Russia’s generals.

The war in Ukraine is not just about Putin’s manic ambition for recreating the USSR with all its threats to the rest of the world and its suppression of internal dissent. It is not just about a bitter, bloody and deathly conflict. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed. One in four of Ukraine’s population has been displaced. Several towns, cities, and villages have been destroyed. Maybe 70,000 or more Russian soldiers have died.

It is a fight for freedom. Zelenskyy’s nation is fighting a proxy war against a dictator on behalf of the rest of the free world.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the Ukraine War, especially on the Ukrainian side. Russia may have more ships, men, missiles and tanks. But the Ukrainians are proving masters at producing drones to counter them.

At sea they have pioneered the development and use of naval drones which have successfully attacked Russian ships and shore side storage depots at the Russian naval base of Sevastopol. The drones are equipped with a souped-up jet ski engine; a camera in the bow and one amidships, a satellite dish and 200 kg of high explosives. They are operated by a “captain” sitting hundreds of miles in a bunker with a joystick not dissimilar to the one he used aged 10 in the local video arcade.

Each naval drone costs about $250,000 and the Ukrainians plan to have another 100 produced early in 2023. In the air, the Ukrainians have remodelled Tupolev TU-141 reconnaissance drones left over from the Soviet era. They have simply fitted the Russian-made drone with high explosives. The aerial drones were used this week to target Russian airfields from which the Russians were launching crippling attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.

But there is a political problem with the Ukrainian air drone counter attacks. The airbases are inside Russia and NATO is keen to geographically contain conflict to Ukrainian soil so that it does not escalate into a World War Three. It has therefore limited the range of the weapons it has supplied to Ukraine. But the aerial drones used this week were from Ukraine – not NATO. So, it could be argued that Kyiv is sticking to the approved script. But to be on the diplomatic safe side, the Ukrainians are refusing to confirm or deny responsibility for the attacks. No one, however, thinks it could be anyone else.

Germany

Several disturbing – and so far not fully discussed – revelations have emerged from this week’s crushing of an alleged German coup plot. Briefly, leaders of far-right terrorist group known as the Reich Citizens Movement were arrested for plotting to storm the Reichstag (German parliament), overthrow the government, return Germany to is pre-World War I Imperial government, and install a German aristocrat businessman as Kaiser Heinrich XIII.

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China

China’s President Xi Jinping is in the traditional dead end political alley. Mass demonstrations and protests have prompted suggestions from government sources that Beijing is on the cusp of seriously relaxing its zero-covid strategy. But health officials reckon that if he does it could result in 680,000 deaths before the end of winter, according modellers at The Economist.

On the other hand, if Xi fails to relax his Orwellian approach to dealing with the pandemic then the economy and quality of life will seriously suffer and more protests, riots and demonstrations will follow. This will undermine Xi’s claims that only he and the Chinese Communist Party can deliver prosperity and stability.

Xi’s current problems also threaten Chinese claims that their political model is better-equipped to deal with problems than the corrupt West. Xi has only himself to blame for his difficulties. He has insisted on using Chinese-made vaccines instead of the more effective Western alternatives and failed to thoroughly vaccinate the elderly who are more likely to contract the disease and require the greatest care when they do so, thus leaving himself with the unpalatable choice of mass lockdown or mass infection.

Ukraine

President Joe Biden followed up the visit to French President of Emmanuel Macron with half an olive branch to Vladimir Putin: “I’ll meet and talk with you if you are prepared to discuss ending the war in Ukraine.”

Sure, replied Putin, as long as the end is on my terms. That, of course, would mean surrender and defeat for Ukraine and its Western supporters and just demonstrates that Putin has left himself with only two options – total defeat or total victory. The former seems the most likely at the moment.

Neither NATO nor the Ukrainian people show any signs of cracking and China appears to becoming increasingly disillusioned with their Kremlin ally. But more importantly, so are the Russian people.

According to Meduza, an independent Russian investigative news website, a recent Russian government survey showed that support for the “special military operation” has plummeted from 57 percent in July to 25 percent last month. The big drop is blamed almost entirely on Putin’s decision to send another 300,000 Russian men to the Ukrainian front. The returning body bags (6,000-plus according to the Russians and 25,000-plus according to the British Ministry of Defense) are having an impact. But there is no sign of a Russian let-up. This week Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military spending would increase by 50 percent next year from four to six percent of GDP.

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Observations of an expat: Phew! – or Not

Phew! Europe now has enough gas to see it through the winter and energy prices are starting to drop. Employment is more or less stable. Interest rates and inflation appear to be plateauing. The Ukraine War is settling in for the winter. NATO and the EU are united against Putin who shows signs of starting to unravel and Christmas is a coming.

Now, inhale and draw that sigh of relief back in. All the above is a temporary reprieve. Another metaphor could be the eye of the storm or false dawn.

The Ukraine War still rumbles on and millions of Ukrainians are without power and water this winter. The threat of dangerous escalation is a constant concern.

The EU and Britain appear to have more or less weaned themselves off Russian gas, but only for the coming winter and at a cost which – combined with Covid and inflation – are likely to hamstring European economies for years to come.

The total cost of the pandemic bill is only just starting to be totted up – and it is staggering. The direct cost to the UK government is reckoned to be in the region of $450 billion, according to the National Audit Office. But that is nothing compared to what the RND (Germany’s spending watchdog) reports was spent by state and Federal German governments –  $1.8 trillion. On top of that there is the $800 billion EU Covid Recovery Programme.

On energy, an estimated $600 billion, has spent by EU governments on subsidising energy prices, according to the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel.

Then we come to the war in Ukraine.  Back in July President Volodomyr Zelensky estimated that it would cost $750 billion to rebuild his country. Then there are the current ongoing costs for humanitarian, economic and military aid which has so far easily exceeded $10 billion for the EU and UK. And, to paraphrase the American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, the Russians and Ukrainians appear to have just begun to fight.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

The Ukrainians are advancing – slowly. They don’t trust the Russians. Vladimir Putin has given his troops the order to abandon the western half of the key city of Kherson. Civilians and medical staff have been evacuated from both the eastern and western halves of the city divided by the river Dnieper.

But the Ukrainians are not rushing in to fill the vacuum. They are concerned that the Russians have covered their retreat with land mines and other explosives and have trained their artillery on the deserted streets. Furthermore, that they are preparing for deadly street-to-street, house-to-house fighting in the eastern half of the city.

In the meantime, the Kremlin rumour mill continues to churn out stories about the imminent overthrow of President Putin. The left anti-war wants peace and an end to the war while the right nationalist wing is demanding that more resources – including, if necessary, tactical nuclear weapons, be thrown into the fight. The latest opinion polls, however, show that 78 percent continue to support Putin personally, although support for the war is slipping.

2022 World Cup

Someone should have warned the Qataris about being careful about what you wish for before they started bribing officials to secure the 2022 World Cup. The sporting event is second only to the Olympics in the pantheon of international sporting events and usually brings economic and political benefits to the host country.

In the case of Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family, they are spending $30 billion on hosting the football event. This involves building half a dozen stadiums, roads, a state-of-the-art metro and a number of hotels. They can afford it. Qatar is the smallest nation ever to host the World Cup, but it is among the top ten wealthiest in the world. The per capita income of the oil and gas-rich Gulf emirate is $61,000 a year and it has a sovereign wealth fund of $450 billion. It can afford to show off its wealth.

But at the same time, it would rather not have the spotlight turned on its human rights record – especially as regards migrant labour and LGBTQ rights. Tens of thousands of construction workers were recruited from South Asia to build the World Cup infrastructure. They worked in searing heat, were paid abysmally low wages and lived in squalid dormitory conditions. If they wanted to return home they had to apply for an exit visa which was rarely granted. The Guardian reported that 6,500 of them died. This figure been disputed, but the newspaper says it is based on reports from South Asian embassies in Qatar.

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China

We will probably never know the reason for the removal of Hu Jintao from the recent Chinese People’s Party Congress. Was it the result of the medical problems of a confused old man? Or was it a crude attempt by Xi Jinping to emphasise that he is now totally in charge?

79-year-old Hu was Xi’s immediate predecessor. His administration was known for corruption, market reforms and greater political freedom; all of which are being suppressed by Xi. There must have been some discomfort among the party grandees about Xi amending the constitution to allow himself to serve a third (and probably fourth, fifth…) term as party leader and president.

Publicly humiliating Hu could have been his way of warning off potential critics. There aren’t many left in the upper reaches of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi has used the party congress to eliminate rivals and confirm acolytes. Good for Xi but bad for the world. Having the world’s most powerful dictator surrounded by Yes Men is not good news.

Franco-German Alliance

The Franco-German Alliance has been at the heart of peace in Europe since 1962 when Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle buried a century of brutal animosity in a service at Reims Cathedral.  But what has been termed the “engine room of the EU” is now showing signs of stalling in the face of the energy crisis, the Ukraine War and relations with America.

French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for an EU-wide agreement to cap gas prices and share resources. Such a move was approved in principle at a recent EU summit but Germany’s Olof Scholz is dragging German feet on agreeing the details. At the same time, the Germans have been using their buying power to secure gas supplies at the expense of less well-off EU members. So far the Germans have filled about 90 percent of their storage capacity while countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are struggling.

There are also differences over defense and how military and economic aid should be directed towards Ukraine. The Germans are keen to use Ukraine to tie Washington closer to the defense of Europe. France sees the war as an opportunity to increase European defense cooperation and are angry at the Germans’ cancellation of Franco-German projects involving a new generation of fighter aircraft and battle tanks. Scholz and Macron were keen to smile for the cameras and minimise their differences at their most recent meeting, but they also postponed a 26 October regular Franco-German ministerial conference until “sometime in January.”

US and Ukraine

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Observations of an expat: elephants and grass

When the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. So goes the ancient proverb of Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe. And at the moment, the adage is particularly apt.

The war in Ukraine is creating an energy and food crisis. This is combined with the effects of climate change, recession and the continuing effects of the Covid pandemic. The world is in the thick of a perfect political and economic storm of global proportions.

Within the developed world, allies are starting to bicker as rich countries use their buying power to outbid their less well-off neighbours in order to hoard dwindling resources.

Money allocated for the welfare of people at home and abroad has been redirected to pay for the wasteful costs of war.  $350 billion has been set aside for rebuilding ravaged Ukraine.

Meanwhile drought, famine and war are ravaging the Horn of Africa. In Kenya the UN reports that 4 million people are “food insecure.” In Ethiopia the fifth drought season in succession is exacerbated by a civil war. And in Somalia Islamic fundamentalists and drought are estimated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to have displaced 6 million people.

On the other side of Africa, desertification in Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria is forcing farmers off the land and providing fertile recruiting conditions for Boko Haram.  Nigeria is also suffering from recent floods which destroyed 175,000 acres of farmland and displaced 1.4 million people.

Africa is not the only continent to suffer. It will take Pakistan years to recover from its recent floods. A quarter of the farmland was lost in a country where a quarter of the country’s national income is dependent on the agricultural industry. The total damage will exceed $40 billion or about one-sixth of the country’s GDP.

In the meantime, Western countries are borrowing heavily to finance subsidising energy price. This is on top of record borrowing related to the Covid pandemic. The World Bank and IMF have declared their financial policies “unsustainable.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Good news/bad news on the Ukraine front.

Good news is that Ukrainian military are now making progress. It is also good news that Vladimir Putin has declared martial law in the parts of Ukraine he recently annexed and imposed lesser but still severe restrictions on other parts of Russia. The crackdown is a sure sign of lack of public support.

Bad news that the Russians have started bombing Ukrainian power generating and water pumping stations. So far about a third of the country has lost power. It will be a dark, cold winter for Ukrainians who may also lose water supplies.

Good news on the economic front. The Ukrainian economy is actually growing. This is mainly due to a stable banking system backed up by $23 billion in Western loans to secure currency reserves. But the loans would have been ineffective if the Ukrainians had not cleaned up their banking system which a few years ago was one of the most corrupt in Europe.

European Union

Good and Bad News also on the EU front. They are having another summit as I write this and at the top of the agenda will be how Europe can weather the energy crisis. The bad news is that the European Council has to discuss this issue because the richer countries are bowing to domestic demands to outbid the poorer EU countries for gas and oil supplies. The good news is that they are at least discussing the problem.

Other bad news is that it appears that Iran is involving itself in Ukraine on the Russian side. The drones attacking Ukrainian power stations were made in Iran and there are reports that Tehran is also supplying Russia with trainers and surface to air missiles. The Iranians publicly disapprove of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but, more importantly, they hate America.

France

President Emmanuel Macron had developed a reputation for being more interested in locating Putin’s golden exit ramp than prosecuting the war. As such he was not Volodomyr Zelensky’s most popular Western leader. That perception is changing. This week France announced that they were sending a quarter of their high-tech Caesar cannon to Ukraine. They also announced training facilities for 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers and the dispatch of French anti-aircraft systems and radar. The French still lag well behind the British and Germans, but they are now committing themselves to increased military backing for Ukraine.

Italy

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Observations of an expat: Tactical Nukes

The problem with great power is that using it is too often an abuse of power and if you abuse it, you lose it.

This is especially true of nuclear power as Vladimir Putin may soon discover.

The Russian President has been rattling his nuclear sabres since before his February invasion of Ukraine. He hopes that rattling alone will be enough to bring the West to heel.

This appears to be another of his miscalculations, leaving him with two unpalatable choices: put up or shut up.

If he decides to put up (i.e. use nuclear weapons) then there are a number of options available to him. To start with he will probably start at the bottom of the nuclear leader, that is with tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. He has a wide range of such weapons to choose from.

The explosive yield of Russia’s tactical nukes ranges from 10 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb to less than 0.3 percent of the 1945 explosion. They can be delivered by missile, artillery, landmines, drones, bombers, mortars, even recoilless smooth-bore rifles.

There are different types of explosions. There is the air burst which was used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This bomb explodes in the air above the target. The force of the explosion destroys people and property on the ground but the effects of radiation are minimised.

A ground burst maximises radiation damage because it irradiates the ground which it hits and throws thousands of tons of dirt and rubble into the atmosphere where air currents can move it hundreds of miles from the bomb site.

A neutron bomb, also known as the capitalist bomb, explodes in the air and kills people within its range but leaves property intact.

Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons. NATO used to have a massive Cold War superiority of tens of thousands but now only has about 100.

The reason for its former superiority is that NATO relied on tactical nuclear weapons to slow down a Soviet attack in order to give time for American troops to be rushed across the Atlantic.

Then the Cold War ended and there was a concern that the weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists so NATO tactical nuclear weapons were dismantled. The Russians returned their tactical weapons to storage depots but did not dismantle them.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The freshly minted British Conservative government of Liz Truss is on the ropes. They have only themselves to blame. The “mini-budget” of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has plunged the economy into a downward spiral. The pound is plummeting. Interest rates are rocketing. People are literally on the cusp of losing their homes, and the problems of the world’s fifth largest economy is having a knock-on effect around the world.

The Opposition Labour Party has soared to a 20-point lead in the opinion polls. The Truss-Kwarteng policy of borrowing billions to cut taxes in the middle of a recession has been totally rejected by the markets. One reason for the traders’ emphatic thumbs down is Kwarteng’s refusal to support his budget with an assessment by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Such support is usually a pre-requisite for any budget announcement. The market has interpreted its absence as a sign that the chancellor knew that the OBR would refuse its seal of approval.

Well, now the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, has demanded that Kwarteng organise a retrospective OBR report by the end of October at the latest – and, if the OBR report is as scathing as the statements emitting from the corridors of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund – amend the budget accordingly. In the meantime, the Truss-Kwarteng duo are doing what every politician does these days when caught in a mess of their own making – doubling down and blaming someone else. In this case Ms Truss has hummed and hahed through a series dramatically misjudged local radio interviews. Putin, Ukraine, covid and world energy prices – everything except Brexit – were blamed for the reaction to the budget. But the fact is every other developed country has the same problems (except self-inflicted Brexit) and they have succeeded in propping up their troubled economies. The markets, therefore, have decided that Britain’s problems can be ascribed to political competence.

Baltic

Who blew up the Baltic Sea gas pipe lines on Tuesday? And who is the legal victim? It is almost universally agreed that the explosions were sabotage that involved a state military operation. But which state? Officially neither the Russians nor NATO are pointing a finger, but both are implying that the other is responsible. Sweden said it detected Russian submarines and surface vessels in the sabotage area shortly before the explosions. Russia retorted with a claim that there were even more NATO naval forces in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue has been called by Moscow.

The identity of the attacker is important because the attack occurred in Danish territorial waters which means that it can be construed as an attack on a NATO member. On the other hand, it was an attack on Russian property and so Moscow might be able to claim that it was a NATO attack against them. It is quite possible that we will never know who was responsible because revealing the identity would further escalate the Ukraine War.

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Observations of an ex pat: Blink

Vladimir Putin is daring the West to blink first.

It is the second time since 1945 that the nuclear super powers have been dragged to the brink of the abyss.

In October 1963 it was the Americans who felt threatened. Soviet missiles were moving into their backyard. This time it is the Russians. No US nuclear weapons are being sent to Ukraine, but Russia claims that Washington is using Ukraine as its proxy to—using Putin’s words—“destroy Russia.” But that is where the reverse parallels end. Ukraine is no Cuba. It is more dangerous.

For a start Putin is not Khrushchev. The Soviet system had many faults. It made no pretence of being democratic and its stated aim was the overthrow of Western capitalism. But one of its strengths was that, in 1963 at least, the Politburo was more of a collective leadership than it is today. There was a party leader, but there were others behind him who held significant influence and could replace him in a peaceful transition. In fact, that is exactly what happened.

Putin is an elected dictator. His stranglehold of the media, the judiciary and the electoral commission casts a huge shadow over the Russian ballot box.

Once elected, Putin’s power is far greater than that of his post-Stalinist Soviet successors. He maintains and dispenses that power with a system that combines old-style feudal fealty with kleptocracy masked by religiously-fuelled populist nationalism. And because Putin is elected he has greater domestic political legitimacy than his Soviet predecessors.

This legitimacy, however, has a price—success. If the Russian President fails to deliver he can be removed more easily than the old communist leaders. And because there is no obvious successor or mechanism for finding one, Putin is more likely to resort to drastic measures to stay in power.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

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The National Flag day in Ukraine

I have recently listened to a very inspiring talk by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, about “Faith in Conflicted World”. It is interesting and challenging in a lot of ways. Bishop Welby talks about reconciliation, managed and unmanaged conflict, divisions and polarization in today’s world. Although in his talk, Justin Welby defines the conflict in a number of different ways, for me his talk was a sad reminder that it has been 178 days since the war in Ukraine started. As of Sunday, 21st August, it is exactly 5 months and 28 days since the war in Ukraine broke out. Has initial shock, disbelief, huge sadness and anger faded away and we are now in the stage of simply “accepting” the war? Has the war become a “norm”?

Only yesterday (Saturday, 20th August), after a busy day, I was invited to meet with a wonderful Syrian family, who was invited to our friend’s house in Welwyn Garden City. The subject of the war came up a lot when I spoke with Samer, the father of 4, who fled Syria with his wife and his 3 children. The fourth baby was born in the UK. Most of us probably would not have noticed that it has been 11.5 long years since the war started in Syria. Samer can’t go back to Damascus, an iconic, historic city, which was destroyed during the conflict. I wonder and worry whether the same might happen in Eastern Europe.

Some readers might remember that one of the cities on my bucket list, Sarajevo, was under siege for 1,425 days during the war in ex-Yugoslavia, the longest military siege in modern history. For me, it is simply incomprehensible. The list, unfortunately, never ends…

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The nuclear reactor we should be worried about

Forget about Chernobyl. That was small fry worry. Focus instead on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Zaporizhzhia  supplies half of Ukraine’s nuclear-generated electricity; is next door to the city of Enerhodar (pre-war population of 53,000) and sits alongside the Dnieper River which supplies the drinking water for millions in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea.

The nuclear facility was captured by Russia on 4 March during the Battle of Enerhodar. The power plant is being kept in operation with Ukrainian workers retained by the occupying Russians. But Putin’s forces have—according to US and Ukrainian sources—started using plant precincts as a base for artillery barrages.

The Ukrainians are firing back. On top of that, no one from the UN oversight organisation the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is making the regular visits that insure that all safety measures and checks are being followed. IAEA director Rafael Grossi this week told Associated Press “You have a catalogue of things happening that should never happen in a nuclear power plant.” Mr. Grossi is trying to negotiate access to Zaporizhzhia but to do that will require his inspectors passing through both Ukrainian and Russian lines. This is extremely dangerous for the inspectors and inordinately difficult to arrange.

 The fight to be UK Prime Minister

The British election campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the Premiership of the country this week slipped into high farce and sailed into choppy constitutional waters. Starting with the farce, favourite Liz Truss announced that she would cut public sector pay by about $10 billion by reducing the wages of out of London public sector workers.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

Ukraine and Russia are engaged in a weapons war. The West in Russia are engaged in an economic war of attrition. The West’s main weapon is sanctions. Putin’s main weapons are European dependence on Russian oil and gas, food supplies to millions and the perceived decadence of Western populations. Europe had hoped to build up a reserve of stored gas supplies for the winter by importing as much Russian gas as possible until December. But Putin this week scuppered that plan by cutting piped exports by 80 percent. Germany has stopped lighting public buildings at night and has turned off the hot water in public sports centres. The price of energy is rocketing around the world, fuelling inflation and costing jobs.  There is a real prospect of energy rationing in Europe and possibly further afield. But what about Russia? Putin has admitted that Western sanctions are “a huge challenge.” The Mayor of Moscow has said the city has lost 200,000 jobs. Businesses have been forced to close and inflation in Russia is 16 percent. Analysts at Yale University this week reported that “imports have collapsed” and domestic production has come to a “complete standstill.” But here is the rub, Putin believes that Russians are tougher than their European and American counterparts. Western support for sanctions will collapse, Putin believes, when European and American consumers can no longer afford their long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays. It’s a gamble. For both sides.

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a two-hour face to face in cyberspace this week. They discussed Ukraine, climate change and lifting some of the Trump era tariffs. But top of the list was Taiwan and the proposed trip to the disputed island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have vowed “resolute and forceful measures” if the visit goes ahead. The Ministry of Defense has threatened that the “Chinese military will never sit idly by.” In Taiwan, the authorities have been conducting air raid drills. At the heart of the problem is China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and its stated willingness to use force to impose it. To date, however, Beijing’s emphasis has been on diplomatic pressure. It has successfully isolated the Taipei government by hounding other nations to break off relations and blocking Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. Anything that smacks of international recognition of Taiwan is strongly opposed by Beijing, and a visit by a high-profile American politician who is third in line to the presidency is extremely high profile—especially given Ms Pelosi’s strong anti-Beijing position. She has repeatedly attacked the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record, entertained the Dalai Lama, unfurled a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square and supported Hong Kong demonstrators. In short, she is not well-liked in Beijing.  But there are other problems related to President Xi’s position within the Chinese Communist Party. It is not strong at the moment. He is viewed by many as having badly managed the covid pandemic and China’s response to the war in Ukraine. In October the Party will hold its national congress at which Xi is expected to be voted a third term. It is important that the vote is a general acclamation rather than a mere majority vote. Failure to stand firm on Taiwan—added to covid and Ukraine—could undermine that.

The Brexit Conundrum

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Europe is burning sounds like the title of an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately it is an accurate newspaper headline as the continent this week sweltered in record temperatures.

In normally temperate Britain the thermometer topped 104 fahrenheit. In Spain it reached 109. Spontaneous fires were widespread. The London fire brigade reported its busiest day since the Blitz. Grass and forest fires broke out in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. In Greece alone there were 390 forest fires in one week.

The high pressure system responsible for the heatwave is now over Poland and is expected to continue eastwards reaching China in August before eventually being cooled down by the Pacific waters. This follows record temperatures in the Middle East and South Asia and forest fires in California, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Australia.

Climate change scientists say:  “Get used to it. This is a taste of things to come.”


Joe Biden – America’s 79-year-old president – has covid. It is not surprising. In fact it would be more surprising if he didn’t. Covid has dropped out of the US headlines but not off the health charts. As of Friday nearly a third of the American population – 91,767,460 – have had a confirmed case of coronavirus. 1,050,702 of them have died, including 592 of them this Wednesday alone.

America decided months ago to stop the mandatory wearing of face masks and social distancing and reduced pressure for vaccinations. They were going to learn to live with covid to save the economy. Since then the number of cases has risen dramatically.

The increase in coronavirus cases has not been confined to American shores. Other countries governments are also treating the pandemic as more or less done and dusted. But there have been significant increases in confirmed cases and deaths in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, India, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore…. Someone obviously forgot to tell the virus that it was time to pack up.


There is no love lost between Japan and South Korea. In fact, there has been pretty much a hate-hate relationship ever since the Japanese warlord Toyatomi Hideyoshi raped and pillaged his way across the Korean peninsula in the 16th century.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

A diplomatic truism is that some conflicts are insoluble. They are, however, manageable. Although the consequences of doing nothing or mismanagement can spell disaster. The Arab-Israeli conflict falls neatly into the above category.

President Joe Biden obviously came to this conclusion before stepping on the plane for his tour of the Middle East this week. A succession of American administrations – except Trump’s – has paid homage to the two-state solution. Biden reiterated the pre-Trump position, but not as forcefully as his predecessors. Part of the reason is that there was little point as his Israeli counterpart, Yasir Lapid, is merely a caretaker prime minister while the Jewish state struggles through another political crisis. As for the Palestinians, they are hopelessly divided between Hamas in Gaza who are a designated terrorist organisation and the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas who, at 86, makes Biden look like the proverbial spring chicken. The result is that the two-state solution has been moved from the backburner to refrigerator.

Instead the US administration is focusing on maintaining relations with Israel and trying to draw other allies – mainly Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – into closer relations with Israel. To help with the first point, Biden has toughened his stand on Iran and the threat of nuclear weapons. One thing that all Israeli parties agree on is that Iran represents an existential threat. Biden has agreed that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The second issue is more, problematic, especially as regards Saudi Arabia. There is no love lost between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Biden and the wider Democratic Party. Clearly a problem that needs managing.


Ukrainian military commanders are cock-a-hoop. The military equipment and training provided by the West are starting to work, especially the shoot and scoot American High Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The GPS-guided precision artillery have to date knocked out 19 forward-based Russian ammunition dumps.

The Ukrainians are now talking about a major counter-offensive involving hundreds of thousands of ground troops to retake territories lost in the Donbas Region. There are, however, problems. HIMARS rockets are accurate and effective, but they are also expensive and have to be used sparingly. So far the US has supplied eight launchers. Another four are on the way. The other problem is that their range is limited to 50 miles. As the Ukrainians advance, the Russians could simply stage a tactical retreat and still control a significant slice of Eastern Ukraine. Washington could supply Ukraine with precision weaponry with a range of 500 miles. These would be a war-winner but would mean that Ukraine could strike targets inside Russia which means escalation with disastrous consequences.


Meanwhile there appears to be the possibility of some movement on the movement of grain out of Ukraine. Between them, Russia and Ukraine account for 21-28 percent of the world’s grain supplies and 40 percent of this vital food for the inherently unstable North Africa and Middle East. A big chunk of that grain is – more than 20 million tonnes – trapped in Ukrainian siloes, unable to reach hungry world markets because of a Russian naval blockade. This week saw talks in Istanbul involving Ukrainian, UN, Russian and Turkish negotiators. They ended with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promising a signed deal next week. Moscow and Kyiv have said nothing.

There are several sticking points. For a start the Ukrainians have mined the approaches to their ports to prevent a Russian amphibious landing and the Russians have imposed a naval blockade to stop the import of weapons. Going into this week’s talks Moscow demanded the right to inspect incoming ships for weapons. The Ukrainians said no. The Ukrainians, for their part insisted on grain carriers being escorted by convoys of friendly ships. That is a possibility and Turkey may play a role here.

A further complication, however, is that the exports would include Russian grain which Ukrainians assert has been stolen from land occupied by the Russians since their 24 February invasion.  Not surprisingly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said: “There is still a way to go.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

So we know that abortion is now, or is about to be, illegal in about half of the American states. But what about the rest of the world? And what affect is the Supreme Court decision having elsewhere?

In Brazil at the moment abortions are allowed in cases of rape and incest. Populist right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has used the overturning of Roe v Wade to call for a total ban. At the same time, other countries have condemned the ruling. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “major step backwards.” Almost simultaneous with the Supreme Court decision, Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law that bans doctors from offering information about abortion procedures. Spain took steps to remove parental consent for 16-17 year olds. French legislators proposed a bill to make abortion a constitutional right and the Dutch voted to abolish a mandatory five-day wait for women seeking an abortion. Within the EU only Malta has a total ban on abortion. Poland is the next strictest country on abortion laws. It allows pregnancy terminations in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened. Generally, abortion has become accepted as a woman’s right in all but 37 out of 195 countries in the world.

The Ukraine War is sucking ammo dumps dry. The Russians are the worst hit. A tough Ukrainian defense has forced them to resort to blanket artillery barrages. They started with high precision missiles and by mid-May had fired off an estimated 2,200 of them. They are not cheap. Each cruise missile costs $1.9 million. They also take time to build and involve semi-conductors and transistors which are unavailable in Russia. Moscow’s now depleted precision munitions means that it is using more low precision artillery shells – about 20,000 a day – which increases the collateral damage. Tanks are another problem. The Ukrainians have been particularly adept at knocking out Russia’s tanks. So far the kill rate has topped a thousand. Each tank costs about $4 million and takes a minimum of three months to build.

But the other side – Ukraine and its Western backers – is also having problems. Kyiv didn’t have much to start with and most of it was out of date Soviet-era Russian-produced weaponry. It now has to rely on NATO defense equipment which they do not know how to use. So they have to be trained which takes time. Britain has taken a key role in training Ukrainian troops. But NATO is also running short of weapons to send Ukraine, especially the Europeans who have been particularly generous. Poland for instance, has given a quarter of its tanks to the Ukrainian army. Britain has donated about a third of its highly-effective Starstreak anti-tank missile systems and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pleading the special case argument to increase defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP.

Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have seriously depleted their weapons stocks. One of the reasons that the NATO summit agreed to a near ten-fold increase in troop and weapons levels in the Baltic region is because the defense cupboards in that region are heading towards bare. US ammo dumps are also taking a hit. Ukrainians have made good use of American-made Javelin missiles. Seven thousand of them – roughly a third of the total US stock of Javelins – has been sent to Ukraine. The American armaments industry produces an estimated 1,500 Javelin missiles a year. But the US has other similar systems and the industrial capacity to expand production. In a war of attrition, the West is much better placed then Russia. The next question is: Does it have the political will?

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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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Does 100 days of bloody war in Ukraine presage wider conflict?

One hundred days of fear. One hundred days of death. One hundred days of annihilation of cities, towns and villages.

It is 100 days since Russia launched its bloody wave of killing and destruction in Ukraine. The conflict in Ukraine is not a war somewhere off. It is in the biggest country in Europe and is on the delicate border between the EU and Putin’s Russian sphere of influence.

The impacts on Europe are immense and growing. From the need for countries such as Poland to house millions of refugees to the need to urgently rewire economies dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat and vegetable oil. And there is the vexed question of Russian gas and oil which props up some European economies and pumps funds back into the Kremlin’s murderous war machine.

Sanctions and reluctant measures to reduce dependency on Russian fossil fuels are having an impact. But like the supply of weapons, it is proving too little too late.

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100 days

There is a lot to celebrate this weekend. I hope that most of us will have an opportunity to rest and relax a bit!

However, it is incredibly sad that today marks 100 days since Russia started its invasion on Ukraine.

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 4,169 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of June 1, 2022. Of them, 268 were children. Furthermore, 4,982 people were reported to have been injured. However, the real numbers could be higher.
  • There were approximately 13,000 non-fatal injuries.
  • At least 15 million people were displaced (more than the total population of Los Angeles).
  • There are 2,300 destroyed buildings.

So many Ukrainians were forced to flee. So many had to leave behind members of their families, husbands, fathers or livelihoods.

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Russia’s Ukrainian war must lead to Putin’s downfall

In my Lib Dem Voice article of 4th March 2022, I argued that Putin should be stopped in Ukraine for good.

Now that Putin has narrowed his war aims to take over the rest of Donbas, Luhansk, including the industrial and food producing heartland of Ukraine, having had created a land corridor to Crimea and brought Ukraine’s economy to its knees, he may well accede to calls for a ceasefire to consolidate his gains, erect strong defences in his recently-captured territories and rebuild his army into a new more effective force to recommence war whenever it suits him.

A ceasefire would be the easy way out for the West. Some western countries have already suggested it. However, we must resist this happening if the Ukrainian Government is against it.

After tens of thousands of Ukrainian deaths, disappearances of whole Ukrainian populations deported from captured war zones into Russia, the wholesale demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns (all at a cost of 25,000 dead Russian soldiers so far and many more wounded), the chaos that Putin has caused cannot be allowed to be paused to be continued later, whether against Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.

We have two and a half years before the possible return of Trump or another far-right Republican to the White House. Given Trump’s previous disparaging remarks about NATO, we cannot exclude the possibility that the US would pull out or render US membership of NATO ineffective. Coupled with Trump’s own admiration for Putin, the very survival of liberal democracy is at stake in such circumstances if Putin continues to remain in power with, of course, China taking advantage of the situation to further its own aims against the West.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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See an Award Winning Movie and Help Ukraine

The Lloyd George Society and Rights-Liberties-Justice are sponsoring a showing of the film Mr Jones at the National Liberal Club on 20 June. The movie tells the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist and former employee of Lloyd George, who travelled secretly to the USSR to uncover the truth about the Holodomor, the great famine of 1933 under Stalin’s regime in the Ukraine. Jones witnesses appalling conditions, including starving people whose grain has been forcibly taken away for consumption elsewhere, villages whose entire populations have died or just vanished and ‘horrifically, he stumbles across examples of cannibalism. Yet despite his evidence, Jones finds it hard to get the matter taken seriously once back in Britain.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Irish question has bedevilled British, European and American politics since… well, forever. It played a role in the Council of Whitby in 664. In 1169 England’s Norman rulers invaded and started centuries of direct conflict.

All this was supposed to end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Well two events this week have brought it back from a shallow grave: The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest party on both sides of the border and British refusal to accept the Northern Ireland protocol. The two political incidents have also brought the possibility of a united Ireland a giant step closer. Sinn Fein is totally committed to a referendum in the north on a united Ireland. The long-term stranglehold of the Protestants on the politics of the six northern counties has been a major stumbling block. That has ended.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is also pushing the two halves together. It has tied Northern Ireland economically to the EU and the southern part of the island and weakened trading ties with Britain. The Protestants are, of course, opposed to the protocol. The conservative Boris Johnson government is trying to reverse it because of their traditional links to Protestant parties and commitment to a divided island.  But the Protestant establishment – in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party – is no longer in the majority. And the majority of Northern Irish voters see their future in Europe and that means linked with the Republic of Ireland. But they still have to contend with die-hard Protestants, who, if they cannot win at the ballot box, could easily turn to the terrorist tactics of their IRA counterparts.

Britain was the driving force behind the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. It pushed for the alliance to quickly admit former Warsaw Pact members in the 1990s and has taken the lead in arming Ukraine. This week British PM Boris Johnson was in Sweden and Finland to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with Sweden and Finland. The three countries are now pledged to come to each other’s aid in the event of a crisis. The treaties are a symbolic first step towards full-fledged Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO which is expected to be finalised at next month’s heads of government summit.

Vladimir Putin is furious and has promised retaliation. NATO expansion, Putin has repeatedly asserted, is one of the main reasons for his invasion of Ukraine.  But for Sweden and Finland, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is THE reason for their decision to end 200 years of neutrality for the Swedes and 67 years for the Finns.

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Ukraine won Eurovision. Now we have to win a war.

Eurovision is an acquired taste. Many people regard it as a pleasure. War is an enforced taste. Very few people regard it as a pleasure.

The win last night at the world’s most popular, and often cheesiest, song contest is a mood boost for Ukraine. The jury had put the UK entry, Space Man by Sam Ryder at the head of the pack. In an ordinary year, Sam Ryder would have given the UK the winner that has eluded it since Katrina and the Waves.

This is not an ordinary year. Last night’s event opened with a Rockin’ 1000 rendition of the anthem “Give Peace a Chance”.

The public vote, especially in Europe and Australia, was in favour of Stefania, performed by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra. Without the war, this performance might have won in its own right. However, this was a night where politics blended with music. As the crowd roared its approval, Oleh Psiuk pleaded: “Please help Ukraine, help Mariupol, help Azovstal right now.” Ukraine duly won Eurovision for a second time.

President Zelensky said on hearing the result: “Our courage impresses the world. Our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!”

That’s ambitious but the world needs to do everything it can to ensure that ambition is fulfilled. That means winning a war first.

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World Review: Strange bedfellows in France, Ukraine, Roe v. Wade and Belarus

French politics have been thrown into confusion with an unprecedented “Stop Macron” alliance of the left for next month’s parliamentary elections. The  concordat has been forged by France’s elder statesman of the Left, Jean-luc Melenchon who just missed being included in last month’s presidential run-offs. He has persuaded the Communists, Greens and Socialists to join his France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed), to stop Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU legislative agenda. But Melenchon’s pre-election coalition does not spell a foregone victorious conclusion for the French Left. The latest opinion polls show a three-way split between the left-wing alliance, Macron’s La Republique en Marche and the right of centre conservatives and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

The Socialists and Melenchon make strange bedfellows with opposing views on the EU and NATO membership. They do, however, agree on the bread and butter issues of lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum age and capping prices on essential products. On the other end of the political spectrum, it is uncertain whether the Republicans will support Macron or Le Pen in the new National Assembly. The political map is further complicated by France’s two-round electoral assembly which appears to give Macron’s party a slight advantage in the run-off vote on 19 June. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the National Assembly elections are making life complicated for the newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and the results may make his second term very difficult.

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