Tag Archives: ukraine

9 April 2024 – today’s press releases

  • Hospital’s spend £3million on pest control as patients suffer from rats and insects
  • Cameron and Trump: European leaders’ summit needed to seize frozen Russian assets
  • Cole-Hamilton: SNP have failed to help A&E recover
  • Lib Dems launch London Transport Policy – Blackie: “No more bus cuts”

Hospital’s spend £3million on pest control as patients suffer from rats and insects

  • Staff report being bitten by bugs as rats roam maternity and emergency wards
  • Freedom of Information requests reveal NHS Hospitals coping with 18,000 pest incidents since 2021
  • Liberal Democrat Leader demands urgent repair fund for crumbling hospitals

Freedom of Information Requests by the Liberal Democrats have revealed the extent of pests roaming NHS Hospitals. As the NHS repair backlog reaches record levels, these new revelations show staff and patients subjected to poor conditions.

Since 2021, over 60 NHS Trusts have reported £3.7 million spent on pest control at their hospitals. Imperial College NHS Trust, which includes St.Mary’s Hospital London, spent a staggering £383,597 on pest control, including dealing with 748 pest incidents last year alone.

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust spent £119,199 to deal with mice in the kitchen, maggots in the mortuary and rat droppings in a corpse bag, amongst many other pests.

The most shocking incidents were reported by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust, which includes Colchester Hospital and Ipswich Hospital. Staff reported:

  • Black insects are biting the legs of staff
  • Ants and fly infestations
  • Rats in the ambulance area

At Ashford NHS Trust, dead headless pigeons and dead rabbits, as well as slug and ants were reported. Royal United Hospitals Bath reported pests in the children’s ward and breast clinic.

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Ukraine; are we absolutely sure we want a wider war?

In war it is good to remember two bits of age-old wisdom, if unnecessary deaths are to be avoided; ‘know your enemy’ and ‘don’t believe your own propaganda’.

Ignoring these two adages led to the West’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, and Western-led conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Saharan Africa and Yemen, which have all been catastrophic for Western interests.

We now have a parallel in Ukraine.

As I wrote in LDV on 11th Feb 2023:

In April Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine’ and ‘Ukraine clearly believes that it can win, and so does everyone here’. At the end of the previous month the US President called for the removal of President Putin from power.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 21 Comments

Observations of an Expat: Ukraine: Bad or Worse

Too often the political choice is not between good and bad or moral or immoral. It is between bad and worse.

Ukraine’s President Vlodomyr Zelensky is facing just such a choice. And he must decide soon or sooner.

Eastern Europe’s bitter winter is coming to a close. The spring thaw and rains are turning the wheat fields into mudflats. But summer is coming and the ground will be hard, flat and ready for tanks.

It is strategic decision time. Does Zelensky abandon the counter-offensive hopes of last summer, withdraw to defensible positions and start digging trenches, laying minefields and constructing tank traps? If he does he will be building a man-made hard border that separates the Donetsk Region from the rest of Ukraine with physical obstacles and increases the possibility of the permanent loss of Eastern Ukraine to Russia.

If the Ukrainian leader does concentrate on strengthening his defences by summer, then he runs the risk of the Russian steamroller breaking through all the way to Kyiv.

His decision-making window is small and closing. By May the ground should be suitable for a tank attack. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is reported to have 350-500,000 fresh troops ready to move into the front line. And Putin is expected to use his recent electoral victory to justify another mobilisation.

Zelensky made the decision to make a stand at the factory town of Avdiika. He lost. It cost the Russians an estimated 17,000 lives, but they have eliminated a Ukrainian foothold in the Donetsk Region and improved their position for a spring offensive. Ukraine’s battle for Avdiika was at the expense of building defensive fortifications elsewhere along the 600-mile front line.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The Ukraine aid bill is starting to inch its way through the American House of Representatives. Up until this week the $60 billion much-needed package has been blocked by Speaker Mike Johnson’s refusal to allow Congress a vote on the issue.

He also tied the aid bill (which also includes money for Israel and Taiwan) to tougher laws on immigration.

This has clearly been done in collusion with Donald Trump who opposes aid to Ukraine and wants to delay any agreement on immigration so that he can make it his key election issue.

Senate Republicans have already passed the Ukraine aid bill and have been piling the pressure on Speaker Johnson to allow a vote. This week he agreed. But with several huge caveats. For a start, aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan will be voted on separately. Next, he wants to change the wording of the legislation from “aid” to “loan” or possibly “lend-lease.”

Johnson also wants to explore the possibility of applying the profits from $300 billion of frozen Russian assets to the aid that Ukraine needs. This would involve something called the REPO Act or, The Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukraine Act which authorizes the President to seize Russian assets.

The problem with the REPO Act is that it specifies that the seized assets should be used for reconstruction. Ukraine needs money to fight. Reconstruction comes after the fighting.

There are other problems with Johnson’s apparent change of heart. To start with, separating out the different clauses and turning aid into a loan will seriously delay the bill. Next, because it is substantially changed the bill will have to go back to the Senate and, finally, both houses of Congress are about to start their 22-day Easter recess.

Mike Johnson’s change of heart may actually be a change of delaying tactics.

European Union

Meanwhile the Europeans are trying to fill the gap and smooth over their differences over Ukraine. The last few weeks have seen French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olof Scholz sniping at each other over who is more generous to the brave Ukrainians.

Macron talked about the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and urged Scholz to provide Volodomyr Zelensky with long-range Taurus missiles. The more cautious Scholz delivered a firm “nein” to sending troops and ruled out the despatch of Taurus because German soldiers would be needed to operate the system. Scholz also pointed out that Germany was providing a lot more money than France and that if the French leader wanted to help Ukraine he should put his money where his mouth is.

Enter Donald Tusk, former European Commission president and current prime minister of Poland. He called a meeting of the leaders of the EU’s two biggest countries to smooth out difficulties that were threatening to derail EU support for Ukraine.

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Russia’s frozen state assets must be used to rebuild Ukraine

On Thursday, at their summit in Brussels, EU leaders agreed in principle to commandeer most of the profits being generated from frozen Russian state assets to use in support of Ukraine.

This news follows last weekend’s Lib Dem Spring conference’s endorsement of an amendment to the “Liberal Values in A Dangerous World” motion, calling for legal ways to be found to access the estimated US$ 300 billion of the Russian state’s frozen sovereign assets – about half the total being held in the world – as reparations for Ukraine. The World Bank estimates that US$ 480 billion’s worth of damage has been done to Ukraine so far in Russia’s war of aggression.

EU leaders’ initial steps involve leaving the principal untouched for now and concentrating on accessing the profits being generated by the frozen state assets. The aim is to generate €3 billion this year, with the first tranche of €1 billion released to Ukraine by July. European Commission President von der Leyen wants to use it primarily to assist Ukraine’s defence of its country.

This perhaps rather hesitant start to the use of Russian state assets is part of ongoing efforts to find ways to access the funds in legal ways which also do not run high risks to the stability of the euro and have impact on the financial system. Most of the money is held in Belgium by Euroclear, the central securities depository, which will clearly need to be protected from Russian retaliation.

As European governments are struggling to support Ukraine financially, there is no realistic possibility of rebuilding Ukraine without using frozen Russian assets. The principle is clear to everyone: the aggressor must pay.

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Pan-European solidarity – shielding Ukraine from Russia’s desperation

As I contemplate the current state of the world, Russia relentlessly continues its barbaric bombardment of Ukraine, while, seemingly, the US Republicans play the fiddle as Ukraine burns. Reflecting on the past two years of this disastrous occupation of Ukraine, the initial unity and support pledged by the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union seem to falter. Certain elements in the United States and Europe, Hungary notably, lean towards a path of apathy and appeasement, potentially jeopardising any efforts to curb Putin’s hunger for rebuilding the Russian Empire.

With each passing day, Russia grows more desperate, seeking weaponry from the hermit kingdom of North Korea. Rumours circulate that Mr. Putin plans to visit North Korea post what is sarcastically referred to as “free and fair elections” in Russia. However, the stark reality is that the special operation in Ukraine has utterly failed, leaving Russia increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. Britain, in response, pledges a substantial £2.5 billion to support the war effort, and the French contemplate the deployment of European troops in Ukraine. A move that I fear might escalate tensions to the point of an all-out war with the Russian state.

My primary concern revolves around the potential re-election of a certain Donald Trump. As an isolationist leader with little interest in the safety of Europe unless a considerable price is paid, Europe can no longer rely on the United States. This realisation marks a sombre day for both European and British politics. In response, the European Union introduces the European Defence Industrial Strategy, outlining the aim to purchase 40% of defence equipment from Europe by 2030. Additionally, half of their defence procurement budget is to be allocated to products made within Europe.

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Lib Dems mark 2 years since invasion of Ukraine

Two years ago we all woke up to the awful news that Russia, after lots of menacing, had finally invaded Ukraine. Honestly, not many of us gave the Ukrainians much chance in fending them off. That they are still standing is down to their charismatic leader and a huge international effort.

Ed Davey said:

We stand with all Ukrainians as they bravely and brilliantly resist the Russian war machine.

The UK will continue to aid their fight for their country, for their democracy and for their freedom.

Sarah Green said:

Today we mark the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine (not forgetting the invasion of Crimea in 2014). We must continue to stand with the Ukrainian people – Putin’s aggression cannot be allowed to prevail.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton is marking the anniversary by urging the UK and Scottish governments to expand their support for the country.

Mr Cole-Hamilton is calling on the UK government to widen sanctions against those on the “Navalny list” and for the Scottish Government to deliver transparency over who owns land in Scotland as well as to support the 1 in 10 Ukrainians in Scotland who remain in temporary accommodation.

At 11am this morning he will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle to commemorate the Ukrainians who have died in the fighting.

Alex said:

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22-26 January 2024 – this week in the Lords

Hello, dear readers, and we meet again for another episode of the costume drama that is the House of Lords. And this week, it’s a “Rwanda week” even though the Rwanda Bill only received its formal First Reading on Thursday and isn’t due back until next Tuesday.

Even a relatively keen observer like myself is often surprised by the working of the Lords and, this week, the International Agreements Committee takes centre stage. I suppose, having thought about it, that any Parliamentary chamber would want to take a close look at international agreements signed in its name, and the House of Lords is no different. Chaired by Peter Goldsmith, the former (and rather controversial) Labour Attorney General, the Committee published its report on the UK-Rwanda Agreement on an Asylum Partnership. It doesn’t make good reading for the Government and, in typically courteous Lords fashion, accuses James Cleverly of effectively attempting to mislead the Committee (see paragraph 44). The report, including a series of recommendations, is to be debated on Monday and there will then be a motion, moved by Lord Goldsmith, resolving that:

His Majesty’s Government should not ratify the UK-Rwanda Agreement on an Asylum Partnership until the protections it provides have been fully implemented, since Parliament is being asked to make a judgement, based on the Agreement, about whether Rwanda is safe.

You can expect contributions from the two Liberal Democrat members of the Committee, Chris Fox and Tim Razzall, and there is every possibility of a Government defeat if Labour whip their members to vote for the motion.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Surprise, Surprise, Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to the two-state solution.

The Israeli Prime Minister has never made any secret that he believes that the only guarantee of Israeli security is Israeli control of Palestinian security. On Thursday he reiterated his position.

Any Palestinian state, Netanyahu argues, would be dedicated to the overthrow of the Israeli state. And even if they publicly committed themselves to peace, Netanyahu wouldn’t believe them.

The primary responsibility of every country is defence. Ipso facto, there can be no Palestinian state—according to Netanyahu.

Most of the rest of the world believes that there are basically three possible outcomes to the Arab-Israeli Crisis: The Israelis wipe out the Palestinians. The Palestinians wipe out the Israelis. Or the two sides somehow work out a modus operandi that allows the two groups to live side by side in peace.

The Biden Administration was hopeful that the experience of Gaza would show that the only long-term opportunity for peace is a political solution which involves a Palestinian state.

But Netanyahu appears unfazed by Gaza. He told a press conference this week that Israel must have security control over all land west of the River Jordan, which would include the territory of any future Palestinian state.

This is a necessary condition, and it conflicts with the idea of (Palestinian) sovereignty. What to do? I tell this truth to our American friends, and I also told them to stop the attempt to impose a reality on us that would harm Israel’s security.

John Kirby, the US National Security Adviser, replied: “Israel and the US see things differently.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, sees the Middle East very much through Bibi eyes. His Abraham Accords were designed to circumvent the Palestinians and the two-state solution. Netanyahu’s continued intransigence could—at least in part—reflect his hope for a Trump victory in the November presidential elections.

A Trump Landslide?

Iowa was a Trump landslide. Or was it? Only 15 percent of the state’s 718,000 registered Republicans voted—the lowest turnout in years.

Why? There is no certain answer but here are a few possibles, starting with the MAGA camp: The weather was atrocious. Nobody in their right mind would risk leaving home to caucus in the sub-Arctic temperatures.

Also, the media named Trump the big margin winner before the caucusing started. Why bother risking frostbite to vote for one of the losers or even for the winner? Best stay warm.

Now, for the non-MAGA Republican perspective: We don’t want Trump, but none of the others can win, so why risk hypothermia for a wasted vote?

Everyone is an individual, even in Iowa. So chances are that there are 69,000 reasons why 85 percent of the state’s Republicans failed to caucus. But if that figure is extrapolated across America—then Trump is in trouble come the general election.

As any seasoned campaigner will tell you. The key to winning elections is to persuade as many as possible of your registered voters to get out and vote. Apathy can result in political disaster.

Taiwan

Conspicuous by its near silence in the aftermath of the Taiwanese elections is the voice of Chinese President Xi-jingping.

To briefly re-cap, the Chinese leader was loud in his election support for the Kuomintang but and condemnation for the incumbent Democratic People’s Party. This is because the KMT favoured closer relations with Mainland China based on the 1992 “one country two systems” concept. The DPP, on the other hand, is moving Taiwan closer to a quasi-sovereign independent state.

The DPP’s William Lai won the presidency, although the party has lost its majority in  parliament.

The US is in two-minds about the result. They want Taiwan in the democratic capitalist camp. But not necessarily as a sovereign Taiwan. This could provoke Beijing into a military solution which would drag in America’s Pacific-based Seventh Fleet.

So the State Department issued a rather anodyne statement which welcomed the fact that Taiwan held democratic elections, without focusing on the possible repercussions. Statements from Japan, the EU and NATO countries followed suit.

Beijing was, if anything, more anodyne, it has said virtually nothing about the election result itself. Instead it focused on the statements from the Western countries and basically said they had no right to make any comment because Taiwan is part of China. The diplomatic conversation then ended.

There could be lots of reasons for the Chinese not to take the argument further. There is no point. Xi is busy purging his military and party structures. The Chinese economy is sluggish. Or, he could be waiting for a Trump victory in November.

Is honour now satisfied in the Iran-Pakistan tit for tat missile exchanges?

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Welcome to my day: 15 January 2024 – trying a little harder…

Today is, apparently Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. But not here at Liberal Democrat Voice. Whilst Christmas is just far enough behind us now to be becoming a distant memory, the shops are full of Valentines stuff and Easter eggs, and there are at least two more by-elections for the opposition parties to get their teeth into (with a double dip in Blackpool still to come?). The Conservatives continue to find ways of tripping over their own biases and the Telegraph (yes, really) seems determined to add to their woes with polling that suggest that Rishi …

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States (1)

Rudy Guiliani is broke. Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss wish Trump’s top legal adviser wasn’t. A US court has ruled that Guiliani has ruined their lives when he publicly and falsely accused them of tampering with Georgia election ballots.

This Friday a jury of eight was considering whether or not to grant their request for $43 million in damages. An award, which will almost certainly be academic.

Three divorces, a lavish lifestyle and backing Donald Trump’s election lie has destroyed the 79-year-old’s fortune.

The former Mayor of New York was a presidential  candidate in 2007. As such he had to reveal his assets. He said he was worth $18 million. Court accountants believe the figure was probably closer to $70 million. In 2017 he was earning $10 million a year in speaker’s fees alone, and had been doing so for more than 10 years.

He enjoyed the money. According to court documents, Rudy Guiliani in 2017 owned six homes, belonged to 11 country clubs and spent $12,000 a month on cigars.

The fall started with divorce from his wife Judith.  She took a big chunk of his assets and alimony payments of $43,000 per month. But Giuliani’s biggest mistake was joining Donald Trump’s personal legal team in 2018.

By 2020 he was his top lawyer and closely connected with Trump’s election lie. This led to a $10 million defamation suit by an ex-employee and additional law suits from election computer manufacturers Smartamatic and Dominion Voting.

In 2022 the Internal Revenue Service took out a lien on his Florida condo because he had failed to pay $500,000 in taxes. In August of this year his own lawyers sued him $1.4 million in unpaid legal bills. His current net assets are $1 million. His known current liabilities (and there are more to come) are $1.9 million. He is bust. Backing Trump has a price.

United States (2)

Republicans may be shooting themselves in the foot over their planned impeachment of President Joe Biden.

There seems to be little doubt that the president’s son Hunter is guilty of a number of bad things. But despite months of deep digging by Republican congressmen, no one has been able to uncover a shred of hard evidence linking the president to his son’s business dealings.

Nevertheless, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives appears determined to start impeachment proceedings against President Biden.

Impeachment is a serious business. It takes a lot of time and effort. While an impeachment is in progress Congress is focused on little else. That means debates over government spending, immigration, Ukraine, Israel and climate change are all put on the legislative backburner.

These are all important issues for the American electorate. They will not thank Republican congressman for ignoring their interests to pursue a political vendetta without evidence to back it up.

Ukraine

It has been a bad week for Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky. In Washington he hit a brick wall in an attempt to release $61 billion in aid.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Remember Ukraine? A reminder: It is the East European country sandwiched between Russia and Poland which Russia invaded in February 2022.

You would be forgiven for letting it slip from your political consciousness. Six months ago it and its president Volodomyr Zelensky were being hailed as the “democratic shield” protecting the West from land-hungry autocratic Russia.

Now it has been pushed out of the headlines the corridors of concern by the war in Gaza and whichever crisis comes next.

The problem is that Ukraine cannot afford to slip off the front pages. It needs a successful PR campaign to stay in the war and keep the shield intact. Its armaments industry and its population are limited.

Russia’s manpower pool is four times the size of Ukraine’s. Its historic label is “steamroller.” Its armaments industry is ten times larger and was preparing years before the war started. It is also receiving weapons from Iran, North Korea and possibly China.

It is weapons that are particularly important at the moment, especially artillery shells which are used by both sides to hold the enemy at bay. Russia is estimated to have fired 22,000 rounds a day during the summer to stymie the Ukrainian counter-offensive. The Ukrainians fired 5,000 rounds.

European members of NATO promised Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery shells by the end of 2023. It will fall well short of that target, although several European countries–  including Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Finland and the Baltic states—have started to increase their armaments production. However, a lot of the increased production will go towards replacing depleted national stocks.

America, is, of course, the historic “arsenal of democracy.” But President Biden’s promised support is being held up by Republican congressmen who either want to divert money to Israel or feel that Ukraine is solely a European problem.

If the defense of Ukraine is left entirely to Europe then the hard-pressed European economies will have to increase armaments production even more. At the current rate, the million promised rounds is only enough to keep the Ukrainian guns firing for another six months.

UK and Rwanda

Britain’s Rwanda asylum issue is morphing into a constitutional crisis. At stake is the independence of the British judiciary, a long-established cornerstone of the country’s democratic foundations.

The UK Supreme Court recently threw out government plans to fly asylum seekers to the central African country of Rwanda. The basis of their decision was that the proposal was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Refugees and three British acts of parliament relating to asylum seekers and refugees. Rwanda was not safe, ruled the court, because its government was likely to return asylum seekers to the country from which they had fled. This is known as refoulement.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The ripple effects following the ejection of Kevin McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair in the US House of Representatives are severe and wide-reaching. The issues most affected are moderates in the Republican Party, Ukraine and the credibility of the United States.

The mainstream of the Republican Party – or at least the congressional caucus – is not as unreasonably far-right as it is portrayed. Out of the 221 Republican members of the lower house, only 40 are signed up members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus. And of those, only about 20 could be considered extreme right by American standards.

The problem is that the Freedom Caucus – especially the far-right 20 or so members – are really a separate political party using the broad coattails of the Republican establishment to pursue policies which are antithetical to their own party. They can succeed in their aims because the Republicans’ majority as a whole is so narrow that the Freedom Caucus holds the balance of power.

In practice this means that the next Speaker could easily be Congressman Jim Jordan, a rabid Trump supporter and founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He has already secured the ex-president’s endorsement.

It also means that Ukraine will find it difficult to secure the next tranche of US military aid it has been promised. For the Freedom Caucus and Donald Trump the issue of self-determination and respect for the rule of law comes after support for Vladimir Putin.

The ejection of McCarthy also makes a US government shutdown almost certain.  It was McCarthy’s successful 11th-hour deal to prevent a shutdown which provided the straw that broke the back of the caucus camel. Any future Speaker will be all too aware that he will suffer the same fate if he allows Biden’s budget through Congress.

All of the above bolsters the belief that political divisions are rendering the US ungovernable. This in turn undermines credibility at home and abroad. America is the recognised standard bearer of world democracy. Alternative systems—especially Russia, China and Iran—argue that if democracy can’t work in America… then it can’t work.

Ukraine

Support for Ukraine this week suffered a blow on the European side of the Atlantic as well as the American.

It came in the form of an election victory for the pro-Russian Slovakian politician Robert Fico and his Direction-Social Democracy (or SMER-SD) Party. Fico’s party failed to win an outright majority in parliament, but with 24 percent of the votes it is the largest single party and is currently in coalition talks with smaller pro-Russian parties.

They have until 16 October to form a government and in the interim period have announced an end to all aid to Ukraine; a block on Ukrainian membership of NATO and an end to Slovakian support for EU sanctions against Russia.

Unlike most of the current batch of European populist parties, SMER-SD is left as opposed to right-wing. This, however, has not prevented Hungary’s populist right-winger Viktor Orban from welcoming Fico’s victory. Clearly common ground on the populist positions on the EU, Russia, gay rights, woke culture, immigration, media restrictions, curbs on the judiciary, sanctions and the war in Ukraine trumps the political spectrum issue.

This is not Fico’s first run at Slovak prime minister. He was initially elected to the job in 2012 with a whopping 83-seat majority. He was forced into coalition after the 2016 election and shortly afterward ran unsuccessfully for the presidency. In 2018 he was forced to resign as prime minister after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. He had been investigating the Slovakian mafia and police later linked Maria Troskova, Fico’s assistant, to the gangs.

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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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Kira Rudik wows Conference with a powerful and personal speech

 

Kira Rudik is the leader of Holos, the first Liberal Party to be elected to the Ukrainian Parliament. She is also Vice President of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – the political grouping that brings together like-minded political parties within Europe. She is a proud European and has campaigned for many years for Ukraine to join the EU.

She was welcomed on to the stage by Layla Moran, who was dressed in the blue and yellow of Ukraine. Kira started with some thank yous – and it was clear she knew a number of our senior members well.

She then told us about the day the invasion happened, starting at 5am. Kira and nearly two thirds of the MPs made their way to the Parliament Building – a highly dangerous act as the building was an obvious target. They were allowed 10 minutes together in the chamber during which time they hit buttons furiously so they could pass all the necessary legislation. All the political parties vowed to work together until the war was over – a pledge that has been challenging but still holds.

You can watch her speech here:

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ukrainian Offensive Hasn’t Failed.  We have Failed the Ukrainians.

Without a doubt, the Ukrainian Military’s recent counteroffensive has proved more challenging than the last one.  Ukraine’s ability to put together such counteroffensives and defend the wider country remains at the mercy of the generosity of military aid donors.  “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky pleaded.

However, the arrival of military aid has often been delayed for political reasons as much as logistical ones.  This counteroffensive for instance has seen the Ukrainian Military forced to determinedly advance without air cover.  This is despite the Ukrainian Government requesting Fighter Jets, such as F-16s, to be sent for their defence since the start of the 2022 invasion.  The delay in the arrival of equipment for the current counteroffensive gave ample time for the invading Russian enforces to entrench and defend the land they have stolen.  Some reports say it has even given them ample breathing space to counter some Western weapons such as HIMARS.  Western leaders have justified the incremental approach to giving such aid to encourage de-escalation.  Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin reading Western reticence as weakness, as he has always done, has proceeded on his same imperialist course. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that the short-term concerns of Western democracies, such as the US Presidential election next year, will mean that the alliance that supports Ukraine will ultimately fall apart.  This is why those democracies, especially European ones need to convene a long term plan to support Ukraine.  Bilateral and piecemeal military aid announcements were never sufficient to achieve victory.  If NATO membership is barred to Ukraine, then alternative security assurances need to be given to Ukraine.  A Memorandum of Understanding enshrining a commitment to support Ukraine could either be agreed between that country and it’s allies collectively or on a bilateral basis.  What is imperative is that European countries in particular plan for a future where the considerable US aid to Ukraine is potentially no longer available.  Brexit aside, the UK needs to be involved in any European discussions about supporting Ukraine in the long term to coordinate efforts.

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Lib Dems for Ukraine

We have potholes. They have craters. We have a cost of living crisis. They have a cost of dying crisis. We have hospital waiting lists. They have a list of bombed hospitals. As I write this in Kyiv, Vladimir Putin is trying to kill me. Not just me but everyone in the Ukrainian capital.  To be fair, Russia’s hypersonic missiles, sorry, elderly Russian ironmongery, keep getting shot out of the sky. But the war in Ukraine is not over by a long chalk. The charge sheet of Russian barbarism gets grimmer by the day: targeting civilians, torture, execution, rape, castration.

The values of Ukraine are our values: democracy, liberalism, we don’t just respect the other – we fight for them. Together, we must stand against the Fascist International. Our job as Liberal Democrats is to keep up the pressure on the Conservative government and remind the rather too many people in the Labour Party that the word of Vladimir Putin is not reliable, to put it mildly. That’s why we are setting up the Liberal Democrat Friends of Ukraine.

Three policies stand out. We must support Ukraine with the military hardware necessary for the defeat of Russian fascism. We must make Britain as welcoming to Ukrainian refugees as the European Union is: if you have a Ukrainian passport, you can stay and live and work in Britain for three years, just as you can in Germany, Italy, France, across the whole union. We must burn down Londongrad and send Russia’s ill-gotten gold to help rebuild Ukraine.

I am no arsonist. But Londongrad – where Russian oligarchs hide their dirty money – is a danger not just to Ukraine but also to our own democracy. For far too long, the Labour and Conservative parties let Vladimir Putin get away with murdering people in Britain because they liked the sheen of Moscow gold.

Senior figures in Labour and the Tories have been far too close to the Kremlin and its proxies for comfort. Tony Blair made a catastrophic mistake when he identified radical Islam as a greater danger than Russian fascism. To secure cover for the “war on terror” he went out of his way to cosy up to Vladimir Putin.

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UK Trade Unions rally in solidarity: resounding support for Ukraine at TUC 2023

This past week at the 2023 UK TUC Congress, trade unions stood in solidarity with Ukraine in the face of the fascist russian invasion, passing a motion from the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

The motion, moved by GMB, seconded by ASLEF and supported by the NUM, supports the immediate withdrawal of russian* forces from all Ukrainian territories occupied since 2014; Ukrainian unions’ calls for financial and practical aid from the UK to Ukraine; a peaceful end to the conflict that secures the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the support and self-determination of the Ukrainian people; the full restoration of labour rights in Ukraine and a socially-just reconstruction and redevelopment programme that embeds collective bargaining and rejects deregulation and privatisation; TUC work, and facilitation of affiliates’ engagement, with the main Ukrainian trade union centres (FPU/KVPU), and acknowledges the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

Amidst the support for Ukraine, however, there was a minor pushback from the RMT, NEU, UCU and FBU. None supported the motion, with RMT, NEU and UCU choosing to abstain and FBU voting against, adding that they “do not think the escalation of war is in the interests of the russian or Ukrainian working class”. This is despite russia having carried out annexations, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine since 2014.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian spies

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

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

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

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

Putin

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

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

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

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

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A leftist divorce

On February 26th, 2023, Labour MP John McDonnell addressed rumours that there was a split within the left after a difference of opinion between himself and former Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn on whether Ukraine should be armed to fight back against the russian invasion.

McDonnell denied this, claiming “an honest difference of opinion”. And what a difference; either provide firepower to a population facing a fascist invasion or choose neutrality and encourage the invaded country to accept annexation, deportation and genocide.

A breeding ground for division in the left is foreign policy. Most notably since the formation of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) in 2001, individuals on the far-left have used the platform to voice their disagreement with what they view as the greatest evil on this earth; “Western (American) imperialism”.

There is, however, a problem; you cannot reach a peaceful settlement with an oppressor that refuses to recognise the basic human rights of the oppressed, something STWC ignores. This was the case in 2015, when Tariq Ali called for Western forces to “stand side-by-side with Assad and the russians”, despite Assad having used chemical weapons on his own people and russia by that point having carried out crimes against humanity in Chechnya, invaded Georgia and Moldova, and annexed Crimea.

There have always been, however, those on the left that are willing to put ideology to one side to fight the common enemy: totalitarianism. Whether the International Brigade that supported the Popular Front against Franco (before Stalin decided to torture and kill those that dared to believe in anything other than Stalinism) or social democrats across Europe working with neoconservatives and liberals in supporting NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, there have been those on the left that support fighting against tyranny.

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“I am not Amazon”

Are you as angry as I am by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s comments today? At the NATO summit, as a side issue, the G7 nations promised more military supplies for Ukraine. In a briefing to journalists Wallace said:

There is a slight word of caution here, which is that whether we like it or not people want to see gratitude.

My counsel to the Ukrainians is sometimes you’re persuading countries to give up their own stocks of weapons and yes the war is a noble war and yes we see it as you doing a war for – not just yourself – but our freedoms.

But sometimes you’ve got to persuade lawmakers on the Hill in America, you’ve got to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that you know that it’s worth it and it’s worthwhile and that they’re getting something for it.

And whether you like that or not, that is just the reality of it.

I said to the Ukrainians last year, when I drove 11 hours to Kyiv to be given a list – I said, I am not Amazon.

Earlier he had told Sky News that Ukraine is “always asking for more even after receiving the latest batch of arms”.

Richard Foord, our Defence spokesperson, shares my fury. He says:

Ukrainian people are dying every single day because of Russia’s illegal and unjust invasion – all they are asking for is the equipment needed to protect their country.

It is ill-judged to scold them for this and demand that they show more ‘gratitude’. Rishi Sunak should make clear that the Defence Secretary’s comments do not represent the UK’s position on our support for Ukraine.

It’s vital that we continue to stand for the rules-based order and with the Ukrainian people.

Quite apart from the appalling reminders of past imperial power, don’t we all know that threats to an ally are threats to all of us?

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Observations of an expat: Ukraine and NATO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa and Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ukraine

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

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

USA

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

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

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

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

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

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britain and China

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

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

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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

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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Eurovision: Lib Dems call for a Ukraine cultural reconstruction fund to mark Grand Final

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to create a ‘lasting legacy’ for this week’s Eurovision by setting up a Ukrainian cultural reconstruction fund with the UK’s European allies.

Eurovision 2023 is being hosted by the UK on behalf of Ukraine – after Ukraine was victorious in the 2022 edition of the contest, amidst the initial months of Russia’s invasion.

The BBC has emphasised that this Saturday’s Grand Final will have “glorious Ukraine at its heart.”

To commemorate the occasion, the Liberal Democrats have urged the Government to commemorate the occasion by establishing a Ukrainian cultural reconstruction fund, …

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