Tag Archives: vladimir putin

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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Tom Arms’ World Review

Trump and Orban

It was the Trump-Orban love fest in Mar-a-lago last weekend. The Hungarian Prime Minister praised the ex-president as “the president of peace.” Trump went several steps further:  “There is nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orban,” he enthused.

President Joe Biden failed to agree with Trump’s assessment. He referred to Orban as a wannabe dictator, and attacked Trump for meeting him, let alone praising him.

Biden’s man in Hungary, Ambassador David Pressman, was even more undiplomatic in his language, which could herald a looming clash between the Biden Administration and Europe’s darling of the right-wing populists.

In a speech on Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of Hungary’s joining NATO, Ambassador Pressman  warned the  Hungarian prime minister  that the US has lost patience with his embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, attacks on the Biden Administration, his undermining of support for Ukraine, and his open advocacy of Trump’s return to the White House.

He said: “We cannot ignore it when the Speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly asserts that Putin’s war in Ukraine is actually led by the United States. We cannot ignore a sitting minister referring to the United States as a corpse whose nails continue to grow. We can neither understand nor accept the Prime Minister identifying the United States as a ‘top adversary’ …or his assertion that the United States government is trying to overthrow the Hungarian government—literally, to ‘defeat’ him.”

The ambassador called out Orbán’s “systematic takeover of independent media,” the use of government power to “provide favourable treatment for companies owned by party leaders or their families, in-laws, or old friends,” and laws defending “a single party’s effort to monopolize public discourse.”

Pressman added: “Hungary’s allies are warning Hungary of the dangers of its close and expanding relationship with Russia. If this is Hungary’s policy choice—and it has become increasingly clear that it is with the Foreign Minister’s sixth trip to Russia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with his next trip to Russia scheduled in two weeks, following his engagement with Russia’s Foreign Minister earlier this month, and the Prime Minister’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in China—we will have to decide how best to protect our security interests, which, as Allies, should be our collective security interests.”

Russia

It is presidential election weekend in Russia. The bookies favourite – surprise, surprise – is Vladimir Putin.

It is also just over two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, so the two combined events provide an excellent opportunity to assess how events and political thought processes have changed over the past two years.

The Putin regime has rebuilt every element of itself to adapt to a permanent state of war: in propaganda and everyday life, in the political model of unifying the behaviour of the elites and ordinary people, in the education and justice systems, and—crucially—in the economy.

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Welcome to my day: 19 February 2024

It’s been a slightly depressing week in some ways, and promising in others.

Two by-elections saw crushing defeats for the Conservatives, which I think would generally be seen as a “good thing”, even if we weren’t the winners. In truth, it was hard to see a scenario where we would be – in both Kingswood and Wellingborough we’ve been a long way adrift even in relatively good years – and 2024 isn’t that good. There’s an increasing clear sense that voters just want to see the Conservatives gone, and will vote for whoever is seen as most likely to achieve that.

And now the Conservatives can give us all a preview of what will happen after a crushing General Election defeat (if that comes to pass), as they fight like rats in a sack for whatever cause floats their boat this week. Should they respond to Reform’s vote by moving even further to the right, or can relatively centre-right MPs move the Party back towards the centre? We kind of know who’ll win that argument, given that supposed One Nation Tories have folded at every key moment, and can only hope that, if they do veer rightwards, their demonstrable incompetence will prevent too much damage to our society.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be delighted by the Gaza Crisis.

It ticks a number of Moscow’s foreign policy boxes. For a start, it distracts the world from his war crimes in Ukraine and allows him to point the blame finger at America’s absolute support for Israel.

Russia’s Middle East policy is complicated. It supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but Putin also has a close personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has used that relationship to stop Israel from sending weapons to Ukraine.

Russia has also refused to go along with most of the rest of the world in branding …

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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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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA – Trump

I may have written too early and ill-advisedly when last week I predicted the political decline of Donald Trump.

His delayed indictment in the Stormy Daniels case has finally hit the newsstands and the ex-president is deftly using his victimhood to rally his political base. “This is,” he said “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

Clearly the man never studied the classics or medieval European history.

But this has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from flooding cyber space with outlandish claims and threats of civil war. Qanon was quick to tweet that Trump is waging a secret war “against a network of Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.” It added ominously: “We are ready when you are…Mr President.”

Trump’s opponents in the race for the Republican nomination – Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis – are also lining up behind the ex-president to condemn the indictment as a witch hunt. They are all afraid of alienating Trump’s political base.

But how big is that base? For a start, a significant proportion of Trump’s base in the 2016 and 2020 elections were White evangelical Christians. They comprise roughly a quarter of the American population and 80 percent of them voted for Trump.

However, a large proportion of the Evangelicals are one issue voters – abortion. They have won that battle with Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. They are unlikely to shift their allegiance to “socialist” Joe Biden but Trump’s apparent lack of morals could pull them towards one of the other Republican hopefuls, an independent third candidate or abstention.

That still leaves a sizable chunk of Trump supporters who have now been galvanised by their leader’s imminent arrest. Their reaction is the major unknown in American politics, and, following the Capitol Hill riots, potentially worrying. There may even be enough Trump supporters within the Republican Party to secure him the nomination. In fact, as of this week, he is 30 points ahead of his nearest challenger Ron DeSantis. But that could be the end of Trump’s political road. The country is hopelessly split between Republicans and Democrats. The balance lies with the roughly thirty percent of the voting population who are registered independents. They, and disenchanted evangelicals and moderate Republicans are unlikely to cast their vote for a felon, or even an alleged felon.

USA – guns

There are lots of reasons Americans have more guns than people – 395 million shooters for 336 million people.

There is the pioneer Wild West culture, Hollywood’s glorification of gun culture, personal and family protection, law enforcement, recreational target shooting, hunting and, of course, the pursuit of criminal objectives.

To my mind, the most worrying reason is protection of the individual from the government. This is one of the arguments by the National Rifle Association and politicians such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It is a justification which dates back to the 1689 English Bill of Rights when citizens were guaranteed the right to carry guns as a defense against the imposition of a Catholic monarch.

This fear of “big government” using its power to deny Americans basic human rights was one of the reasons for the Second Amendment. They had, after all, just fought a revolution against a government which had blocked their liberties.

The problem for gun advocates is that society and politics has moved on from the 18th century. We have now had 240 years of American governments elected by universal franchise (except for women who did not secure the right to vote until 1920) to pass laws to protect them. If the gun lobby has a problem with lack of representation in federal government then it should use the legal instruments in the US constitution to amend it.

Instead its solution is more guns. Guns in schools. Guns in churches. Guns in shops and theatres and guns in homes. Following the latest school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, there are new reasons. Shootings are not a gun problem. They are a mental health problem. There are also, it is being argued post-Nashville, now a transgender problem because the shooter was a transgender person.

Very few Americans dare to suggest that the guns themselves are the problem. This is because the Second Amendment has become a political sacred cow.

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Why Putin’s arrest warrant matters

In May 2022 Putin issued a new decree to make it easier for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children. In addition, Russian officials announced it would extend government support to Russian families who adopt kidnapped Ukrainian children resulting in more than 16,000 being deported to Russia. The abducted children are forced to learn Russian, are denied contact with their families to “Russify” them by providing “patriotic education” and is considered an act of Genocide.

Although some children are being taken from orphanages, many have parents who were coerced into allowing their children to go and others were simply murdered. Daria Gerasimchuk, a Ukrainian government ombudswoman, told the Observer: “They kill the parents, for whatever reason, and kidnap the child. In other cases, they just grab the child directly from the family, perhaps to punish that family.” Such reports are similar to the Canadian Residential Schools and the Nazi Lebensborn program.

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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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Observations of an expat: Elected Autocrats

There is a new descriptive term that is entering the political lexicon – Elected Autocrats.

The European Parliament recently used the term to describe Hungary’s Viktor Orban when it suspended EU payments to the country.

It can also be applied to Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are a few Asian and African leaders that also come under this heading and there are signs that it is creeping into Western democracies.

An Elected Autocrat is an elected political leader who was most likely voted into office in free elections, and then used their power to consolidate their position and build a political structure that insures they are re-elected in subsequent ballots.

The goal of an Elected Autocrat has nothing to do with preserving the rule of law. It bears no resemblance to the protection of individual rights or the state’s constitution. Their aim is simply reconfiguring political structures so that they gain a monopoly of power.

Putin was first elected President in 2000. At the time there was a free press and a relatively speaking active opposition. The independence of the Russian judiciary has always been questionable.

The judiciary is now firmly under Putin’s control. Opposition media outlets have either been closed down or are controlled by the state or Putin’s oligarchical cronies. Opposition leaders have been murdered or imprisoned. Alexei Navalny is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence. Another opposition figure Ilya Yashin was this week imprisoned for two and a half years for daring to tell the truth about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey is a NATO member and nominally democratic country. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved from mayor of Istanbul to Prime Minister to President. Along the way he rewrote the constitution to consolidate power in presidential hands.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

COP27

Egypt’s Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh is busily preparing for an invasion of Earth’s political leaders, their extensive entourages and the world’s media. They are not descending on the tourist spot for its sun and sand but for yet another climate change conference.

It will be a difficult one. Last year’s Glasgow get-together committed the developed to providing $1 trillion to wean the developing world off fossil fuels. That was before the Ukraine War and its accompanying energy and cost of living crisis. The money that was earmarked for solar and wind farms in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is now being spent on higher oil prices and state of the art weaponry for Ukraine. Even more money will be required to rebuild Ukraine.

On top of that, the preachy developed world is shelving many of its green projects in favour of quick fix fossil fuels to replace Russian natural gas. All of which means that it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to stick to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees centigrade. This is a difficult to swallow reality, but world leaders may have to switch the climate change emphasis from prevention to adaptability while at the same time trying to limit temperature rises as much as possible.

Putin

Putin is retreating. And it is a big retreat.

Crucial to his war aims is the strategic city of Kherson. It controls access to Russian-held Crimea by land and by the Dnieper River. The river is also a main source of irrigation and drinking water for the province that Russia annexed in 2014. This week the Russian President publicly announced the evacuation of civilians from Kherson. “It is too dangerous for them to remain,” he said. Military medical units have also evacuated and some fighting units have abandoned their foothold on the river’s west bank. Ukrainian victory in Kherson is not yet a foregone conclusion and some defense experts are predicting fierce house to house fighting in the near future.  But the prospects look good for a successful Ukrainian offensive.

Putin’s Kherson problems top another bad week for him in Ukraine. It started with him pulling out of the deal to allow much-needed grain-laden Ukrainian ships out of their ports. The pull-out was in response to an alleged British-organised attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea. Within days he was forced to reverse his position under international pressure and the refusal of Turkey and the UN deal brokers to support him.

Meanwhile, the Russians continue to bomb electricity and water supplies. Ukrainian teams are working around the clock to keep the country’s electricity grid running, but despite their efforts, 4.5 million Ukrainians are said to be without power as winter approaches. An increasing number of the artillery shells are coming from fellow rogue state North Korea which this week raised tensions by despatching 180 warplanes to buzz the border area with South Korea.

China

China is, of course, crucial to international efforts to apply pressure on Russia and North Korea to behave. This week German Chancellor Olof Scholz secured a diplomatic coup in persuading Chinese President Xi Jinping to publicly condemn “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.” The condemnation came in the joint communique at the end of Scholz’s one-day visit to Beijing. Xi refused to allow the communique to mention either Vladimir Putin or Russia by name, but, as Scholz said in the follow-up press conference, the inference was clear.

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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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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

The jury is out on the value of French President Emmanuel Macron’s numerous and lengthy telephone/zoom/face to face talks Vladimir Putin.

Some diplomats claim that he is providing a valuable role in keeping open the lines of communication between NATO and the Kremlin. Others maintain that his talks have given Putin a totally undeserved credibility. Either way, the Vlad-Emmanuel chats do not appear to have had a great impact Macron’s re-election hopes as the French presidential campaign swings towards the final week before the first round on 10 April.

Macron has been the favourite for the past six months, but this week he dropped a percentage point from 28 to 27 percent of the expected first round vote and his chief rival Marine Le Pen climbed from 18 percent to 20. Pollsters, however, still give the incumbent the advantage in the 24 April second round, but it has narrowed to 52-53 percent of the vote.

Right-winger Ms Le Pen has clearly had some success in de-demonising her National Rally Party. She has been helped by the candidacy of the extreme right-winger Eric Zemmour who wants to deport 100,000 Muslims a year. Ms Le Pen has successfully shifted the focus of her campaign from the traditional issue of immigration to the cost of living crisis. This has put her in a position to pick up second round votes from the left of the French political spectrum with her economic policy and votes from the right with her slightly more acceptable anti-immigration policies.

However, Macron has also had some recent successes. In January, the French economy has its biggest every monthly jump as it bounced back from the pandemic and he has managed to reduce unemployment to 7.4 percent.

Reports emanating from Britain’s MI6 and GCHQ and America’s CIA and National Security Agency are in total agreement – Putin goofed. He completely miscalculated the resolve of the Ukrainian people and the Western Alliance and the ability of his own military forces. But according to the spy chiefs, it gets even worse. The Russian president has surrounded himself with advisers who are terrified of telling him the truth. The result is that his decision to invade was made on the basis of intelligence which fitted the prejudices and political beliefs of Putin rather than the facts.

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Observations of an expat: crunch meeting

Next Thursday and probably Friday and possibly the weekend – will be one of the most important dates in world history. NATO and EU leaders meeting in Brussels will decide – or not to decide – what to do in Ukraine.

Ukraine will then decide whether to continue fighting and how. Ditto Vladimir Putin.

Australia, Japan and South Korea’s foreign and defence policies will be dramatically affected. China may come off its rickety fence. India and the OPEC countries will have to make big decisions under heavy pressure from both sides of the warring coin.

International markets – stock markets, commodity markets, oil and gas markets—will either plunge or soar at the news from Brussels.

The world will wait to hear whether we have moved a giant step closer to nuclear Armageddon or inched away from it.

The variations are endless and each has known and unknown consequences. With the threat of nuclear war hanging over every decision, the room for error is nil.

If Vladimir Putin did not possess the world’s largest nuclear arsenal then the answer would be relatively easy: Attack and drive the Russians out. But he does, and he has threatened to use them. The question then arises: Is Putin Bluffing?

More to the point, can the Western Alliance afford to risk the possibility that he is not bluffing?

If he is not bluffing then there is an accepted three-stage nuclear escalation with a pause after the first two to give either side an opportunity to back off: battlefield nuclear weapons which would probably be confined to Ukraine; Intermediate-range nuclear weapons which would be confined to European targets and, then of course, strategic systems which would involve hitting the US.

Putin, however, refuses to play by the rules. He may go straight for American targets, which is why Joe Biden will block anything that could lead to a nuclear exchange.

So the option of committing NATO troops to Ukraine is off the table because Putin has threatened to respond with the nuclear option. That is, it is off the table for now.

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Moran: Stronger ties with Europe needed to counter Putin

Today, Conference agreed a roadmap to improve the UK’s trading relationship with Europe, benefitting British families and businesses, helping counter the threat posed by Putin’s Russia.

The approved motion calls for closer ties in education by through the Turing scheme and Erasmus Plus. The UK should seek cooperation agreements with EU agencies and work to reach a UK-EU agreement on asylum seekers. It should deep trade with Europe, including by negotiating greater access for UK food and animal products to the Single Market. Eventually, the UK should place its relationship with the EU on a more formal footing by seeking to join the Single Market.

Layla Moran said:

At this dark moment, our security depends on urgently forging a relationship that works with our closest neighbours. Countering the grave threat posed by Putin means we must stand tall with our European allies instead of needlessly antagonising them.

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Observations of an expat – Ukraine: where are we going?

Putin has to go. But when and how? What will be the result of his Ukrainian failure in Russia and the rest of the world? How much damage will be inflicted on Ukraine and almost every other country before he is thrown out of the Kremlin?

Working on the assumption that the West will win (any other scenario is unthinkable), what will be the short, medium and long-term repercussions for the world?

The immediate consequence is Hell for Ukraine, pariah status and economic disaster for Russia and economic pain for everyone else.

Vladimir Putin expected Ukraine to fall into his lap like an over-ripe Slavic apple. It didn’t happen. They are fighting back with a fierce patriotism which has shocked the Russian president and won global admiration.

Most of the world has rallied around with the toughest sanctions since World War Two and tons of military hardware – but no troops and no planes for a no fly zone. Ukraine is not a member of NATO and the alliance is terrified of Ukraine escalating into World War III if NATO and Russian troops directly face each other.

So Ukraine is fighting on behalf of a Western Alliance of which it is not officially a member.  It is fighting a war which is the clearest cut case of good against evil since 1939. It is a war which has been 70 years in the waiting.

In the short term Volodomyr Zelensky’s brave army will probably lose militarily. The Russian army is too big. As I write this blog the tank column that has been inching its way towards Kyiv is fanning out through the surrounding forests for a major bombardment of the Ukrainian capital and Russian planes are increasing their attacks.

But a conventional Russian military victory would be a political disaster for Putin. His invasion has created a sense of Ukrainian nationalism which would lead to an insurgency war which would more than equal Moscow’s ten-year Afghan calamity, which in turn led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The economic war would continue and Russia would be forced to retreat behind an unsustainable Soviet-style Iron Curtain.

There are reports that Putin has seen the writing on the wall. He has allegedly fired eight generals and turned on his trusted FSB to accuse them of providing him with faulty intelligence which led to  his invasion order. The FSB is said to have responded by accusing their leader of creating a climate of fear so that reports were doctored to justify his political wish list rather than presenting evidential facts.

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The West must stop Putin in Ukraine for good

Many say Putin’s vision is to rebuild an empire for Russia, a policy he has been pursuing incrementally since his invasion of Georgia in 2008.

After all the suffering unleashed in Ukraine, it is imperative that Putin must be stopped in his tracks at the juncture, despite the danger this may entail.

If Putin is not dissuaded by the heavy economic cost he is suffering now, we must up the game, especially if Kyiv is subjected to a full-scale attack coupled with an attempt to decapitate the Zelensky leadership. What to do?

Firstly, increase substantially the risk for Putin. Biden was very wrong to declare from the start that NATO would not get involved in Ukraine and more recently that there would be no no-fly-zone. Putin feels he has a carte blanche from Biden to do what he wants. The rhetoric from the West must now change to: “all options are on the table” because of the Russian atrocities being committed.

Secondly, intensify cyber warfare covertly to disrupt all command and control as well as logistics to the Russian military forces.

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Observations of an expat: Putin’s Samson option

The Samson Option is a not widely known Armageddon-type Israeli nuclear strategy. The world is worried that Vladimir Putin will adopt it and adapt it to the current crisis.

The strategy is based on the dramatic suicide story of the Biblical strongman Samson.

Shorn of his locks, blinded and a prisoner of the Philistines, the once powerful Samson was brought in chains to the temple of his enemies. He appeared weak, but he retained enough of his strength to throw his chains around the temple pillars and pulled with all his might so that the walls and roof came crashing down, killing the Philistines – and Samson.

Translated into the 21st  century military terms, the Samson Option says that if the State of Israel is being overrun and about to cease to exist, the Israelis will use their nuclear arsenal of several hundred missiles and warheads to destroy the invading enemy – and themselves.

Israel’s Arab neighbours believe the threat and it has successfully deterred a serious attack ever since it became known that the Jewish state possessed nuclear weapons.

For Israel, the Samson Option is a last ditch deterrent defensive strategy. They do not intend to use nuclear weapons offensively.

Vladimir Putin’s adaptation is a different case. It has elements of defensiveness but it is linked to his military offensive in Ukraine (and possibly elsewhere in Eastern Europe). This strategy is made more dangerous by tough opposition in Ukraine and the world’s reaction to his invasion and by Putin’s terrifying statement: “if the world does not include Russia why should it exist.”

Additional anxiety is created by the fact that Putin, like so many dictators, has conflated his country’s national interests with his own survival. Furthermore, he sincerely believes in “Russia’s historic mission” to dominate Europe. Conversely, he is convinced that NATO and the EU are thwarting that “historic mission” and in doing so threatening the Russian state which must expand and dominate to survive.

The terrifying conundrum that the world faces is that Putin has placed himself and his country in a position where he must not fail. The West, however, must ensure that he does fail and, is seen to fail.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 21 Comments

Observations of an expat: Putin’s disastrous time machine

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown the world back in time to a world order based on the dangerous dictum: might is right.

We have been pushed through the looking glass into a new world where laws and treaties are irrelevant and life and death decisions are made on the basis of blatant lies and where the morally bankrupt prevail.

Overshadowing this frightening reality is that Vladimir Putin has his finger on the button that controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Facing this disaster scenario is an unprepared West. For years it has over-focused on the economic challenge of China while downplaying the more immediate threat of an increasingly bitter, autocratic, militaristic, nationalistic, messianic and possibly unhinged Vladimir Putin.

War with Russia was unthinkable. It defied common sense as the rest of the world understood it. Surely the threat of massive sanctions would force Russian business to control Putin. No, the Russian president sits at the apex of an unprincipled kleptocracy and has skilfully tied Russian business interests to his own extreme views.

Successive US administrations have not helped. George W. Bush unilaterally scrapped the ABM Treaty and turned a blind eye when Putin attacked Georgia. Obama over-pivoted towards Asia while his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed reset buttons with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

But worst of all was Donald Trump a self-confessed admirer of strongmen in general and Putin in particular. He pushed recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea. As Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border this week Trump and his ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Putin as a “genius.”

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 25 Comments

The title of Mr Putin’s article is a misnomer

Ukraine matters to Russia, and Russia – or Putin if you will as both are currently inseparable – means it.

This is in substance the message carried by the deployment of about 100.000 soldiers along the Ukrainian border. To make his message clearer Mr. Putin not only deployed some of its best trained units or nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicles but also its latest and very dangerous Iskander ballistic missile launchers – as Janes reports.

The alleged ‘historico-philosophical’ basis for this deployment is to be found in the long article entitled ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’ signed by President Putin himself. It is freely available in English on the Kremlin’s website and, having read it from top to bottom, I found it fascinating at multiple levels.

For a start because Mr. Putin, to justify Russian-Ukrainian ties, goes back to the princes of the Rurik dynasty. The latters named after the legendary Rurik, chief of the Rus, who reigned in 862 and whose current titled heirs includes one of my very good friends who was until a few months ago the Ambassador of Switzerland to the Republic of Latvia, Republic of Estonia and Republic of Lithuania. I wonder what, now back to Switzerland, he would make of this paragraph of the article:

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

World Review: 9/11, Trudeau, Putin and Patel

It is the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Two decades since 2,996 lives were lost in suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In New York the occasion will be marked by families of the dead reading statements about their loved ones. The event will be closed to the public. Elsewhere in the world, the anniversary will be marked with foreboding. The attack was carried out by Al Qaeeda and was planned and coordinated from its base in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Within weeks a US-led NATO force toppled the Taliban government. There has not been a Jihadist attack on US soil since. President Biden has now withdrawn US forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban is back in power.

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Observations of an expat: Is Ukraine another Cuba?

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The conventional wisdom is that nuclear Armageddon was avoided in October 1962 by a plucky iron-willed young American President. Not quite. A new book by award-wining Russian author Serhii Plokhy reveals that the Cuban Missile Crisis was created by poor communication at every level in both countries and that it was more a matter of luck rather than pluck that saved the world.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding remains a Russian-American problem and is now coming to the fore again over Ukraine.

But back to October 27, 1962. The US naval blockade of Cuba had been in force for five days. To persuade the Soviet submarines to return home President Kennedy ordered US ships to launch a continuous barrage of depth charges on any members of the Soviet underwater fleet that they found. The purpose was to harass rather than destroy.

But Valentin Savitsky, captain of nuclear-armed B-59 was not privy to American thinking. By the 27th of October his crew had endured two days of tension, diminishing air supplies and increasing heat. Savitsky gave the order to surface. He was immediately subjected to a barrage of tracer bullets fired by trigger happy US fighter pilots circling the area.

Convinced that war had started and he was under full-scale attack, the Soviet captain gave the order to dive and fire a nuclear torpedo.

Fortunately lady luck intervened. The captain of the US destroyer Cony realised the danger and flashed an apology from his signal light. It was spotted by the sub’s signals officer just as the B-59 slipped beneath the waves, and was only seen because his searchlight became stuck. The apology was immediately relayed to Savitsky who, at the last minute, countermanded his attack order.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 17 Comments

Donald Trump is the most dangerous threat to western democracy this century…but not for the reasons you may think

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Donald Trump is a dangerous President.

That’s not an especially controversial statement to make outside of his own social media support bubble. In fact, Donald Trump is so obviously ineffective, anti-intellectual and corrupt that the fact he managed to get elected to the highest office in the democratic world is something of an impressive achievement.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 7 Comments

Paddy Ashdown gets stuck into EU Referendum debate

There are few people who understand how the world works better than our Paddy. He really gets how global power structures are changing and how vital it is that countries with liberal values work together, so it’s no surprise that he really wants us to vote to stay in the EU for our own and for international good.

I’m not quite sure why he’s chosen a Sunday afternoon in the Easter holidays to wade into the fray afresh with a cheeky tweet, but you can’t really argue with him on this.

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

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

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

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

Posted in Europe / International and LibLink | Also tagged , , , and | 13 Comments

LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Alex Salmond should apologise for his poor call over Vladimir Putin

paddy ashdown - paul walter“Lib Dem Statesman Paddy Ashdown”. That’s how the headline in Paddy’s Sunday Mail article describes him.

Paddy is writing in response to Alex Salmond’s comments on Vladimir Putin . As a reminder, this is what Salmond said:

Obviously, I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin’s more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia.

“He’s restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the intermesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally; they are lovely people.

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Menzies Campbell MP on Salmond’s “disturbing lack of judgement” over Putin

Alex Salmond - License Some rights reserved by Ewan McIntoshYou would think that politicians would have more sense than to express any sort of admiration for Vladimir Putin. Alex Salmond has followed in the footsteps of Nigel Farage. He told Alistair Campbell for GQ:

Obviously, I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin’s more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia.

He’s restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Europe / International and LibLink | Also tagged , and | 11 Comments

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

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

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

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