Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

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

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

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

The Brexit Conundrum

There was an almost comic moment in a televised debate earlier this week between the two conservative candidates for the British Premiership—Liz Truss and Rushi Sunak. The debate came as tens of thousands of British holidaymakers were stuck in traffic for up to 21 hours to board trains and ferries across the English Channel to France. The contenders were asked if the holiday chaos was the result of Brexit: “No, absolutely not,” was the emphatic reply from both of the Brexiteering Tories. Of course, their answer was a load of rubbish. It had everything to do with Brexit. Pre-2016 French customs officials simply waved British holidaymakers through the immigration channels. There were no checks. They were unnecessary and not legally required. Britain was part of the European Union. It is no longer. It is a third country as far as France and the rest of the EU are concerned. That means that French border officials have to check and stamp all passports. They have to make sure that the passport is valid for at least 90 days. If a family is bringing a pet they need a pet passport and insurance. All of this is the law. It is not—as Brexiteers claim– bloody-minded French officials. The impact of Brexit has been camouflaged by the pandemic. Britons have been unable to travel for two years because of covid restrictions. Now they can and they are learning one of the consequences of leaving EU. Brexit repercussions are also being felt at the airports. Shortage of staff are creating snarl-ups which equal those at the ports and the staff shortages are at least partly caused by the fact that airports can no longer recruit EU labour. The Conservative Mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, reluctantly admitted this week that exports from West Midlands have dramatically declined because of Brexit. The wheels on the Brexit bus are coming off. The problem is that the ruling Conservative Party cannot admit it because they are responsible for taking Britain out of Europe. The Government’s refusal to admit that Brexit has created problems makes it difficult for them to solve those problems.

Russian influence in Africa

The battle between Russia and the West for the hearts and minds of Africa was in full swing this week. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took the initiative with trips to Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Congo-Brazzaville. The emphasis was on Uganda which is about to assume the rotating chairmanship of the non-aligned movement. Lavrov is pushing for the non-aligned movement to declare itself officially neutral in the Ukraine conflict. He would also like to see a similar resolution at the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for October.  Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni appears receptive. Uganda was one of the 17 African countries that refused to back the UN motion condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the West is not idly standing by. While Lavrov was on tour, French President Emmanuel Macron was visiting Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Benin. The French, however, lost prestige when they pulled their troops out of Mali earlier this year. They have been replaced by Russian mercenaries. The US is also becoming more involved. America’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa is about to embark on a mission to Egypt and Ethiopia and next week Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the UN, will be in Uganda and Ghana. The big issue for all these countries is food security in the wake of the Ukraine War. They are all heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine. The Biden Administration has provided an additional $1 billion in food aid. Lavrov is highlighting the recent shaky deal with Ukraine to move 20 million tons of much-needed Ukrainian grain to African countries as well as Russian wheat to help with any shortfall. Russian weaponry—always useful in Africa– is also on the agenda.


Slipping under the US news radar this week has been the formation of a third—centrist oriented—political party. It probably has not been widely reported because third parties have chalked up a generally dismal performance in American political history. The party is called Forward and is backed by right-leaning Democrats and left-leaning Republicans. The co-leaders are former Democratic Party presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican Governor of New Jersey Christina Todd Whitman. Their political banner reads: “How will we solve the big issues facing America? Not left. Not right. Forward.” But can it succeed? Forward is up against huge, well-financed entrenched political machines established in every district in each of the 50 states. In the past, the most third parties have achieved is to siphon off votes from one of the two major contenders. Ralph Nader’s Green Party is credited with helping George W. Bush defeat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential elections. Yang and Todd-Whitman claim that the time is ripe for a third party. The Republicans have been captured by the cult of Trump and Democrats are split between left and right and led by an ageing gerontocracy that refuses to relinquish the reins of power. A political chasm has opened in the centre ground. A Gallup poll last year reported that two-thirds of Americans wanted a third political party to break the Republican-Democrat duopoly.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Brad Barrows 31st Jul '22 - 10:33am

    As the war in Ukraine grinds on, it is increasingly looking like serious miscalculations will cost Ukraine dearly. The war itself could probably have been avoided if Ukraine had been willing to implement the Minsk agreements, which would have resulted in the Donbass remaining part of Ukraine though with autonomy. Instead, Ukraine will completely lose not just the Donbass but large swaths of other territories as well, while also suffering physical and financial ruin and countless deaths and life changing injuries. Yes, Russia will also take years to recover and rebuild its forces once the war is over, but I’m sure Putin will believe that what he achieves will have been at a price worth paying. Of course NATO may also be pleased with the eventual outcome if it leaves the Alliance larger and Russia militarily weakened for years to come. The real losers will be Ukraine and it’s people.

  • The Conservative Mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, reluctantly admitted this week that exports from West Midlands have dramatically declined because of Brexit.

    He actually said that there are “some consequences” (27/07/22 BBC R4 PM 42:32). The facts speak for themselves. UK exports to the EU have rebounded to a record high…

    ‘UK trade: April 2022’ [June 2022]:

    EU exports have increased for the third consecutive month in April 2022 and are at the highest levels since records began.

    ‘UK exports to EU are up 26.6% since the Referendum’ [July 2022]:

    • Q1 2016 : £56.9bn
    • Q1 2022 : £72.0bn – an increase of 26.6%

    The majority of UK exports go outside the EU, which is where almost all the growth is…

    ‘The EU is a Major Drag on the UK economy’:

    In the twenty years from 1998-2018, the volume of goods exports to the EU rose by just 23% or 1% per year, and from 2007 they have grown less than 3% – or a pitiful 0.3% per year (chart 2). By contrast, UK exports to non-EU destinations have grown strongly, by around 3.5% per year since 1998 (almost four times faster than exports to the EU) and 3.3% per year since 2007 (thirteen times faster). […]

    …94% of world growth in the next two decades will be outside the EU, along with the great majority of economic opportunities for the UK.

  • Steve Trevethan 31st Jul '22 - 12:51pm

    How do the families of the children who are starving/chronically hungry afford “long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays”?

  • Russians (or any other nationality for that matter) are not naturally tougher than their European and American counterparts. People are much the same the world over. If you are living in rural poverty, as much of Asiatic Russia living in the harsh climate of Siberia east of the Urals does, then resilience is your daily experience as is the case in much of the global south. The population of Buryatia, on Russia’s border with Mongolia, sees little of the modern facilities and goods enjoyed by residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Enlistment in the army is one of the few options for a better life, as it was for many colonial soldiers in the British Empire. All of Buryatia’s resources go to Moscow. Coffins from Ukraine are often going to Buryatia, however, not Moscow.
    Sanctions are part of a financial war with Russia. As with any war there is blowback and casualties on both sides. Sanctions hurt both parties to the conflict. The issue is whether the cause is worth the economic pain that has to be suffered. The citizens of Europe will be hurt by sanctions on Energy and the Citizens of European Russia, west of the Urals will feel the effect of sanctions on jobs and living standards. Buryatia won’t see much difference except for those coffins that keep coming.

  • Brexit repercussions are also being felt at the airports.

    Not Brexit. It’s caused by airports and airlines laying off staff during the pandemic in the belief that they could simply rehire them when the industry restarted, only to find that in the meantime many had found better jobs or taken early retirement. Constantly importing more and more cheap EU labour is not a sustainable economic model. If airports can’t get staff then they need to offer higher pay. Are the similar, and often more serious, problems elsewhere in Europe and the world also due to Brexit?

    ‘This Airport In Canada Is Now Ranked Worst In The World For Delays’ [July 2022]:

    Frankfurt Airport in Germany came in second place, with 45.4% of its flights between May 26th and July 19th period. Paris’ Charles de Gaulle ranked third with 43.2% of its flights delayed.

    ‘Lost baggage: the post-Covid travel chaos snarling up Europe’s airports’ [July 2022]:

    Shortages of airport baggage handlers across the continent have resulted in vast amounts of luggage being misdirected, delayed for weeks or lost completely

    ‘Amsterdam-Schiphol airport appears to be on the verge of collapse’ [July 2022]:

    Measures taken by Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport to deal with staff shortages have forced airlines to use smaller capacity aircraft or leave seats empty.

  • The contenders were asked if the holiday chaos was the result of Brexit: “No, absolutely not,” was the emphatic reply from both of the Brexiteering Tories.

    They were correct. The UK has never been in Shengen so passport checks have always been required when entering France. Those checks have never been under the control of the UK (not even when we were an EU member). Similar delays at peak times have occurred in the past which, then as now, were entirely due to inadequate French staffing, as these articles from 2016 (pre-Brexit) show…

    ‘Just ONE French border officer checking passports on coaches as thousands of motorists stranded at Dover ferry port’ [23rd. July 2016]:

    The Port of Dover said “French border control booths have been seriously understaffed,” adding: “at one stage only one French officer was available to check passengers on hundreds of coaches.”

    ‘French border staff cause 12 hour traffic jam for 250,000 Brits’ [23rd. July 2016]:

    Holiday Brits heading abroad today stuck in 12-hour jams as just ONE French guard checked vehicles through Dover

    ‘Dover ferry port chaos forces motorists to sleep in cars and delays could last for DAYS’ [24th. July 2016]:

    Travellers spent hours at a standstill in huge queues while police helped deliver water supplies by helicopter

  • Peter Hirst 1st Aug '22 - 1:55pm

    We could afford to wait for the war in Ukraine to resolve if we didn’t have climate change and a host of other issues to contend with. Ukraine and Russia will have to decide what they’re prepared to accept in return for peace. A stalemate on the battle field is going to take too long so someone will need to take the diplomatic initiative sometime soon.

  • @Jeff 31st Jul ’22 – 11:48pm…

    Just more of your selective quotes..Was It necessary to post three quotes about the same delay over 5 years ago?

    BTW..Did you not notice that the delay was caused by ‘increased security inspections due to the terrorist attacks in mainland Europe’? Those increased security inspections were temporary; today’s ‘increased security inspections’ are permanent..

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Aug '22 - 3:05pm

    “We could afford to wait for the war in Ukraine to resolve if we didn’t have climate change and a host of other issues to contend with.”
    The climate change issue ought to be concentrating minds – not only on increasing renewables but also on getting as many homes insulated as we possibly can – especially homes of the less well off.

  • Had I seen this at 8.30, I could have predicted: “And… 3, 2, 1… Brad blames Ukraine for the war, and… 3, 2, 1… Jeff ‘proves’ Brexit isn’t to blame for… anything”.

  • Now, even Rees Mogg admits that Brexit is causing the delays at Dover; however, don’t get too excited because he claims that it is because the French are refusing to “allow British people to pass through freely”…In other words, just like the situation in N.I. those nasty peope in the EU are following the rules we, the UK, made..

    Years ago my wife, jokingly, suggested that the Large Hadron Collider could create a parallel reality..I’m, (half) jokingly, starting to agree with her..

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Aug '22 - 12:09pm

    See below for the visa requirement that now obtains for entering the EU/Schengen area. So now, instead of just checking your passport is an EU one, it has to be stamped in and out and checked for any previous visits to ensure these constraints are not breached. How it can be claimed this is nothing to do with Brexit beats me.

    You can travel to countries in the Schengen area, which France is part of, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel as a tourist, to visit family or friends, to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events, or for short-term studies or training. Find more information here.

    If you are travelling to France and other Schengen countries without a visa, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day limit. Visits to Schengen countries within the previous 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Aug '22 - 12:11pm

    As to the idea that the Ukraine war is their fault, that’s on a par with ” the accused viciously attacked my boot with his kidneys, your honour”

  • Nick Collins 4th Aug '22 - 4:21pm

    There was not much to smile at or admire in those dire televised leadership “debates”. But when the contenders were asked if the holiday chaos was the result of Brexit and they answered simultaneously “No, absolutely not,”: that was funny.

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