Tom Arms’ World Review

The nuclear reactor we should be worried about

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

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

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

 The fight to be UK Prime Minister

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

The Institute for Government quickly pointed out that the proposed cut was more than an entire year’s salary for the entire British civil service. Ms Truss was forced to do a rapid U-turn and, as she wiped the egg off her face, claimed that she had been “misinterpreted” by the media. The usual euphemism employed by politicians who have made a major gaffe and cannot admit it.

Meanwhile, her opponent Rishi Sunak, announced that if he was elected Prime Minister, “people who vilify Britain will be treated as extremists”. Exactly what the penalties would be for being a vilifying extremist was left unsaid. Also unsaid was what exactly constitutes vilification of Britain, exposing a legal minefield to delight lawyers for years to come.

Of course, the likelihood is that whichever candidate wins the election, their tenancy of 10 Downing Street will be a short one. The Bank of England this week raised interest rates by another half a percent and issued a stark prediction for the British economy. Inflation, it said, will rise to 13 percent. The country will slip into recession at the end of this year and remain there for 12 months, and unemployment will increase to 6-7 percent of the workforce. Global conditions are largely to blame, but after 12 years in power the ruling Conservative Party will have a tough time persuading the British electorate it is not time for a change.

Not particularly well known is the ironic fact that Viktor Orban attended Oxford University on a scholarship provided by the Soros Foundation. It is ironic, because the liberal George Soros and his foundation has become one of the top hate figures of the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister.

Orban, for his part, has had quite a week. It started in Romania where he railed at European leaders for allowing the continent to become a “mixed-race society.” His speech led to the resignation of one of closest associates, Zsuzsa Hegedas, who described the address as“pure Nazi text.”

Soon after, the Hungarian leader flew to America for a visit with his political buddy Donald Trump before the two men went on to the Dallas, Texas for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where Orban brought the right-wing crowd to their feet as he painted a dark dystopian picture of western civilisation under siege from gays, the left-wing media, liberal lawyers and illegal immigration.

Many believe that his trip to America is part of an effort to establish an international right-wing movement. If so, he is following in the footsteps of Steve Bannon (recently convicted for contempt of Congress) who made the same attempt in the early years of the Trump Administration. Certainly Orban used CPAC to call on the forces of “Christian nationalism” to unite against the liberalism of men such as billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros who—claims Orban—has “an army” of money, non-governmental organisations, universities and EU bureaucrats at his disposal.

Orban must have hated his time at Oxford.

 Conflict in Nagorno Karabakh

Azerbaijan and Armenia are at it again over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karbakh.

The last—short—conflict was just two years ago and ended with Azerbaijan regaining a significant patch of territory. The truce brokered by Moscow left 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in what is known as the Lachin Corridor.

This week’s clashes were in that very same slice of the country. The conflict has an international as well as local dimension. Russia backs Armenia and Turkey backs Azerbaijan.

Although in the 2020 conflict Russia’s support was not as wholehearted as the Armenians would have liked while Turkish support was a major factor in Azerbaijan’s success.

Since 2022 the Ukraine War has changed the dynamics and further strengthened the Azerbaijani position. Baku now has EU as well as Turkish support. Actually, the EU is trying to claim the role of neutral but interested party. However, the energy crisis promoted Urusula von der Leyen,  president of the European Commission, to last month strike a deal to increase Azerbaijani oil exports to Western Europe.

 Risk of famine in Somalia

The global food shortage and energy crisis is causing the failed state of Somalia to slip even further into the abyss of hunger, economic failure and political instability.

Somalia imports 80 percent of its food. A big slice of it comes from India which is restricting exports because of the worldwide grain shortage. The other nearby bread baskets, Russia and Ukraine, are, of course, at war.  The cost of this food is going up because of supply and demand laws and because spiralling energy prices are making it more expensive to transport the food to Somali ports.

There is the additional problem that Western aid pledged to buy food is now being diverted to the Ukrainian war effort or, in the case of Britain, simply being unilaterally cut. The UN World Food Programme was this year promised $1.5 billion by donors. Less than half of it has appeared.

Of course, when the food does reach Somalia, there is the problem of distribution. Government jurisdiction extends to the ports, cities and a few outlying districts. A big slice of the rest of the country is controlled by the Jihadist group Al Shabab which uses Somalia for attacks on neighbouring Kenya.

The African Union has 22,000 troops drawn from Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia in Somalia to counter the Jihadist threat. But these will start departing in December.

The final insult is the weather. The Horn of Africa as a whole is suffering one of its periodic droughts. Roughly a third of the livestock in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have died this year. There is serious talk of a famine. The last one in 2011 resulted in 250,000 people starving to death.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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One Comment

  • Peter Hirst 8th Aug '22 - 3:03pm

    The Conservative leadership contest is easy to criticise. What should replace it? A definite GE following it would help it gain some legitimacy. The present government was elected on a manifesto. This will no longer be relevant when the new PM forms a fresh government. In terms of democratic accountability either it should either conform to that document or call for a new mandate.

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