Tom Arms’ World Review – 15 October 2023

Ukraine

Lest we forget in the turmoil of the Middle East, there is an important war being fought in Eastern Europe. Russia has launched what appears to be a counter to the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Bitter fighting has been reported around the town of Avdiika.  Volodomyr Zelensky has said his men are holding their own, but it should be acknowledged that the Ukrainians have suffered heavy losses in their summer counter-offensive.

One of Ukraine’s biggest concerns is keeping the lights on. The Russian-controlled nuclear power plant at Zaporizhia supplied 48 percent of Ukraine’s energy needs. A significant chunk of the remainder of Ukraine’s electricity network was knocked out last winter by Russian missile and drone attacks. Much of it has been patched up in a fashion that would do Heath Robinson proud. But Ukrainians fear that their patched up energy infrastructure will collapse under another attack this winter. President Zelensky visited NATO HQ again this week to appeal for more air defences and jet fighters. One positive factor on the energy front, is that Ukraine is now plugged into the wider European grid, but that still does not supply all of its needs.

Nuclear weapons

Meanwhile, general relations between the West and Russia are expected to take another knock next week when the Russian Duma votes on whether withdrawal from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The vote is widely expected to be a resounding yes. The Russians have already withdrawn from the INF Treaty, START and New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) and the Comprehensive Weapons in Europe Treaty. The test ban treaty is the last agreement to be scuppered in the mosaic of Cold War and post-Cold War treaties.

While the Russian parliament is voting, NATO will be conducting its annual nuclear exercise codenamed “Steadfast Noon”. It involves fighter jets capable of delivering nuclear weapons, although no such nukes will be on the planes. The exercise will be conducted over Italy, Croatia and the Mediterranean. Russia has already objected.

Polish Elections

Poland is on the political knife-edge this week as it prepares to go to the polls on Sunday. The stakes could not be higher. Opinion surveys put the ruling right-wing PiS (or Law and Justice) Party ahead, but without enough votes to form a government. Nipping at its heels is Civic Coalition, led by liberal centrist Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister and president of the European Council.

If PiS wins an overall majority—or is able to form a coalition with even more right-wing parties—then it will be their third successive government. This means that many of the policies that they have enacted will be almost impossible to reverse. These include a virtual ban on abortion, politicisation of the judiciary, increasing control of the media and academia and a curb on LGBTQ rights. Most recently the PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that Poland was stopping military aid to Ukraine because it needed to restock its own weapons store.

The campaign has been bitter. PiS is especially known for its anti-EU and anti-immigrant stand. Tusk has accused them of wanting to withdraw from the EU which represents “freedom, the rule of law and the fight against corruption. He said Kaczynski’s party wanted to “brainwash” Poles “just as the Nazis and Communists” had. The PiS, has in turn accused Tusk of being an “agent of Brussels and Berlin.” Kaczynski described the opposition and Donald Tusk as “pure evil” that should be “morally exterminated.”

The PiS is popular with rural and elderly voters. The Civic Coalition garners it votes from urbanites and young people. The problem for the PiS is that it is blamed for everything that has gone wrong since it was first elected four years ago. This includes a visa bribery scandal, a perceived increase in corruption and the withholding of $37 billion in EU aid. On the plus side it has won popular support by lowering the retirement age, increasing child benefits and investing in Poland’s transport infrastructure.

The revival of “Vinegar Joe”

America’s General Joseph Stilwell, aka “Vinegar Joe” was Chiang Kai-shek’s chief of staff during World War Two. The Chinese Communists have created a Stilwell Museum in the American general’s former home in Chungking and President Xi Jinping has recently started a highly-publicised correspondence with his grandson John Easterbrook.

The reason for the renewed interest in Vinegar Joe as that the American general hated Chiang Kai-shek. He called him “peanut”; accused him and his family of corruption, and most importantly, objected to the Kuomintang leader’s refusal to allow the communists to join the war against Japan and forced Chiang to permit an American observer mission to the wartime communist-held areas. Stilwell so angered Chiang that he demanded that President Roosevelt recall him in October 1944.

In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, Vinegar Joe is the historical representation of a “good American.” Which is why his revival is politically interesting. The Chinese have a long history of publicly sending coded messages. The invitation to the US table tennis team is a prime example. The public revival could be another way of Beijing saying that it wants to stop the sabre-rattling and improve relations with Washington.

* 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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5 Comments

  • The Russian-controlled nuclear power plant at Zaporizhia supplied 48 percent of Ukraine’s energy needs.

    Electricity needs, not energy needs. In the UK, electricity supplies around a fifth of our energy needs; Ukraine will likely be similar. They now have many diesel-powered generators as a backup to keep essential services running.

  • nigel hunter 15th Oct '23 - 2:41pm

    What is Poland doing with this 37 billion?Where is it?

  • That’s an interesting development in China regarding America’s General Joseph Stilwell. I have also found it interesting that Sun Yat-sen remains unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for having a high reputation in both Mainland China and Taiwan.
    In recent years, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has increasingly invoked Sun, partly as a way of bolstering Chinese nationalism in light of the Chinese economic reform and partly to increase connections with supporters of the Kuomintang on Taiwan, which the People’s Republic of China sees as allies against Taiwan independence.
    If Taiwan and Mainland China can find common cause in honoring the contributions of past political and military leaders to Chinese independence and development that would bode well for a lessening of tensions in the region.

  • 1-The diesel generators also create electricity.
    2- the 37 billion has money Poland was meant to receive as part of an EU-financed Covid recovery package.

  • From what I saw in the media of damage to the Ukrainian electricity supply grid, it looks like the Russians were particularly targeting the big super grid transformers. This is the critical component of any electricity supply network, take them out and the system collapses.
    Whilst pylons, switchgear, etc can be relatively easily replaced in a timely manner, transformers are usually unique to each national system and often have a 12-24 month delivery timeframe, so no off the shelf replacements. The Russians know this hence their deliberate attacks.
    As a former National Grid engineer, the conditions my Ukrainian counterparts must have worked under to keep any lights on must have been horrendous, deservedly winning much praise for their efforts.

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