Tom Arms’ World Review 19 June 2022

Cheeseburgers and cars without seatbelts

Big Macs are a thing of the past for Muscovites.  McDonald’s—along with 400 other Western businesses—shut down their Russian operations as part of sanctions against Putin’s War in Ukraine. But the Russians have come with an answer. They have simply taken over the McDonald’s outlets and handed them to oligarch Alexander Gorvov. The golden arches have been pulled down and Coca-Cola and Big Macs are off the menu. But there is some consolation for Russian carnivores– a double cheeseburger is 30 roubles cheaper. However, the rebranding of McDonalds does not mean that sanctions are failing. For example, this week the Russians launched what wags are calling the “anti-sanctions car”. Because of Western sanctions Russian car maker Lada cannot import key components. So the new Lada is without seat belts, air bags, an anti-lock braking system or electronic stability control. It is, however, cheaper. Set against these inconveniences is the fact that Russian oil and gas exports have provided the regime with a $26 billion trade surplus in the first five months of this year. However, at the same time, economists believe that sanctions will start to bite by the end of the year and Russian GDP will have shrunk by ten percent.  If this happens then Muscovites may not be able to afford cheap cheeseburgers or cheap cars

Resistance in Ukraine

Winston Churchill called it the Special Operations Executive and ordered it to “set Nazi-occupied Europe alight.” Eighty years later Volodomyr Zelensky has created the Special Operations Forces (SSO) and ordered it to set Russian occupied Ukraine alight. They are doing just that. They are responsible for dozens of attacks on Russian airbases and have blown up railway tracks, bridges and radar stations. Eight Russian soldiers died from poison pies baked and distributed by a little old lady. She was an SSO operative.  So far, the Ukrainian resistance has claimed the lives of more than 150 Russian soldiers, and as the war in the south and east heats up so does the SSO-organised resistance. They are even reputed to be responsible for mysterious fires at military facilities across the border in Russia.

Rivers are one of the world’s most effective natural barriers, especially in war torn Ukraine. The current 60-mile long frontline is dominated by the Siversky Donets River. The Russians have to cross it to control the Eastern Donbas Region. Ukrainian civilians trapped by Russian artillery have to cross it to reach safety and Ukrainian soldiers have to cross it in the opposite direction to fight the Russians. Key to control of the river is mastery of the city of Sieverodonetsk which is currently the scene of street fighting and heavy Russian bombardment. 500 civilians—including 40 children—are trapped in the city’s Azot Chemical factory. The Stalinist era plant is well stocked with food, medical supplies and a labyrinthine network of tunnels; much the same as the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. The roughly 700 defenders of Mariupol have disappeared into Russia, and a similar fate probably awaits the soldiers and civilians in Sieverodonetsk.  Diplomats, however, are trying to organise their rescue out of the city and across the Siversky Donets River and to Sieverodonetsk’s sister city of Lysychansk. With the river between the city and the Russian forces, Lysychansk will be easier to defend.

Boris Johnson in trouble

Boris Johnson is in trouble. A large slice of his own MPs voted to remove him from office. He faces a possibly historic defeat at a by-election next week and a grilling by a parliamentary ethics committee. His response? Double down and appeal to a right-wing anti-immigrant, anti-EU base. When in doubt, find the scapegoat. In the week following his MPs confidence vote, the British Prime Minister has tried—and so far failed—to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda and introduced legislation to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol at the heart of Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU. The first has been condemned as immoral by the Opposition, church leaders, pressure groups and, allegedly, even Prince Charles. At the last minute it was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights. But opinion polls show 44 percent of the British population and 78 per cent of Conservative Party rank and file back the plan. Home Secretary Priti Patel says she is determined to circumvent the European court’s blockage. In the meantime the Johnson government is also crossing swords with that other whipping boy of the British right—the EU. It is determined to break international law and scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol which it negotiated and signed as part of British withdrawal from the European Union. The issue is unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and the British mainland. Both sides have made concessions but the EU has refused to budge on two points: The role of the European Court of Justice as the final arbitrator and the primacy of EU regulations and safety checks over British. Brussels has threatened retaliatory measures if the Johnson government continues with its plans.

Biden and the Saudis

President Joe Biden hates the Saudi Arabian regime. He has called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”. He is not too keen either on Israel or the emirs of the UAE. But he needs them. That is why he is off on a Middle East tour from 13-16 July. Biden needs Saudi and UAE oil and Israeli natural gas to stem rocketing inflation by increasing oil production, strengthen sanctions against Russia and enable his European allies to end their dependence on Russian fossil fuels. So the US president is prepared to eat humble pie. He is even likely to visit the disputed West Bank territories to salve Israeli sensibilities. But what can the US president offer in return? Two things: Grain and a tougher line on Iran. Most of the blockaded grain in Ukraine and Russia would go to the Middle East and African countries. In fact, about 40 percent of their requirements. The region is facing a potential famine. Ukraine and Russia between them produce 21 percent of the world’s grain. But the world’s second largest producer (just after China) is the US with a staggering 516,351,726 metric tonnes produced last year, 101 million of which was exported. The Middle East and Africa need a larger slice of it. They the Arabs and Israelis are also growing more concerned about Iran. Tehran recently switched off IAEA cameras monitoring their nuclear enrichment facilities, giving rise to fears that the Iranians are on the cusp of a breakthrough in developing a nuclear weapon. The Biden Administration has been unsuccessfully trying to revive the Iran nuclear accord which Donald Trump scrapped. For a variety of reasons it may be time to change tack.

* 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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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Further to Tom Arms ‘Johnson in trouble’ comments, a further example of Johnson deliberately looking for a fight in order to distract attention away from his own disingenuousness and incompetence is in the winding up for a fight with the railway unions…… aided and abetted by Grant Shapps (alias Michael Green).

    Shameful….. the opposite of the statesmanship and leadership this country needs as it prepares for hyper inflation approaching 11% and stagnation in the coming year.

    There’s nothing new about this return to a right wing play book straight out of the 1920’s. No doubt somebody in Central Office will ‘discover’ a Zinoviev telegram from Putin any time now. I just hope Liberal Democrats don’t fall for Johnson’s right wing play list.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jun '22 - 1:56pm

    ” However, the rebranding of McDonalds does not mean that sanctions are failing”

    But maybe there will be other reasons? Sanctions would certainly hit an economy like ours because we don’t have enough land grow enough food, and we don’t have enough natural resources like metals, oil, natural gas etc. We need to trade on world markets to get what we need.

    This doesn’t apply to Russia. They have plenty of both and have a relatively well educated population which can be trained to manufacture what they need in their own factories . If Lada can’t get buy from their usual western suppliers they, or a Russian subcontractor, should be able to figure out how to make it themselves. In other words an Autarky wouldn’t work for us but it might for the Russians.

    In any case, the Chinese are unlikely to join in with western sanctions. It won’t take them long to provide an alternative source of components for Lada. Any supply disruption will only be temporary.

    This is not to imply any approval for the Russian regime or its invasion of Ukraine. However, we do need to be realistic about what we are doing to combat it.

  • Joseph Bourke 19th Jun '22 - 7:31pm

    Russia under Putin has become a serious threat to world peace just as it was under Stalin. Putin has not yet resorted to the mass executions and imprisonment of his own population in Gulags that Stalin engaged in, but he seems to be heading in that direction if the Russian federation does not break apart first.
    Not having MacDonald’s or Coca-cola might actually be a benefit for Russian youth and drivers learning how to fix cars again may be no bad thing for the environment. The Cubans are experts at this Classic Cars and the Cubans That Keep Them Running
    The SOE was never able to “set Nazi-occupied Europe alight.” Partisan activity was most effective in Yugoslavia, Northern Italy and Belarus.
    Ukrainian Partisans fought on both sides and as a result fought almost everybody including Nazis, Soviets, Polish and Czech partisans and each other. Even today these divisions between Russian speaking and Western Ukrainians remain in parts.
    It’s a messy business. Russia has to be contained, forced out of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people allowed to settle their own internal divisions among themselves. Gordon Brown seems to be saying the right things. The world’s democracies need to unite to show people that globalisation which is led by the West is working to reduce poverty, raise living standards and of course, deal with climate change in the poorer countries
    Gordon Brown reveals Vladimir Putin threatened him
    On the domestic front, we have been here before with Ted Heath in the 1970s. It wasn’t good then and it won’t be this time either. The Saudi’s and Opec were no help then and can’t be relied on now. Tackling inflation is going to cause a lot of industrial disruption and economic turmoil.

  • @ Joe Bourke I’m sorry, Joe, but I’m afraid I must challenge one of your comments.

    An estimated 500,000 French men and women worked for the Resistance during Germany’s occupation of France. Resistance workers carried out thousands of acts of sabotage against the German occupiers to their great risk. More than 90,000 members of the resistance were killed, tortured or deported by the Germans.

    They gathered intelligence and helped Allied airmen and prisoners of war to escape the country, risking their lives. On a personal note, Dad was with 175 Squadron (Typhoons) throughout the Normandy campaign in 1944, and it was a great privilege to meet some former members of the resistance when I visited the Noyers Bocage Memorial with a few of Dad’s old pals a few years ago.

  • David Raw 19th Jun ’22 – 8:52pm…[email protected] Joe Bourke I’m sorry, Joe, but I’m afraid I must challenge one of your comments….

    Agreed…We lived for many years in the Massif Central (a hotbed of Resistance)..In addition to sabotage the sheer number of troops required to occupy this and other such regions affected the German response to Allied actions..

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Jun '22 - 12:52pm

    David Raw,

    when it comes to Ukraine the experience of a traumatised France under German occupation should be informative as to what can be expected in such circumstances. This article discusses some of the realities of that heroic resistance
    It is equally important to recognise that it was the USSR (including Ukraine and Belarus) that bore the brunt of the fight against Nazi Germany until the summer of 1944 and the lasting legacy of what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.
    Many commentators point to Russian loss of pride after the collapse of the Soviet union and Russian economy in the 1990s as a factor in the rise of Putin to power. While jingoism is not unique to Russia, Western powers can understand where it comes from and the dangers of blind adherence to the mantra of my country right or wrong.
    If we are ever to be able to firmly establish respect for an International rules based order in place of a clausewitzian ‘might is right’ realpolitik, then the kind of unity among the world’s democracies Gordon Brown is talking about needs to be developed and maintained in dealing with wars of aggression and global poverty.
    The Horn of Africa is experiencing severe drought and famine again as it was in the 1980s when Bob Gelfof organised the Live Aid concerts and Bangladesh is drowning under extreme floods. As these food shortage and climate change crises mount around the globe, it is the Western democracies that will be called upon to provide solutions.

  • Thank you, Joseph. I agree with the comment about Gordon Brown……. a much misunderstood and undervalued politician – especially in the South Eastern corner of the not so united UK.

  • Joseph Bourke 22nd Jun '22 - 2:18pm

    Gordon Brown is playing a useful role as a former PM and along with John Major (and even Tony Blair at times) has made some useful interventions. He is a good advocate for nuclear disarmament and the Non-Proliferation Treaty Speech to United Nations Security Council by Gordon Brown as is Mikhail Gorbachev World in ‘colossal danger’
    Kazakhstans foreign minister has this week made a plea for the world’s nuclear weapons to be decommissioned by 2045 Kazakhstan makes plea for global end to nuclear weapons by 2045
    The LibDem policy on nuclear disarmanent Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons commits the party to pursue the global elimination of nuclear weapons, seeking to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used, and ultimately put beyond use.
    Judging by the rhetoric emanating from Russia, the missile tests in North Korea and the ongoing issues with Iran’s nuclear weapons program we are heading in the wrong direction again.
    The Japan Times has published an article on the meeting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. in Vienna The new urgency of nuclear disarmament “The TPNW is not a quick fix. But it can build international pressure and help to put the world back on track toward nuclear disarmament”.

  • Peter John Hirst 3rd Jul '22 - 5:08pm

    Regarding the NI protocol, one of the issues must be that businesses will do what they can to create a profit so laws need to be precise. There must also be plenty of people who won’t mind too much breaking any laws called criminals. Trade laws must be credible and avoid the situation of there being little reward for obeying them.

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