Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The freshly minted British Conservative government of Liz Truss is on the ropes. They have only themselves to blame. The “mini-budget” of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has plunged the economy into a downward spiral. The pound is plummeting. Interest rates are rocketing. People are literally on the cusp of losing their homes, and the problems of the world’s fifth largest economy is having a knock-on effect around the world.

The Opposition Labour Party has soared to a 20-point lead in the opinion polls. The Truss-Kwarteng policy of borrowing billions to cut taxes in the middle of a recession has been totally rejected by the markets. One reason for the traders’ emphatic thumbs down is Kwarteng’s refusal to support his budget with an assessment by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Such support is usually a pre-requisite for any budget announcement. The market has interpreted its absence as a sign that the chancellor knew that the OBR would refuse its seal of approval.

Well, now the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, has demanded that Kwarteng organise a retrospective OBR report by the end of October at the latest – and, if the OBR report is as scathing as the statements emitting from the corridors of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund – amend the budget accordingly. In the meantime, the Truss-Kwarteng duo are doing what every politician does these days when caught in a mess of their own making – doubling down and blaming someone else. In this case Ms Truss has hummed and hahed through a series dramatically misjudged local radio interviews. Putin, Ukraine, covid and world energy prices – everything except Brexit – were blamed for the reaction to the budget. But the fact is every other developed country has the same problems (except self-inflicted Brexit) and they have succeeded in propping up their troubled economies. The markets, therefore, have decided that Britain’s problems can be ascribed to political competence.

Baltic

Who blew up the Baltic Sea gas pipe lines on Tuesday? And who is the legal victim? It is almost universally agreed that the explosions were sabotage that involved a state military operation. But which state? Officially neither the Russians nor NATO are pointing a finger, but both are implying that the other is responsible. Sweden said it detected Russian submarines and surface vessels in the sabotage area shortly before the explosions. Russia retorted with a claim that there were even more NATO naval forces in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue has been called by Moscow.

The identity of the attacker is important because the attack occurred in Danish territorial waters which means that it can be construed as an attack on a NATO member. On the other hand, it was an attack on Russian property and so Moscow might be able to claim that it was a NATO attack against them. It is quite possible that we will never know who was responsible because revealing the identity would further escalate the Ukraine War.

In the meantime, gas from the pipeline continues to bubble to the surface and into the atmosphere at a disturbing rate. The gas is mainly methane which is the second biggest cause of climate change after CO2. EU Energy Commissioner Stefano Grassi said the leaks risked becoming a “climate and ecological disaster.”

Ukraine

Meanwhile, it looks like being another crunch week for the Ukraine War. On Tuesday or Wednesday the rubber-stamp Russian Duma is expected to confirm the Putin’s annexation of 15% of Ukrainian territory following a series of sham referendums. This means that if Ukraine continues to fight for their return, Russia will regard it as an attack on Russian territory which, according to President Vladimir Putin, which will be defended “by all means possible.” This has been widely interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons.

The annexation, nuclear threat, pipeline explosions, energy crisis and more sanctions will all be discussed at an EU heads of government summit on Wednesday. President Biden, meanwhile, has said that the US “will never accept” the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory. He is reported to be considering fresh sanctions aimed at the Russian technology sector, especially parts related to the financial and oil industries.

Fleeing Russian soldiers have proved a bonus to the Ukrainian forces as they have left behind valuable equipment as well as vacating Ukrainian territory. Much of the equipment can be recycled and used against the Russian invaders, but more importantly, it can be examined and mined for valuable military intelligence which is, of course, passed onto Ukraine’s Western backers. A case in point is the recent capture of a state-of-the-art T-90M tank after a battle outside Kharkiv. The Ukrainians have only managed to acquire one, but that will be enough to learn how to counter its deadly attack potential. The tank is known to have a protective cape to deflect radar and heat-seeking anti-tank missiles. It is also equipped with short-range projectiles to repel missile attacks and has specially hardened armour. All of this is known. What is not known is the what and how of these attributes. Military scientists will know soon enough.

Brazil

Brazilian voters troop to the polls on Sunday in a spirit of trepidation. Will their votes count or will Jair Bolsonaro do a Trump, dismiss the results as an “electoral lie” and go the extra mile with a military coup? Sunday’s vote is a first-round poll of 11 candidates, but opinion polls indicate that the final choice on 30 October run-off will be between Bolsonaro and former left-wing president Luiz Inacio da Silva (aka “Lula”). The predicted landslide winner of round two is Lula. Bolsonaro has told his supporters – mainly the military – to standby in case the vote goes against him. “If necessary,” he has warned, “we will go to war.”

Iran

The hijab rebellion continues in Iran. The latest death toll has topped 100 and there have been over 1,200 arrests. There have been many demonstrations and riots in Iran since it became the Islamic Republic in 1979. But the current violence appears to the biggest threat yet to mullah rule. The response of hard line president Ebrahim Raisi has been to double down. “Chaos,” he said this week, “will not be accepted.” His threats and arrests appear to have failed – at least for the time being. Past riots have been mostly related to the country’s economic problems, such as the demonstrations that followed a petrol pump price rise. The regime managed to escape from that by blaming Western sanctions. The Hijab rebellion is different. It has no scapegoat. It is entirely the creation of the country’s theocratic rulers.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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13 Comments

  • Every nation has the sole right to independence.
    This includes Ukraine, Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland.
    You may see Professor Doyle’s recent report on Wales’ economy.
    He says:
    “It is not for me as an Irish academic to advise the people of Wales on their future constitutional choices, but the figure of £13.5bn, frequently quoted as representing the UK government annual subvention to Wales, is a UK accounting exercise, and not a calculation of the fiscal gap that would exist in the early days of an independent Wales…..”

    An independent Wales would be not worse off as the real fiscal gap would be that of an average typical OECD nation and could even be better off independent from the UK, particularly if it joins the EFTA and the European Union as a newly formed nation.
    It would certainly not have to suffer the UK government’s incompetent budgets like this recent (2022/9) budget.
    It would support Scotland case to enter EFTA and the EU. …And England’s.

  • 2…
    Wales could actually be better off and have a better relationship with a newly formed England and Scotland as equals.
    Self determination of all nations IS a important key policy of all liberals and the policy of the ALDE against imperialism and in favour of its policy for an independent Ukraine.

    I hope that it is discussed by the Liberal democrats as liberals should always be supporting power to be local with the peoples, rather than top-down dictatorships to which the UK is slowly drifting into.
    It is time for Jane Dodd and the Welsh Liberals to support liberation for an independent Wales within the EU. Lets work with the ALDE.

  • Growing up as a teenager in the late 1960s, the news was dominated by the Vietnam war and apartheid in South Africa until the troubles escalated in Northern Ireland. The seventies was dominated by industrial strife in the UK and runaway inflation. 1979 saw revolution in Iran and the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1980 we had the Iranian embassy siege in London and in 1982, The Falklands War. 1980 also saw Iran and Iraq beginning a war that would last until 1988 when Saddam Hussein used poison gas on a Kurdish village. 1989 saw withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the Tiananmen square massacre in China and the fall of the Berlin Wall. 1990 saw the 1st gulf war. 1991 the end of the Soviet Union.
    The 1990s saw the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo war from 1998-99. The 21st century was rocked by the terrorist attacks in the United States followed by another attempt to subdue Afghanistan by military force and invasion of Iraq. The Arab spring in the early 2010s provided a fleeting moment of hope for the flowering of democracy in some of the world’s more autocratic regimes.
    When politics fails, people take to the streets. When peaceful demonstrations are repressed by violence people take up arms. It happened with Cuba, Vietnam, South Africa and Northern Ireland; in Iran and Afghanistan; in the Russian Fedration (Chechnya) and independent Soviet republics (Hungary and Czechoslovakia) and China (Xiajiang); in Iraq, the Arab states and more. Ukraine is a more recent case of this inevitable reaction, beginning with the Orange revolution of 2004 and the Maidan popular revolt of 2014.

  • Gareth Hartwell 2nd Oct '22 - 2:11pm

    A thorough overview but I am very concerned that at a time of maximum unpopularity of the Tories, the Lib Dems are polling in single figures (and actually going down rather than up).

    I suspect that this is at least in part because we are getting squeezed out of the news agenda and having to cancel our conference didn’t help.

    The question is what do we do about it to ensure that our party isn’t also wiped out alongside the Tories at the next election?

    Gareth

  • Gwyn Williams 2nd Oct '22 - 2:16pm

    @Ernest Both Wales and Ukraine have former imperial nuclear armed powers to their East desperately trying to revive past glories. As someone who lives and works in Wales, I suspect that the people of Ukraine would prefer the relationship between England and Wales rather than the one they have with Russia.
    I fail to see the appeal of Welsh or British nationalism. I agree with devolving power as close to the people as possible. The Welsh Senedd has not done this. It has centralised control in Cardiff and reduced the independence of local government. Both Labour and Plaid Cymru have supported this.

  • @Gwyn Williams The Independent for Wales movement YesCymru has always believed that it is about having a free Wales that is able to see its way in the world. Wales has benefited a lot from membership of the European Union and being in the single European market, one of the benefits is a market for our lamb exports. Brexit has been forced on us by British nationalism which from a right-wing authoritarian dogma.
    Plaid Cymru supports devolving power to local areas in Wales, an independent Wales will give us the opportunity to introduce a 2nd chamber for representation from the regions such as South, West, Central and North Wales assemblies/councils holding the 1st chamber to account. Plaid Cymru also supports the Single Transferable Vote.

    Labour is the far biggest party in the Senedd. What do you do?
    LibDems was in the same position in 2010-2015 at Westminster.

  • John Roffey 2nd Oct '22 - 6:19pm

    I am inclined to believe that it is the Party’s lack of commitment to the climate crisis that deters many voters (and explains Labour’s popularity).

    This is particularly true for the young – but also, of course, for their parents and grandparents.

  • Gwyn Williams 3rd Oct '22 - 10:37am

    @Ernest I am sure that you believe what you are saying is true. You claim that the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru supports STV. Labour and Plaid Cymru have a 2/3rds majority in the Welsh Senedd. With that combined super majority they are scrapping the 5 Welsh regions and are creating 16 constituencies using the d’Hondt system. The combination of these small constituencies and the crude d’Hondt system will be to eliminate any Party receiving less than 12% of the vote from the Senedd.

  • @Tom Arms: I’d like to know what evidence you can point to that any submarines in the Baltic have sabotaged the Nordstream pipelines (*spoiler alert: Russian subs and NATO country ones mulling around the Baltic sea wasn’t that rare BEFORE the Ukraine invasion).

    Or is it possible that it’s got nothing to do with the media chat on global politics, but that natural gas is trapped within the pipes since Russia cut the supply to those pipes & at the EU end is under several dozen metres of Baltic sea, which has built up pressure on those pipes on the seabed?
    We don’t know.

  • @Thomas HJ – We do know that the pipeline leak monitoring sensors detected signatures consistent with detonations of explosives… Which would tend to rule out the two Nord Stream pipelines suffering failure due to construction defects. Obviously, we won’t know the full details until such time as the pipeline can be inspected, probably in a few weeks.
    What we can be sure of is that it is going to take a lot of work to restore the pipelines… Also we can be sure, those that carried out this attack are capable of attacking the undersea communications cable infrastructure…

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct '22 - 9:38am

    @ Thomas HJ,

    “….. we just don’t know”

    We do. We know that it is pressure which pushes the gas through the pipeline. If the Russians turn off the tap at their end, there is then insufficient pressure to push through the gas that is stored in the pipeline to the German end. So your theory doesn’t really hold water – unlike the ruptured pipeline.

    We also need to ask who benefits from the damage. I can’t really see how it helps the Russians. They can turn off the gas any time they like and simply claim that essential safety maintenance needs to be carried out if they need any excuse.

    Possibly the countries which have land based pipelines passing through their territories would benefit. They can charge fees on the passage of gas. The USA could benefit by being able to sell more of their gas to Europe. However, I would have thought this was an insufficient motive. They will have an eye to their likely relationship to a Putin free Russia.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Oct '22 - 5:09pm

    The Conservatives can still do a lot of damage before they are removed from power. The situation is similar to that in Brazil though let’s hope the result when it comes will be more decisive. The best hope is that as seems to be happening, the MPs who could lose their jobs become a valve forcing the government to drop its most disastrous policies.

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