Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the Ukraine War, especially on the Ukrainian side. Russia may have more ships, men, missiles and tanks. But the Ukrainians are proving masters at producing drones to counter them.

At sea they have pioneered the development and use of naval drones which have successfully attacked Russian ships and shore side storage depots at the Russian naval base of Sevastopol. The drones are equipped with a souped-up jet ski engine; a camera in the bow and one amidships, a satellite dish and 200 kg of high explosives. They are operated by a “captain” sitting hundreds of miles in a bunker with a joystick not dissimilar to the one he used aged 10 in the local video arcade.

Each naval drone costs about $250,000 and the Ukrainians plan to have another 100 produced early in 2023. In the air, the Ukrainians have remodelled Tupolev TU-141 reconnaissance drones left over from the Soviet era. They have simply fitted the Russian-made drone with high explosives. The aerial drones were used this week to target Russian airfields from which the Russians were launching crippling attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.

But there is a political problem with the Ukrainian air drone counter attacks. The airbases are inside Russia and NATO is keen to geographically contain conflict to Ukrainian soil so that it does not escalate into a World War Three. It has therefore limited the range of the weapons it has supplied to Ukraine. But the aerial drones used this week were from Ukraine – not NATO. So, it could be argued that Kyiv is sticking to the approved script. But to be on the diplomatic safe side, the Ukrainians are refusing to confirm or deny responsibility for the attacks. No one, however, thinks it could be anyone else.

Germany

Several disturbing – and so far not fully discussed – revelations have emerged from this week’s crushing of an alleged German coup plot. Briefly, leaders of far-right terrorist group known as the Reich Citizens Movement were arrested for plotting to storm the Reichstag (German parliament), overthrow the government, return Germany to is pre-World War I Imperial government, and install a German aristocrat businessman as Kaiser Heinrich XIII.

All of the above is worrying enough in itself, but there are several other disturbing aspects. First is that the group was inspired by conspiracy theories promulgated by the shadowy US-based Qanon, and that Qanon’s theories are taking hold not only in Germany but with far-right groups across Europe. The conspiracy theory which appears particularly attractive to these groups is the “Great Replacement” theory which claims that an anonymous and amorphous global elite is plotting to replace the “European race” with non-Europeans.

Also, of concern, is that the Reich Citizens Movement sought to establish links with Vladimir Putin and with far-right groups in the US. One of those arrested was a Russian woman. There is also the fact that plotters were using the January 6 Capitol Hill riots as a template for their attack on the Reichstag.

Finally, the police have known about the Reich Citizens Movement for years, but for most of that time they were dismissed as a fringe group of oddballs and misfits. Immigration issues, the social media network, war in Ukraine, inflation, recession and a host of other unpleasant factors have combined to attract more people to the fringe ranks and this in turn has encouraged the oddball core to extreme measures.

Indonesia

The world’s press has been focused this week on Indonesia’s draconian new sex laws. This is because sex sells newspapers and attracts viewers. Partly because I am happily married and do not have a curvy young secretary, I am more concerned about a plethora of other laws that the Indonesian parliament passed this week; all of which are far more damaging to the future of the world’s largest Muslim country (population 270 million)  and the stability of the region.

According to the Freedom in the World Index, Indonesia is listed as a “partly free” country. It has endemic corruption, Sharia law in some areas, and a fair amount of political violence. But Indonesia has substantially improved since 1998. There is relative press freedom, multi-party elections and peaceful transfers of power.

That could change with the new laws which are designed to jettison the old Dutch-based legal system and replace it with something closer to Islam. Sex outside of marriage will be punished with a year behind bars. But you will spend three years in gaol if you criticise the president, the constitution or the “ideology of the state”. All of these laws dramatically suppress freedom of speech and are written in such a way that they can be widely interpreted and implemented differently by different shades of government. In fact, the new legislation has been dubbed “rubber laws” and are all the more dangerous for their elasticity.

Middle East

America is being edged out of the Middle East. Russia and Turkey are vying for influence in Syria and Libya. Iran is dominant in Iraq. Lebanon, Yemen and Somalia have been effectively written off. Israel is dependent on the US but is increasingly going its own way. Qatar hosts 10,000 US troops but retains close links with Iran. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are working with Russia to maintain high oil prices.

And finally, this week, the Saudis and China kicked off a new and closer relationship. The centrepiece of the 3-day visit of President Xi Jinping was a strategic partnership deal that linked China’s ambitious Belt/Road initiative with Mohammed bin Salman’s equally ambitious 2030 Vision for Saudi Arabia. There were also agreements for Chinese investments in Saudi plans for solar power, hydrogen energy and in other industries and housing.

In an era of energy shortages, China received commitments of oil supplies from the world’s largest producer and the two leaders agreed to meet every two years to chart progress. On top of that, Xi Jinping stayed on for a Riyadh summit with 12 Arab leaders. None of the above was good news for Joe Biden.

Harry and Meghan

I am forced to admit that I watched the first three episodes of the much-hyped Netflix series “Harry and Meghan”. I had to. It’s my job. The verdict? Totally underwhelmed. Those expecting bombshell television which would bring the House of Windsor to its knees have been sorely disappointed.

The first half of the six-part series went up to the  wedding and was basically a diabetic-inducing series of programmes about how a Z-list actress and a British soldier prince met on the internet, fell in love and decided they would make a go at living happily ever after. There were a few remarks about the nasty, racist tabloid British press, but that in itself is not news.  The anticipated revelations about a racist Royal Family were also absent. Perhaps the excitement comes in next week’s part two. But so far Harry and Meghan is no more than a rather boring, every day love story.

* 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 15th Dec '22 - 3:01pm

    Perhaps NATO should become more interested in developments in the Middle East. The war in Ukraine seems to be altering or making more apparent allliances in this region. China seems to be forging a complicated, diverse series of strategic frameworks that reinforces its leadership role.

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