Tom Arms’ World Review – 29th May 2022

The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil and gas. It may not happen. Decisions have to be unanimous. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has signalled that he will block the move.

Hungary is dependent on Russian fossil fuels for 100 percent of its energy needs. These can only be delivered by pipelines because Hungary is landlocked. All the pipelines run from Russia. The other EU countries have offered to give Hungary a two-year grace period to find alternative sources. But Orban maintains that he has no alternatives and that stopping imports of Russian gas would destroy the Hungarian economy.

At the same time, the newly re-elected Hungarian leader has used the war in Ukraine to declare a state of emergency which allows him to effectively rule by decree.  Orban claims that the Ukraine war “represents a constant threat to Hungary.” He has already used his new powers to impose fresh taxes to finance an increase in defence spending. Many fear that Orban will abuse the state of emergency to bypass parliament and suppress critics. He is already under attack from Brussels for damaging Hungary’s democratic institutions and the EU is threatening to withhold development funds because of that and allegations of corruption. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Hungary was already no longer free, now it is no longer a democracy”.

With all this talk about Taiwan and ambiguous or clear US policies on the issue of whether or not to defend the island, one thing has been slightly overlooked – chips. To be precise advanced semi-conductor computer chips. Taiwan produces 92 percent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor computer chips. The remaining eight percent come from South Korea. These tiny electrical conductors are to technology what oil and gas are to industry and transport. Without them our computer-dependent world would come to a sudden halt.

China, in particular, relies heavily on imports of Taiwanese semi-conductors.  The chips are produced by one company, the aptly-named Taiwan Semi- Conductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) and provides the island with what has been termed a “Silicon Shield.” The shield protects Taiwan from Chinese attack because of Beijing’s fear that vital factories will be damaged and ensures US protection for the same reason. Even if the factories – which are situated near potential battle zones – survive unscathed, a Chinese invasion would disrupt the delicate supply chain involving over 50 countries.

Both the US and China are trying to develop their own advanced semi-conductor industries. The Biden Administration is attempting to persuade TSMC to set up a manufacturing plant in America. Beijing would love to have the same facility but there is no way that the Taiwanese would allow that and at the moment, the Chinese are believed to be at least a decade behind in developing an independent advanced semi-conductor industry.

When Russia watchers talk about possible successors to Vladimir Putin the name of Nikolai Patrushev crops up more and more. That is not good news for those seeking an end to the Ukraine War. The 70-year-old Patrushev is head of Russia’s powerful Security Council and has been described as “the most hawkish of hawks.” He is the main contributor to Putin’s tough line on Ukraine and the two men have been close since their early days in the KGB in the 1970s. The pair also worked together in St Petersburg following the collapse of the Soviet Union and both have headed the FSB, successor agency to the KGB.

In a recent interview, the Russian security chief said that “all the goals set by the President (Putin) will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise, because truth, including historic truth, is on our side.” Patrushev – along with Putin – believes that Russia has a rightful historic mission to be a major world power. This view is an echo of a 19th century Russian-based political philosophy called slavophilia which dismissed Western rationalism, promoted Russian mysticism and argued that Slavs in general and Slavic Russia in particular, had a special world mission.

It looks as if Turkey’s President Erdogan may be planning a bit of territorial bartering over the issue of Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO. He has angered fellow NATO members by threatening to block the Nordic countries’ entry into the military alliance. His excuse? Sweden and Finland provide asylum to Kurds opposed to his regime. No sooner did Erdogan issue his threat then he also announced that he would be sending more Turkish troops to a 20-mile strip of Northern Syria to suppress US-backed Kurdish forces fighting Islamic militants. The asylum seeking Kurds in Scandinavia are from the PKK which is branded a terrorist organisation by the US and EU. Those in Syria are from a sister-group called the YPG and they are recognised as legitimate by the US. So far, Washington’s response to Erdogan’s renewed attack on Syrian-based Kurds has been a deafening silence, but the bones of a diplomatic agreement appear to be materialising: Turkey can have its slice of Syria if Sweden and Finland are allowed into NATO. The Kurds, as usual, are collateral damage.

* 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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  • Brad Barrows 29th May '22 - 3:31pm

    I have previously been impressed by Guy Verhofstadt but to suggest that Hungary is neither free nor a democracy is really over the top. I understand that many people are unhappy that 54% of those voting chose to back the governing party in the elections earlier this year, but that does not mean Hungary is no longer a democracy. If the EU thinks this of Hungary, I assume the EU has even greater concerns about the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU in light of its discriminatory language policies, the forced merge of all TV channel to ensure a ‘unified information platform’ and the banning of political parties that are against membership of the EU and NATO, and in favour of closer ties with Russia.

  • Brad Barrows 29th May '22 - 6:26pm

    @Martin. So Ukraine has merged all TV channels to ensure a ‘unified information platform’, has banned political parties which oppose Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, and is continuing with discriminatory language policies. I take it you believe that Ukraine does not meet the standards required for joining the EU?

  • Steve Trevethan 29th May '22 - 7:12pm

    Because the government of Russia has been and is behaving wrongly, does not mean that the government of Ukraine has behaved and is behaving well.

    How even handed is the reporting of the Ukraine conflict and the factors which preceded it?

  • The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil…

    Supposedly being the operative word…

    ‘Germany ‘deliberately watering down’ EU embargo on Russian oil’:

    In a bid to unblock talks over the EU’s sixth package of sanctions against Moscow, German officials – who had previously backed a full ban – proposed only imposing the embargo on sea shipments of Russian oil.

    It comes as EU countries scramble to agree a deal in time for leaders to endorse it at a summit early next week.

    The move was originally negotiated in order to win over landlocked Hungary – which has so far blocked the EU’s latest round of sanctions – and give it more time to rearrange its supplies away from Russian oil.

    But an EU diplomat said Germany hijacked the talks in order to secure wider concessions that would benefit its own economy.

    “Initially it was about giving Viktor Orban space, but now Germany has seen it as an opportunity to help itself. Germany has pushed for this… to narrow the scope of the sanctions on Russia,” the diplomat said.

    ‘EU: We need to keep buying Russian oil, or they would sell it somewhere else & make even more money’:

  • Mick Taylor 30th May '22 - 6:32am

    Hungary is no longer Democratic. The EU should suspend its membership until it is. Orban is now a dictator and cannot be allowed to block action against Russia. Drastic problems require drastic solutions. He will have to decide if he needs the EU more than it needs him. Bullies back off when their bluff is called

  • Hungary is a conservative ex-soviet country with a populist leader elected on the back of nationalist anti-immigrant policies. Orban’s party, Fidesz, did win the elections against an alliance, called United for Hungary, that included groups from across the political spectrum. Ultimately, the outcome of elections have to be respected as the expressed will of the voting public.
    The EU has to be able to function with a variety of political groupings across its membership even where it has to apply sanctions against individual members at times.
    65 percent of Hungary’s oil and 85 percent of its gas supplies come from Russia. While ultimately Climate change and Hungary’s commitment to climate neutrality by 2050 will necessitate the ending of reliance on fossil fuels; the country will need some coaxing and access to finance to accelerate its sustainable energy programs.

  • Peter Hirst 30th May '22 - 3:58pm

    The stale-mate in Ukraine gives the world an opportunity possibly through the UN to decide how to handle Russia. We cannot expect it to disappear. It must be disarmed and neutralised so it can slowly rehabilite and rejoin the world order.

  • Peter,

    how do you expect Russia to be disarmed? The level of propaganda coming out of Russia is becoming more and more absurd by the day. You have a Russian State TV host talking of invading the UK and attacking Stonehenge – presumably to dedruidfy the country Russian state TV host threatens to invade UK and attack Stonehenge
    A former Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Airborne Troops wants to set up a war crimes tribunal with China to prosecute Ukraine’s military, business, and political leadership and get their billionaires to pay for reconstruction ‘Left with nothing’ Russia in talks with China to create ‘war crime’ Ukraine tribunal
    The Russian newspaper Izvestia, a publication funded by the Russian government claims that, according to secret documents from Mariupol, the real mission of the Red Cross in Ukraine is to find healthy children and take their organs for rich people in the United States and Europe.
    Returning to reality the Guardian has an account of life under occupation from two female journalists that escaped from Kherson and have made it to the UK ‘We were lucky to escape’

  • William Francis 30th May '22 - 11:44pm

    @Steve Trevethan

    The Grazyzone is an infamously Campist (like Tankies but willing to defend any anti-American state) website known for its denial of the Uyghur genocide, Assad apologia, and general conspiracism.

    Invading a state, with the intention of annexation and genocide is no reasonable response to anything, especially after the Heleskini accords. Zelensky was elected on ending the war in the Donbas and building peaceful relations with Russia, and the fact Putin resulted in an invasion shows how unwilling he was to seek a diplomatic solution with Ukraine.

    For all the WW2 comparisons, this is just another chapter in the long history of Russian colonialism. Putin was never going to be a good-faith actor in all this because he sees Ukraine not as an independent nation (for he has repeatedly said Ukraine isn’t a real country), but as a rebellious province, whose insolence is the product of foreign meddling (this time the US takes the role of the Austro-Hungary and the post-great war polish state). Hence his use of unsupported VDV troops, in a manner not so dissimilar to how the USSR used them in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the Prague Spring of 1968.

  • William Francis is right in saying this is just another chapter in the long history of Russian colonialism that long predates the creation or expansion of Nato. After WW2 Poland would remain under the control of a soviet installed government (despite the existence of a Polish government in exile in London) until the collapse of the USSR.
    The only two countries that held democratic elections under soviet occupation after WW2 were Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The Czechs did not elect a communist government, so a coup was organised in 1948 to install a Kremlin approved regime by force. This event together with the Berlin blockade in the same year gave urgency to the European Recovery Program – the Marshall plan. Communist and socialist leaders in Italy defended the Czech coup as a victory for democracy, rationalizing that the violation of civil rights was a necessary and just response to a reactionary threat posed by Western imperialist interests. In response, British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin called for a Western defence association that ultimately led to the creation of Nato to contain further soviet expansion across Europe.
    As William Francis notes the USSR put down popular revolts in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the Prague Spring of 1968 in much the same way as it has responded to Ukrainian moves towards political sovereignty.
    Russia is a signatory to the UN Charter; the Helsinki Accords 1975; Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe 1990; the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, all of which (with the exception of the Budapest Memorandum) are binding treaties requiring the respect of European borders.

  • @Joe – William Francis is right in saying this is just another chapter in the long history of Russian colonialism that long predates the creation or expansion of Nato.
    No pre-WWII examples? Post-WWII is not “long history”…

  • Roland,

    Russia has been an imperial power since Peter the Great and the Great Northern War. Catherine the Great waged war against the Ottoman Empire for territory near the Black Sea, developing Russia into a major European power.
    Russia’s expansion into central asia in the 19th century resulted in what came to be termed the Great Game between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories.
    When Russia sought to expand its territory in the Balkans in the 19th Century and take Constantinople from the declining Ottoman empire, the Crimean war erupted with Britain, France and Turkey investing Sevastopol.
    Expansion into Siberia became possible with the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, from 1890 to 1904. This opened up East Asia; and Russian interests focused on Mongolia, Manchuria, and Korea. China was too weak to resist at the time, and ceded large swathes of territory to Russia. Russia obtained treaty ports such as Dalian/Port Arthur. In 1900, the Russian Empire invaded Manchuria. Japan strongly opposed Russian expansion, and defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Japan took over Korea, and Manchuria remained a contested area until the end of WW2.
    Stalin further consolidated the Soviet empire under the USSR after WW2, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    As with the dissolution of the British empire , a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine did not join, however, and clearly wants to go its own way.

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