Tom Arms’ World Review

The jury is out on the value of French President Emmanuel Macron’s numerous and lengthy telephone/zoom/face to face talks Vladimir Putin.

Some diplomats claim that he is providing a valuable role in keeping open the lines of communication between NATO and the Kremlin. Others maintain that his talks have given Putin a totally undeserved credibility. Either way, the Vlad-Emmanuel chats do not appear to have had a great impact Macron’s re-election hopes as the French presidential campaign swings towards the final week before the first round on 10 April.

Macron has been the favourite for the past six months, but this week he dropped a percentage point from 28 to 27 percent of the expected first round vote and his chief rival Marine Le Pen climbed from 18 percent to 20. Pollsters, however, still give the incumbent the advantage in the 24 April second round, but it has narrowed to 52-53 percent of the vote.

Right-winger Ms Le Pen has clearly had some success in de-demonising her National Rally Party. She has been helped by the candidacy of the extreme right-winger Eric Zemmour who wants to deport 100,000 Muslims a year. Ms Le Pen has successfully shifted the focus of her campaign from the traditional issue of immigration to the cost of living crisis. This has put her in a position to pick up second round votes from the left of the French political spectrum with her economic policy and votes from the right with her slightly more acceptable anti-immigration policies.

However, Macron has also had some recent successes. In January, the French economy has its biggest every monthly jump as it bounced back from the pandemic and he has managed to reduce unemployment to 7.4 percent.

Reports emanating from Britain’s MI6 and GCHQ and America’s CIA and National Security Agency are in total agreement – Putin goofed. He completely miscalculated the resolve of the Ukrainian people and the Western Alliance and the ability of his own military forces. But according to the spy chiefs, it gets even worse. The Russian president has surrounded himself with advisers who are terrified of telling him the truth. The result is that his decision to invade was made on the basis of intelligence which fitted the prejudices and political beliefs of Putin rather than the facts.

Furthermore, that the Russian president is likely to be continuing to receive false information because his advisers are frightened of ending up in a Siberian gulag at best and poisoned by novichok or polonium at worst.

Fear of the president, however, does not extend to a number of Russian troops on the ground according to the same intelligence sources. There are reports of Russian soldiers refusing to fire on Ukrainian military and even using their weapons to shoot down Russian planes and helicopters. The result is that Putin has turned on his generals who are becoming increasingly annoyed with the president’s efforts to shift the blame to their shoulder epaulettes.

One group has benefitted from the Ukraine war – the American military. President Joe Biden has this week put before Congress the highest-ever proposed defense budget – $733 billion. That is more than the combined defense budgets of Russia and China and three times what Beijing spends on its military. It will pass. In fact, Congress is likely to tack even more money onto it.

Last year, Biden asked for $715 billion and Congress gave him $756 billion. The reason for the extra jump is that the president is effectively fighting on two fronts – Europe and Asia, when he would prefer to be focused more on Asia. This may change in the next few years as the German decision to increase its defence spending to two percent of GDP starts to take effect.

As for the president’s commenting about “regime change” in the Kremlin. Of course, he wants regime change. So does every other Western leader who has claimed they don’t. Was he wrong to say so? You betcha. Putin invaded Ukraine to effect regime change. We know this because he said so. One of the West’s reasons for opposing Putin was his stated aim of using his army to interfere in the domestic politics of another country to force regime change. To claim that the US wants regime change in the Kremlin loses it the moral high ground and opens Biden to a charge of hypocrisy. But seriously, it is unlikely that the Ukraine and its Western backers can win as long as Vladimir Putin is president of Russia.

Countries fight for the right to host major sporting events because it gives them the opportunity to showcase their country which brings in tourists, trade and a feeling of pride among their own population. Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup may prove to be exception to the rule.

The spotlight won’t be shining so much on their seven new stadiums, new airport, new metro and new roads as it will be on the migrant workers who died building these facilities and the gay men and women who may be banned from using them. According to The Guardian 6,500 migrant workers (mainly from South Asia and the Philippines) have died in Qatar since the Gulf country won its bid to host the World Cup. Qatar says the figure is actually 37, just about every human rights organisation disagrees. 30,000 migrants have worked on building the infrastructure for the World Cup and it’s universally agreed (except by the ruling al-Thani family) that they live in appalling conditions and are paid next to nothing.

Then there is the gay community in Qatar. Officially there isn’t one. Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Qatar. Set against this the fact that FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) and the European club football scene is heavily focused on inclusivity and using sport to lead from the moral high ground. The scene is set for a clash.

Both Norway and the Netherlands have considered a boycott. This week it was considered and rejected by England Manager Gareth Southgate, but he gave his blessing to the efforts of England Captain Harry Kane who is liaising with his counterparts elsewhere in Europe to coordinate ways to spotlight Qatar’s failings. The 2022 World Cup is more likely to be a showcase for the rights of gay people and migrant workers than showcase for Qatari tourism.

* 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

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Apr '22 - 11:06am

    Thank you for your article.
    Why is the President fighting on two fronts?
    Why is he fighting at all?
    Who is attacking the U. S. A?

  • Liberal Internationalism is a cornerstone of Liberal values. The war in Ukraine and continuing tensions with China are the outcome of fundamental differences in political philosophy between democracies and authoritarian regimes as to how states should manage their relations.
    Both China and Russia posit that there is anarchy in the international system, where there is no rules based order governing relationships between states. States are viewed as the ultimate authority or sovereign over the people and government. As a result, they focus on gaining power. Decisions made with this realist mindset do not focus on ethical considerations.
    Liberalism differs in its response to disorder as liberals believe that making alliances, such as through the United Nations, European Union or Nato will lead to a decrease of anarchy. The UN can reduce anarchy as it provides sovereign states with a higher authority that can help solve major issues in the international system. An additional way that liberalism affects international relations is that greater economic alliances can lead to a lesser chance of conflict since most states do not want to risk their economic power in the world.
    Putin may have been misinformed, but so were western leaders when it came to WMD’s in Iraq. Echo chambers are not unique to authoritarian regimes but violent repression of individual freedom is.

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Apr '22 - 4:10pm

    I think stating ‘homosexuality is a criminal offence in Qatar’ is inaccurate and may mislead fans of all sexualities who may be considering going to Qatar. The picture is more complex that this as the fundamental issue is that all sexual relationships outside marriage are illegal and an unmarried heterosexual couple choosing to book a hotel room together could find themselves arrested as much as a homosexual couple. The particular issue that makes things so much worse for homosexual couples is that even if they have marriage certificates from their own countries, these would not be recognised in Qatar. Of course gay people can still travel safely to Qatar if they ensure that they do not exhibit what the law would regard as ‘homosexual behaviour’ which could be as little as showing particular affection in public, but this is not particularly different for unmarried heterosexual couples in that they can also find themselves arrested for showing particular affection in public (though for ‘indecency’ rather than homosexual behaviour) and that applies whether married or not. Therefore people of all sexualities need to be mindful of their behaviour if they wish to travel to Qatar and anyone unwilling to observe the laws of the country would be advised not to go.

  • Phil Beesley 3rd Apr '22 - 7:11pm

    Brad Barrow: “I think stating ‘homosexuality is a criminal offence in Qatar’ is inaccurate and may mislead fans of all sexualities who may be considering going to Qatar.”

    Stunning logic follows from Brad. Homosexuality isn’t illegal because heterosexuality is illegal as well.

    Having addressed that morality problem, can anyone help with Tom’s stats about migrant workers. The Qatar government set a minimum wage for workers. How much anyone? i’m sure I read it in Private Eye recently.

  • Tom Seelye Arms 3rd Apr '22 - 10:04pm

    @steve. I think he is fighting an economic and actual military war in Europe through support of Ukraine and an economic war with China which threatens to become an actual military war. Both Russia and China have said that they oppose the rules-based Western system and want to replace it. I think that allows Biden– and other Western states– the right to fight for what they believe is right. I will start my preference: The West has flaws but it is a helluva lot better than the political structures of China and Russia. I am currently reading Robert Service’s History of Modern China. I recommend it. One thing that struck me is that Stalin ran the Soviet Union so that the people served the state. I believe this is an underlying characteristic of autocracies. Liberal Democracies are constructed so that the state serves the people.

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Apr '22 - 10:59pm

    @Phil Beesley
    I’m sure you are fully aware that I did not suggest that “Homosexuality isn’t illegal because heterosexuality is illegal as well.” What I did make clear what that homosexual behaviour was illegal as also was heterosexual behaviour outside marriage. The key difference is that while heterosexual couples can engage in sexual activity if married, homosexual couples can not get married, or have same-sex marriages conducted in other countries recognised, so homosexual sexual activity is always illegal.
    I trust that is clear.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Apr '22 - 1:36pm

    An election in Russia without Putin would provide an opportunity for different parties to form and for the country to make a fresh start. This is something the Russian people deserve. There would need to be a long lead in and much outside monitoring.

  • “As for the president’s commenting about “regime change” in the Kremlin. Of course, he wants regime change. So does every other Western leader who has claimed they don’t. …….To claim that the US wants regime change in the Kremlin loses it the moral high ground and opens Biden to a charge of hypocrisy. But seriously, it is unlikely that the Ukraine and its Western backers can win as long as Vladimir Putin is president of Russia.”

    Does this mixture of comments not get us dangerously close to Orwellian doublespeak? Arguably Biden was unwise to introduce his deeply felt but unscripted howl against the prospect of Putin continuing in office because it could be interpreted as a threat from him to bring about the removal by USA force. However he made it clear afterwards that this was not his intention. He ridiculed any suggestion that he was threatening to “bring Putin down” In commenting we should not give any credence to the allegation that he was .

    The lengthy and powerful Biden speech in Warsaw contained a passage assuring the Russians as a people that they were not regarded as the enemy. It should be clear from the speech as a whole that Biden was seeking an outcome whereby the Russian people would recognise that Putin needs to go. That may well be unrealistic but certainly chimes with the expression in this article of the views held by “every other Western leader”.

  • Denis,

    I think the idea that the Russian people would recognise that Putin needs to go is indeed unrealistic, when so many will not even believe their own relatives in Ukraine when they try to tell them what the horrors of the “special military operation” actually means for ordinary citizens living in Ukraine. They are so convinced by state propaganda that they think their own sons, daughters or other relatives living in Ukraine are lying about the atrocities being committed there.
    What the Kremlin means by denazification is discussed in this op-ed for state news agency RIA Novosti titled “What Russia should do with Ukraine” https://mobile.twitter.com/francska1/status/1510899136433901569
    In short denazification means what has been seen in Bucha and Irpin over the weekend.
    “Denazification is a set of measures aimed at the nazified mass of the population, which technically cannot be subjected to direct punishment as war criminals”
    “The Banderite elite must be liquidated, its reeducation is impossible. The social ‘swamp’ which actively and passively supports it must undergo the hardships of war and digest the experience as a historical lesson and atonement”

  • It may just be possible for a viable anti-Putin movement to build in Russia if the military body count continues to build and it becomes more and more clear that the Ukrainians are not keeling over. But I agree it’s a long shot and the kind of spurious propaganda you quote here will continue.

  • Putin has certainly erected a wall of lies, if not an Iron curtain. To double down on the despair of the victims of the most egregious war crimes with incredulous claims that bereaved families are staging the murder and rape of their loved ones is the most cynical of actions. It displays a callous lack of empathy for human suffering (and is rebutted by satellite evidence showing the same bodies in the streets during the Russian occupation)
    Russian diplomats complain the West does not respect them. By their actions they have earned only the opprobrium and lasting enmity of their neighbours and a deserved lack of respect at the UN and among foreign diplomats.
    If there is to be any silver lining among all this horror, it is the much needed impetus that sanctions on Russian energy gives to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. With renewable energy now becoming cost competitive, the target of reducing carbon emissions by half before 2030 might just be in reach.
    The imminent global threat posed by climate change is equal to that of nuclear war and needs to be taken just as seriously. Russian oil, gas and coal is best left where it is – in the ground. The task of convincing China and India of that will not be an easy one, but they have just as much to lose from climate disaster as everyone else.
    Martin is right to point out that the UK needs to come to terms with its association with the Putin regime. Ed Lucas (a former foreign correspondent in Moscow) has a piece in the Daily Mail discussing this Putin’s Westminster apologists – and his enablers in the City – must face a moral reckoning

  • Christopher Moore 5th Apr '22 - 1:31pm

    Since the war started, Melenchon, Le Pen and Zemmour have all distanced themselves from their ambiguities and kind words about Putin.

    In the 2nd round, Le Pen’s previous generous funding from Russian sources will surely be a line of attack for Macron to try to win back right-wing voters.

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