Tom Arms’ World Review

The Russians have changed generals as well as shifting the focus of their attack from the north to the east and south. The new man is Lt. General Alexander Dvornikov, aka “the butcher”, a title he earned for his merciless bombardments in the Second Chechen War and Syria. In the first he levelled Grozny and the second left Aleppo a smouldering ruin whose streets were littered with the bodies of civilians. General Dvornikov is wanted for alleged war crimes in Syria and has been blacklisted by the EU.  Vladimir Putin has awarded him with the Hero of Russia medal.

Dvornikov’s appointment also signals a change in strategy. Previously, daily operations were directed from military headquarters in Moscow. Dvornikov, who has been in Eastern Ukraine for the past two years, is expected to have much more control. His experience is with mechanised artillery units and the terrain of Eastern Ukraine is more suited to his tactics. The north and west of the country is heavily-forested. The south and east is the breadbasket of Europe with wide open plains resembling the American Midwest. His problem is that the Ukrainian military have prepared for his attack with trenches and anti-tank traps. He should also bear in mind that being a general in the Russian army is a dangerous job. The Ukrainians have killed eight so far.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Vladimir Putin is resorting to the tactics of the man whom he has repeatedly said he admires – Joseph Stalin. The Soviet dictator used a combination of fear, the media, the police and repression to ensure adherence to his policies. Putin is doing the same. The enemy, according to Putin and Russian television, is no longer Neo-Nazis in Kyiv. It is the West “attempting to destroy Mother Russia.” Ukrainians are no longer fellow Slavs awaiting liberation, they are “traitors who deserve only to be ground into the dust.”

Also guilty of treason, is anyone who disseminates “fake news” about the “special military operation” in Ukraine (“fake news” is defined as anything other than news that originates in the Kremlin). So far 15,000 people have been arrested for refusing to toe the Putin line. They face up to 15 years in prison.  To further keep the lid on the dissidents, authorities are encouraging family, neighbours and friends to inform on each other – another Stalinist tactic.

For the moment the strategy is working. Vladimir Putin appears to have the overwhelming support of the Russian public. This may change with a worsening of the economic situation. When Western sanctions were initially imposed the rouble nose-dived and overnight the savings of millions of Russians were wiped out. Since then the central bank has intervened, buying roubles from its reserves. This has blunted the effect of the sanctions and stabilised the currency, but the head of the central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, has warned that this policy is unsustainable beyond the short term. But no matter, President Putin, has decided he wants a result by the 9th of May, the anniversary of the end of World War Two, which means that eastern Ukraine can expect a rough next few weeks.

Sri Lanka is an economic basket case and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The problem is that the country has run out of foreign currency reserves to pay for vital imports. The cause is partly the result of a drop in tourism because of the pandemic but mainly the result of the policies of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He was elected in 2019 with the promise of a “strong hand”. He used that hand to cut taxes and borrow heavily to invest in prestige infrastructure projects. At the time the country’s foreign reserves were $7.6 billion. A year later they were $1.9 billion – and then the pandemic struck and the country’s main foreign currency earner – tourism – came to a sudden halt.

To conserve foreign reserves, the government ordered farmers to use home-grown organic fertilisers instead of buying chemical fertilisers from abroad. The result was crop failures and a bigger import bill as Sri Lanka was forced to import food. Most governments respond to such crises by lowering the value of the national currency to make their exports more competitive. Rajapaksa refused to do this, which meant that more reserves were wasted. When the Sri Lankan rupee was finally allowed to float free it plummeted by 30 percent against the dollar in one day. There are now acute shortages of food, clothing, and vital medicines and, of course, energy. Ten of thousands have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Rajapaksa and this week one died when police used live ammunition to disperse a crowd. The president has refused to resign. The IMF has been called in to sort out the mess, but their experts say it will be at least six months before they can organise any major loans.

The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific (population 687,000) is not generally known as one of the world’s diplomatic hot spots. But in the past few weeks that is exactly what it has become. This is because the government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogarvae has signed a security deal with China which, according to leaked documents, gives Beijing the right to dock warships on the island chain and send security forces to quell anti-government riots which have plagued the islands in recent years. This has sent warning bells ringing in Washington, London and, most of all, Canberra.

The South Pacific has been regarded as a Western security zone since shortly after World War Two with the Australians, with some help from New Zealand, holding the fort on behalf of first the British and now the US. Other islands which shelter under the ANZUS umbrella include Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Samoa and Tonga. They rely not only on Australian military protection but also on aid and trade.  China has been courting all these countries in a bid to break the Australian stranglehold on the region. The deal with the Solomon Islands is seen as Beijing’s first big success.


* 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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  • James Kinsey 24th Apr '22 - 11:00am

    Ukrainian membership of Nato would always have been a bitter pill to swallow for any Russian President .
    This war has been going on since 2014 in S/E Ukraine with the Ukrainian army shelling its own civilians & villages on a regular basis in exchanges with Separatists in Donbass …
    With Russia’s significant numbers of men & militaria – anything less than annexation of Donbass region would be humiliating for Putin given the costs already…

  • nigel hunter 24th Apr '22 - 12:11pm

    And when Russia gets the Donbass will the ‘special operation’ end or will it continue under a new guise.? Stalin,s industrial plans of the 30s starved the Ukraine territory and destroyed the population. Little wonder they welcomed Hitler in WW2 although then realising they had replaced one dictator with another. Putin is following Stalin ideology to recreate a new USSR state.The old USSR only came down with the fall of the Berlin wall.Then complacency affected the west,its guard came down. Along with China now sharpening its claws western democracy can end up fighting on 2 fronts. It has to improve its tactics on all fronts.

  • James Kinsey 24th Apr '22 - 12:56pm

    @Nigel Hunter…I was of the understanding that the Chinese are committing Genocide on a certain section of their population . This seems to have gone quiet in western media & political outlets – now that its found a new bogeyman …
    China’s financial reach & material wealth at home & across the globe dwarfs that of Russia …
    China can act with impunity, & no amount of western sabre rattling can change that …

  • There was never any justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The conflict in the Donbass was a low level civil war that had settled into limited sporadic shelling across both sides of the contact line. The bulk of the casualities had occurred in 2014 and 2015 when battalions of Russian ‘volunteers’ were bringing heavy equipment across the border including a Buk surface-to-air missile launcher that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.
    The total number of civilian casualties recorded by OHCHR in 2021 totaled 110: 25 killed (16 men, two women, three boys, one girl and three adults whose sex is not yet known) and 85 injured (56 men, 21 women, six boys and two girls), a 26.2 per cent decrease compared with 2020 (149: 26 killed and 123 injured), and the lowest annual civilian casualties for the entire conflict period casualities.
    Zelensky signed the Steinmeier Formula in 2019, a road map to ending the war with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of his country. The process, which was to be overseen by Germany and France, called for local elections in occupied parts of the Donbass region and its recognition as a special autonomous region steinmeier formula. Both Russia and Ukrainian opposition parties, however, showed little enthusiasm for a settlement and the Covid pandemic drew attention elsewhere.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Apr '22 - 5:01pm

    The war in Ukraine is a threat to western democracy. Nothing short of defeating Russia will strengthen our constitutional arrangements. Ukraine is fighting for our values as well as its own right to exist.

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