Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Ukraine has approximately 30 days before the autumn/winter rains bring their counter-offensive to a muddy halt.

To date they appear to have broken through the first line of a three-line Russian defense in an area around Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia. There is an outside possibility they can achieve a major breach, but that is highly unlikely.

There is more depressing news for Ukrainian troops. For a start the bromance between Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will keep the Russian troops supplied with artillery shells to help keep the advancing Ukrainians at bay.

Then there are problems with Poland. Up until this week the Poles have been a driving force behind EU and NATO support for Ukraine. But Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – with one eye on the farming vote and next month’s general election – has stopped military supplies to Ukraine because Ukrainian grain is driving down Polish wheat prices.

Poland has the support of Slovakia and Hungary and wants EU-wide restrictions on the import of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainians, of course, are exporting their grain to EU countries because the Russian blockade makes it impossible for them to ship it to their usual customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The next problem is signs that US support is waning. This week Volodomyr Zelensky turned up in Washington to assure American lawmakers that Ukraine is slowly but surely winning. President Biden responded with a $325 million military aid package. Zelensky also has the support of the leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But a group of far-right Republican Trump supporters are threatening to block a financial package which includes an extra $24 billion in aid to Ukraine.

And then, finally, there is the fact that Trump has pledged to stop military aid to Ukraine if he is elected in 2024.

France

It has taken seven years, but it looks as if the investigation of France’s right-wing leader Marine Le Pen may end up in court.

She and 23 members of Her Rassemblement National – including her father Jean-Marine Le Pen – are accused of misuse of EU funds. They allegedly used a total of about $620,000 of money which was meant to be spent on EU administration to fund party activities.

The accusation comes from the Paris Prosecutor’s office and still has to be confirmed by the prosecuting judges. But it seems highly likely that that is a formality.

If she is found guilty, Marine Le Pen faces the possibility of a $1 million fine, 10 years in jail, and a 10-year ban on holding public office. Her conviction would have a major impact on the French and European political landscape.

According to the Paris Prosecutor, Ms Le Pen spent $45,000 of EU funds to pay her personal bodyguard. On another occasion she is alleged to have diverted EU funds to pay for a meeting to discuss party activities and hung an EU flag outside the meeting room. When the meeting started she told party members “take that s**t down.”

USA

It looks like more American presidential impeachments. Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy this week ordered the House of Representatives to set up a committee to start formal investigations into whether or not to impeach President Joe Biden.

This is despite what most observers reckon is a total lack of any credible evidence linking the president to any wrongdoing regarding his son Hunter Biden. And Speaker McCarthy’s previous insistence that he would not start formal committee hearings without a full vote of the House.

McCarthy’s change of direction is for three reasons. First is that the Republicans need to establish a whataboutery context to counter the mounting number of court cases facing Donald Trump.

The second is that Speaker McCarthy believed that a vote of the full house would have stopped impeachment moves. This is because several moderate Republicans signalled that they would vote against impeachment hearings because of the lack of hard evidence.

The third is that McCarthy is frightened of losing his job. To secure election in the first place he was forced to agree to a far-right sponsored change of the rules that allow any one member of the House to force a vote that could remove him from office.

Several members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus told McCarthy they would initiate such a vote unless he started committee hearings without the previously promised vote.

Their insistence could well backfire. To date Biden’s White House has cooperated with every subpoena request (unlike Trump’s administration) and is likely to continue to do so. And this week the hearings started with a televised grilling of Attorney General Merrick Garland during which Republicans looked like badgering bullies.

Vietnam

America has a new Asian buddy – Vietnam. The burgeoning partnership between the two countries is testament to wisdom of British statesman Lord Palmerston who said “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

At the moment the mutual interests of Vietnam and America are helping to erase the memory of a long, bloody and messy jungle war that left both countries scarred.

The communists won the war against America. They are in power in a unified Vietnam. The country is a one-party heavily centralised socialist state, albeit with some free market conditions to attract foreign investment.

Now the two countries could be on the verge of an alliance. Ten years ago the Obama Administration started the ball rolling. Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country raised the relationship two rungs on the diplomatic ladder to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

Biden claimed at the end of his visit that its purpose was not to “contain China” but to “seek stability in the Indo-Pacific region.” It followed at the end of a period of whirlwind diplomacy in which the US increased security ties with the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and India as well as Vietnam. So, unsurprisingly, the Chinese do see Biden’s Asian diplomacy as Cold War containment.

The Vietnamese are also keen to contain Beijing’s influence. China is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner, but the two have a long fractious history. Vietnam disputes China’s claims to the South China Sea and has a number of border disputes. In 1979, when Vietnam was recovering from its 30 years of war with the French and Americans, the Chinese invaded and the two armies fought on and off until 1990 when Beijing finally withdrew.

The enmity between China and Vietnam reaches 2,500 years back into history. For most of its history, Vietnam has been an on-off vassal state of China. It ceased to be one when the French took over as the colonial power in 1884. In fact, the Sino-Vietnamese relationship may be the exception that proves Lord Palmerston’s diplomatic rule.

* 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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3 Comments

  • Mud season – The impact of the mud season is being overstated. Ukrainian forces have mostly been advancing on foot. Senior Ukrainian officers have stated that the mud season should not have a significant impact on the current counteroffensive (source: https://edition.cnn.com/2023/09/23/europe/ukraine-biggest-counteroffensive-to-come-intl-hnk/index.html). Many readers here will recall the Kherson counteroffensive culminated in late November 2022, which is well into the mud season.

    North Korean artillery shells – I would see this as a positive and further evidence of russian artillery shell shortages. North Korean ammunition is notoriously bad. When North Korea bombarded a South Korean island back in 2010, only 80 of the 300-400 weapons actually hit their target, half of the artillery rounds fell short of their target and 20% of the rounds that did impact failed to explode (source: https://www.npr.org/2022/09/07/1121477374/north-korean-ammo-will-stretch-russias-supply-but-with-clear-limits-and-drawback and https://www.reuters.com/article/russia-northkorea-military-analysis-idAFKBN30I06N).

  • Peter Hirst 11th Oct '23 - 4:42pm

    Ukraine and Russia seem to have reached a stale-mate. Until both countries realise this there is little possibility of a diplomatic solution. Time is actually on Ukraine’s side as long as it continues to be supplied with military hardware and its people continue to withstand the trauma.

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