Tom Arms’ World Review – Key players in the Ukraine crisis

Putin

Vladimir Putin must be as happy as a five-year-old who has just inherited a sweet shop. Statesman after stateswomen are trekking to Moscow to implore him not to plunge Europe into war by invading Ukraine. If the Russian leader’s intention was to put himself and Russia at the centre of the world stage then he has succeeded. At the top of this week’s visitors’ list was French President Emmanuel Macron who spent five hours talking geopolitics across a table the size of a football field. Macron was in Moscow with several hats: President of France, current President of the European Council, a rabid Europhile, and a candidate in the 2022 presidential elections. He needed results for the sake of European peace, EU unit and his campaign. At the post-summit it seemed as if Macronian diplomacy had worked. The French president said he had offered “concrete security guarantees” and Putin confirmed that they were worth exploring.” However, neither side was willing to elaborate on what the guarantees were and almost as soon as Macron was on the plane for Paris via Kiev, Putin was rattling his sabres again.

NATO splits?

Much has been made of splits within NATO. Highly exaggerated. If anything the renewed Russian threat has reminded the Alliance of its primary purpose and revived old ties. There are differences of emphasis. France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands prefer a more diplomatic route while Britain, the US and the East Europeans are pushing for more of a military-deterrent backed up with the threat of tough sanctions. The most distressing response has been the Germans. Angela Merkel was noted as the leader of Europe and a stateswoman who understood the mind of Vladimir Putin. The EU and NATO were hoping that the new chancellor, SPD leader Olof Scholz, would fill her shoes. No such luck. He is too busy prevaricating and procrastinating to play much of any role. At the heart of Germany’s problems are its history and its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Germany invariably takes a more pacifist line as it is keen not to disturb the lingering ghosts of its militaristic history. On top of that, it receives about half of its energy from Russia. This figure is set to increase exponentially if and when the Nordstream2 gas pipeline comes on stream. At the post Biden-Scholz press conference this week, Biden was keen to report that Germany and the US are in “lockstep” over Ukraine and that Nordstream2 was shelved. Scholz, however, was reluctant to announce an end to the pipeline. The future of Nordstream2 and Ukraine has divided German business and the members of Scholz’s SPD party. They are all Europhiles and Atlanticists, but they are also reluctant to impose sanctions which could hit Germany as hard—if not harder—than they hit Russia.

Biden

Biden appears to have achieved rare bipartisan support over Ukraine. Democrats and most Republicans are outdoing themselves in their anti-Russian statements. Biden has repeatedly said that a Russian invasion is “imminent”. He is particularly worried about military manoeuvres in Belarus and the Russian navy blocking Ukrainian access to the Black Sea. Americans in the Ukraine have been told to leave “as things could go crazy quickly.” Biden has sent defensive equipment to Ukraine and troops to East European NATO members. But he is adamant that the US will not militarily support Ukraine if it is invaded. He said: “That’s a world war when Americans and Russians start shooting at one another.” The US president is putting his eggs in the sanctions basket. To ensure the widest possible support within the Alliance, US diplomats are busy pressuring oil and gas producers in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to divert supplies to Europe should Russia turn off westward bound taps.

Bellicose Boris

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the most bellicose member of the Alliance. This can be partly attributed to Britain’s traditional anti-Russian stance, partly to Johnson’s acute domestic problems and partly to Johnson’s efforts to be taken a serious player at a time when most of the rest of the world is treating him as a bad joke. Johnson hopes that “strong deterrence” and “patient diplomacy” will prevent a war. To that end Britain has supplied anti-tank weapons, helmets, body armour, combat boots and 350 troops. Both Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace have been dispatched to Moscow for talks. The talks between Truss and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were a total failure. Lavrov said UK-Russian relations were at a low point and Ms Truss accused the Russian foreign secretary of “Cold War rhetoric.”

What will China do?

Lurking in the Ukrainian shadows is China. What will Beijing do if Russia invades Ukraine? Relations between Moscow and Beijing currently rival the halcyon days of Stalin and Mao. The Chinese supported Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and eased Western-imposed sanctions by becoming Russia’s biggest trading partner. The two countries also recently signed an agreement for staged increases in military cooperation. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has called Putin’s current Ukrainian claims “legitimate”. But that is as far as he is prepared to go at the moment, and he has tempered this diplomatic support with a call for all sides to step back from the brink. As a sign of support for the Russian leader, President Xi Jinping held a mini-summit with the Russian leader on the fringes of the opening ceremony for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Chinese officials were quick to stress that it was the first face-to-face summit Xi has had with a foreign leader for two years. Details of the discussion were not disclosed, but it is likely that the two men discussed ways that China could further ease Western economic sanctions if they are imposed in the wake of a conflict. But China knows it must be careful as help for Russia could easily result in increased sanctions against Beijing as well.

* 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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18 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 13th Feb '22 - 10:28am

    Putin is looking for actual results and having multiply leaders turning up to tell him that the USA/ NATO is unwilling to make any concessions to help get a negotiated solution is not going to be enough to address genuine concerns he has over NATO’s continued expansion ever closer to Russia. Putin believes that the West broke a commitment that it would not expand into former Warsaw Pact countries when that organisation dissolved and believes that the West is continuing to ignore Russia’s security concerns. If the West is unwilling to make the concessions he seeks, he may feel he has to create facts on the ground by military force.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '22 - 10:43am

    Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, detects a “whiff of Munich in the air” in the current goings on. Perhaps Putin, Biden and Johnson are seeking a stance against ‘the enemy’ to divert attention away from problems at home. However, that didn’t prevent Laura Kuenssberg from asking Johnson about ‘Partygate’ at that recent Moscow press conference.

    Let’s not forget that the Munich agreement, if nothing else, gave the democracies a year to prepare for a war that seemed inevitable. On the other side it could be argued that Hitler lit the touch paper too early. The late German historian, Joachim Fest, quotes in his seminal biography of the Nazi dictator, published over fifty years ago, that, when advised by the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) in 1939 that Germany would not be properly ready to wage a world war until 1943 replied to the effect that “Who knows how long I have to live. Let’s have it now”.

    Could it be that for Putin time is not on his side either? The same could be said to same extent of Biden, Johnson and even Macron. All could be facing the electorate’s judgement very shortly, although in Johnson’s case make that the judgement of the Conservative Party. In the meantime, let’s not give up on diplomacy, although let’s leave it to the US to take the lead. We’ve seen enough of Johnson and Truss on the world’s stage to know they don’t cut the mustard.

  • Tom Arms:Thanks for an informative update on the Ukraine situation and on a personal note I believe that Germany and Europe as a whole are missing the leadership qualities of Angela Merkel, oh for someone of her calibre here in the UK.

  • The West and elsewhere do need to clip Russia’s wings. The Salisbury incident showed how it and other countries think they can do whatever they want on foreign soil. Hopefully this can be done without military activity. China and Russia would make a formidable adversary.

  • Tom Arms asks What will Beijing do if Russia invades Ukraine? The invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany was preceded by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that enabled those two powers to partition Poland between them. The territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union after the 1939 Soviet invasion east of the Curzon line remained in the Soviet Union after the war ended and are now in Ukraine and Belarus. Vilnius was given to Lithuania. Only Podlaskie and a small part of Galicia east of the San River, around Przemyśl, were returned to Poland.
    While China has no ambitions itself in Ukraine, it would welcome Russian support for its claims on Taiwan and around the South China Sea.
    It is starting to look eerily like Orwell’s imagined state of affairs in his novel “1984” with Oceania (the West) in a state of perpetual war with the other global powers of Eurasia and Eastasia.
    The question remains – Why do global powers continue to seek military conflict. Orwell’s answer was that the leaders of totalitarian states “seeks power for its own sake.” Orwell’s gloomy conclusion appears as evident today as it was throughout much of the 20th century.

  • Putin is determined to restore Russia to its former strength in much the same way as Hitler sought for Germany. Part one will be restoration of the USSR. Part two will be hegemony over eastern Europe. Talk of sanctions no matter how tough will not cut it.Only by standinng with Ukraine [if on the battlefield if need be] will Russia understand. However i expect i am in a tiny minority so some form of appeasement will result.

  • Biden appears to have achieved rare bipartisan support over Ukraine.

    It’s NOT rare support when it comes to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) of which Eisenhower warned. That ‘enjoys’ strong bipartisan support so even its monstrously inflated budgets get waved through. Compare that with the sudden outbreak of calls for fiscal discipline from Republicans when it comes to Biden’s Build Back Better plan for increased spending on exactly the sort of welfare-increasing measures LDs usually support.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/world/weapons-spending-pentagon-2021/

    The result is to leave the US armed to the teeth and the population sick to death, in many cases literally so because many tens of millions can’t afford health care.

    It’s enough to make one question the extent to which US democracy remains a vibrant and effective check on the dark forces always looking to take over and spend all the nation’s wealth on their own enrichment.

    Keeping the public sufficiently alarmed that MIC budgets remain unchallenged naturally requires the public be kept aroused in best (worst?) Orwellian tradition. Hence, the US is the champion propagator of ‘False Flag’ incidents from the Gulf of Tonkin one used as an excuse to start the Vietnam War to the WMDs of the Iraq War. But it still works so why change tack.

  • I have profound sympathy for the Ukrainians if the helmets, body armour and combat boots we have supplied are as good as the PPE the NHS was getting a couple of years ago.

  • tim rogers 13th Feb ’22 – 2:11pm……….Putin is determined to restore Russia to its former strength in much the same way as Hitler sought for Germany. Part one will be restoration of the USSR. Part two will be hegemony over eastern Europe. Talk of sanctions no matter how tough will not cut it.Only by standinng with Ukraine [if on the battlefield if need be] will Russia understand. ………..

    If Putin’s strategy was to put Russia back on the ‘world power stage’ he’s already done that..Invading Ukraine WON’T draw the west into military conflict (unless you’d like to sign up?)..
    If Putin invades Ukraine he’ll suffer massive sanctions in the short term and the immense/expensive task in ‘occupying’ a hostile state in the long term..Putin has already achieved his intention of further destabilising Ukraine (who would invest in a country threatened with war?).. A buffer state between him and the west will give him enough ;kudos’ at home..
    Biden and Johnson need a foreign enemy to distract from problems at home so it is in their interest to promote ‘Europe at the edge’; the longer it goes on the better…

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '22 - 10:36am

    @Joe Bourke
    In your brief history of events leading up to WW2 you have omitted a few salient points. Before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, a delegation from HM Government was on its way to Moscow. Unfortunately, instead of flying, as Chamberlain had done several times the previous year to confront Hitler, they had apparently decided to go BY SEA, thus arriving after the ink on that infamous Pact had dried!

    Talking of 1938, many people forget that, when Germany occupied the Sudetenland, the Polish army took the opportunity to occupy a small amount of disputed Czech territory. The irony was that, of all the states in Eastern Europe, not including the Baltic Republics, Czechoslovakia was the only one that could have been classed as a democracy by Western standards; but it was the one we sacrificed to buy ourselves a bit more time to prepare for war.

  • Ronald Murray 14th Feb '22 - 12:24pm

    Some very interesting and valid points made here. However V Putin is still locked to the Cold War playbook, this is inevitable due his long career as a Senior KGB Officer. He is playing out the scenario we in the Intelligence Corps were familiar with in the seventies. The difference being that although a powerful nuclear nation it is not the USSR. We no longer have British, French and US forces in Germany close enough to deter and stop this madness.
    To invade would have terrible consequences for Russia the Ukraine and the rest of Europe. We can also assume that Russia is broke given what the Oligarchs have stolen and swindled from the country. I agree regarding Merkel she would have outshone Liz Truss and Boris. Lets all hope and pray this danger fizzles out.

  • It might be best to focus on what Ukraine wants. It’s President is asking not to talk up the problems. So we cheerfully ignore him.
    In fact all those involved know that the circus is just that. The real war is being fought mainly on the internet. China of course has built up the capacity to control it in their own country.
    Perhaps we might at some stage be let into the secret of what our governments plans are. I for one would like to know. I don’t have much hope as they have being simply reacting to events the last few years.

  • David Garlick 14th Feb '22 - 3:57pm

    First we had a self engaged Trump. Then a self engaged Johnson. Now a long term self engaged Putin.
    Putin is a dictator… Perhaps the other two hve dictatorial tendencies?

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '22 - 6:43pm

    Don’t forget how JFK reacted to the prospect of Soviet missiles on Cuba back in 1961. No wonder Putin is upset about NATO missiles on his border. A quid pro quo for me would be for NATO to agree to veto any attempt by Ukraine to join the alliance while Russia should accept the membership of NATO of former Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe.

  • I note that Russia are withdrawing troops from the Ukraine border…This must be the first time in history that a reduction in military force precedes an invasion..

    From “Russia will invade on Wednesday” now we’ll have “Putin Backs down” in the UK media…
    I’m waiting for re-runs of ‘Dad’s Army’…All together now, “Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Putin. etc….”

  • @expats. You note that Putin claims he is withdrawing troops from the border area. Which is not necessarily the same as actually doing so – or doing so in any significant numbers after having concentrated 60% of his total armed forces there.

    After all he has always falsely claimed that Russian troops are not involved in the ongoing low intensity (14,000 dead so far) war in the border region and that Russian missiles did not shoot down the Dutch airliner. Plus of course his lie that the Russian security agents who visited Salisbury were there to admire the Cathedral Spire and not to use nerve agent.

    Lets hope that he is indeed pulling back from the brink of invading/annexing the rest of Ukraine in the way he annexed the Crimea a few years ago.

  • margaret 13th Feb ’22 – 10:08pm:
    I have profound sympathy for the Ukrainians if the helmets, body armour and combat boots we have supplied are as good as the PPE the NHS was getting a couple of years ago.

    Our Armed Forces are rather better organised than the NHS. The Ukrainians do seem to appreciate our help…

    ‘’God save the Queen’ trends on Twitter as Ukrainians celebrate British arms supplies’ [January 2022]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/01/22/god-save-queen-trends-twitter-ukrainians-celebrate-british-arms/

    Ukrainians are sharing satirical memes that celebrate British arms supplies and lampoon Germany for blocking deliveries of weapons. […]

    The UK’s decision to send 2,000 anti-tank weapons and dozens of elite Ranger troops to help prepare Kyiv’s army for a potential invasion has been widely praised in Ukraine.

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