Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Netanyahu

Will Russia invade Ukraine? Will it achieve its goals with a threatened invasion? What are Putin’s goals? Mixed signals shoot out from every quarter. Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is urging his country to not panic and at the same time be prepared for the worst and calling on the West for more help. President Biden says a “minor incursion” would mean less sanctions. The White Hoyuse and State Department then said he didn’t mean what he said. Is Secretary of State Antony Blinken trying to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to accept a deal on nuclear force levels in return for a promise not to invade Ukraine? If so, how would NATO react to that? And what about the Germans and the rest of the EU? Will they support sanctions which could hurt them almost as much as the Russians? Will the Russians cut off Europe’s gas supplies or launch a cyber-attack if Europe joins America in fully-fledged sanctions against Russia? Finally, what is Putin planning? What are his aims? He has publicly stated that he wants to restore the Soviet empire. That he sees Ukraine as an integral part of greater Russia. That he wants legal guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO. Are these negotiating positions, non-negotiable policy objectives or worrying statements to keep the West divided and off-balance? Has Putin now gone so far that he can’t back down? Does the Russian president think that he has a window of opportunity to achieve geopolitical objectives in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal debacle, EU divisions, a weak Biden Administration, an energy crisis, the pandemic, partygate, French elections and Brexit? As tensions continue to rise these are all factors that are being considered by the political cost-benefit analysts in Moscow, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin….

Afghanistan remains the world’s number one humanitarian disaster zone with millions in the grip of a winter of hunger and cold. But politically the dust is beginning to settle and new priorities are emerging. Number one is what to do with the growing number of refugees flooding across borders into all of Afghanistan’s neighbours. Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. They all have tribal of religious groups represented in Afghanistan’s complex tribal and ethnic mix. They are all sheltering refugees from their respective nationalities. But millions of refugees are not the only problem. There is also the danger of Afghanistan again becoming the base for international Islamic terror. It was Al Qaeeda. Now the threat is from the even more hardline fundamentaists–ISIS-Khorramshahr Province (IS-KP). It is threatening to spread to all of the neighbouring states and is being carefully monitored by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Russia. Pakistan would appear to be the biggest winner following the changes in Afghanistan. It has been a consistent champion of the Taliban. But the organisation’s close relations with Pakistani madrassas and the security services could spiral out of control and create a jihadist-type threat to the government of Imram Khan. There is also the fact that Khan’s government must appear to take a tough stand on terrorism in order to keep receiving much-needed funding from the IMF. The biggest loser in the geopolitical shift is India. They had established close relations with the anti-Taliban governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani in order to encircle arch-enemy Pakistan and reduce Islamic influence in Kashmir. The Taliban have long supported pro-Muslim Kashmiris based in Afghanistan’s northeast provinces. China is concerned about the Taliban’s traditional ties with the Turkestan Islamic Party which supports the Uighurs separatist movement in Xinjiang Province. It appears, however, that the Chinese have persuaded the new government in Kabul to stay out of Xinjiang in return for a big chunk of Chinese investment when the Taliban has a firmer grip on power. The Chinese are particularly interested in Afghanistan’s large lithium deposits and the prospect of reopening a key section of the old Silk Road. But none of this is likely until the Taliban is able to provide basic services, which is unlikely in the absence of Western aid and the face of the worst drought in 20 years followed by one of the worst winters.

It looks as if former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may escape prison on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His lawyers are reported to be on the verge of successfully concluding a plea deal which will result in Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister (15 years) swapping jail time for community service. There are, however, some snags: he will have to plead guilty to the crimes with which he is charged and he will be barred from seeking a return to elected office. The fiery 72-year-old may be on the verge of his final exit, but his right-wing policies live on. His successor, Naftali Bennett may be from a different party, but he is cut from an almost identical political cloth, even if the style with which he wears it is slightly different. This week he ordered the bull dozing of a Palestinian home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah is in the Occupied Territories and a legal dispute over Palestinian property rights in the neighbourhood was one of the main causes for the riots that brought Hamas and Israel to the brink of war last year. Israel claims that the only Palestinians with a claim to land are those who can prove ownership pre-dating the 1948 establishment of Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court agreed. The Palestinians, the EU and UK disagreed and said that the bulldozing was contrary to international law. But the Israelis own the bulldozers.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • John Marriott 23rd Jan '22 - 9:30am

    Like many, who grew up during the height of the Cold War, where we thought we knew who the ‘enemy’ was, the collapse of the Soviet Union and eventually the Warsaw Pact came as a complete but massively pleasant surprise. In Cold War terms we really appeared to have won.

    However, what we should never have done as ‘victors’ was to do what the allies did after WW1 and just rub the ‘loser’s’ noses in it. Tim Farron made that classic and perceptive reference when the Baltic and the Eastern European states joined NATO. The missiles on their territory, he opined, instead of pointing westwards would now be pointing eastwards. How would we in England feel if, for example, Scotland gained its Independence (still possible) and became a Juhadist state (not very likely)? I reckon that I would feel pretty intimidated.

    Of course nothing that has happened so far should really justify what Putin is up to. In truth the people I feel really sorry for are the ordinary Russian people, who have been systematically shafted by every ruler and government since the Romanov’s! Under Yeltsin and now Putin the Russian economy has been pillaged and most of the assets have ended up in the West, especially in the U.K. So, if we want to try to rebalance and correct some of the mistakes made since the Berlin Wall came down and head off a ‘Hot’ War, perhaps it’s here we should be concentrating our minds.

  • James Fowler 23rd Jan '22 - 11:32am

    From a simplistic military perspective, I’m puzzled by Russians and their build up. There’s probably only one nation in the world with an armed force that can sustain long term, high intensity, offensive operations on a scale that the various maps of the Ukraine imply the Russians are thinking about. Granted that the initial clash would probably be easily won by the Russians, but the Ukrainians can just retreat 50-100km, fight again, retreat another 50-100km and then punch back against an over extended Russian force. There could even be some embarrassing defeats.

  • Russia will meet it’s match if it foolishly invades another independent State. Ukraine have the advantage knowing the territory and being on the defence. They have hundreds of thousands of men, plus reserves and weaponry and training from the west.
    Russia are pushing Ukraine and others away from it’s spare of influence. It has chosen to concentrate on the suppression and ripping off of businesses, people and it’s country and not to invest or open the country up. It is a doomed model and they know it. Their economy is sinking badly and the war will be an attempt to drive up popularity.
    Ukraine was split down the middle between wanting to face east or west, but again the west has won as it offers prosperity, democracy and the rule of law. They have seen the historically poorer Poland overtake them on broad spread wealth and they want that. Who can blame them.
    The EU would give Ukraine the underpinning for the prosperity they want, but NATO would be too much of a step.

  • James Fowler 23rd Jan ’22 – 11:32am:
    Granted that the initial clash would probably be easily won by the Russians, but the Ukrainians can just retreat 50-100km, fight again, retreat another 50-100km and then punch back against an over extended Russian force.

    In a conventional ground invasion, Russia could quite literally get bogged down in a protracted and costly war. Ukrainian troops outnumber the deployed Russian conscripts two to one and they’re fighting for their country. The UK has just supplied 2,000 NLAWs and some initial training which may enable Ukrainian ground forces to neutralise Russia’s advantage in tanks and armoured vehicles.


    NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon) eliminates even the most advanced tanks. It is best-in-class for dismounted light forces that operate in all environments, including built-up areas.

    A non-contact war seems more likely. Russia could use long-range missile and air-strikes to hit strategic targets and then use their tightly integrated reconnaissance and artillery units to attack at a distance destroying Ukrainian capability prior to an invasion. Coastal attacks might also be used.

  • Starting to bring back memories of Berlin, Cuba, the big alert in 1972, sweaty palms time again, next 7 days could be a bit hair-raising.
    However we approach the matter NATO will be involved and are I understand are on alert.
    Probably the ship, plane and troop deployments now under seemingly under way should, perhaps have ocurred a month ago.
    Puts “parties etc” in the shade for a while.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Jan '22 - 1:53pm

    If Putin can organise an internal coup, it can then invite Rusian forces something that is technically not an invasion. He seems to have an internal struggle between emotion and logic regarding his actions in Ukraine. If the West could negotiate an arms free Ukraine, this might be acceptable to both sides.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Jan ’22 – 1:53pm:
    If the West could negotiate an arms free Ukraine, this might be acceptable to both sides.

    That’s essentially the current situation. Ukraine has no credible offensive capability that could threaten Russia and there are no NATO forces or long-range missile systems stationed in the country. Their recent modernisation programme has been focused on strengthening their defensive capability.

  • Barry Lofty 24th Jan '22 - 3:46pm

    One other self serving hypocrite will probably gain from the change of direction for the media headlines, but as I have quoted before ” great catastrophes creep up on us with steps” with reference to the rise of the Nazi party in the 20th century.

  • Bearing in mind the truism that ‘countries have interests, not friends’, what precisely, are our interests in the Ukraine and wider situation? And why do politicians in the US and UK seem all in for poking the Bear in the eye with a stick until it reacts.

    How is this a good idea at any level?

    For several weeks the media has been full of stories about Russia threatening to invade Ukraine… by the end of January… before the ground thaws to mud… whenever. But evidence for any of this is negligible. Similarly, we are regularly treated to wholly unevidenced stories about what Putin is planning. “Putin wants to… [something bad]”.

    Actually, we DO KNOW what Putin wants because he published it just before Christmas in the form of a proposed draft treaty with the US (note neither the EU or UK get a mention – anything that happens to us is just collateral damage).

    It’s short and well worth reading. For, despite what you hear from the media, it’s about avoiding confrontation, building mutual security, adhering to the principles contained in the UN Charter etc. In short, nothing that a Liberal wouldn’t welcome.

    And it makes sense that is Putin’s true aim. The Ukraine is a basket case no sane person would tangle with while Russia has quite enough opportunities at home – there’s still much to repair after the Soviet era.

  • Roger Billins 24th Jan '22 - 7:02pm

    I have just watched Edge of War, the film based on Robert Harris’ novel, Munich. A brilliant film but the similarities of where we are with Russia now are stark. For Munich read Geneva, for Sudetenland read Donbas., for Hitler read Putin. On balance, I think war unlikely and it is more likely that China invades Taiwan which will precipitate world war. How foolish the West has been to rely on Oligarch money, Russian gas and Chinese investment.

  • Barry Lofty 24th Jan '22 - 7:07pm

    Sorry just revisited my earlier post and realised I should have written ” tiny steps”???

  • For weeks TPTB in Britain and America have been telling us that Putin was planning to invade the Ukraine before the end of January, but he’s just not sticking to his assigned script.

    In fact, it turns out Putin isn’t even trying. The Moon of Alabama blog has dug deep into the evidence for war plans only to discover that there are none – at least not on the Russian side.

    The French and Germans don’t believe the invasion story. Not even Ukraine’s defence minister believes it. With satellite imagery any build-up of forces (a necessarily lengthy process) is clearly visible yet all we have is Russian troops in their normal bases – and at least one of those mentioned is ~ 150 miles from the Ukrainian border. (Moscow is only ~280 miles).

    In other words, all this invasion alarm is a replay of the fake news of WMDs andother propaganda deployed by the US and Britain to justify the Iraq war. Charles Kennedy, then LD leader, saw through the Iraq deception and took a stand against it to his huge credit.

    Ed Davey needs to call the Conservatives out on this. Ditto the BBC which has mostly acted as mouthpiece for the war-party. We need proper reporting, not propaganda.

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