Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Justice at home and abroad, Sri Lanka


After a week of Ukrainian talks the question is whether Vladimir Putin is using negotiations to avoid war or create a pretext to start one. The communiques emerging from Geneva, Brussels and Vienna shed little light on the subject. They are peppered with insubstantial diplomatese phrases such as “frank,” “friendly” and “constructive.” Off the record, journalists are being told that chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman is offering to widen the talks with suggested discussions on missile deployments and other issues. The US is clearly trying to drag out talks in the hopes that protracted jaw, jaw will lead to reduced tensions. But on one issue the Americans and their NATO allies appear to be standing firm: They will not agree to a legally binding commitment to block Ukraine (and Georgia) from NATO membership. Putin has made it clear that Ukrainian enrolment in NATO is unacceptable. In fact, Putin has compared it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The Russian leader has also denounced America’s strategic arms policies, blaming them from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty (true), INF (not true) and the Open Skies Agreement (not true). However, Putin is also adamant that he will not be bogged down in the “swamp” of protracted negotiations. His concern over lengthy talks is at least partly related to the fact that if he doesn’t move soon Russian tanks will become mired in the mud of a Ukrainian spring. If Putin does invade, Biden has threatened sanctions “like none he has ever seen.” These are likely to include locking Russia out of the international banking system and blocking the Nordstream2 gas pipeline.


It now appears that the uprising in Kazakhstan was more of an internal power struggle than a popular uprising. In the wake of the violence the head of, Kazakhstan’s security services, Karim Masimov, has been sacked and charged with treason. In addition, 81-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been removed from the chairmanship of the nation’s powerful Security Council and his family has dropped from public view. Nazabaryev, who was an autocratic president for 25 years, hand-picked Kassim-Zhomart Tokayev as his successor. It had been assumed that the ex-president was still pulling the puppet strings and grooming his daughter for the presidency. Now it seems that the puppet has cut the strings and turned on his master. He also appears to have the blessing of Russia’s Vladimir Putin who still holds considerable sway in the former Soviet republic. Twenty-five percent of Kazakhstan’s 18 million citizens are ethnic Russian. Its gas pipelines all run to Russia, and 2,000 Russian troops were called in by Tokayev to protect Russian assets when the revolt started. After killing 164 protesters, arresting 10,000 and possibly neutering the Nazarbayev family and their supporters, Tokayev appears to be firmly back in control and the Russian troops are back in their barracks.

War criminals face justice

It is reassuring to note that the blindfold over the eyes of Lady Justice (aka Justitia) appears to remain in place in at least some countries. Britain, Germany, Australia and America (acting with the UK) have this week shown that the greatest in the land are subject to the same laws as everyone else no matter how high they climb the greasy pole of ambition. In the case of the Germans it was a matter of “you can run but you can’t hide.” This week a Koblenz court sentenced former Syrian Colonel Anwar Raslan to life imprisonment for supervising the torture of more than 4,000 prisoners in war-torn Syria. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity under the UN’s Universal Jurisdiction rules. This coming week a Syrian doctor also appears before a German court. Austria, Norway, Sweden and France have also taken legal steps against former members of the Syrian regime who have sought refuge in their countries.

Djokovic, Downing Street Parties and Prince Andrew

Australia has proven that rules apply to tennis players off the court as well as on. The country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has overturned a court decision and ordered the deportation of the world’s number one tennis player—Novak Djokovic—who doubles as a prominent anti-vaxxer. Unfortunately for Djokovic, Australia has some of the world’s toughest rules on covid vaccinations and entry into the country. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be heading for the exit door at 10 Downing Street as journalists line up to reveal a succession of Downing Street parties held during covid lockdowns that he ordered. The latest was the day before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh when the country was in national mourning. Boris has made what he calls a “heartfelt” apology but the press and many of his colleagues think it was half-hearted. Finally the highest in the land (almost) has also been subjected to the rules. Prince Andrew, ninth in succession to the British throne, has been stripped of his titles and military ranks. He will now appear as a private citizen in a US civil court where he will be accused of sexually abusing Ms Victoria Giuffre in 2001. A delighted Ms Giuffre said: “My goal has always been to show that the rich and famous are not above the law.”

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is in deep financial trouble. This creates problems for China, India, Japan, Russia, the US and several other countries. Sri Lanka’s problems started with the refusal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to accept IMF conditions for a restructuring of the island nation’s debts. In desperate need of cash, the Sri Lankan president turned to China for replacement help. Since then a combination of the pandemic, poor investment decisions and a drop in tourism has worsened Sri Lanka’s economic situation. Its foreign currency reserves have dwindled to almost nil. Inflation is 12 percent. A $500m debt repayment is due on Tuesday (18 Jan). Another $5.4 billion has to be repaid by the end of the year. Enter China which is Sri Lanka’s fourth biggest creditor after Japan, the IMF and Asian Development Bank. Sri Lanka has asked Beijing to restructure its loans. It is not the first time that the Sri Lankans have gone cap in hand to the Chinese. In 2017 they swapped a proportion of their equity in the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota in a debt restructuring deal. The Chinese now own 70 percent of the equity in the port on the south eastern tip of Sri Lanka. The move set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo, Washington, Canberra and Delhi where it was feared that the Chinese might use their equity position to place naval forces in the Indian Ocean. The “Quad” started eyeing the facilities at Trincomalee, the region’s largest deep-water facility. So far, however, the Chinese have kept their presence in Sri Lanka on a strict commercial footing. But they will want something in return for helping the Sri Lankans out of their current financial mess. What that may be is what is causing sleepless nights elsewhere.

* 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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  • Brad Barrows 16th Jan '22 - 10:33am

    I am not optimistic about the chances of avoiding war in Ukraine within the next month. The USA refuses to agree to any limit on which countries are entitled to seek membership of NATO and Russia feels that NATO is gradually and deliberately advancing closer and closer to Russia’s borders. Putin feels that a line has to be drawn at Ukraine and, I’m sure, will be willing to take military action if he can not secure his requirements by negotiation.

  • This exact scenario was played out in an edition of “Madam Secretary” three years ago, in that episode the US/Nato response involved fighter combat in the skies and a major lock down of Russian IT systems, if I recall Moscow itself was deprived of power and resources. N ATO won of course.
    The script writers seemingly had a high degree of foresight and realism.
    I cannot think Russia wants to take Nato on, the danger is that Putin has done and said so much that he would look empty to the Russian public if he did not. Apparently actors, TV presenters etc are telling the Russian public how awful the Ukranian actions are etc.
    WE used live under the, was it three or six minute, warning during the cold war, I used to think then, well there is not much one can do, no doubt the same applies today. Hope it does not come to that, but it is inevitable that if Russia invades there will be some ground assistance given by NATO.
    Just as a rider, remember when we had a V bomber force, a colleagues of mine had a son at Finningley, on almost permanent readiness to fly and drop the nuclear weapon, his only problem where did he go afterwards if Western Europe, Canada and the US had been obliterated.
    All brings back a way of life we had all but forgotten.

  • Russia drives countries into NATO by invading it’s neighbours. I don’t understand why anyone buys the lines coming out of Moscow – people don’t want to live under Russian tyranny again.

  • We owe Charles Kennedy a huge debt for seeing through the fake news of WMDs etc. to lead opposition to the invasion of Iraq (AFAIK against considerable internal party opposition).

    Now here we go again. Apparently, no lessons have been learned about the voracious appetite of the US MIC for war or the lengths it will go to justify them.

    We have no vital interests in Ukraine which is a borderline failed state, dominated by oligarchs and strongly influenced by overt Nazis. In short, it’s a hot mess no sane person would want to get embroiled in and there is NO evidence Putin wants to invade – only unsubstantiated assertions.

    FWIW the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is already blocked – but by the US, not Russia. That is the primary reason energy prices are so high. Energy-intensive industries cannot long survive these prices.

    Even if it doesn’t go nuclear, any war would be an unmitigated disaster for Britain – and for what precisely?

    And this:

    “The United States withdrew from the treaty in November 2020, and Russia withdrew in December 2021”

  • Thanks again, Mr Arms.

    I know that I appear to be a brown-nosing bampot, but I really appreciate your insight, and coverage of what, to many ordinary people, are (to paraphrase an unfortunate prime minister) “[quarrels] in far away [countries] between people of which we know little”.
    To be trite, somebody in the pub mentioned Johnson and his antics last night, to which my response was, “I hope he gets punished before we’re all vaporised. I’d like some justice in the world”. Sorry (and thanks for your insight).

  • @Gordon.
    Common decency? Fellow feeling for humanity? The fact that Putin is acting the same way that Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini did? None of our business? Then watch the worst conflagration in history if we don’t tell him to stop. Sorry. A previous poster accused me of Nationalism. I am the absolute Internationalist. I don’t like people being overrun because somebody here says, “None of my business. It’s happening elsewhere”. I now expect brickbats.

  • The comparison with Iraq is bizarre – Russia clearly has WMD – it has used all manner of weapons on British soil without consequences. Ukraine did too – but UK US and others induced Ukraine to surrender them with security guarantees which is why they are now vulnerable. Russia already took Crimea, much of the Donbass and frequently moves huge numbers of forces to surround Ukraine. Appeasement didn’t work with Hitler and it won’t work with Putin either. We need to work with the EU to cripple Russia economically if they launch further invasions and we need to kick Russian cash out of UK politics.

  • Phillip Bennion 17th Jan '22 - 9:55am

    Federal International Relations Committee has a Europe subcommittee which is holding an emergency meeting this evening to discuss Russia and Ukraine. Putin clearly believes that he has the upper hand in negotiations as he is confident that NATO and allies will not go to war for Ukraine. He is also aware of European dependence on Russian gas, even without Nordstream, which hampers the potential for effective sanctions. The Americans are clearly right to try and string things out for the reason Tom points out. The big question is how to counter Russian expansionism in the longer term. Our friends in the Baltic States are understably nervous, as Putin’s strategy seems to make a grab every 5 or so years, but not quite enough to precipitate NATO engagement.

  • Apologies for late reply – I’ve been busy.

    @ Alistair – You misread my earlier comment. Its point was that Kennedy saw through the propaganda which, in the case of Iraq, included fake news about WMD etc.

    Of course, Russia has WMD – but the propaganda now centres on thinly to totally unsubstantiated assertions about Russia’s intentions, motivation etc.

    @ Chris,

    Putin is NOT acting like Hitler etc. He just wants NATO to keep its promises of a neutral buffer zone between Russia and NATO. That has repeatedly promised by Western Powers – and those promises have been repeatedly broken. In that behaviour the US has form – e.g., Iran/JCPOA.

    In this Russia is motivated by the memory of Hitler’s invasion in June 1941 and consequent loss of ~26 million Russian lives.

    The last thing Putin wants is to absorb the basket case that is Ukraine. BUT, if he is pushed too far, he will act to protect Russia’s interests and that will shake the World to its core.

    Patrick Armstrong, a Canadian Russia/defence analyst, gives a sober assessment (and follow the Scott Ritter link).

  • Peter Hirst 18th Jan '22 - 5:40pm

    What does Putin want regarding Ukraine? At face value he feels threatened and wants to be sure it will not be used as a staging post for agression by NATO. As far fetched as that sounds, it should be possible to negotiate a deal that allows forces in Ukraine to be purely defensive. With that guarantee, problematic as it is he should feel more secure on his western flank and less inclined to attack the country.

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