World Review: Strange bedfellows in France, Ukraine, Roe v. Wade and Belarus

French politics have been thrown into confusion with an unprecedented “Stop Macron” alliance of the left for next month’s parliamentary elections. The  concordat has been forged by France’s elder statesman of the Left, Jean-luc Melenchon who just missed being included in last month’s presidential run-offs. He has persuaded the Communists, Greens and Socialists to join his France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed), to stop Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU legislative agenda. But Melenchon’s pre-election coalition does not spell a foregone victorious conclusion for the French Left. The latest opinion polls show a three-way split between the left-wing alliance, Macron’s La Republique en Marche and the right of centre conservatives and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

The Socialists and Melenchon make strange bedfellows with opposing views on the EU and NATO membership. They do, however, agree on the bread and butter issues of lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum age and capping prices on essential products. On the other end of the political spectrum, it is uncertain whether the Republicans will support Macron or Le Pen in the new National Assembly. The political map is further complicated by France’s two-round electoral assembly which appears to give Macron’s party a slight advantage in the run-off vote on 19 June. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the National Assembly elections are making life complicated for the newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and the results may make his second term very difficult.

Good news and bad news for President Vladimir Putin and his Ukraine war. First the good news. His decision to focus on bombing Ukrainian factories, especially those producing war materiel, is having an effect. The Ukrainians are starting to run short of weapons and the West is not—at the moment—moving fast enough to replace them. And when they do, they will find it difficult to transport the equipment to the front lines because Russian missiles are also targeting the railway network. Now for the bad news, there are signs that public support is waning. In fact, it may never have been as strong as originally reported. “Independent” Russian pollsters originally reported that 80 percent of Russians supported Putin’s War. It now seems that more than half of those canvassed refused to give an opinion because of fear of repercussions. Opposition is expected to grow exponentially if Putin declares martial law and announces a general mobilisation to replace an estimated 20,000 dead Russian soldiers. Included in the body count are 12 generals.

Finally, the EU appears to be taking concrete steps to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels, sales of which are financing the war. A proposal before the Europeans calls for a phasing out of crude Russian oil imports over the next six months, refined products by the end of the year and two-thirds reduction in gas imports by the end of the year. The import ban, however, is not a foregone conclusion. Hungary has threatened to veto it and the Czech and Slovak governments want the transition period extended to three years.

Abortion is now a major issue for the mid-term US congressional elections. The leaked Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has guaranteed it. Twenty-six of America’s 50 states are poised to introduce legislation to ban abortions, although legal hurdles means that it will take six months to two years for the bans to take effect and will vary considerably from state to state. The only way that abortion can be retained across America is for pro-choice legislation to be passed by Congress. At the moment this is impossible because it requires a minimum of 60 pro-abortion votes in the Senate. The upper house is divided 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats with the Republicans solidly opposed to abortion. They are not, however, representative of the population at large. Opinion polls have consistently reported that 70 percent of Americans think that the decision about abortion should be left to the woman and her doctor. The anti-abortion lobby is spearheaded by the evangelical right which has grown in influence as a bloc vote and major contributor to Republican party funds. The pro-choice lobby has been less active because its position was protected by Roe v. Wade.

The Belarussian rat—Alexander—Lukashenko is making noises about deserting the Russian warship, or, at the very least, he is looking around for a lifeboat. Belarus is Russia’s only ally in its war with Ukraine. Thousands of Russian troops attacked northern Ukraine from Belarus. The troops that captured Chernobyl came through Belarus. The Belarussians have provided logistical support, fuelling stations and bases for air attacks. There have been reports that Russia is recruiting Belarussian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine. But this week, President Lukashenko told a reporter from Associated Press that his friend Vladimir Putin has failed to achieve his goals and that “this operation is dragging on”–words that indicate that the Belarussian dictator is worried about the outcome of the war. Lukashenko supports Putin’s war—in fact, he has become a virtual Russian puppet—because he owes the Russian leader for his political survival. Lukashenko has been struggling against demonstrators and Western sanctions ever since rigged elections in August 2020. Putin has stood by him by helping Lukashenko to circumvent sanctions, providing political support and selling him Russian gas and oil at discounted prices. It should have been enough to insure the Belarussian dictator’s full support for the Ukraine “operations.” But now the war is being seen as yet another stone threatening to topple Lukashenko.

* 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 8th May '22 - 10:40am

    Hi Tom
    I’m afraid the ‘70% of Americans believe that abortion should be between a woman and her doctor’ is not an interpretation I think stands to scrutiny. Research in March this year (Pew Research Centre, “America’s Abortion Quandry”) suggested that those who believe that abortion should be legal in all cases without exception are just 19%of the public and those who believe illegal in all case without exception are just 8%. The vast bulk of the population is either pro choice with limitations or antiabortion with exceptions. The position that abortion should be just a matter between a woman and her doctor would appear to describe a situation where abortion was legal in all circumstances, without exemption or limitations, and that position is just supported by around a fifth of the population.

  • Steve Trevethan 8th May '22 - 1:21pm

    “Americans remain broadly opposed to overturning the Roe v. Wade decision —according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would strike down the landmark ruling.

    Sixty-six percent say Roe v. Wade should not be completely struck down, and 59 % would support Congress passing legislation to establish a nationwide right to abortion.”
    CNN 6/5/22

  • The difficulty in phasing-in sanctions on Russian oil and gas highlight the challenges that reducing dependence on fossil fuel poses. The dangers posed by climate change impact the entire world. The lines drawn over the war in Ukraine make it clear that there is little prospect of International cooperation with the big emitters in tackling the imminent extinction of one-third of all plant and animal species in the coming decades and the prospect of the Indian sub-content becoming unlivable.
    It is extraordinary that colonial wars continue to be waged as a climate emergency threatens to create the largest migrations ever seen in human history.
    It is becoming increasingly important that the Cop26 goal of of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees celsius is implemented without further delay.

  • Tom Seelye Arms 8th May '22 - 3:08pm

    Re Abortion polls: When it comes to opinion polls on highly emotive issues such as abortion so much depends on a variety of factors: How was the question phrased? Who was asking it and who was being asked? In researching the above article I simply googled “What are the latest opinion polls on abortion in the US.” The answer came back exactly as I wrote it.

  • Brad Barrows 9th May '22 - 1:53pm

    Hi Tom
    I googled as you suggested and did come across an article about a poll showing 70% backing abortion rights as set out in Roe v Wade. That, of course, is not the same as suggesting that 70% believe that ‘abortion should be between a woman and her doctor’ which is a more radical position that would allow a pregnancy to be aborted at any point up to the moment of birth. The Roe v Wade ruling only provided choice to women in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy – what about 25, 26, 27 weeks etc…do the public still support abortion on demand? The proportion who believe that women should have complete choice at any stage of the pregnancy over whether to abort is actually around 20%.

  • nvelope2003 9th May '22 - 9:25pm

    Putin appeared to acknowledge that nations other than Russia had a hand in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Perhaps he will now admit that his hero Stalin was Hitler’s ally until 1941 and shared in the carve up of Slavic Poland. Russia co-operatied

  • nvelope2003 9th May '22 - 9:39pm

    Putin appeared to acknowledge that nations other than Russia had a hand in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Perhaps he will now admit that his hero Stalin was Hitler’s ally until 1941 and shared in the carve up of Slavic Poland. Russia co-operated with the British Empire and the United States in the defeat of Hitler with huge help from them in desperately needed supplies, partly as a result of Russian mismanagement. British and allied forces suffered greatly in the supply of materials by sea because of weather conditions. There didn’t seem to be vast numbers watching the lavish Victory parade. Maybe the penny has dropped or is Putin trying to put us off our guard?

  • Peter Hirst 10th May '22 - 4:11pm

    It is surprising that western politicians are not taking advantage of the fuel crisis to further invest in renewable energy. The time frames for wind and solar are much shorter than nuclear and cheaper and more localised. The electorate will reward those who show leadership in taking us to a cleaner future.

  • Jenny Barnes 10th May '22 - 5:09pm

    If you look at gridwatch which shows UK electricity demand and supply you’ll see that typical demand is around 30 GW. If the wind is blowing and the sun is shining bright, then somewhere around half of that is met with existing wind and solar, while the rest is 6 GW of nuclear and 10 or so of Gas (CCGT). But when the wind isn’t blowing, and it’s dark or cloudy, we need 25 or so of Gas. Adding more wind & solar won’t solve that. You either need to build enough nuclear to cover the demand whatever happens, and use the excess renewables to make hydrogen or something, carry on with gas (& pretend carbon capture and storage might work) or…maybe solar in north african deserts with high voltage DC long haul grid links. Part of the reason the industrial revolution went over to steam power was because water power was too intermittent.

  • Peter Hirst 10th May '22 - 5:55pm

    I don’t see how you can have too much renewables, Jenny. You forget emerging battery storage capacity and also demand management for those scenarios. With better forcasting we can use our electricity when there is plenty.

  • David Evans 10th May '22 - 6:36pm

    Peter, I think you have misread Jenny’s post. The key part of what she said was ” … when the wind isn’t blowing, and it’s dark or cloudy, we need 25 or so of Gas. Adding more wind & solar won’t solve that.” Your response does not address the concern she has raised at all.

  • @Peter Hirst – Battery storage capacity isn’t energy generation capacity.

    You can have too much renewables, if they are of the wrong type, this particularly affects those who adhere to the “big and centralised is good” mentality to energy generation and so support more wind farms and the wasteful conversion of open land to acres of solar panels. However, what we really need is more local energy generation. My photo-voltaic panels mean there are times when I don’t need to draw energy from the grid, the addition of batteries (in my house) simply extend the time I don’t need to call on the grid; which simply increases the amount of time those wind farms are needlessly spinning.
    We are still building warehousing (I know because more land around me is being developed into warehousing than is being converted to homes), which don’t have solar panels covering their roofs or have vertical wind turbines (vertical turbines are more efficient than conventional turbines, just that they suffer more from bearing load and so can’t be as big).

  • Jenny Barnes 11th May '22 - 3:44pm

    A typical grid scale battery would hold 100MWh. To provide for a week of anticyclonic gloom in the UK in winter without nuclear or gas would require approx 7days*24hours* 30 GW = around 5 million such batteries. And they are not small – l couldn’t find an area estimate, but this 100MW site
    shows 32 boxes about the size of a shipping container.

    The MSC Amelia, one of the giant cargo container ships holds 24k such containers, which gives you an idea of the space you might need. I suspect they would overheat if packed that tight.

    Hydrogen is a much more feasible storage technology for long breaks. As to the idea that you can never have too much renewables- if they are generating electricity that no-one wants for anything, that’s my definition of too much.

  • Jenny Barnes 11th May '22 - 3:51pm

    oops, got the decimal point wrong. 50,000 such batteries. sorry. Still enormous, but not quite so big.

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