World Review: War in Africa, Northern Ireland, Poland, Lebanon and Russian gas

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV’s foreign affairs correspondent writes on the war in Ethiopia and warns that if the conflict drags on much longer then the almost certain danger is that it will spread throughout Ethiopia and then other countries in the strategic Horn of Africa. Northern Ireland and Poland’s difficulties with the EU have a common stumbling block  – the  European Court of Justice. Have the Russians weaponised exports of natural gas to Europe? And Lebanon took another giant step towards failed state status this week when terrorists killed seven people.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has painted himself into a lose/lose corner with his 11-month-old war against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. If he wins the war it will be at a heavy cost in international prestige which will impact on aid and trade as well as leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of six million rebellious Tigrayans. It will also raise concerns with other constituent parts of Ethiopia’s ethnically-organised and politically shaky federation. If he loses, well he’s dead, politically, and quite possibly, literally. If the conflict drags on much longer then the almost certain danger is that it will spread first throughout the rest of Ethiopia and then beyond to other countries in the strategic Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is landlocked but unstable Eritrea and Somalia guard the southern shore of the vital Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal, and Djibouti hosts French, Chinese and American bases.

Fear of contagion is the main reason the US administration has finally decided to become involved. President Joe Biden has already imposed personal sanctions on Abiy Ahmed and his close colleagues, but this week US Trade Representative Katherine Tai warned that Washington was on the verge of slapping trade sanctions on $525 million of Ethiopian exports to the US. The EU, UK, Japan and Australia are expected to follow suit. Also at risk is $1 billion a year in aid from the World Bank. The large Ethiopian diaspora, who is making a significant contribution to financing the showcase Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is also being isolated.

Neither Russia nor China are likely to be tempted to fill the vacuum as they are equally worried about regional stability. While the major powers dither and debate millions of Tigrayans have been cut off from food aid, telephones, the internet, electricity, water supplies and banking facilities. Their escape route to Sudan has been blocked by Ahmara forces. They are facing the real possibility of an Abiy Ahmed-made famine to rival that of the 1980s.

Pronouncements from dismissed Downing Street Svengali Dominic Cummings should be generally viewed with extreme scepticism. But his claim that PM Boris Johnson never had any intention of honouring the Northern Ireland Protocol he negotiated has—in the light of subsequent events—the force of logic behind it. Cummings timed his latest bombshell to coincide with a new round of re-negotiations between Britain’s Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic. Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the province remains in the EU single market for goods. This protects the Good Friday Agreement but undermines the Protestant-dominated Unionists and makes it difficult to import goods from mainland Britain. In a speech in Portugal Lord Frost took the hard line and threatened to trigger Article 16 which allows either side to introduce “safeguards” if serious problems arise. Sefcovic’s response was fairly conciliatory with offers to improve British access for medicines and most food products and other concessions. But there remains one non-negotiable sticking point: Legal oversight in Northern Ireland of the European Court of Justice. Lord Frost says it must go and Sefcovic says it must stay.

The primacy of the European Court of Justice is also the nucleus of current EU problems with Poland. The country’s Constitutional Tribunal recently ruled that key articles of one of the EU’s primary treaties were incompatible with Polish law. This has raised the spectre of Poland following Britain out of the European Union or “Polexit”. And if Poland goes they could be followed by the other Visegrad countries Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic– and possibly others. The Polish government has said that leaving the EU is not in its future plans. But it is difficult to envisage how rejecting the primacy of EU law squares with membership of the club. Who determines the law—sets the rules—is at the legal heart of every political structure. It is one of the main reasons that Britain left the EU. It is bedevilling talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Even the constitutional court in rabidly pro-European Germany has problems with it. EU legal jurisdiction is a vital first step towards political union and essential for monitoring and enforcing Europe-wide regulations of the single market. But it infringes on national sovereignty. Therein lies the crux of a problem that desperately requires a solution.

Have the Russians weaponised exports of natural gas to Europe? Maybe and then… maybe not… or maybe a bit. The Kremlin have used their natural resource for political purposes in the past. They shut down the pipeline to Ukraine and sell cheap energy to Belarus. It is also true that there has been some diversion of natural gas to China. But that may be because the Chinese are willing to pay top dollar and then some. The International Energy Agency, European Parliament and European Commission have questioned whether or not Russia is using its stranglehold on gas supplies to wrest political concessions from Europe. But against that is the fact that production by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is down because of Covid-19 and that trade is an interdependent two-way street. Europe needs the gas and the faltering Russian economy desperately needs the cash. Europe receives thirty percent of its natural gas from Russia via a bewildering web of pipelines, including the recently completed and controversial Nordstream two. The rest comes mainly in liquefied natural gas oil tankers from the US and Persian Gulf. However, a staggering 50-60 percent of Russia’s natural gas goes to Europe. The exports represent five percent of Russia’s GDP. So what does Russia need, more—money or political concessions?

Lebanon took another giant step towards failed state status this week when terrorists killed seven and seriously wounded dozens of others outside the country’s main court. The most likely culprits are a breakaway Maronite Christian group trying to influence the inquiry into the Beirut port explosion that left 219 dead. The spectre of renewed sectarian violence is being added to the collapse of the economy, raging inflation, absence of any government control and a destructive controversy over alleged bias by presiding judge Tarek Bitar into the port explosion inquiry. The good news—if it is good news—is that the Lebanese are being left alone to decide their own fate. The Israelis do not want a repeat of the disaster of their intervention in the 1980s. The Turks are uninterested but watching, and the Syrians are self-absorbed with their civil war. Iran is the only outside power sticking in its oar and is making a substantial impact through support of Hezbollah, but it does not appear willing or able to go beyond that to direct intervention.

* 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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  • John Marriott 17th Oct '21 - 9:19am

    John Marriott’s World Review:


    (Now, how about that bacon sarnie!)

  • John Marriott 17th Oct '21 - 10:13am

    That was DElicious! (Made even better with a dollop of HP sauce) Now to be serious.

    Mr Arms has neatly set out some of the hot spots around the world. We hear so about the Middle East that we often forget what a mess most of the continent of Africa is in. It’s interesting that we have over the years devoted so much energy into carving up the former Ottoman Empire in order to get our hands on that vital black gold. Now, with the electric car a viable reality and Green energy the buzz word(s), the need for precious metals with which to build all those batteries means that the world is looking to the dark continent, where apparently most of them can be mined. As in the Middle East, our division of much of the land into largely artificial states, often cutting across tribal boundaries, is one massive chicken that is now really coming home to roost.

    As for Northern Ireland, what can we say? They used to say that, if they ever solved ‘the Irish Question’, they would just change the question. What IS the fuss all about on our side? If I were an entrepreneur and wanted to set up a business that would be able to tap into the EU single market, while retaining the spirit of Brexit, I know where I would place it, with all the local jobs it might well create. Just what are Donaldson and Co worried about?

    As for Russian gas supplies, does anyone remember that rather prophetic cartoon intro to ‘Have I got news for you’ where there is a Russian pictured turning off the tap and the lights going out in Western Europe? Be careful who you suck up to!

    Lebanon, it’s just another artificial state, which appears to have existed so that, as in many emerging ‘countries’, the rich elite can exploit ordinary citizens.

  • Brad Barrows 17th Oct '21 - 10:17am

    Have the Russians weaponised exports of natural gas to Europe? In the context of Europe currently having sanctions against Russia, it would be amazing if the didn’t.

  • It is not only in emerging countries that the rich elite exploit the ordinary citizens??

  • Couple of things: 1- I believe that one of the main tasks of a free press/journalists is to highlight the problems so that solutions can be discussed and– hopefully– found. 2- There have been past attempts to establish good news newspapers. To my knowledge, they have all failed.

  • But against that is the fact that production by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is down because of Covid-19…

    ‘Gazprom ramps up gas production and supplies over 8.5 months of 2021’ [15th. September 2021]:

    According to preliminary data, Gazprom produced 357.7 billion cubic meters of gas in the first 8.5 months of 2021, which is 17.8 per cent (or 53.9 billion cubic meters) more than in the same period of last year. […]

    Specifically, Gazprom increased gas supplies to Turkey (+157.7 per cent), Germany (+35.8 per cent), Italy (+15 per cent), Romania (+347.6 per cent), Serbia (+125.9 per cent), Poland (+11.4 per cent), Bulgaria (+52.3 per cent), Greece (+12.8 per cent), and Finland (+19 per cent).

    Europe receives thirty percent of its natural gas from Russia via a bewildering web of pipelines, including the recently completed and controversial Nordstream two.

    Not yet by Nord Stream 2.

    So what does Russia need, more—money or political concessions?


    ‘Russia blackmails Europe with gas supply’ [7th. October 2021]:

    Russian official Alexander Novak hinted on Oct. 6 that Russia could export gas to Europe to stabilize spiraling gas prices, but that Germany needed to certify Nord Stream 2 first.

    The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will allow Russia to send gas to Europe through the Baltic Sea and Germany instead of Ukraine. This will cause Ukraine to lose at least $1.5 billion in transit fees per year.

    More details from the CEO of Ukraine’s transmission system operator GTSOU…

    ‘Europe is under attack from Putin’s energy weapon’ [1st. October 2021]:

    To be clear, there is no shortage of transit capacity. While the Kremlin is championing Nord Stream 2 as a solution to Europe’s energy problems, roughly twice as much gas can be shipped from Russia to the EU through Ukraine. Yet Ukraine’s network sits empty while Europe cannot get enough gas.

  • [Dominic Cummings] claim that PM Boris Johnson never had any intention of honouring the Northern Ireland Protocol he negotiated has—in the light of subsequent events—the force of logic behind it.

    It is the EU which has not honoured the agreement by enforcing checks on goods where there is no material risk of them being diverted into the Irish Republic.

    Article 16 makes clear that the UK can take unilateral action if there are “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties or diversion of trade”. All four are now present in Northern Ireland.

    Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the province remains in the EU single market for goods. This protects the Good Friday Agreement…

    On the contrary it breaks the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement as Lord David Trimble its Co-Author explains…

    ‘David Trimble: Tear up the Northern Ireland protocol to save the Belfast Agreement’ [February 2021]:

    The protocol lists 70 pages of EU laws to which Northern Ireland must adhere. This amounts to tens of thousands of separate regulations. In addition, all future EU laws on which no one in the UK or Northern Ireland is able even to discuss – let alone vote on – will apply to Northern Ireland. Moreover, they will be enforceable by the European Court of Justice. This amounts to a seismic and undemocratic change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and runs contrary to the most fundamental premise in the Belfast Agreement.

  • John Marriott 18th Oct '21 - 10:11am

    We all know where Peter Martin’s political sympathies lie. It’s pretty clear to me now that our new expert, ‘Jeff’, from his latest comments, would appear to tend towards the right. He is clearly no EU fan. The latter can quote whatever sources he likes. The plain fact is that the so called Northern Ireland Protocol was signed by both sides. If one side doesn’t like it, why on Earth did it sign it in the first place?

    What is clear to me is that in international affairs size really does matter. Look at what happened between 19 stone Tyson Fury and 15 stone Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas a week or so ago. Sticking to a boxing analogy, had the latter possessed the skills that Oleksandr Usyk demonstrated recently in taking apart a manufactured fighter like Antony Joshua, then any confrontation is pretty predictable. 67 million (U.K. population) v 447 million (EU population)? No contest!

    Has the U.K. got the kind of Usyk skills to mix it with the big boys on the international stage? I reckon that the Jury is still out.

  • With regards to trust on negotiated agreements, Johnson has a history of unreliability and being economical with the truth, I would not blame anyone dealing with him to ” have eyes in the back of their heads”

  • Every N.I. businessman and trade organisation interviewed by BBC/ITV/CH4/SKY seems happy with the latest EU offer,,An offer made after their negotiator had spent weeks, unlike Johnson/Frost, talking to these businesses..

    Until now I’ve heard no-one complaining that the EU are NOT following the NIP; in fact they are being pilloried for following it ‘to the letter’..
    Unless the new slant is that the NIP itself broke the GFA (an idea that I find extraordinary considering both the sensitivity of the GFA, not only in the EU/UK, and the legal minds involved) then the EU have no case to answer regarding the GFA…

    This ongoing shambles has nothing to do with trade/businesses but is wholly driven by the politics of Westminster (Tory) and Stormont (DUP)…

    The time for ‘politicking’ ended when the ‘oven ready’ protocol was signed…I believe, however, that Johnson, Frost, et al, will not be happy until they have forced a trade war on the EU; a war in which everyone, especially NI businesses, lose out..However, this will play well with the Tory faithful and ‘Brexiteers’ and will be reported in the UK media as being ‘the big bullying EU picking on the plucky little UK as a punishment for daring to leave’..

    As for David Trimble..His views may well be coloured by the fact that he is a hard line Unionist and a hard line ‘Leaver’ who is strongly against closer ties with the Republic..

  • Barry Lofty 18th Oct '21 - 5:06pm

    expats:I agree, It seems pretty obvious how the UK government are trying to manipulate the negotiations with the EU just when a equitable compromise would make life more bearable for all concerned, but of course such an outcome would not look good for “Global Britain” .

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Oct '21 - 5:32pm

    Speaking personally, one of the issues with the N. Ireland issue is that their politiicans at least try to stick to what they say. Britian under Boris Johnson do the opposite, saying things for their immediate effect. This is a clash of cultures and I’m inclined to support the former on this linguistic dilemma.

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