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Observations of an Expat: Two Step… One Step

Observations of an Expat: Two Step… One Step

One of Putin’s main aims is said to be destabilizing the EU. And it is no secret that the issue of migrant refugees from the Islamic world is a divisive and destabilizing issue.

By Tom Arms

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is indulging in that well-known ‘two step, one step’ diplomatic dance –That is two steps forward. One step back.

Sometimes he throws his fellow Europeans off balance by taking a third step and half a step back, or he may refuse to move from his new position.

He prods and pushes, establishing new boundaries both physical and political. Using strategies developed as a high-flying KGB agent, Putin simply denies everything. It is all Western “balderdash,” he claims.

Belarus is a Russian satellite. Its Soviet-style dictator Alexander Lukashenko would hardly dare breathe without first seeking the approval of his Moscow mentor.

One of Putin’s main aims is said to be destabilizing the EU. And it is no secret that the issue of migrant refugees from the Islamic world is a divisive and destabilizing issue. The East European Visegrad 4 (which includes Poland) are especially against it. So Lukashenko sent agents off to Syria, Turkey and Iraq to recruit thousands of refugees to press against the Polish border fence.

The world was treated to the sight of the xenophobic Poles using water cannon, tear gas and stun grenades to drive back refugees trying to break through the razor wire to the Promised Land. Western liberalism was exposed as hypocritical. Mission accomplished. Putin’s acolyte is now starting to fly the refugees back to the Middle East.

While the world was focused on Belarus, Putin was massing 100,000 troops on the Russian border. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week warned of a Russian winter offensive to complete the annexation of Eastern Ukraine.

In space, Moscow shot down a defunct Soviet era signals intelligence satellite with a missile launched from a base 800 miles north of Moscow. Much was made of the danger to the International Space Station, but of even greater importance is that Russia now joins the US, China and India in having the capability to easily destroy electronic satellites which have become an integral part of military operations as well as your car’s GPS system.

All of the above is focused on Europe, but the decisions that drive Putin’s actions depend on a wider global context. And there the deck is currently stacked in favor of the Russian leader.

Key to European defence is the American umbrella—both in terms of nuclear and conventional weapons. The Afghan debacle has left the American public with an acute distaste for foreign adventures.

The one region that appears to escape this new US isolationism is Asia. China—Russia’s current friend of convenience—is helping here by building up its defence forces, launching hypersonic missiles and rattling its sabres in the Taiwan Straits.

Brexit is also playing its part. It has not only economically weakened both Britain and the 27 remaining members of the EU, but it has set the two European military giants—Britain and France at each other’s throats over fishing rights, the primacy of European law and Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus has helped and hindered Russian interests. In Europe nearly 1.1 million people have died and the WHO is predicting a winter wave that will wipe out another 500,000 lives. This is causing labor shortages, inflation, health service emergencies and distracting government from other threats—such as Russia.

Of course the Russians are also struggling with the pandemic. So far it has cost them more than 250,000 lives. But a conflict with Europe could also have the effect of diverting attention away from health problems towards the cause of Russian nationalism.

A tangential consequence of the pandemic has been a shortage of energy supplies, especially natural gas. Russia supplies Europe with 39 percent of its natural gas and 30 percent of its oil. Its stranglehold on the gas market increased this week with a Russian-Chinese-Iranian deal to jointly exploit 35 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in the Iranian section of the Caspian Sea. And if the planned Nordstream Two gas pipe line through the Baltic goes ahead, Europe’s dependence on Russian gas will increase exponentially.

Russia has proven willing to weaponize gas deliveries. It has three times cut supplies to Ukraine. It recently blocked deliveries to Moldova and the current energy crisis is heavily affected by Russian reluctance to increase supplies to the EU and UK.

German approval of Nordstream Two has been blocked over fears of Russian blackmail if it goes ahead. And even if the German regulators give in, it still has to obtain the final nod from a skeptical European Parliament. All of which could encourage Putin to further squeeze the EU with the risk that it could either alienate Europe or force them into a deal.

Putin does not want a war. War is failure. It costs time and money and the outcome is too unpredictable. He wants to continue taking two, maybe three, steps forward and then a step back or a wait and see halt. The danger is that he takes that fourth step which forces a counter step.

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  • It has been an interesting week for Sino-American relations and China in its own right. It started with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on climate change policies. There were no details in this proposed pact, but a start had been made. This was followed by a three-hour virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Both sides basically re-stated long-held positions on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and human rights. But it was done in a friendly manner which meant another reasonable start. Then things started going downhill. The Americans are very upset about the new Chinese hypersonic missile and are being loud in their condemnation. Then Biden said he was considering refusing to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The athletes can go, but the normal contingent of accompanying politicians is now expected to stay at home to protest Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Where America goes, Europe and its allies are likely to follow which will take some of the gloss off the opening ceremony. Finally, there is the case of missing tennis star Peng Shuai. She alleged that she was coerced into an affair with Vice President Zhang Gaoli, a close friend and ally of President Xi. Shortly after making the claim, Ms. Peng disappeared. All mention of her on the Chinese-controlled internet and media has been removed. An email was sent out—purportedly from the tennis star—withdrawing the allegations and saying that she was safe and well. Friends and family have dismissed the email as fake or—at best—coerced. The likely fate of Peng Shuai underscores the dangers of crossing the Chinese Communist Party. Zhang Gaoli is a prominent party member and ally of the President. Xi Jing Ping is the head of the party. Xi, Zhang and the Chinese Communist Party have been conflated to represent Chinese national interests so that anything that damages their reputation damages Chinese national interests.
  • The Austrians have come up with a novel way of combatting their anti-vaxxers (roughly a third of their population). They have ordered them to stay at home until they are properly jabbed. The police will be patrolling the streets with covid test kits. If they find someone who tests positive and is unjabbed then that person can be fined up to $1,500. There has been the anticipated outcry about individual liberties and body invasion from the anti-vax brigade. There has also been a reported rush for vaccinations. Meanwhile wave four (or is it five or six?) continues to gather pace as winter descends on Europe. The Austrian government is planning a full lockdown if the moves against anti-vaxxers fail. Germany is also talking about a full lockdown as are Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands. The British are carrying on as if the pandemic has ended. Few wear masks. Football matches, night clubs, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, planes and trains are carrying on as if life is normal while the number of covid-related deaths rise.
  • A year ago Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the state-run farmers’ markets that had for decades provided minimum support prices to the country’s agricultural community. In doing so he threw the nation’s farmers to the wolves of the market place. The result was demonstrations, riots and a rowdy farmer’s market on the outskirts of Delhi. This week Modi did a U-turn. He scrapped the three new market laws that ended support prices. The farmers rejoiced. An abashed Modi (not a common sight) admitted: “We have failed.” Of course, the reason for the U-turn was not all down to the farmers’ protests. Early next year there will be key elections in the big agricultural states of Utter Pradesh and Punjab. Modi needs to win them, or at least not do too badly. Punjab is especially important. It has a large Sikh population which has had historically troubled relations with the Delhi government. Modi has been bending over backwards to improve relations with the Sikhs, but has also added a string of other political failures which has damaged his credibility. His government has failed to pass controversial new citizenship laws, implement a land acquisition law and new labor laws have fallen by the board. Modi’s reputation is as an acute legislator and strong man. That now appears to be slipping.

[author title=”Tom Arms ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Tom-Arms-Journalist-Sindh-Courier.jpg”]Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democratic Voice and author of the Encyclopedia of the Cold War and the recently published “America Made in Britain.” [/author]