A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Kerch BridgeThe absence of commemorative events marking the occasion could easily blind the ignorant to the fact October 1962 was something of a pivotal turning point in recent history. Yes, on the 5th of that month 60 years ago, two significant pop cultural events occurred that elevated Britain out of its post-colonial hangover and gave the nation – and eventually the whole Western world – the kiss of life: the simultaneous release of the first Beatles single, ‘Love Me Do’, and the first James Bond film, ‘Dr No’. But the importance of these releases in shaping the 60s wasn’t immediately apparent, what with global eyes distracted by an island 80 nautical miles off the coast of Florida. Mind you, Cuba had hogged its fair share of headlines since the overthrow of President Batista by Fidel Castro and his band of hairy revolutionaries in 1959; the Bay of Pigs fiasco had only taken place the year before 1962, of course, and when Cuba’s new regime found its Faustian pact with the USSR required setting aside land for Soviet missiles aimed at America, the US response to this encroachment on its doorstep was to blockade Cuba and mobilise its troops into war mode.

As is obvious due to the fact we’re all still currently here (for the moment, anyway), the anticipated apocalypse many were preparing for in the autumn of 1962 was averted via a staring contest between Kennedy and Khrushchev; the Soviet leader blinked first and the missiles were shipped back to the USSR. Barely a year later, Kennedy was gone courtesy of an assassin’s bullet and Khrushchev himself was ousted a year after that. The Cold War’s most dangerous impasse passed into history and the world breathed a sigh of relief, turning its attention to Swinging for a bit. Yet the Cuban Missile Crisis, particularly since Tsar Vladimir decided to revive old enmities between East and West, remains a cautionary historical reference point whenever nuclear strikes are evoked as a loaded threat to escalate a conflict such as that currently taking place in Ukraine; Putin’s media cronies get off on this kind of sabre-rattling and Sleepy Joe himself was momentarily prodded awake to resurrect the ghost of Cuban missiles by claiming we were closer to the prospect of Armageddon right now that at any time since 1962.

There are numerous differences between today’s Cold War franchise reboot and the original series, however. The US and the Soviets were engaged in a long-running ideological battle in the second half of the 20th century that often translated into a geographical one. Their tussles on foreign fields mirrored the global clashes over territory between the superpowers of the previous century, the British and the French, but Soviet and American collisions tended to be by proxy. The Soviets would provoke and back a coup in Asia or South America and the Americans would do likewise, with both superpowers providing their chosen side with military and financial assistance in a constant tit-for-tat engagement; but whenever either the US or the USSR sent their own troops in to the disputed territory, both became bogged down for years. It was easier to pull the strings of the natives. Also, unlike the 19th century, there was no defining endgame along the lines of Waterloo, probably because if there had been, the nature of the weaponry would have wiped out the majority of the human race. Cuba in 1962 could have been that endgame, but the genuine catastrophe the planet was poised on the cusp of 60 years ago has no real parallels with Ukraine today.

Right now, evoking the Cuban Missile Crisis seems to be another scaremongering tactic as the 20th century’s two leftover superpowers are engaged in a pissing contest like a pair of incontinent pensioners; but both are well-versed in reciting Project Fear narratives to get what they want, and the recent attempts by Vlad to call-up every Russian male of fighting age (or ‘reservists’) has prompted thousands earmarked as cannon-fodder to head for the hills – or in the direction of the nearest border. The sudden imposition of the draft has widened divisions between the hawks and the doves in Russia, backfiring badly and failing to unite the country against an alleged common enemy; it looks like precisely what it is – a desperate throw of the dice by a man confronted by the failure of his own overstretched ambitions. Putin’s invasion has proven to not quite be the swift walkover it was painted as before the tanks rolled into Ukraine, and lingering memories of past military blunders that ended up as prolonged, vainglorious exercises in imperial futility (i.e. Afghanistan) are resurfacing as the Russian forces in Ukraine are belatedly realising they’re up against the kind of fearless resistance they didn’t expect.

Saturday morning’s explosion on the Kerch Bridge, the main artery from Russia to Crimea used to ferry troops, ammunition and equipment from the Motherland to units in the south of Ukraine, leaves another chink in the armour of Putin’s war machine and could be of potential significance. Erected following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the impressive construction is both symbolic and strategic, and even if the damage done is repaired in record time the incident nevertheless stands as an important propaganda victory for the Ukrainians as well as one more blow to beleaguered Russian morale. After all, it’s embarrassing enough for the invaders that their own abandoned weaponry is being used against them; according to the latest estimates, over half of Ukraine’s tank fleet currently in the field has been captured from the enemy. Some estimates have speculated the Ukrainian forces have helped themselves to upwards of 440 Russian Main Battle Tanks and the best part of 650 other armoured vehicles, with fleeing Russian troops failing to destroy the equipment they left behind, so speedy and demoralising was their withdrawal.

The vital logistical supply route the Kerch Bridge has been throughout the Ukraine conflict means the blast that collapsed part of it leaves Russian forces occupying the southern regions of Ukraine dependent upon a solitary railway line from Krasnodar to Melitopol as a transport link; following the attack on the Kerch Bridge, it seems this route too now falls within range of the Ukrainians. The Russians had long imagined the Bridge well beyond the reach of Ukrainian forces, along with the rest of Crimea; the major assault on this ‘safe space’ is bound to have shaken Russian (over) confidence even further, coming as it has hot on the heels of recent explosions in Russian-held Crimean locations such as the naval air base in Saky, giving Ukraine the belief it can retake Crimea. And whilst responsibility for the Bridge blast has yet to be owned by Kyiv, a tweet from one of President Zelensky’s advisers proudly proclaimed, ‘Crimea, the bridge, the beginning. Everything illegal must be destroyed, everything stolen must be returned to Ukraine, everything belonging to the Russian occupation must be expelled.’

Whether the forced conscription of those civilians the authorities can actually catch before they escape Russia, or four regions of Ukraine being annexed via the signing of dubious ‘treaties’ by Vlad, or the threatened deployment of chemical and nuclear weapons, the battle being conducted away from the battlefield comes across as having the same air of desperation as the actual military campaign. Dissenting voices are apparently now emanating even from within the Kremlin itself, though Putin’s persecution complex means they’ll only be interpreted as treasonous, as is all criticism of the great dictator. Putin’s Soviet predecessor Nikita Khrushchev was removed via an internal coup largely organised by Leonid Brezhnev; but less power was invested in the person of the Soviet Premier than rests in the hands of the Russian Presidency, with Putin himself being the author of so many rewritten elements of the constitution that has strengthened his position over the years. It remains to be seen how much this current crisis will weaken that position; all depends on how it goes. And at the moment, it’s not going well.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/746266089

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE…

BearIn the wake of other (somewhat distracting) events over the past seven days, footage that has snuck largely under the radar nevertheless glaringly highlights the contradiction in the narrative the Kremlin has been pedalling ever since the Russian military encroached into sovereign territory earlier this year. Fancy that! Yes, some may recall the fairy stories of ‘Far-Right Nazis’ running riot through the former Soviet outpost that the Ukrainian people begged to be liberated from (fairy stories served-up as one element of the justification for invasion), though the reaction of the Ukrainian people via videos posted on social media as Ukrainian forces stormed into town and retook territory didn’t necessarily portray a terrified populace bereft at losing their Russian liberators. In many respects, the footage evoked archive of the French people reacting to Allied Forces recapturing Paris in 1944 – with little old ladies in headscarves tearfully embracing Ukrainian troops and giving every impression they were actually pleased to see the ‘Nazis’ back in town.

The disorientated Russian units fleeing the land-grabs seized in the first flush of invasion have employed a variation on the old ‘scorched earth’ policy on their way out: They’ve bombed civilian infrastructure, targeting power-plants, electricity substations and water supplies as they exit with their tails between their legs, provoking blackouts in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions en route. Just yesterday, cruise missiles hit a reservoir dam of no military value in Kryvyi Rih, flooding hundreds of homes. Even as the tide momentarily appears to have turned in this conflict, Russia’s achievement in exterminating centuries of kinship and shared cultural ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people – something even the disintegration of the USSR couldn’t eradicate – is arguably as significant as any military loss; Putin’s war machine has managed this in just six months. The legacy of the damage done will probably linger a little longer, however, though at least the impressive victory of the Ukrainian counterattack has humiliated the supposed, superior military might of the motherland and strengthened Ukraine’s spirit in the process.

Unverified stats from the Ukrainian Army claim 20 villages were taken back in less than 48 hours, though indisputable territorial gains for Ukraine in the past week have undoubtedly put a massive dent in the Russian armour that appeared impregnable when the operation began. The State flag has been raised again in the city of Izyum and Russian troops are reported to have spurned orders from Moscow by shedding official uniforms and resorting to donning civilian threads in order to save their individual skins in a manner that has uncomfortable echoes of the actual Nazis during the period when the death camps were being liberated over 70 years ago. Reports suggest considerable Russian ammunition has been abandoned in the evacuation of the north by the retreating regiments; clearly, unlike the carcasses of the US military hardware that littered the countryside of Vietnam for decades, Ukraine is making use of what its uninvited guest left behind. The actions of the Ukrainian military have also shown that being able to call upon the assistance and support of every Western nation will pay off as long as you have the tactical nous to use their weapons wisely – and the bulk of American weaponry hasn’t even been delivered yet.

Ukraine claims it has recaptured 1,158 square miles of occupied land from Russia and even some Russians in Ukraine are going on the record by stating the Ukrainians outnumber them by eight to one in the key regions following the Kharkiv counterattack. It can at least be verified that in a matter of days, 70 kilometres of Ukrainian soil that was in Russian hands has returned to its rightful owners. The institutionally corrupt Russian Army appears to have overstretched itself in certain strategic quarters of the country and the Ukrainians have expertly exploited their enemy where it was at its weakest. Yes, around a fifth of Ukraine remains occupied, but it seems the momentum is currently firmly with the invaded rather than the invader. Needless to say, anyone who thinks it’s all over will no doubt be in for a long wait before they can cry ‘Is it now!’ But recent gains by Ukraine have been a significant reversal of Russian fortunes that deserve noting. A canny strategy by the Ukrainian forces to spread rumours of an attack on vulnerable Russian troops in the south via social media sent Russian reinforcements pouring into the region, only to leave the Russians exposed in the north, which is how the Ukrainians were able to launch their successful counteroffensive in that part of the country. Clever.

The morale-sapped Russians are even attempting to step back from the borderline genocide-speak some espoused early on by romanticising the traditional connections between the two nations that the invasion has severed with such ruthlessness; but it’s too late. Reports of brutality beyond the rules of engagement have emerged in the wake of the towns and villages being liberated, including the Kharkiv city of Balakliya, where a six-month occupation by Russian troops saw the police station used as an interrogation centre by the occupying forces. Grim accounts of torture involving electric shocks have been relayed to the outside world by those who suffered in the temporary Russian HQ and by those who heard the cries of the tortured ringing across the neighbourhood – something the Russians made sure were broadcast by switching off the loud ventilation system in the building. The liberation of many towns has also revealed hundreds of civilian corpses, atrocities representing the final nail in the coffin of Russian/Ukrainian ‘brotherly love’.

The contrast between defender and attacker in terms of their approach to this conflict is perhaps best highlighted by how Russia is pretending it’s not engaged in a war – after all, Vlad insisted he was ‘liberating’ Ukraine from those pesky invisible Nazis, not perpetrating an act of aggression against an independent neighbour; the majority of the Russian people, spoon-fed propaganda by state media, have accepted this premise and haven’t been mobilised onto a war footing. Their perception of the truth being shaped by this platform for Putin has also enabled the great dictator to avoid the kind of resistance he anticipates should he exhibit actual honesty. The Ukrainian forces, on the other hand, have recognised Russia’s actions for what they are and have risen to the challenge, galvanising the entire nation into fighting back against an almighty aggressor. Russia might have begun the war with the superior hardware, but the dysfunctional structure of its Army means it was ill-prepared for a prolonged conflict. In part, it’s almost reminiscent of how the British Army once was, with its incompetent aristocrats leading regiments simply because they bought a commission – before the worst calamities of the Crimean War belatedly brought about some much-needed change.

Thankfully, six months of this hasn’t anaesthetised outsiders to the horrors inflicted upon the Ukrainian people; the sheer visceral revulsion provoked by some of the images that have made it to Western screens hasn’t descended into the fatigue the American public allegedly experienced when Vietnam was recognised as the first televised war in the late 60s. Some of the snippets I’ve caught on TV or online have stayed with me for days, as I’m sure they have millions of others – mainly the footage of town centres peppered with people trying to go about their daily business as missiles hit and the carnage unfolds in real-time. Such images strengthen convictions that what Russia is doing is wrong, convictions that will remain strong. Yes, of course, propaganda is not a tool invented by (or exclusively used by) Russia in times of war; but they’re so much better at it than anyone else because Putin has excelled in its usage to justify every crime he and his regime have committed for years. However, if you happen to find yourself in Russia and point this out, probably best to make sure you steer clear of standing near a window in a tall building.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/746266089

YESTERDAY’S MAN

Gorbachev and VladHe was always good at timing, Mikhail Gorbachev. His elevation to de facto Soviet leader in 1985 was good timing for a West wearying of four decades playing a chess-game with only one potential checkmate in sight; he offered a far more optimistic future than the diehard dodderers he succeeded and arrived in office right at the very moment when his opposite number in the White House was open to de-escalating the arms race. His death at the age of 91 has reminded the world there once was a time when Russia was led by a man who (to paraphrase Mrs Thatcher) the West ‘could do business with’ – as opposed to a warmongering megalomaniac turning back the clock that Gorbachev stopped. And his death comes at a point when his most despotic successor is doing his utmost to trash the progress made by one of the world’s last great statesmen; after all, if any single individual deserves credit for accelerating the end of what I guess we must now refer to as the First Cold War, it was Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ghosts have an inconvenient habit of haunting the headlines and giving those left behind an inconvenient reminder of how lowly they languish in the long shadows these apparitions cast. For the last Premier of the Soviet Union to shuffle off this mortal coil when one of the worst legacies of the Soviet era is currently waging an old-school imperial war in Ukraine, dismantling every achievement of his far more illustrious predecessor, is a sad irony. But for a moment, we pause and recall that it wasn’t always like this. Unlike Putin, who has an incurable appetite for starting conflict, Gorbachev actually brought a phenomenally futile military engagement to an end (Afghanistan) and also oversaw the death throes of another long-running farce with innumerable casualties, the USSR.

By the mid-80s, it was evident to anyone not spoon-fed Soviet propaganda that the Iron Curtain was so corroded by ideological rust that it could crumble away with little in the way of pressure; if it were to be removed as painlessly as possible, the task required a man whose vision was not clouded by misguided nostalgia for – and blind faith in – a system not fit for purpose. Both Gorbachev and Putin were schooled in this system, yet one realised its days were numbered and sought to reinvent it while the other is desperate to bring those ‘glory’ days back, regardless of the collateral damage along the way. Gorbachev was a consummate politician, whereas Putin is a military man with a one-track mind. How Russia went from one man to the other probably has something to do with the corrupt, pissed-up disaster wedged historically between them – Boris Yeltsin – as well as the fact the Russian people never forgave Gorbachev for waking them up from the comforting dream of the Soviet Empire.

Born in 1931 to peasant stock of Ukrainian descent, Mikhail Gorbachev was raised in a country suffering from the stranglehold of Stalin, yet by the time Gorbachev had graduated from Moscow State University with a Law degree, Stalin was dead and Nikita Khrushchev was attempting to reform the nation with a process of de-Stalinization that was to be echoed on a far wider scale 30 years later when Gorbachev himself instigated unheard-of freedoms of speech without fear of arrest and imprisonment known as glasnost. Although beginning his political career loyal to the principles of Communism, the deposing of Khrushchev in 1964 and his replacement with the less flexible and far more hardline Leonid Brezhnev perhaps indicated to the ambitious young politician it would take longer to wrestle the nation free from the grip of traditional totalitarian approaches to governance. This awareness was also expanded during Gorbachev’s visits to Western Europe as he climbed the greasy pole and was regarded as safe enough to venture beyond the Eastern Bloc. The shock of seeing how the other half lived in West Germany and, particularly, France – where he experienced open criticism of government that wouldn’t be tolerated in the USSR – caused him to make comparisons that his more isolated, not to say insulated, colleagues back home were denied.

Gorbachev’s rise up the ranks was aided by the death of Brezhnev in 1982 and by his replacement Yuri Andropov, who served as Gorbachev’s mentor and was clearly grooming his pupil to succeed him; it seemed the ultimate prize was within Gorbachev’s grasp. However, Andropov had barely a year as Soviet Premier before he too passed away, and the Central Committee demonstrated their timidity and lack of vision by opting for an ageing Brezhnev leftover called Konstantin Chernenko as Andropov’s successor rather than take a chance on the younger man; this move seems to have parallels with the election of Joe Biden as US President – an elderly, ailing and ineffective individual too old and bewildered to achieve anything in office other than having the correct credentials for a governing party incapable of looking to the future. As it turned out, Chernenko’s unremarkable rule lasted not much more than a paltry twelve months and Mikhail Gorbachev’s moment finally arrived, elected as de facto Soviet leader by the Politburo. Nobody, not even Gorbachev himself, had any idea at the time that the new man would be the last leader the country would ever have.

Realising that if the Soviet Union was to survive then it had to move away from the detached distance of the out-of-touch fossils in the Kremlin, Gorbachev certainly created a different impression than the men who came before him. The distinctive birthmark that baldness revealed made him immediately identifiable to a global public and he seemed possessed by a youthful dynamism that especially found the kind of favour in the West that no other previous Soviet leader had achieved. In order to bring in the reforms he knew the nation needed, Gorbachev filled the Politburo with allies and began relaxing some of the more severe curbs on personal freedoms, even releasing notable dissidents who would otherwise have seen out their days in Gulags. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 provided Gorbachev with a further opportunity to publicly air his views on decades of Soviet mismanagement and incompetence, confident the public would henceforth understand the urgent need for change.

Gorbachev was made for the world stage, charming America’s NATO allies en route to his first summit meeting with US President Ronald Reagan and enjoying tea and crumpets with Her Majesty; despite mistrust and suspicion on both sides from the aides and advisers surrounding Reagan and Gorbachev, several summits took place and though neither man entirely warmed to the other in the beginning, by the end of Regan’s term in the White House relations between the two Cold War superpowers were undoubtedly better than they had been in decades. At home, however, Gorbachev received it in the neck from both liberals (who thought his reforms not far-reaching enough) and hardline Communists (who thought his reforms were too close to capitalism for comfort); he was also criticised for standing back and allowing the old Soviet satellite states to rise up and reject the system that had kept them under Moscow’s thumb since the end of the Second World War.

Boris Yeltsin, a man Gorbachev had promoted, turned out to be a persistent thorn in his side during this period and the fact Yeltsin was credited with successfully extinguishing the attempted coup d’état by Communist hardliners in August 1991 further weakened Gorbachev’s position. The writing was on the wall for both Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. He resigned as President on Christmas Day 1991 and the USSR itself ceased to exist on New Year’s Eve. What followed is another story for another day, but like any loss of a world leader whose era now seems a long way away, one can’t help but make comparisons – not just between Gorbachev and the psychopath who today wears his shoes, but with all the other excuses for world leaders we have in 2022. From Boris to Biden and from Macron to Trudeau, this is not an age of great men, and greatness can obscure a multitude of sins that utterly exposes those without it.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/743065494

BLAME IT ON UKRAINE

LamplighterIt could be worse, I guess – we could be Germany; no, this isn’t anything to do with the War, not the 1939-’45 one, anyway. Events in Ukraine that have been in full swing for six months now have undoubtedly impacted on life in Western Europe, especially when it comes to the import & export trade, though Tsar Vlad’s invasion does provide politicians with a convenient get-out-of-jail card, one that serves to obscure their own failings over the past two or three years. Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times – blame it on Ukraine. Don’t blame it on the lockdown, don’t blame it on Covid, don’t blame it on Net Zero – blame it on Ukraine. Considering Germany’s somewhat…er…problematic history with Russia, perhaps Frau Merkel reckoned it was a nice reconciliatory gesture to entrust the old enemy with providing the majority of Germany’s gas imports. She obviously (not to say inexplicably) didn’t foresee a time when Comrade Putin might use this to his advantage; after all, it’s not as if he hasn’t sought to extend his nation’s current borders via military means in the past, is it?

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Mrs Merkel eagerly embraced the ‘renewable energy’ agenda and announced all of Germany’s nuclear power plants would be gone by…well…this year. Eight of the country’s 17 were permanently closed in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s very own Chernobyl, yet the alternative to the system being phased-out overnight wasn’t necessarily very ‘Green’, reliant as it is on coal-fired electricity production; since 2011, this has led to an increase in deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution. Is the idea to save the planet by killing its inhabitants? Like many a political leader, Merkel seized upon renewable energy as a move to boost her short-term popularity, yet the swift winding-down of the nuclear power industry in Germany continued apace throughout her lengthy tenure in office; as things stand, there are a mere three remaining plants still operational today. Reliance on Russia for natural gas was underlined by the controversial Nord 2 pipeline project, which has yet to open for business; largely financed by Russian-owned energy giant Gazprom, final construction on the pipeline was suspended when Russia invaded Ukraine; Russia responded by slashing supplies of gas to Germany down to 20% of its capacity.

Despite pleas by the German nuclear power industry to extend the life of the three plants left when confronted by the prospect of an energy emergency following Russia’s response to sanctions, the German Government is refusing to budge and waver from its rigid Green commitments. Instead, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration has announced severe restrictions on the use of electricity that will come into effect this winter. Anyone who either lived through – or has experienced second-hand via numerous TV documentaries – the power-cuts imposed upon the UK during the 1972 Miners’ Strike and the 1974 Three-Day Week will recognise some of the measures. To the no-doubt relief of muggers and cat burglars, street lighting will be one of the first casualties; this blackout will also be extended to the illumination of monuments, buildings and shop-fronts; moreover, heating of public buildings will be reduced with the exception of hospitals. Anyone wondering what these measures will make the German capital look like at night need only track down the footage of Piccadilly Circus deprived of its gaudy light-show 50 years ago. But it’s hoped the restrictions will save upwards of €10.8bn, so that’s alright.

Prior to the closure of three further plants at the end of last year, nuclear power was responsible for 13.3% of Germany’s electricity, whilst up until the fallout from the Ukraine situation, Russia was providing Germany with as much as 55% of its gas supplies; yes, it doesn’t exactly sound like economic sense to be dependent on such a notoriously untrustworthy foreign power for your fuel, but that’s the position Germany finds itself in. And it’s not alone. Russia was supplying the best part of 40% of gas across the EU before sanctions provoked a hasty reduction, and despite Monsieur Macron’s much-publicised freezing of gas prices and a cap on energy increases, neither measure will see out the winter, when gas and electricity will naturally be far more in demand that they are at the moment. The French are already switching off street lighting every night for around three-and-a-half hours in parts of Paris, but most are more concerned with the impact of restrictions in the workplace, and especially the home. Mind you, the Germans are way ahead in their Project Fear preparations, for the country is also looking forward to a fresh wave of Covid infections come the autumn, giving the population something else to look forward to before the fun-packed winter arrives.

According to the German Government, lockdowns will not constitute their strategy this time round. They’ve left such a damaging legacy in every country that imposed them that even Rishi Sunak, desperately seeking an 89th minute winner against ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ Thatcher Ms Liz, has publicly declared he thought they were a mistake. Any further school closures have also been frowned upon by German Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach; let’s be honest, the disastrous interrupting of children’s education all over again would hardly be a vote-winner. Instead, Germany has opted for the safe option of reintroducing and reinforcing mask-wearing on public transport as well as Covid tests being a requisite for entering any institution housing the vulnerable, such as hospitals or care homes. The World Health Organisation has also got its scaremongering hat on once more re the coronavirus; perhaps disappointed that Monkey-pox has been such an anticlimactic sequel to 2020’s blockbuster, the WHO has this week been issuing melodramatic predictions all over again.

‘It is now abundantly clear we’re in a similar situation to last summer,’ read the WHO statement, ‘only, this time the ongoing Covid-19 wave is being propelled by sub-lineages of the omicron variant…with rising cases, we’re also seeing a rise in hospitalisations, which are only set to increase further in the autumn and winter months as schools reopen, people return from holidays and social mixing moves indoors with the onset of colder weather.’ Yeah, move indoors to escape that colder weather, only to find it’s colder in than out due to power-cuts. At least the persistent lobbying of the pharmaceutical industry will be rewarded with the announcement that a new booster jab for the over-50s will be available in Blighty as of September, though cases here have fallen anyway, without the aid of yet another booster; stats show infections have declined nationwide across all age groups, with children unsurprisingly boasting the lowest levels – just as they always have done.

Alas, Covid can’t be blamed on Ukraine, even if the ill-thought-out policies to combat it that we endured in 2020 and ’21 are more responsible for the state we’re in (and the state we’ll be in this winter) than what’s currently going on in Eastern Europe. Still, entrusting Russia with the contract to supply Western Europe with so much of its gas was an arrangement that was hardly guaranteed to progress along a smooth, uneventful course with a man like Vlad at the helm, and the whole Ukraine situation is clearly playing no small part in the gloomy narrative of the moment. But the futile pursuit of the Green dream that has taken possession of so many Western Governments is one that can also take its fair share of the blame; our own Net Zero fantasy threatens to condemn more to fuel poverty than anything Russia can use as a bargaining chip, whereas Germany’s determination to exclude nuclear power as a viable option when its suicidal reliance on Russia for energy was destined to end in tears is an extreme example of what can happen when just the one basket contains all your eggs.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/719591724

RUSSIAN ROULETTE

ElenaMedia types who weren’t even there have spent several months now banging on about how Britain is going ‘back to the 70s’ simply because they assume today’s perilous economic climate is somehow comparable to that of a decade they only know through endlessly recycled clichés of candlelit households, picket lines, and pavements piled high with rubbish. Ironically, however, whilst the hysterical heads on our news channels were promoting the cost-of-living crisis as the embodiment of this narrative, the summer’s premier sporting contest came close to experiencing a moment genuinely reminiscent of a 70s incident that almost caused its cancellation 49 years ago. Like Wimbledon 2022, Wimbledon 1973 saw a British man reach the semi-final of the singles’ tournament, yet the achievements of both Cameron Norrie and Roger Taylor were overshadowed by events off-court.

In 1973, the Open Era was still a relatively new innovation and the leading tennis players of the period were feeling liberated by the sudden change in their circumstances – especially financially. Take a player like Rod Laver, still the only man in the history of the sport to twice hold all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year; the fact he achieved this in 1962 but then not again until 1969 highlights how from 1963 to 1968 Laver was unable to compete in such tournaments, as their Olympian ideal stated one had to be an amateur to take part; once you turned pro and tried to make a living from your talent, you were effectively exiled from the competitive game thereafter. A long-overdue change to the rules in the late 60s restored the world’s greatest tennis players to the Grand Slam stage, including Laver; but who knows how many more titles he could have added to his 198 (which remains a record) had he not lost five years in the middle of his career. By 1972, buoyed by the lucrative Open Era, the formation of the Association of Tennis Professionals had given players some independent clout and this was something they demonstrated the following year when they flexed their muscles against the International Lawn Tennis Federation, the global governing body of the game.

The first opportunity for players to take a stance came when Nikola Pilić, Yugoslavia’s No.1, was suspended by his own national lawn tennis association on the grounds he had bowed out of a Davis Cup tie played by his nation; the suspension spanned nine months and was supported by the ILTF; it was eventually reduced to a month, but that month encompassed the Wimbledon fortnight. The ATP responded to the ban by stating that if it wasn’t lifted they’d pull their players out of the tournament in support; what followed next were weeks of legal wrangling which eventually ended in an ATP boycott of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. 13 of the intended 16 seeds pulled out, with only the likes of the 1972 Wimbledon runner-up Ilie Năstase and Britain’s Roger Taylor defying the boycott amongst the more established players; up-and-coming youngsters such as Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors took advantage to progress in the absence of the bigger names (including defending champ Stan Smith), and the title was won by Czech Jan Kodeš, whose presence representing an Eastern Bloc country probably meant he had no option but to compete.

49 years later, the Russian invasion of Ukraine provoked several measures by the world of sport; the ATP – not quite as anti-establishment as in its original incarnation half-a-century earlier – responded with the token gesture of relocating the St Petersburg Open to Kazakhstan at the beginning of the conflict, but didn’t enforce a ban of Russian or Belarusian players from tournaments, unlike other sporting bodies, such as FIFA, UEFA and the IOC. When Wimbledon came around, however, a ban was imposed. The ATP’s rather petulant reaction, one that perhaps emphasised how far it had come since its formation 50 years before, was to remove world ranking points from Wimbledon. Prestigious competitions such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup upheld the same ban of players from Russia and Belarus, yet both the French and US Open declined to follow suit; in the case of the former, it decided to go with the unsatisfactory compromise of having players from the guilty countries participate as ‘neutral players without national flags’. The decision of the All England Club was applauded by several Ukrainian players, though the ATP sided with the now-ITF this time round. Defending Wimbledon men’s champion (and a man who retained his crown yet again yesterday) Novak Djokovic criticised the ban, though as someone who has already suffered at the hands of a political incursion into sport via his experience at the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, perhaps it’s understandable he wants to keep politics out of tennis. At one point, it seemed as though the tournament was threatened with a rerun of 1973, though in the end it didn’t quite work out as planned for the All England Club.

One might say Wimbledon’s ban has backfired – and the moral conundrum of holding sportsmen and women responsible for the actions of the nations whose flags they perform under is a contentious one; it denied the competition the men’s world No.1 Daniil Medvedev, for one thing; but if the non-appearance of Russia’s former Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova (who sensationally defeated Serena Williams as a 17-year-old in 2004) at the past champions’ parade was a notable casualty of the ban, it was perhaps viewed as less of an awkward absentee than usual BBC pundit Boris Becker, who no doubt tried to catch what he could of the tournament whilst sewing mailbags on D Wing. No, the implications of the ban became more embarrassing for the All England Club as a girl born and raised in Moscow progressed through the tournament and ended up making it all the way to the ladies’ final; up against Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian No.1 and the first North African woman to make the final, Elena Rybakina was not exactly the winner the burghers of Wimbledon were hoping for. Jabeur winning the opening set of the final eased a few furrowed brows; but Rybakina dug deep and struck back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

There was no doubt Ons Jabeur was the woman the All England Club and the BBC were keeping their fingers crossed for, but Rybakina spoilt the party and maintained the impressive trail she’d blazed throughout the tournament, none more so than when crushing in-form 2019 champ Simona Halep in the semi-final, 6-3, 6-3. After the pre-tournament headlines had been so focused on the enforced absence of Russian and Belarusian players – a decision that was entirely in line with the UK’s support of Ukraine, lest we forget – perhaps the ultimate embarrassment for Wimbledon came when the Duchess of Cambridge in her capacity as patron of the All England Club had little choice but to present the Venus Rosewater Dish to a player destined to be used as a propaganda weapon by Moscow, regardless of how much distance Rybakina has attempted to place between herself and her homeland’s government. At the same time, she remains rather evasive on whether Moscow is still where she lives.

To be fair to Rybakina, her defection to Kazakhstan dates back to 2018 rather than being a convenient switching of flags to evade an international boycott; she’s not guilty of the kind of canny relocation that South African cricketers routinely engaged in during that nation’s lengthy stint as a sporting pariah during Apartheid. She only really represented the country of her birth at junior level; when she turned pro and embarked upon the women’s circuit full-time aged 19, it was the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation that offered her financial support and far superior coaching facilities than that which were being provided back home. She changed her nationality and has therefore competed under the Kazakhstan flag for the past five years; the fact remains, however, that the women’s winner of Wimbledon in a year when Russian players were exiled from the competition was a born-and-bred Muscovite. Maybe there’s a point to be made somewhere in there – a match-point, perhaps.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/719591724

TAINTED BY ASSOCIATION

ProtestNow there’s no longer anyone left alive to separate fact from fiction, we’re pretty much stuck with the myth of the World War I Home Front, whereby each Zeppelin raid was followed by the communal kicking of Dachshunds on the street and the smashing of shop windows bearing Germanic names. Whether or not this actually happened doesn’t seem to matter anymore because all our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers (who might have been witness to such incidents) are gone; it’s become absorbed into the second-hand narrative of a conflict too far away to bear any relevance to the here and now. But we do know for certain that anti-German sentiments forced our very own royal household to change their family name, wary that Saxe-Coburg–Gotha was a tad too Teutonic a moniker to rally round when the King’s own cousin was responsible for starting the whole bloody mess in the first place; if the newly-christened House of Windsor could decline sanctuary to the Tsar (when he was supposed to be our ally), its commitment to the preservation of Albion in the face of foreign aggression seemed pretty sound – and few foreigners were more aggressive towards Albion in the 20th century than the Germans. Chances are, then, some of the myths re opposition to all things German are rooted in truth; war has a habit of legitimising bigotry, after all.

At this moment in time, when war rages in Europe once again, the division between the good guys and the bad guys is as crystal clear as ever and it is now officially OK to badmouth Russians without fear of an Identitarian comeback. Whilst mocking or criticising China – whose terrible human rights record far exceeds that of Russia – leaves the guilty party open to accusations of racist punching-down, doing likewise to the Russian people and their culture is perfectly acceptable; indeed, it’s practically compulsory. Just as any prominent black spokesperson (especially in the US) is fair game to be subjected to old-fashioned racism in the emperor’s new clothes of anti-racism should they dare offer a critique of the BLM agenda or deny the perceived oppression that comes with the colour of their skin, to voice the opinion that anything Russian isn’t necessarily tainted by the Putin brand is to unleash the contents of one’s bladder on the Ukrainian flag, which (lest we forget) is this season’s must-have fashion accessory.

I’m not really surprised that the illiterate stupidity of the present day has bled into the invasion of Ukraine and reduced it to merely another branch of the culture wars from the West’s perspective; but the facile nature of the popular response is depressingly symptomatic as to how everything today has to be translated into black & white symbolism bereft of any shades of grey. I wonder how many of those advocating the blacklisting of all things Russian have even read anything by Dostoevsky or listened to anything by Tchaikovsky or watched anything by Eisenstein. It’s like being a fan of The Beatles means you’re a cheerleader for Boris Johnson, simply because both are Brits (even though our PM was actually born in NYC); it’s infantile, ignorant and ill-informed, and the current vogue for associating anything Russian (however antique) with Vlad’s war machine is as vacuous a gesture as Sainsbury’s shelves being stripped of vodka. Maybe we should all wait for St Bono to write another poem on the topic, whereby he can compare Volodymyr Zelensky to any acceptable cultural hero undamaged by SWJ revisionism; and then we can have that deluded and deranged cadaver Nancy Pelosi recite it live on CNN.

It’s interesting how an otherwise-despised strain of jingoism, so derided when it waves the Union Jack during the Last Night of the Proms, can receive a free pass when it comes to anti-Russian feeling; we might be ashamed to celebrate our own nation’s achievements, but it’s fine to denounce those of another in the name of ‘freedom’. Coming as this does from countries whose governments have done their utmost to obliterate civil liberties over the past couple of years of pandemic paranoia, it’s hard not to greet such developments with cynicism. I suppose, though, this is the natural outcome of an age in which cancel culture is second nature; that all Russian cultural exports – whether they emanate from pre-Soviet Russia or the USSR itself (neither of which have any bearing on present-day Russia) – are subject to a blanket ban simply due to their geographical origins is patently ridiculous, but it’s not really that different from the way in which the artist is now regarded as inseparable from his art – one thinks of the likes of Phil Spector, for example. Any hopelessly naive hopes that the Woke mindset would be extinguished by Covid have been dashed once again by the fact that every reaction to every crisis now is merely a further extension of the Identity Politics philosophy, whereby everyone is defined by increasingly narrow criteria, lumped in together on the basis of race, gender, sexuality or nationality, whether or not that has any relation to their individual personas.

Apparently, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the latest posthumous victim of the current wave of Russophobia; true, the vapid virtue signalling that demands the anglicised spelling of Kiev becomes the more native Kyiv in the context of a dish that has little to do with the location it derives its name from is partially understandable from the point of view of the contemporary Western diet; but what on earth does the first man in space – who died as long ago as 1968 – have to do with any of this? Ah, but he’s Russian, so it’s okay to belittle his considerable achievements – achievements that would’ve made it undeniably harder for Neil Armstrong’s one small step to take place just eight years after Gagarin completed a full orbit of Earth in the Vostok 1 capsule and became the most famous man on the planet overnight at the height of Cold War tensions in the early 60s.

Gagarin’s sole venture into outer space took place the same year of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and just the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet the humiliation he inadvertently heaped upon the West didn’t dent his global popularity; people were grownup enough back then to recognise Gagarin was being manipulated as a Soviet propaganda tool and didn’t hold his birthright against him. Admittedly, 60 years ago it was something of a thorn in the side of the American Dream that the USSR appeared to be leading the way in the Space Race; Gagarin’s groundbreaking exploration of the atmosphere came hot on the heels of Sputnik paving the way for the satellite age, all of which piled pressure upon NASA to fulfil the promise of JFK during his inauguration speech, that of putting an American man on the Moon before the end of the decade. But Yuri Gagarin rose above the East-West politics of the era, with his achievement accepted on a human scale that transcended nationality; film footage of the rapturous reception he received for a visit to characteristically rainy Manchester just three months after his historic flight into orbit is testament to his universal popularity.

Kennedy may have barred Gagarin from making a similar jaunt to the US, but that was simply politicking; most saw Gagarin for what he was – an international hero whose nationality was secondary to his place in mankind’s history. However, the current climate will probably bar any eulogising of Laika – the brave little oblivious pooch whose doomed 1957 journey into space enabled Yuri Gagarin to follow suit – before too long, for an annual event organised by the Space Foundation in America that ordinarily honours Gagarin by calling it ‘Yuri’s Night’ has dropped his name from the get-together; at the same time, a statue of Gagarin in Luxembourg (again, demonstrating how his appeal stretched way beyond national or ideological boundaries) has been covered up, presumably lest the sight of him suggests the Grand Duchy is pro-Putin. Cultural boycotts of apolitical Russian exports didn’t take place during Cold War I, so we certainly don’t need them in Cold War II. If anything, the ‘1812 Overture’ should be the theme tune of the moment, proving as it does that there’s far more to a nation than any warmongering philistine who happens to control it.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

OPEN DOOR

Old WomanIt wasn’t so long ago – barely a year – that the British people were barred from allowing more than six people into their abodes. They couldn’t visit ailing family members in hospitals or care homes; they could only attend funerals in small, specified numbers – and heavy-handed Jobsworths were on hand to gleefully ensure there was no physical contact between the grievers; they couldn’t gather in the open to mark Remembrance Sunday; they couldn’t celebrate Christmas together; they couldn’t hold a vigil for a murdered woman in an outdoor environment without the police treating them like violent protestors; they couldn’t stage a demonstration unless their cause was one approved by the authorities – climate change or BLM, yes/anti-lockdown or anti-vax, no; they couldn’t even worship in churches whose doors were bolted. Small businesses went to the wall, crippled by both enforced closure and then uneconomic restrictions when tentatively reopening (if they’d managed to survive).

The damaging legacy of the past couple of years remains blatantly evident in the rising unemployment figures and the breathtaking level of national debt, not to mention the amount of folk continuing to wear masks in safe environments such as on the street or in the privacy of their own bloody cars, their brains fried by the pandemic propaganda of Project Fear. One wonders if they mask-up on the loo, in the bath or in bed. Probably. Yet, while it would be natural to imagine the unsurprising and hypocritical revelations of what those lying bastards who imposed such rules on the populace were getting up to behind closed doors at the height of the pandemic had served as a wake-up call on how conned the people were, so deep is the psychological damage done by lockdown and its affiliated curbs on civil liberties that the illogical neurosis of millions remains something that will probably take years to heal.

So, how strange that the same people who had to conduct conversations with family and friends from ridiculous distances – and out of doors, at that – are now being battered anew with fresh emotional blackmail that encourages them to open their previously hermetically-sealed homes to complete strangers, as though 2020 and ’21 never happened. Memories of the Syrian ‘children’ with their remarkably advanced examples of male grooming have been smoothly erased as the request for impromptu landlords goes out again. Of course, the awful humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine naturally stirs deep feelings in anyone who has a heart; for some, this provokes a desire to tackle the forces of oppression head-on by signing-up for an International Brigades-like foreign legion of fighters to repel the Russian invasion; for others, it’s marked via a boycott of Russian goods or cultural exports; and for others again, it manifests itself as a craving to offer a safe roof over the heads of those faced with no option but to flee their own homes thousands of miles away. Yesterday, the British Government announced it would offer UK homeowners £350 a month to take in Ukrainian refugees, with Housing Secretary Michael Gove unveiling the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

After so many recent exposés of precisely how untrustworthy and slippery our elected leaders are, people can be forgiven for greeting this announcement with cynicism and discerning something more than motives emanating from the goodness of politicians’ hearts; one now finds it difficult to take any such move at face value and not detect an ulterior motive. In the case of the current administration – and, it has to be said, its predecessors over the last couple of decades – this kind of response to an appalling situation cannot entirely eradicate the lax attitude towards the dirty money fuelling the Russian war machine which has been a hallmark of British governments for a long time. The amount of desirable British properties in the hands of offshore shell companies engaged in money laundering both in the UK and its more luxurious overseas territories has been mirrored in the close ties forged between British politicians and institutions and those Russians who have taken advantage of the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme. Perish the thought, but could certain members of the Government and the Conservative Party be covering their own corrupt backs by utilising the same emotional blackmail tactics employed during Covid to persuade the people to open hearts and doors to Ukrainian refugees as they themselves gloss over their cosiness with representatives of the regime responsible for the crisis?

Just how deeply governing bodies with pound signs for pupils have allowed countries with dubious reputations to become embedded in the fabric of British life was highlighted when Chelsea played Newcastle Utd at Stamford Bridge on Sunday; the home fans chanted the name of the now-toxic Putin bitch Roman Abramovich, whereas the away fans cheered their own suddenly-wealthy club’s Saudi owners, emanating as they do from a regime that executed a staggering 81 individuals the day before the match in a ruthless display of despotic inhumanity. What a glorious advert for the beautiful game, one that no token knee-taking will ease the grubby stain of. Football fans desperate for success will seemingly overlook the source of the financial fuel filling their trophy cabinets, though they’ve hardly been set a good example by their social ‘betters’. The filthy lucre floating around the national sport at the highest level is one more noticeable consequence of the golden visa rule introduced by a Labour Government in the wake of Peter Mandelson quaffing champers on the yacht of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one that has allowed Russia to get its feet under the establishment table with very little in the way of opposition.

According to stats in the most recent issue of Private Eye, since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, 406 wealthy Russians have bought their way into Britain via the required £2 million, with a mere 20 refusals; following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, 92 golden visas have been issued, with just six refusals; eight were even issued at the back end of last year, a time when Vlad’s intentions re Ukraine were well-known. At times, the Russian infiltration of British politics and all its interconnected entrails are reminiscent of the way in which Nigel Kneale’s 1950s TV series ‘Quatermass’ featured collaborators with the alien invaders in the upper echelons of British society as a knowing nod to the pre-war ruling class’s flirtation with fascism. The abrupt about-turn on oligarchs by this government as everyone with Russian skeletons in their closet seeks to distance themselves from Uncle Vlad’s activities is something that understandably provokes cynicism, though being offered cash incentives to house those who have suffered most from these activities seems another cynical move by an administration that inspires little else but cynicism.

Local councils who have spent the past two years pleading poverty, cutting public services to the bone and yet simultaneously feathering their own personal nests are also having a tempting carrot dangled in their direction re refugees. One cannot help but wonder if they will spend the money wisely. Considering how well GPs’ surgeries have managed to avoid doing their jobs and yet have continued to bleat about being overwhelmed during the coronavirus, how will a sudden influx of immigrants with obvious ailments affect the dereliction of duties the medical profession has achieved since Lockdown Mk I? It goes without saying that those whose needs are attended to on Harley Street won’t be affected, though the calamitous disappearance of the cheap household labour that Brexit brought about may at least be solved.

Materially comfortable individuals with the spare rooms to welcome refugees should be in a position to carry out their intentions without their kindness necessitating a financial reward, and those whose sadness with the situation in Ukraine doesn’t stretch that far shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for choosing not to do so, despite the lure of being paid in a scheme that will undoubtedly be open to abuse. One can’t blame many for being reluctant to invite strangers into their homes when they were faced with heavy fines and possible prison sentences for extending a similar invitation to people they actually know not so long ago. Funny old world innit.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

OUT IN THE COLD

VladWhen a long (ish) life means you find yourself with feet on either side of a divide that separates one era from another, it can be interesting to realise how a personal living memory is little more than a Wikipedia entry to those who emerge in the years and decades after the world map is redrawn. Unencumbered by any remembrance of how things used to be, those for whom the Iron Curtain or Apartheid are as irrelevant to the here and now as Ancient Egypt or the Incas invariably see the past in a completely different light. I guess for anyone of a certain age – i.e. over 40 – the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela had an immense significance that is difficult to articulate to someone born after 1990; and, to be honest, it can sometimes be easy to forget the way things were even if you were there. I remember once watching a documentary about Live Aid in which a member of Paul Weller’s Style Council recalled how the band had a testing journey to reach Wembley Stadium on the day, flying from an overseas tour that required taking the long way round on account of not being able to venture into Soviet airspace. The recollection served as a reminder of just how different the global situation was then.

A couple of decades earlier, when television satellite technology was in its infancy, an attempt to link up the four corners of the globe for the first time in the groundbreaking ‘Our World’ broadcast was confronted by an effective no-fly zone when Eastern Europe declined to participate; the programme may best be remembered for the unveiling of ‘All You Need is Love’, but the ambitious aim of the enterprise was squandered by the opting out of Iron Curtain countries. Back then, the Eurovision Song Contest was the optimistic TV showcase for post-war European harmony, though no East European countries ever took part bar Yugoslavia. At the same time, however, Eastern Bloc sportsmen and athletes competed in events such as European club football tournaments and the Olympic Games, and there was also the cerebral Cold War clash on the chessboard that came with the infamous battle between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972; so at least the East had a degree of visibility denied South Africa during the 70s and 80s.

Often it was sport that provided the most high profile example of South Africa’s international isolation, notably cricket and rugby union, when regular tours by South African teams were scrubbed off the sporting schedule from the early 70s onwards – a situation it had actually taken a surprisingly long time for the rest of the world to agree on. Once agreed, however, the boycott was enforced with a heavy dose of moral and emotional pressure imposed on those who wavered from it. Hard to remember the uproar now when so-called ‘rebel tours’ of South Africa by cricketers took place in the 80s or when the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart, Queen, Status Quo, Sinatra and even Shirley Bassey played profitable gigs in Sun City. Anyone named and shamed for participating in breaking the boycott was severely criticised thereafter; Freddie Mercury and the lads were added to the UN’s blacklist of sanctions-breakers following their ill-timed 1984 concert at the luxury resort, which took place at a point when serious civil unrest in South Africa had highlighted the injustices of the regime for the world to see once again.

The cultural Apartheid could also extend into some bizarre areas. Clout were a relatively inoffensive all-female rock band – itself something of a novelty in the 70s – who enjoyed the dubious status of one-hit wonders via their 1978 smash by the name of ‘Substitute’; the record stalled at the No.2 spot behind the immovable ‘You’re The One That I Want’ for several weeks that summer, yet ‘Top of the Pops’ had to settle for airing a clip of the band on a foreign TV show as the blanket ban on all things South African meant Clout were prevented by the Musicians’ Union from appearing in-person on the nation’s most-watched music show. The anti-Apartheid crusade was a particular passion for the Left in the 80s, and then – as now – the Left tended to monopolise the creative industries, meaning the boycott was the leading cause of the day in a way Palestine has become in the 21st century. Artists were expected to fall into line and most of those with any sort of conscience did so. The white South African was a cultural bogeyman during this period, so much so that a South African-born actor like the recently-deceased Anthony Sher was in denial of his origins when trying to make it as a thespian in the UK, conscious that he’d be confronted by a degree of prejudice that could jeopardise his ambitions.

Perhaps more than any other form of sanctions, a cultural boycott tends to be effective. A country’s art, along with its sport, can often be the way it successfully sells itself on the world stage. For example, what do most people immediately think of when they think of a country like Brazil? The Bossa Nova might spring to mind, but chances are the Brazilian football team will get there first every time. Likewise, during the era of the Soviet Union it was Russian composers and musicians sharing the international spotlight with athletes like Olga Korbut that offered a far more positive image than Leonid Brezhnev observing the parade of nuclear missiles on May Day. The USSR may be defunct as a nation now, but Russia has continued this tradition to project a less-toxic brand to the world; the coup of hosting what turned out to be a highly enjoyable World Cup in 2018 was a great leap forward that even managed to edge the country’s appalling record of using performance-enhancing drugs at the Olympics off the back pages. Recent events have put the brakes on this progress.

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the universal cultural condemnation has been swift and fairly unprecedented – nowhere more than on the football pitch. After announcing that the prestigious Champions League Final, scheduled to be staged in St Petersburg, has been moved to Paris, UEFA then linked arms with FIFA and barred all Russian clubs and the national side from competing in domestic and international competitions as well as the former dropping its sponsorship deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom. The close ties many oligarchs and Russian corporations have developed with numerous Premier League clubs in this country has been uncomfortably underlined this past week, resulting in Manchester United and Everton cancelling sponsorship deals with Russian companies; but perhaps Roman Abramovich deciding to put Chelsea up for sale is the most notable rat looking for the lifeboats.

Elsewhere in the world of sport, the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled whilst Russia and its warmongering sidekick Belarus have both been banned from rugby union competitions by the sport’s governing body. The International Olympic Committee may have taken away the rights of Russia and Belarus to host sporting events, but initially allowing the nations to compete in Olympic tournaments under a ‘neutral’ flag received such severe criticism that the IOC has now announced the two countries will not be participating in the upcoming Winter Paralympics. In the arts, a prominent scalp came in the sacking of Valery Gergiev as conductor of the Munich Philharmonic; Gergiev, known to be favourable towards Putin, failed to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and after the orchestra was confronted by a string of cancellations, the Mayor of Munich fired him from his position.

Unlike the usual suspects of ill-informed Hollywood halfwits queuing-up to signal their virtue, the cultural boycott when applied across the board has a habit of hitting the target where it hurts. It can’t stop a war, but it can rob those in whose name the war is being fought of all the things that can truly enhance life. It’s worth a try.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE

Liz TrussA decade or so ago, an ordinary member of the public whose job was either that of delivery man or taxi driver (his profession, as with his name, escapes me now) strolled onto the set of a BBC news programme and was inadvertently taken for a hired expert; roped in for a response to a story concerning big tech behemoth Apple, his absolute ignorance of the item in question and bewilderment with the surreal predicament he found himself in was instantly evident, yet he managed to create a moment of comedy gold that was repeatedly parodied for as long as its currency remained relevant. In a way, it summed up the needless emptiness of rolling news channels and their habit of pointlessly pontificating on every minor headline simply to fill the vast void of hours stretching out way beyond the point at which even the most casual viewer loses the will to live. The sudden accidental injection of humour into proceedings was a brief respite from the tedium though, had it not been picked up by social media, chances are few would have noticed it had happened.

The past few days I’ve received a few flashbacks of that amusing incident whenever I’ve seen Liz Truss issue statements on the Ukraine crisis; it’s almost as though she wandered into Broadcasting House to deliver Alan Yentob’s breakfast latte and was inexplicably assumed to be the Foreign Secretary; shoved in front of cameras and questioned as to what punishments Britain would be dishing out to Russia, Truss has the same air of utter cluelessness and absence of authority on the subject that was apparent in the confused countenance of the unfortunate gatecrasher onto the BBC News Channel. So far, no reporter has had the balls to present Ms Truss with a map of Eastern Europe and asked her to place pins in some of the locations of which she has recently betrayed her lack of geographical knowledge when it comes to the region, but I live in hope.

As the current situation is the kind of Godsend to rolling news channels that in theory prevents moments such as that already discussed from happening, there’s an endless succession of stories related to the big issue, one of which is a Kremlin spokesman attributing Russia being placed on nuclear alert courtesy of some clumsy comment on the part of Liz Truss. ‘There were unacceptable statements about possible conflict situations and even confrontations and clashes between NATO and Russia,’ said Dmitry Peskov. ‘I will not name the authors of these statements, although it was the British Foreign Secretary.’ That’ll be Ms Truss, then. The statements that seemed to have caused such offence have not been quoted, but take your pick. Liz Truss so far has been focused on bigging-up the economic sanctions not so much against Russia as a country, but against individual oligarchs; although she claims to have a ‘hit list’, she won’t name anyone on it.

At the same time, having been wined and dined by wealthy Russians for more than a decade and then repaid their generosity by allowing them to become embedded in the upper echelons of society with the kind of stealth China would certainly admire, the West appears to have hit Mother Russia where it hurts via sanctions. On the global markets, the rouble has plummeted in record time, sinking to an all-time low of 26% against the dollar. The US, along with the UK, the EU and numerous other nations, has barred leading Russian banks from Swift, a system which apparently enables the transfer of money to cross national borders with ease. The assets of the Bank of Russia have also been frozen by Western powers, severely reducing the access of its international dollar reserves; Canada has been quick to sign-up to this freezing of Russian bank accounts, though Putin’s support of the Canadian truckers has yet to be established. The UK has extended the freeze to all Russian banks, leaving many British businesses waiting indefinitely for money owed from Russian businesses; additionally, the UK has imposed restrictions on exports to Russia. The EU and UK have even been briefly reunited like a divorced couple reaching agreement over childcare, both issuing a blanket ban on Russian aircraft flying in EU or UK airspace. Meanwhile, having cut off its nuclear nose to spite its green face, Germany has been faced with little choice but to postpone the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from the Motherland to the Fatherland. No possible response outside of dispatching Western boots on Ukrainian soil, it seems, has been spared.

However, there appears to be the possibility of non-Ukrainian volunteers assembling in International Brigades-fashion to take on the invaders, and it’s interesting that those stating their intentions to do so here aren’t being dissuaded by the Foreign Secretary. When quizzed as to her opinion of Brits queuing-up to join a ‘Foreign Legion’ of fighters prepared to take on the might of the Russian Army, Liz Truss replied in an encouraging manner that is a notable contrast to the official line on those who sought to do likewise in Syria not so long ago. She certainly seemed to suggest she supported anyone committed enough to the cause; asked if she approved of British nationals taking up arms in Ukraine, Truss replied, ‘Absolutely, if that’s what they want to do. That is something people can make their own decisions about. The people of Ukraine are fighting for freedom and democracy, not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.’

Interestingly, Liz Truss’s support hasn’t exactly been endorsed by representatives from the Foreign Office, who aren’t offering similar encouragement – though they also aren’t doing their best to prevent such voluntary actions by threatening to arrest Brits returning from fighting in Ukraine, as the Crown Prosecution Service did re Syria. The Chairman of the Commons Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood shuffled uneasily in his seat when made aware of the Foreign Secretary’s support. ‘It seems nonsensical to encourage untrained and unequipped British citizens to head to a war zone,’ he said. ‘It’d be far easier with this policy if there was some form of NATO commitment, but the decision was made some time ago to rule that out and yet here we are endorsing British citizens to take up arms.’

Of course, there’s always the chance that any volunteers for an unofficial fighting force comprising outsiders could be viewed as little more than mercenaries with an unhealthy appetite for interfering in the affairs of another country in the most dangerous fashion. That said, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already announced such a force has been formed, with recruits in the UK (including former British soldiers who are veterans of interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan) approaching the Ukrainian Embassy to offer their services. A website has been set up as a British recruitment platform by Macer Gifford, who himself fought against ISIS with Kurdish forces in Syria for three years; Gifford claims he knows of at least half-a-dozen British volunteers who have been tackling Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine alongside Ukrainian troops for a while now, and he says that ‘judging by how many Britons contacted me in the past about going to Syria, I can imagine hundreds if not in the low thousands of people going out to Ukraine.’

I suppose if you’re old enough to remember the last time Brits volunteering to fight in a foreign conflict wasn’t something that came with the threat of arrest upon returning home (i.e. the Spanish Civil War), some of the images shot by amateur cameramen of Russian tanks cruising down residential streets and crushing private vehicles – not to mention the drivers in them – could easily evoke memories of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. Perhaps many imagined the end of the original Cold War at the turn of the 1990s had neutralised the possibility of the worst of recent European history repeating itself, though one wonders if a Treaty of Versailles-like grievance has been quietly festering in the Russian breast over the aftermath of the Cold War’s end from a Russian perspective ever since. Well, it’s probably fair to say that’s true when it comes to one particular Russian, anyway.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

PLAYING CHICKEN IN KIEV

VladThe legend used to go that it’d be King Arthur who’d awake from his slumber to come to Albion’s aid in the hour of her greatest need; but there’s no real point him chartering a ferry from Avalon back to the mainland at the moment. After all, why bother when we’ve got Ben Wallace? In case you didn’t know, he’s one of those dimwit types Boris Johnson has a habit of handing a Ministry to (see Liz Truss), presumably in order to make himself seem far smarter by comparison. Wallace is the incumbent Defence Secretary, a post – like Foreign Secretary – that has a habit of receiving an upsurge in media coverage whenever the world faces one of its perennial crises. Now that the pandemic is so 2020/21 as a hot news story, there’s nothing quite like the prospect of armed conflict to get the MSM excited all over again, and they’ve been indulging in feverish speculation re the tension on the Ukrainian border for weeks now. For journos who’ll never have to fire a rifle in anger, the thought of covering a war is their equivalent of Viagra.

On the surface, Ben Wallace sounds like one of those Mark Francois types, whose idea of warfare – and Britain’s role in it – has been shaped by formative years engaged in repeated VHS viewings of ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘The Dam Busters’. Unlike the Honourable Member for Rayleigh and Wickford, however, the Defence Secretary’s military fantasies stretched a little further than the TA – he was a graduate of Sandhurst and a captain in the Scots Guards before entering politics. Yes, he probably wears Union Jack underpants, but one would like to think a little life experience beyond the public school/Oxbridge/Spad/Westminster conveyor belt would make Wallace a refreshing alternative to the tiresomely familiar professional politicians clogging up the Commons. However, we’re talking about a Minister in Boris Johnson’s government, of course; and one can’t expect a miracle such as the Defence Secretary not actually making a prat of himself.

Ben Wallace yesterday took it upon himself to give the troops a pep talk in the grand tradition of Henry V, albeit not on a foreign field but in the rather more sedate surroundings of Westminster’s Horse Guards building. As Russia is once again seen as the enemy, he couldn’t resist referencing the Crimean War of 1853-56, reminding the military personnel before him that Britain had ‘kicked the backside’ of the Tsar back in the day – with a little help from the Ottoman Empire and the French, lest we forget. ‘We can always do it again’, he declared before adding Putin had gone ‘full tonto’ (such an elegant turn of phrase). His comments chose to gloss over the fact that the Crimean expedition wasn’t exactly celebrated as a Great British victory at the time – largely due to a disastrous episode history will always know as the Charge of the Light Brigade – and cost a Prime Minister (the Earl of Aberdeen) his job. Wallace was sat beside Priti Patel when he delivered his rousing rhetoric, and the Home Secretary was – to keep the Victorian theme going – not amused.

Ben Wallace’s clumsy motivational technique hasn’t been mirrored by the Prime Minister, who is keeping a lid on his own gung-ho tendencies as he tries to play the serious world leader in the hope the Ukraine crisis will serve to sweep the ‘Partygate’ affair under the wine-stained No.10 carpet. ‘In light of the increasingly threatening behaviour from Russia,’ he said, ‘the UK will shortly be providing a further package of military support to Ukraine. This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid.’ His Foreign Secretary, on the other hand, emphasised the sanctions being imposed. ‘There will be even more tough sanctions on key oligarchs, on key organisations in Russia,’ she said, ‘limiting Russia’s access to the financial markets, if there is a full scale invasion of Ukraine.’ Brave words from a woman whose Party’s coffers have been boosted by the generosity of numerous oligarchs in recent years, oligarchs that successive British Governments have allowed to buy up great chunks of our capital city’s prime real estate, not to mention bankrolling some of the country’s leading football clubs.

The prevailing mood in the West is more concerned with slapping Putin on the wrist via sanctions than indulging in the kind of giddy jingoism of Ben Wallace. There’s also an abundance of irony at play in the criticism of Russian aggression by Western leaders. Even those too young to have okayed Middle Eastern military interventions 20 years ago can’t help but evoke the words pot, kettle and black when they decry Putin’s incursion into Ukraine. To have Justin Trudeau join the chorus of condemnation is perhaps the richest irony of all.

As we all know by now, Trudeau is a man whose method of dealing with protestors who don’t think that highly of him is to freeze their bank accounts and even threaten to take their pets away; offering cash incentives to grass on anyone suspected of involvement in (or simply supporting) the truckers’ protests and promising heavy fines and house arrest for those caught posting anti-government tweets – well, I’m pretty sure Russia (not to mention China) would heartily approve of Canada adopting the time-honoured tactics of totalitarian Communist states in suppressing opposition and monitoring every move their citizens make. Pandemic policies or power grab? Indeed, was anybody remotely surprised to learn that not all of the emergency Covid legislation in this country will be repealed? Fancy that.

No, Vlad must look at the weak West’s response to his actions and…well…piss himself laughing. It certainly hasn’t made a jot to his decision to launch his long-awaited invasion today. But there was an inevitability to events one could see coming for a long time. His tried and trusted tactics of deliberately stirring pro-Russian separatist sentiments in corners of Ukraine he recognises as independent states served as a pretext for crossing the border. The Ukrainian Government has clearly lost control in these regions, he claims, thus requiring Russian troops to play the ‘peacekeeping’ card and prevent further civil disorder. That’s his excuse, anyway. Over the past 48 hours, Ukraine has been unsurprisingly plunged into a state of emergency, anticipating the full-scale invasion that has finally arrived; as an opening shot, one of Russia’s most effective modern weapons – the cyber attack – was unleashed upon Ukraine’s government departments and its banks, creating additional chaos before the physical conflict got underway.

Ballistic missiles aimed at major cities have accompanied the troop movement into the territory whilst the sounds emanating from the Ukrainian military claim the invading forces are being resisted, shooting down six Russian planes and four Russian tanks as an immediate response. Be prepared for much propaganda on both sides as the conflict unfolds. The Ukrainians may publicly call upon NATO assistance, though I suspect it realises any resistance will largely be down to itself. The West’s inability to repel Putin is a legacy of the very weakness Vlad has witnessed from afar for many years; chronic underfunding of the major European powers’ individual armed forces means they are all poorly-equipped to deal with the crisis, and the Western fetish for ‘green’ energy has seen similar underinvestment in home-grown energy sources in tandem with an increasing dependence on Russian gas.

Although not quite as excitable as Ben Wallace, on the eve of the invasion General Sir Richard Sherriff nevertheless told the ‘Today’ programme, ‘Absolutely there is a possibility that we as a nation will be at war with Russia. If Russia puts one boot-step across NATO territory we are all at war with Russia – every single member of the NATO alliance.’ Well, it’s happened, so I guess we’re at war with Russia according to the former NATO commander. Here’s hoping the Defence Secretary can lead our brave boys from the front.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294