MAN AND BOY

ShishimarinAlmost 60 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson swore that his escalation of the US intervention in the distant Cold War battlefields of South-East Asia (which had been instigated by his prematurely-retired predecessor in the White House) was not one in which civilians were deliberately being targeted; LBJ claimed the upsurge in American bombing raids over North Vietnam was a calculated attempt to target industry and military installations, thus weakening the Soviet-backed Viet Cong. If the civilian population happened to get in the way, it was a pure accident and not intentional. Ever since, this has been the justification mantra of all Western leaders engaged in overseas conflicts whenever the subject of civilian casualties has been raised, though so successful has this tactic proven to be that even the likes of a world leader full of Eastern promise such as Vladimir Putin have adopted it as official protocol where opposition to foreign interventionism is concerned.

In order to vindicate his stance, Russia’s elected dictator has also cynically evoked a deep-rooted, romantic attachment to an ideal of the motherland that echoes everything from an ISIS recruitment manual to the IRA’s sentimental appeal to the displaced Irishmen of Boston and New York whenever it was time to produce the green-coloured begging bowl. Saving the Ukrainians from an enemy within – one bent on perverting the ancient ties between Ukraine and its invading ‘liberator’ – seems to be the Russian excuse to justify any number of war crimes as recognised by international standards. However, that ‘enemy within’ has learnt its lessons and has taken the opportunity to capitalise on global revulsion to Putin’s war machine by going through the war trial motions a long way from The Hague. A hastily-convened tribunal in Ukraine has judged a 21-year-old captured Russian tank commander, name of Sgt Vadim Shishimarin, as being guilty of murdering a civilian and has imposed a life sentence upon him.

Sgt Shishimarin has been convicted of the murder of a 62-year-old Ukrainian called Oleksandr Shelipov in the village of Chupakhivak back in February, and his defence (for what it was) fell back on the old Nazi excuse of ‘only obeying orders’ to highlight the unique conditions of wartime. The Kremlin’s response to this judgement has been to issue the threat that Ukrainian prisoners will receive equal treatment when tried as war criminals in Moscow, placing an ongoing conflict in the dirty hands of a legal profession hardly guaranteed to deliver justice when demands for a specific verdict will be overwhelming. The spur for Russia to engage in judicial tit-for-tat came via the judge at the trial of Sgt Vadim Shishimarin, who proclaimed ‘Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity and the international legal order, the court does not see the possibility of imposing a shorter sentence of imprisonment.’

At a time when the world’s focus – or the focus of the world online – appears to be fixed on a courtroom spat between a pair of overpaid and unsympathetic Hollywood planks, the first war trial of anyone involved in the current Ukrainian skirmish has come as a sobering contrast to the self-indulgent and highly public marriage guidance counselling of Tinsel Town; yet the trial of Sgt Shishimarin has had its own moments of drama shaming the simultaneous acting class being acted out by Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. During the televised trial, the widow of the man Sgt Shishimarin has been found guilty of murdering confronted her husband’s killer and asked him why his presence had even been necessary in her country to begin with. ‘Tell me please,’ she demanded, ‘why did you come here – to protect us? Protect us from whom? Did you protect me from my husband, whom you killed?’

Sgt Shishimarin’s story was that he and several of his soldiers had requisitioned a vehicle when separated from their Kantemirovskaya tank regiment in north-east Ukraine; upon sighting the unfortunate Mr Shelipov, Shishimarin was pressurised by his fellow troops to open fire with an assault rifle, an action he was reluctant to carry out and twice refused; on the third asking, he did indeed shoot, which resulted in the death of an apparently unarmed Oleksandr Shelipov on his doorstep. If Shishimarin’s version of events is to believed, it’s evident he was an extremely young man plunged into the kind of nightmarish scenario it’s difficult to imagine the extremely young men of the privileged Western world reacting any better to, but none of this truth had any bearing on the verdict of the war crimes tribunal when it sentenced him to a life behind bars. Oleksandr Shelipov was just one of an estimated (by the UN) 3,838 civilians to have suffered a similar fate ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine three months ago, though his case was the first to have received the war crimes treatment and naturally sets an unedifying precedent for the months ahead.

The sorry story of Vadim Shishimarin paints a picture of raw recruits thrown into the deep end and faced with life-or-death decisions their limited life experience has barely prepared them for. Even Shishimarin’s defence lawyer claimed that his client had received no orders from his superiors, nor from the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, which has shut up shop anyway. One imagines Russian units manned by novices and left to their own devices as Putin’s platoons venture so far from Moscow that communication has been all-but abandoned; the anticipated quick ‘n’ easy victory has not materialised and Russian troops have continued to plough on, faced with a virtual guerrilla war that none of them are old enough to recall their forefathers capitulating to in Afghanistan. If one were to travel even further back in the timeline of military history especially sensitive to that corner of the world, one might evoke the equally green German soldiers drafted in to fight a losing battle on the Eastern Front during 1943-45, with only a parade ground pat on the head from the Fuhrer to send them on their doomed way.

Sgt Shishimarin pleaded guilty to the murder of Oleksandr Shelipov, a Ukrainian citizen responding to the invasion of his country like thousands of his countrymen by opposing it in thought if not in deed; the accused didn’t deny the crime, but argued it was carried out in circumstances specific to the theatre of war and under extreme pressure from commanders entrusting boys to do the work of men. Whilst Kremlin denials continue unabated, the Ukraine authorities are eager for the trial of Sgt Shishimarin not to be viewed as a show trial staged in the middle of a war still in full swing and are consequently assembling evidence of upwards of 11,000 alleged war crimes on the part of Russia with a future veritable festival of tribunals in mind that will at least be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

How many genuine war crimes committed during the Second World War were recognised as such either at the time or in the immediate aftermath of is disputable; it can amount to years, if not decades, for the truth to emerge, and even then the truth can routinely come too late for justice to be enacted. It took the best part of fifteen years, for example, before Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Israel, yet the pursuit of suspected Nazi war criminals was still going on until relatively recently, however decrepit the accused had become by the 21st century. Ukraine appears to have started the process far earlier than is the custom, though one cannot help but feel the actual instigator of the conflict that the likes of Sgt Shishimarin are the patsies of will evade justice – and, unlike the name of a 21-year-old tank commander, we all know it.

© The Editor

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SING WHEN YOU’RE WINNING

Eurovision UkraineIt wasn’t exactly the same as the sinister sabotage that prevented Cliff and ‘Congratulations’ from claiming the crown in 1968, though it did seem a tad unfair that a recent tweaking of the Eurovision voting system resulted in the UK’s first win for 25 years being downgraded at the eleventh hour. Having soared ahead on the jury vote – and the jury vote always used to be binding – ‘Space Man’ by the hirsute Sam Ryder topped the board once all the individual nations had had their say. Up until the last five or six years, that would’ve been enough and the embarrassing nul points and relegation zone finishes for virtually the whole of this century were poised to be swept aside by a surreal scenario few viewers in this country thought they’d ever see again. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and (even more so) Brexit hardly made us the most popular nation on the Continent, and our European neighbours seemed to relish inflicting an annual humiliation on us. We’d grown so accustomed to it that once Saturday’s votes began to be announced in the broken English of each country’s equivalent of a ‘One Show’ presenter, we expected the same old punishment.

However, despite the standard Swedish Euro ballad and the nutcracker-tastic posteriors of those three Spanish ladies making a big impact in the Turin arena, it was evident more or less from the off that the British entry had impressed almost all of the individual juries. As the voting progressed, we were even receiving maximum points from countries ordinarily regarded as traditional enemies, i.e. France and Germany. The gate-crashing Aussies couldn’t bring themselves to award us anything, though it turned out the Poms didn’t need ‘em; our new bezzie mates Ukraine gave us twelve points instead (as did seven other nations), and Sam Ryder was odds-on to do what only Sandie Shaw, Lulu, Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz and Katrina and the Waves had done before him. And then it went to that relatively new innovation, the televote – one that wasn’t a fixture last time we were in pole position…a long, long time ago.

On the eve of the Contest, it was more or less a foregone conclusion that Ukraine would walk away with the title without even having to sing a note. The beleaguered nation’s entry could have strolled on stage and simply mooned the audience and they would’ve still won it – if one believed the pre-Contest hype. Yet, the juries weren’t entirely swayed by sentiment on the night and at the end of the jury vote Ukraine were placed fourth on the board with 192 points, behind Spain (231), Sweden (258) and the UK (283). The televote was a different animal, though; widespread sympathy for Ukraine from viewers was manifested as a surge of points – 439, to be precise – and the UK could only manage 183. Any other year and we’d have won it, but this is no ordinary year where Europe is concerned. When combined with their jury votes, Ukraine were undisputed victors.

So unfamiliar was the territory the UK found itself in on Saturday night, chances are Sam Ryder would’ve been knighted by the end of the year had he won it. As it is, he finished with the silver medal, adding to the runner-up spots Brits have now achieved on a record sixteen occasions; but it still made a pleasant change from the usual predictable formula from a British perspective. Even though we’re one of the ‘Big Five’ nations who automatically appear every year due to the financial contributions we make to the European Broadcasting Union, the underwhelming songs and poor receptions of the last couple of decades has made watching a bit like tuning in to the World Cup when England don’t qualify; deprived of patriotic possibilities, UK viewers tend to pick a favourite from one of the other participants; this year, we didn’t have to do that and it made the Contest a much more engaging experience as a consequence.

Despite the disappointment of the UK missing out, few would begrudge Ukraine their symbolic win, even if the song itself will probably be forgotten in less time than it took to perform it. The second of their now-three triumphs this century was six years ago, and that victory was also charged with a political frisson that infuriated the country currently acting as an uninvited guest in Ukraine. ‘1944’ by Jamala dealt with the wartime deportation of Crimean Tatars from the Soviet Union by Stalin – yes, I know, it’s a long way from ‘Jack in the Box’ by Clodagh Rodgers. Anyway, the song was judged by the EBU as not having a relevant political context due to its subject being a historical event – as was the case with the title of a certain winner by Abba in 1974, I guess. But, of course, Crimea was a hot topic at the time due to the annexation of the country by Russia just two years before, and the Russians took umbrage with the number. In the end, they couldn’t prevent the song from being included and could only voice their protest by withdrawing from the Contest the following year, when it was held in Kyiv.

Of course, political elements are nothing new to the Eurovision narrative. From General Franco’s (alleged) intervention to ensure a Spanish victory in 1968 to Greece’s 1976 entry being a song about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus two years earlier – not to mention the always-controversial presence of Israel – politics have routinely bled into the Eurovision as much as they have into sport. The event commands such a massive television audience across the Continent – and beyond it – that many nations with a point to prove naturally see it as an ideal platform to get that point across to a uniquely huge viewing public. Since the map of Eastern Europe was redrawn 30 years ago and former Iron Curtain countries have been allowed to participate, political bias has become a regular feature of the show, especially in the voting – a factor which Terry Wogan wearily criticised as it increased and eventually prompted him to hang up his commentator’s microphone. This year’s programme, for instance, opened with a mass chorus of ‘Give Peace a Chance’, which didn’t really require much in the way of explanation.

The perception of Russia as an international pariah state on a par with North Korea or Iran has been fairly unanimous in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and with most major global sports having expelled Russian teams and players from their ranks, the Eurovision was bound to follow suit. And the absence of Russia for only the fourth time since the nation’s debut at the Contest back in 1994 was no greater a surprise than the wave of public sympathy that propelled Ukraine to the winner’s rostrum. Considering the horror stories emerging from Ukraine on a daily basis, it’s only right that Russia was kicked-out this year, not to mention it being something of a minor miracle that Ukraine was able to put together an act to compete at all.

The other day, I read a remarkable story of an escape on foot from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol by one man and his dog that sounded like a movie waiting to be made; but to dramatise something that remains very much miserable reality for millions of people would seem beyond tasteless at the moment. The portrait painted of the damage done to Ukraine in such a short space of time was more than grim, and one feels it will be one of those conflicts whose gruesome truths will be released to the wider world in dribs and drabs for decades. With such a gory backdrop to something as frivolously camp as the Eurovision Song Contest, it feels fitting that Ukraine won it, however nice a change it would’ve been had the UK finally staged the most unlikely of triumphant comebacks. Right now, I suspect the people of Ukraine will grab at anything that represents even the slimmest glimmer of optimism for their nation – and love it or loathe it, the Eurovision today at least means something to them.

© The Editor

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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THE BEAR FACTS

Russian BearIt may have opted out of the Eurovision Song Contest, but the USSR nevertheless competed in competitions of a more sporting bent during the Cold War, mining the athletic riches available in the countries that had been involuntarily absorbed into the sprawling Soviet Union. The national football team of the USSR had a vast geographical pool of talent to draw from in this period and made use of it. Imagine if the England national team had chosen to call upon players from across the British Empire in the pre-War era and label all of them Englishmen; chances are the World Cup might have fallen into English hands a good deal earlier than 1966. The Soviets essentially did just that and were eventually rewarded with the inaugural European Championships in 1960, as well as ending runners-up on three other occasions; in the World Cup, the team’s best finish was the semi-final loss to West Germany in ’66. On the domestic front, Iron Curtain countries competed in the club competitions of the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup throughout the tournaments’ formative years. Whenever a team such as Dynamo Kiev played an English side, they were referred to as a ‘Russian club’, just as the likes of Belarus gymnast Olga Korbut was referred to as a ‘Russian athlete’ when scooping multiple gold medals at the 1972 Olympics.

The existential crisis many Russians experienced as former Soviet states declared independence from their ex-masters in the 1990s was exacerbated by the symbolic blow of the expansive landmass that had been known as home shrinking back to merely Russian soil. Not unlike the demoralising loss of international prestige felt by Brits as one overseas colony after another lowered the Union Jack during the 1950s and 60s, Russians took the reduction of territory personally; the chaotic drop in the standard of living at home as Yeltsin sought to transform the Russian economy to a free-market Western model overnight and facilitated the sudden rise of the multi-millionaire Oligarch in the process hardly helped matters. Therefore, when the old soak was succeeded by a former KGB colonel who’d earned his spurs in East Germany, a man determined to ‘make Russia great again’, it was no great surprise that the Russian people responded favourably to the reincarnation of the Strong Leader so admired in cultures beyond the West.

Putin flexing his macho muscles has cleverly tapped into the grievance of many Russians over the independence of the old Soviet republics; when Ukraine first tentatively sought to join NATO in 2008, Vlad made it clear he didn’t approve, and following Ukraine’s so-called ‘Revolution of Dignity’ in 2014, Putin effectively annexed Crimea from Ukraine as a means of expressing his disapproval. The annexation was internationally condemned, though other than the token sanctions imposed by the UN and the EU, little else was done by those who condemned it. Putin has repeatedly emphasised he has no interest in further incursions into Ukrainian territory, yet with an estimated 100,000 Russian troops camped out on the border and threatening talk emanating from Moscow whenever Ukraine expresses its desire to be welcomed into the NATO family, it’s no wonder the Ukrainian Government has been more than happy to accept military assistance from Western nations, just to be on the safe side. Putin’s response is to regard any Western presence anywhere near Crimea as a sign of ‘NATO expansion’.

The ‘NATO expansion’ into Eastern Europe basically translates as nations with a history of being subjugated by Russia understandably seeking protection from history repeating itself; the likes of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland know that being members of NATO means any aggressive actions on the part of their volatile neighbour will result in their newfound military partners running to their aid – in theory, anyway. Whichever way Russian eyes view the move, this is the reality of it; Ukraine still wants to join the club, something that Mr Putin sees as ‘NATO expansion’. Some of the language that has been aired in recent months is straight out of some dusty old Cold War manual; Dmitry Kiselyov, the media personality-cum-propagandist known as ‘Putin’s mouthpiece’, issued a threat against the US sticking its nose into Ukrainian affairs, promising that Russian warheads could reduce America to ‘radioactive ash’. At the moment, however, Russia is certainly in a strong position to issue such melodramatic threats, sensing the weakness of the West when led by such an ineffective patsy as Joe Biden.

Sleepy Joe held a press conference this week in which he stated Russia would pay ‘a serious and dear price’ for invading Ukraine, yet underlined the toothless response of the West towards Putin’s regime by adding the caveat that ‘a minor incursion’ might be treated differently to a full-on invasion. One wonders how far Russian troops have to encroach onto Ukrainian soil before a minor incursion is rebranded an invasion, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t impressed by Biden’s comments about minor incursions, tweeting ‘There are no minor incursions, just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.’ Tellingly, the US President’s characteristically incoherent statement was later altered by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki once Joe had been put back to bed, declaring any Russian military forces moving across the Ukrainian border would be instantly interpreted as a renewed invasion, met with a ‘swift, severe and united response from the United States and our Allies’.

The US claims that Russian Intelligence has been engaged in recruiting current and former members of the Ukrainian Government to take over as a puppet administration in the event of an invasion, though with so much rumour and propaganda circling this story, it’s hard to differentiate between truth and speculation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has this week met with foreign ministers from France, Germany and the UK in Berlin to co-ordinate strategy should Russia do what the West seemingly expects it to, though if that amounts to a ‘minor incursion’ the Western strategy probably won’t have much of an impact. Even before the meeting with Blinken, the British Government had announced it was providing Ukraine with extra troops for training purposes, whilst both Denmark and Spain are sending warships to the Black Sea. This willy-waving was a response to the unveiling of plans for Russian naval drills featuring over 60 aircraft and more than 140 warships, as though Putin was intending to stage some sort of Mayday Parade throwback on the Ukraine border. Any sign of a peaceful resolution via talks between Blinken and his Russian counterpart in Geneva today has so far been drenched in the ambiguous diplomatic description of ‘open and useful’.

As with China’s stealthy economic and cultural infiltration of Western governments and institutions, Vladimir Putin is smart enough to exploit the West’s current crisis of confidence and comparative weakness as it allows itself to be torn apart by a combination of self-loathing and ideological polarity; he’s seeing how far he can push the West before provoking a more serious response which he evidently doubts will come, though to be fair, he’s been doing that for most of his reign and has got away with it time and time again. Even if his tactics continue to find favour with a large section of the Russian public, the unlimited powers that come with his persona as a Strong Leader also allow him to crush opposition and silence his critics – often with a nice cup of tea. Biden is little more than the saccharin to Putin’s polonium. From the perspective of a man raised in a Soviet Empire that spanned a landmass of 22,402,200 square km and housed 293 million people in eleven time zones, the West has no business in the East; to him, Eurasia is Russian and always will be. And, to paraphrase the title of this post, those are the bare facts.

© The Editor

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