Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Travelling in a pandemic

Travel restrictions may have been reduced significantly over the past few months. For those coming to the UK there are no longer forms or tests. But for many places outside of the UK, vaccination records, PCR tests and other documents are still required. And for Britons and other Europeans, now used to abandoning masks and other COVID rules, there are some countries that might prove to be a shock.

Journeying to South Korea recently was fraught, at least logistically. There were online forms required, not only by Korean authorities, but also the airline. For that one needed vaccination records and a negative PCR test certificate carried out within 48 hours of departure.

There was of course advice on the UK government and Korean authority websites, though much was either opaque, confusing or contradictory.

With all the documents checked, uploaded and printed off it was time to set off.

The Republic of Korea might still implement rigid COVID policies, but in the UK all rules and advice have all but been abandoned.

First stop was the local bus stop and catch a bus to the local Underground station.

With rules abandoned I was surrounded by mostly maskless passengers.

There was some comfort in my wearing an FFP2 mask. Nonetheless it was still disconcerting as one elderly woman coughed almost continuously throughout the 20 minute bus ride.

Paddington Bear stares from behind my mask seemed not to register with this maskless passenger who may have just had a common cold with an irritating cough or worse a debilitating condition or even cancer. But it could just as well have been COVID, a disease which she seemed oblivious she might be spreading to her fellow passengers.

She wasn't the only one. Half way along the journey another elderly passenger boarded who also coughed during his time on board while sitting with his mouth gaping.

The Tube was fairly empty for some of the journey though there was not a single mask in sight. By the time one arrived at Heathrow the percentage of passengers wearing masks had increased, but only marginally. Here too coughing could be heard, though those responsible were sitting at least some distance from myself.

Of course there are those who are of the opinion that we must all 'learn to live with the virus ' or believe the pandemic is over.

As regards the latter, this is simply not the case given the number of variants still being passed around. And as regards living with the virus, this is a potential recipe for disaster.

It is true to say that fully vaccinated individuals may only experience cold-like symptoms. But the danger of abandoning all mitigations - such as testing, mask wearing and isolation - is that new more dangerous, vaccine resilient variants could come about and essentially kick-start a whole new pandemic.

Part of the travel experience is the booking into a hotel. In London masks were almost non-existent, both amongst staff and customers at a Radisson near to the airport.

The same was true at the Bucharest Intercontinental a few weeks earlier, a country that has also ditched most COVID restrictions.

South Korea is a different ball-park altogether.

Masks remain mandatory for all inside spaces. There are no lanyards here. No ifs, no buts. "No mask, no entry" signs are abundant. And while there is no clear threat of a fine, no-one challenges or tests the rules.

A few people may be seen failing to wear their mask properly, often foreign tourists from the West, but they will often be asked to wear it properly. Most obliged without debate.

Some countries in the far East are still virtually impossible to enter due to COVID restrictions, such as China. However others are gradually opening up their doors albeit with strict requirements.

Before even boarding the plane to Korea, proof of vaccination and PCR test, completed within 48 hours of departure, had to be uploaded to the airline's website. One also needed to fill out a detailed online form on a Korean government website, again uploading vaccination certificates and PCR test results, as well as passport details, valid phone numbers and address where one would be residing during one's stay in Korea. Upon completion a document containing a QR code was generated which had to be presented before being allowed through immigration. After electronic fingerprint recording and the taking of a photo it was then necessary to get a PCR test which we had booked ahead of time. With that taken we were then free to go to our hotel, though should the test prove positive there would no doubt have been an ambulance dispatched with medical staff dressed in hazmat suits tasked with taking us away to quarantine. 

Despite the loops one had to jump through, it was all relatively efficient. Walking from the plane we were directed by staff wearing hazmat suits and masks to desks where our passport and QR code was checked. Immigration, which was fully manned, was controlled to maintain social distancing and it took just minutes to get through. Even the PCR test was carried out quickly and efficiently, though it was a little disconcerting to be swabbed by a medical worker sitting behind a hermetically sealed screen with gloved hands poked through the wall as though handling nuclear isotopes at a radiological facility. Even the result was swift, completed in a little under two hours. 

The strict measures are all about keeping infections and deaths down. The country of 52 million people has managed to limit its total case load to 18 million with 24,006 deaths [as of 24th May], through aggressive tracing and testing as well as widespread vaccination.

For much of the pandemic South Korea, a country with a population of around 52 million, barely saw the daily number of cases entering triple figures. However in July 2021 daily cases exceeded one thousand. And as Omicron gradually became the dominant variant, cases surged from around 5,000 cases at the beginning of December 2021 to a peak of 400,000 daily cases by mid-March. Since then daily cases have fallen significantly to around 25,000 per day. Deaths overall have been kept down by strict mask-mandates across the country. South Korea loosened rules at the beginning of May requiring masks to be worn outdoors as COVID-19 cases dropped. However many still prefer to wear masks outside.

Lee Geun-young, 34, who was wearing a mask, said he would stick to wearing one until COVID-19 became less concerning. "I miss the pre-pandemic days when we lived without a mask," Lee said from Hyochang Park. "It is inconvenient, but it's better to stay careful not only for myself but not to cause harm to others."

It is this social responsibility that is almost non-existent in the West. Many westerners, even those seen in Korea, only wear a mask when obliged or told. Fear of contracting the virus, or of passing it on seems not to be a concern.

It is only strict enforcement by air stewards that maintains 100% mask wearing on planes. And it is Westerners in the main that ignore or buck the rules.

On a recent Ryanair flight which still had a mask wearing policy in place, enforcement was non-existent.

Outbound to Romania saw only about 10% of passengers donning a mask whilst others wore them as neck ornaments or chin-warmers!

On return to Stansted airport, air stewards did make better efforts to enforce the rules, but only when the matter was raised with them as passengers boarded brazenly failing to adhere to the rules.

Lufthansa certainly took a more robust approach en-route to Korea. Stewards would periodically walk along the aisle and ask passengers to properly wear their masks.

There is clearly self-entitlement amongst some. Challenged by one passenger to wear her mask properly, the young German woman retorted "Who are you, the COVID police?" before muttering disparaging remarks in German.

Her mother calmed her, else one of our party might have further embarrassed her as he understood everything being said.

There was vindication however as at that moment an air stewardess passed and told her to wear her mask properly.

Strict enforcement had clearly been dropped on the return flight a week later as nose-joggers and chin-warmers were not challenged at all.

And mask-wearing all but melted away the nearer one approached Europe. 

At Frankfurt mask-wearing dropped to less than 30% within the airport. Even security staff were maskless. 

On board the final hop from Frankfurt to London's Heathrow airport most passengers adhered to the rules but upon leaving the aircraft and snaking through immigration barely one person was wearing any form of face covering.

Sitting on the subway train as it rattled through the capital, mask-wearing was clearing less than 1% with people clearly trying to put any reminder of the pandemic behind them.

 The final leg of the journey put icing on the cake as the maskless taxi driver aired his concern as to whether he would be able to go on a cruise. "I'm not vaccinated," he proclaimed. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not an anti-vaxxer," he added whilst going on to mutter false claims concerning the vaccine, its efficacy and questioning why one would need to take boosters.

Having been up for nearly 27 hours I was far too tired to explain the importance of mitigations and vaccines. Indeed there seemed to be no point in attempting to explain epidemiology to someone who was clearly an idiot.

With the pandemic clear not over. UK deaths are still hovering at around 1,200 per week while Korean deaths are around 300 per week, kept down by mask mandates as well as high vaccination rates [about 88%]. In comparison some 74% are fully vaccinated in the UK. 

There are clearly inconsistencies in the way different countries are handling the pandemic. In Korea the masks,, social distancing, and heat sensors make clear there is still a perceived threat. In Britain one might have thought there had never been a pandemic as people go about their daily lives. 

As cases of Monkeypox rise, a disease that can be spread through water droplets, surface contamination and close contact, it might be too early to drop the advice of 'Hand, Face, Space." [CDC]

If, as some already fear, Monkeypox becomes the next pandemic, travel may become even more fraught in the coming months.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Romania prepares for influx as war intensifies

More than 4.7 million refugees have fled the warzone in Ukraine. And a significant proportion have ended up in Romania, a country of some 20 million.

Romania accepts Ukrainian refugees without unnecessary formalities under a simplified procedure. Six refugee centers have been set up in the country, located in Timisoara, Maramures, Suceava, Giurgiu, Tulcea and Bucharest. Furthermore the Romanian government accommodates mothers with children from Ukraine free of charge.

More than 650,000 refugees have crossed the border into Romania with a significant number arriving at the Gare du Nord in Bucharest.

It is here that 'Dodo', a paramedic, has helped set up facilities to make their arrival more comfortable, much without government help.

Dodo, his real name Teodor, has almost single handedly taken over several rooms in the station and set up food kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and facilities for desperate refugees, many of which are women with young children.

Dodo proudly showed us around the store rooms packed with donations ranging from nappies to food and water.

And of course there was the army of volunteers, some of them refugees themselves such as Lena from Odessa.

It is Odessa that many have come from in recent weeks as Russia pushes it's way along the coast of the Black Sea.

One crossing poin is Isaccea in southern Romania that borders with Ukraine, split by the River Danube.

On Tuesday this week, around two months after the war began, hundreds of civilians were still crossing by ferry, greeted by volunteers, firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

Mostly women and children, some with their pets, and clutching what few possessions they could carry, entered Romania, happy to have escaped but equally sad to have fled their homeland.

Unfortunately, with Russia pushing further east and bombardments beginning in Lviv for the first time earlier this week, the numbers fleeing into Romania are likely to increase.

Being eyewitness to this influx of humanity is desperately sad, and something that both pictures and television reports cannot fully convey.

tvnewswatch, Bucharest, Romania

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Refugees give up on UK & return to warzone

Refugees are reportedly giving up on the UK's  Homes for Ukraine visa scheme and returning to the war zone in Ukraine after running out of money and patience as they wait for their visa applications to be approved [BBC/Telegraph/iNews/Sky News].

Of the few that have managed to fight through the minefield of red tape, some are finding themselves homeless due to relationship breakdowns with their sponsors and problems accessing accommodation. A total of 144 Ukrainian households have approached 57 councils after becoming homeless after arriving in the UK under both schemes, the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed [Metro].

Britain has arguably provided strong military support to Ukraine and has stood alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with resolute support in his battle against Russian aggression. While Boris Johnson's recent visit to Kyiv might be dismissed as a publicity stunt, it was well received in Ukraine itself.

But Britain has failed abysmally in processing and welcoming refugees. More than 4.7 million mostly women and children have left the country since hostilities began. And while only a few thousand have sought to get to Britain, red tape and bureaucracy has thwarted their efforts.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, has himself faced a backlash after having told the Commons "we have done our bit" on immigration from Eastern Europe. 

He said migration from the region had already led to "extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs". 

His own constituents were not impressed however. "As a Lincolnshire resident, he absolutely does not speak for me. No-one has 'done their bit' until each of the most basic of human needs - food, warmth and shelter are met for everyone, regardless of race or nationality," one Lincolnshire resident told the BBC.

Unfortunately, few Britain's have been able to 'do their bit' as refugees have faced an uphill struggle to get into the country.

tvnewswatch, London, UK.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Lives torn apart by a senseless war

Dmitry Shevchenko lives in Sumy, in North East Ukraine, or at least he did. You are unlikely to have heard of Dmitry. But Shurap had some 945,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel where he would display his blacksmith skills, forging beautiful knives from discarded scraps of metal, ball bearings and even empty armour piercing rounds.

But Shurap has not posted a video in little over a month, specifically 19th February - just five days before Russian tanks rolled into the country.

Hopefully Dmitry is fine and providing useful support to the Ukrainian military with his metallurgical skills.

But it does not look good for those living in Sumy which has been all but levelled by Russian bombardment [Channel 4 News].

Dmitry Shevchenko's plight is just one of many. People lost in the fog of war. Detached by failed telecommunications services and Internet connectivity.

In South East Ukraine is another sad story, that of Lyudmila Semernya, the head of a primary school in Mariupol. She became a victim of this senseless war, killed by shrapnel on the 4th March.

Anyone who has young children will know how they bond with their teachers. Many of the children from school No.5 on the outskirts of Mariupol will hopefully have fled the devastated city. But imagine how they will feel to learn about the death of one of their favourite teachers. They may already have learned that Lyudmila has died, not from a sudden illness or tragic accident, but as a direct result of Putin's bloody war. Children, already reeling from having to flee their homes, and fathers left to fight Russia's invading army, will have to suffer a further psychological blow [Twitter / Channel 4 News].

These are just two individuals living hundreds of kilometres apart affected by this war.

But there are countless others, the names of which may never be known.

Such as those in Bucha, a town to the north west of Kyiv where hundreds of civilians were found dead on the streets as Ukrainian troops moved in over the weekend.

Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told the AFP news agency that following Ukrainian forces retaking the commuter town, the streets were found littered with bodies.

"In Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves," Fedoruk said, "All these people were shot, killed, in the back of the head."

He said the victims were men and women, and that he had also seen a 14-year-old boy among the dead.

Graphic video and photos of the victims circulated online. One showed a man's body with his hands tied behind his back, an open Ukrainian passport lay on the ground beside him. Another had a gaping head wound. Some reports say that some had also been beheaded or shown signs of torture prior to being sumarily executed [CBS / Al Jazeera / France24 / NYPost / BBC / Daily Mail

On the face of it war crimes clearly took place in Bucha, though evidence will have to be gathered for any subsequent trial.

And as for the names, many will sadly be forgotten. Indeed without the mass graves being excavated and each victim identified it will be virtually impossible to know either the numbers or names of those killed in Bucha.

Two that perhaps won't be forgotten are Ksjena and Maksim Iowenko, shot by Russian forces as they tried to flee the war zone. Maksim was killed as he stood with his hands raised in surrender. His wife was killed in the car. Also in the car were their six-year-old son and the elderly mother of one of Maksim's friends. Both of them survived and were eventually released by the Russian soldiers.

These are just a few of the heart-rending stories of this war, a conflict that in only 40 days has killed thousands, displaced millions and torn untold lives apart [BBC].

This is just one of many reports of Russian deliberately targeting civilians. On Thursday 3rd of March while attempting to deliver food to an animal sanctuary Anastasiia Yalanskaya, 26, was shot and killed, along with two colleagues, by Russians near the town of Bucha [Daily Mail]. 

For many people in Ukraine, life before the war was far from affluent. But most people had hopes and dreams. Hopes amongst the young that they might pursue a career as a doctor or scientist. Hopes amongst their parents of watching them grow up and get married.

Now many of the young, along with their mothers, have been scattered far and wide across Europe and beyond. Their futures are far from certain. Their hopes and dreams have been all but shattered. Most have reached a place of relative safety - should they have managed to avoid people traffickers or worse. But all will be torn, ripped apart from a once familiar life, torn from their fathers, their friends and their country.  

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Madman, the Geriatric and the Clown

The world stands on a precipice. It stands on a precipice of global climate change and it stands on the precipice of a world war, which could conceivably end all life on planet Earth.

Yet three major world leaders that are pivotal in turning the ship around vary between being mentally unhinged or incapable of making proper decisions.

Putting aside the existential threat of global warming, the more imminent and pressing threat is that of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, undertaken by Vladimir Putin.

The warning signs had been there for some time from the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the 2014 downing of flight MH-17, the annexing of Crimea and of the Donbass region of Ukraine, the military intervention in the Syrian civil war, and the Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. But following every incident the West's response has been weak and ineffective.

Putin has, for the most part, been allowed to conduct his murderous exercises while the West continued to do business with Russia with few if any repercussions.

However everything changed as Putin began to line up tanks on the border of Ukraine in February 2022. Whilst Putin claimed he was only carrying out exercises, there was a broad consensus in Western democracies that the military build-up was a prelude to an invasion of Ukraine. In response NATO began to deploy troops to Poland and other nearby NATO countries in order to deter Putin. Hindsight might have suggested that an invited force to Ukraine itself could have deterred Putin's eventual invasion on the 24th February. However, one will never know, and what one encountered since is nothing short of a catastrophe.

More than 4 million, mostly women and children, have left Ukraine since Russia's invasion whilst Russia's military has bombed major cities leaving many in rubble.

Meanwhile, the West and NATO has sat by, watching the destruction whilst appeasing itself in that it has supplied weapons to the Ukrainian army.

And as the war continues on the ground the war of words has continued.

Upon the start of the invasion, Vladimir Putin warned of chilling consequences should anyone interfere in his "special military operation".

"Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to consequences you have never seen in history," the Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address.

This was taken by many in the West as inferring he might use nuclear weapons, resulting in lurid headlines in many tabloid newspapers.

But whilst 'Mad Vlad' - as some tabloids referred to him - seemed to be off his trolley, some leaders in the West were not being exactly cautious in what they were saying publicly.

NATO and its allies were clear that it would not move into Ukraine to take on Russia.  "The idea that we're gonna send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews... that's called World War Three, OK?" US President Joe Biden told members of the Press on the 11th March.

Whether or not Biden, NATO or the West, were willing to take the fight to Putin, it was clearly not a good move to let the Russian leader know what one's red lines were.

Biden has often been labelled as a 'gaffe machine'. But in a time of crisis, and especially as the world edges towards a possible global conflict, words must be handled carefully.

Yet only days later, whilst speaking to the 82nd Airborne in Poland about Ukraine, Biden said, "You're going to see when you're there, and some of you have been there, you're gonna see — you're gonna see women, young people standing in the middle — in front of a damned tank just saying, 'I'm not leaving, I'm holding my ground."

It seemed to indicate that there was a plan to send US troops into Ukraine, something which the White House was forced to clarify saying, "the president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position."

But Biden's mispeaking continued. "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," he was filmed saying, which he was forced to clarify. Denying that he was seeking regime change, Biden said, "I just was expressing my outrage. He shouldn't remain in power, just like, you know, bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things."

"But it doesn't mean we have a fundamental policy to do anything to take Putin down in any way." [CNN]

Barack Obama is often quoted as saying, "Don't underestimate Joe's ability to fuck things up." Which is perhaps fine in 'normal circumstances' but perhaps having someone who appears to fumble through his speeches, confuses Iran with Ukraine and isn't clear on what America's policy concerning the current conflict, isn't the best person to be in charge.

Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic the UK prime minister was claiming to be doing the right thing by opening up Britain's doors to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war zone.

However whilst the EU was allowing Ukrainians to cross into Europe visa free, Britain - on the grounds of 'security issues' - had put in place a visa requirement for any refugee wanting to travel to Britain. For many it required long journeys to visa centres and lengthy waits, exceeding two weeks. The paperwork required was also lengthy, running into some 30 pages with requirements of birth certificates, biometric tests and even bank statements.

"I think it's very complicated," said Katerina Ilasova, who fled her home city of Poltava after the invasion started. "I've heard lots of positive things about Britain. But for me it is too complex. So people are signing up to go to other countries that are easier to get to."

"I think it's very complex," Alyona Vinohradova, who is travelling with her 11 year old daughter, told the Guardian. "I think the UK is ensuring that all the Ukrainians don't come." [Guardian]

 It is a story much repeated and has resulted in few numbers actually managing to come to Britain [CNN].

Some two weeks after the visa scheme began it was revealed that only 2,700 visas had  been granted under the UK's Homes for Ukraine scheme while some 22,800 visas had been issued to Ukrainian refugees with family members in the UK [Guardian]. 

With more than 4 million refugees having fled Ukraine according to the UNHCR it makes Michael Gove's claim that Britain was helping the humanitarian crisis somewhat disingenuous. In what amounted to a hissy fit, Gove slammed the dispatch box and retorted to the criticism, "I have just had it up to here with people trying to suggest that this country is not generous." [Huffington Post]

During a Select Committee only yesterday [30th March] the PM was unable to give a number of those who had actually managed to get to Britain. Meanwhile, asked why a pregnant woman in Warsaw had been asked to wait until she had given birth before applying for a visa for herself and her newborn baby, Johnson could only say he would look into the matter.

It is perhaps no wonder why Johnson is looked upon as a joke and sidelined as he attends summits. During a NATO meeting in Brussels the PM looked lost and ignored as those around him chatted and shook hands.

Macron only a few short months ago referred to Boris Johnson as a clown while a former Finnish PM, Alexander Stubb, ridiculed the idea that Boris Johnson was one of Vladimir Putin's fiercest opponents. Only in "Brexit la la land" was the British PM seen as having "taken a lead globally" Stubb is quoted as saying [City AM]. 

Recently Boris Johnson was asked for his reaction to reports that he had become the Kremlin's public enemy number one [Washington Times]. "I am not remotely anti-Russian" Johnson responded before adding that he was the first UK prime minister with the name Boris [Bloomberg - Twitter] .

The true statesman in all of this is Volodymir Zelenskyy, ironically a former comedian turned president of Ukraine. He has worked tirelessly throughout the conflict to bring his people together whilst standing by them, refusing to flee the country despite being Moscow's no. 1 target. Indeed Zelenskyy reportedly said, "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," when the US offered to get him out of the country as the war began.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, March 14, 2022

Anti-War protester interruption of Russian TV a watershed moment

On the 14th March 2022 Marina Ovsyannikova (Russian: Марина Овсянникова), a Russian TV producer, burst on the screens of the main evening news on the Russia-1 TV channel. Holding a placard she stood behind the news anchor, Ekaterina Andreeva, before the broadcast was stopped and Ovsyannikova was arrested.

It is perhaps the most high profile anti-war protest that would have been seen by millions across Russia. The placard carried a simple message, part English and part Russian. 

"NO WAR", the placard proclaimed, while the Russian read ОСТАНОВИТЬ ВОИНУ  - Stop the War - НЕ ВЕРЬТЕ ПРОПАГАНДЕ - Don't Believe the Propaganda - ЭДЕСЬ ВАМ ВРУТ - You are being lied to. It ended with an English sentence "Russians Against War."

Earlier Ovsyannikova posted a video condemning the war which has been widely shared on social media [Twitter].

Some eighteen days into Russia's incursion into Ukraine there have been thousands of arrests as ordinary, mostly young, Russians protest against Russia's illegal war [BBC / Al Jazeera / Al Jazeera]. However, bar those who have directly witnessed such protests, few in Russia with be unaware of the disent on the streets. 

Moreover many Russian are reportedly still believing the government line that Putin is carrying out a 'special operation' to 'de-nazify' Ukraine [Reuters]. 

Few are seeing the the destruction wrought on Ukraine by the Russian military, have little knowledge of the hundreds, possibly thousands of civilians killed, nor even the casualties amongst their own fighting troops. Neither is there much awareness of the plight of more than 2.7 million refugees that have fled the country thus far. There is also little awareness either of the protests around the globe. Nor will many be aware of Putin's veiled threat of the use of nuclear weapons [Daily MailGuardian] and the UN Secretary General's concern as he expressed the view that nuclear conflict was "within the realm of possibility. [Reuters]"

Of course few can have failed to notice the effects of widespread sanctions imposed by the West following Russia's invasion on the 24th February. The Ruble has collapsed and is worth less than half its value in the last two weeks. Western broadcasters have pulled out of the country and McDonalds, Coca Cola and hundreds of other western brands have shut shop [NPR]. 

With a blackout of information and even harsh sentences for possessing material critical of Putin's war,  Marina Ovsyannikova's TV news protest is significant and could be a watershed moment in the propaganda war.

This is the full statement posted by Marina Ovsyannikova prior to her brief live protest on Russian TV news: 

"What's happening in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor. The responsibility for this aggression lies with one man: Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian, my mother is Russian, and they were never enemies. This necklace [shows] Russia must stop this fratricidal war."

"Unfortunately, for the last few years I've been working for Channel One. I've been doing Kremlin propaganda and I'm very ashamed of it – that I let people lie from TV screens and allowed the Russian people to be zombified."

"We didn't say anything in 2014 when it only just began. We didn't protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhuman regime. Now the whole world has turned away from us, and ten generations of our descendants won't wash off this fratricidal war."

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, February 28, 2022

War in Ukraine and the threat of WWIII

In the last week the world has been witness to scenes reminiscent of the beginnings of World War II as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Up to half a million people have fled the country as bombs rained down on cities across the country. Roads have been blocked with cars, many running out of fuel well before reaching the borders of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary before being abandoned, their occupants forced to abandon them and walk the rest of the way. Others have attempted to flee by train. Pictures showed packed platforms and trains heading for the border with people desperate  to escape.

After weeks of a military buildup on the Belarusian and Russian border with Ukraine the invasion began on Thursday 24th February 2022. The threat had been clear for some time with the White House saying the invasion was imminent for more than a week before the day came.

Many likened the move to Hitler's invasion of Poland or Czechoslovakia in 1939. But while there were certainly disconcerting similarities as Putin rolled out his plan to rebuild the former soviet empire.

Ukraine has had to fight the Russians alone, albeit with military aid from European and US allies. Not being a part of NATO, nor a member of the EU, other countries have been reluctant to give direct support in order to exacerbate the situation and avoid precipitating a wider conflict.

Putin's veiled threats of using nuclear weapons have also caused NATO members to pause and not go further.

The main weapon being employed is sanctions which have had some effect in degrading   the Russian financial system. BP and Shell have pulled out of projects [Guardian]

Governments too have imposed restrictions. The EU banned all Russian flights over its airspace and banned many financial institutions from using Swift, an international banking system as well as targeting named Russian oligarchs [Guardian / FT].  The US and UK have also imposed similar sanctions [Al Jazeera]. And less than a week after the invasion the usually neutral Switzerland also imposed sanctions on Russia [Guardian].

The effect has crippled Russia's financial system to the point that the Rouble collapsed on Monday [28th February] dropping 30% and forcing Russia to increase interest rates from 9% to 20% and prompting the stock market to be closed to trading [Reuters].

It is unclear whether the sanctions will force Russia to pull out. Indeed much is down to Putin who has been described as 'unhinged' by many including James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence of the United States. Macron is said to have described Putin as much 'stiffer and more isolated' than what he'd seen in previous encounters [CNN].

This is all the more unnerving. Should the war escalate and draw in NATO, there is a risk that Putin could unleash his stockpile of nuclear weapons [FT].

Even aside these risks there is a concern that a widening conflict could create further complications with the likes of China, India and the UAE all of which abstained in a recent security council vote at the UN and which have strong financial, trade and military ties with Russia.

While hundreds have certainly died on both sides, it seems clear that Putin's invasion isn't going as swiftly as he might have expected. But a military failure or slowing down of military success could result in Putin lashing out with more destructive weapons.

It is still early days which even the British government appeared to acknowledge today as the foreign secretary Liz Truss told the UK Parliament the war could last months or years. This certainly has all the makings of a third world war.

tvnewswatch, London, UK