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