The mighty lions
UK Foreign Secretary and Wannabe PM Liz Truss has encouraged Brits who want to fight in Ukraine to go. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, showing off his military prowess has suggested that such people should be ‘trained.’ It’s not clear if he meant ex-forces personnel or perhaps something else. Whatever the case if such people were taken prisoner by the Russians whilst fighting in Ukraine, it would provide Putin with every excuse to ramp up his war. Wasn’t it after all the West that pointed out that the Donbas region ‘freedom fighters’ were really Russians in disguise? It is alarming that we have UK Cabinet Ministers so short of shelves in their threadbare bookcase that they spout off so unthinkingly, possibly at the cost of putting more lives at risk. And naturally, they haven’t encouraged Brits to go and fight with the Palestinians against their illegal occupiers. Principles don’t come into it. Appealing to redneck Tories always does. It makes you want to puke, never mind nuke.
War Criminals LLP
A Google search for ‘Putin should be tried as a war criminal’ brings up a few results. In the top five was a comment column on Al Jazeera, an article in the New Yorker, a reader’s letter in the Toronto Star and two articles on yahoo!news and the Independent both based on a statement from a Ukrainian political analyst. I admit this is not much of a survey, but I found it surprising nonetheless that no senior western politician had made the call. If they had, wouldn’t it have taken precedence over Al Jazeera and a reader’s letter in a Canadian newspaper? Of course, Putin now fully qualifies as a war criminal and if he feels he has a case to defend it can be made in a court, probably in The Hague. But that will never happen. And perhaps there are certain politicians in the West who would be reluctant to call Putin out in this way—the fickle finger of fate and all that.
+I heard a Democratic Congressman yesterday talking about how he thought Putin had lost his marbles. And after Trump, it was clear he could spot such a type a mile off. Wasn’t it Trump after all telling ‘Little Rocket Man’ that he—Trump—had a bigger button and could unleash something the world had never seen the like of before? Now Putin is using virtually the same language.
+After this war is over—barring local resistance—Putin will have made a significant territorial gain. Russia will of course pay a price with sanctions, but then what? When does the talking start again? Since NATO will have proved worthless in the eyes of many Ukrainians, some uneasy maneuvering will necessarily take place. A European form of Syria, perhaps? Remember Syria?
+None of the above is an endorsement of Putin’s reckless action. People who start wars should be condemned. But since western governments were warning of this weeks and months ago, they could have taken the expansion of NATO off the table. It is said it’s the Ukrainian people’s democratic right to say if they want to join NATO. It is perhaps a perversion of democracy that none of the rest of us would be given a say in the matter.
+It was always Tony Blair’s sheer self-belief that led him to meet Assad and Ghadaffi in the expectation that they would listen to him and adjust their thinking to fit in with the new global model, which is not to say that they would respect a liberal democratic norm, but would at least resist the temptation to cut themselves off entirely from the enticements of our munificence. Later, Tony notoriously carried on consulting with all sorts of autocratic rotters to teach them how they could improve their standing with the West. Essentially the message was more trade would improve the lot of their citizens and a blessed society would result. Didn’t quite work out that way, not least in Palestine (or any where else so far as I’m aware) but you’ve got to admire the chutzpah. There is something essential missing in the formula that merely having better living standards solves ancient rivalries, corruptions and anti-democratic urges. Globalisation, that is, the freedom of trade has clearly not resolved any of these problems. Not that you’d know that from its cheerleaders.
+It’s been two months now since I packed up reading the Guardian. I can’t say I miss it, even though I thought I really would. In fact I feel a certain sense of liberation. This is not the same as saying the paper hasn’t occasionally reported stuff which nobody else would give much attention to, but when they had the material one always wondered how much self-censorship went on lest they went too far. My subscription saving will help offset my new energy bills.
A warm-up act?
It is probably by now rather tedious to point out the number of times the West (chiefly the USA) has invaded other countries or backed coups against legitimate (and some illegitimate) governments. These interventions may well feature in Putin’s current reasoning—and in a dog eat dog world, the question ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’ has some merit. He may also have been encouraged by the growing disunity in the West, especially with the advent of Trump and Brexit. He will also be emboldened by his growing alliance with China, which will become his replacement fossil fuel customer. And looking to the East, China will be closely following these events as it eyes up Taiwan. All the while Europe especially will be struggling to meet its energy needs which will lead to more civil unrest (a la gilets jaunes).
So the idea that Putin can only be accommodated on our terms seems a little passé and it would be very welcome if western politicians shed their old assumptions borne of global domination and adjusted to realities as they are. These realities are not merely about military adventurism (the BBC has trotted out more retired generals than could fit in the Army and Navy Club) but deep seated if narrow, unforgiving views of historical injustices. Reading a piece on Crimea on Russia Today you get a quite different history of its legal status, i.e. never constitutionally part of Ukraine. Putin got away with his occupation there, so it doesn’t seem surprising that he feels other bits of Ukraine can be peeled off too. Whose version of history is indisputably correct? Was Taiwan not originally part of China? What about Tibet? Alaska would still be part of Russia were it not for a simple financial transaction. How do we know that deal was watertight (I suppose it was, but let’s not set Putin off on that one)? How many treaties have been simply ripped up and simply forgotten? Israel’s occupation of Palestine land is another example of the ability of a nation state to pursue ethno-nationalism without much, if any retribution.
Sadly we live in a world where these continuities still pervade politics. Rather than aiming for a form of global awareness served by a vision of our isolated, fragile planet—which surely would unite people wherever they live—we have a pervasive medieval mindset which will only get worse as the depredations of climate change set in. Climate change is not known as a threat multiplier for nothing. I fear the current skirmishes are merely a warm-up act even if today one cannot say they are related to the climate crisis. But the same was said about the increasing number of storms.
But I'm still rolling along . .
The huge increases in energy prices—or should I say fossil fuel prices—is a mixed blessing. Having just received an email from my supplier about the new prices from 1st April, I am nonplussed to say the least. Not least because my energy allegedly comes from 100% renewable sources (solar, wind and biomass, they say). I am now, it also has to be said with an energy supplier which I did not choose. The energy regulator’s ‘price cap’ starting on the 1st April suggests prices should rise no more than 54% This however has not stopped my new supplier from suggesting my estimated bill for the coming year will be £200 above what a 54% increase suggests ought to happen. Big energy suppliers are laughing all the way to the bank, with grossly inflated profits. So how come my renewable energy bill has to rise by 54%? It’s becoming more of a mystery, as more of the stuff is generated. The mixed blessing of this is that more people may question why we’re still so dependent on a diminishing, finite source of energy when there’s abundant and increasingly cheaper renewable energy available.
There’s also a danger that we’ll end up (despite all the tough talk) of dancing to Putin’s tune. It’s irony upon irony, particularly for the Germans who must have initially agreed to the now completed but unused Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the basis that they wanted (needed) the gas (especially in the light of their wind-down of nuclear). I suspect Angela Merkel timed her departure perfectly. Germans will probably feel the energy pinch more than we will and deals will eventually be done. This will probably result in the solidification of Putin’s desire for an enlarged autonomous Russian leaning Donbas region. At the moment all the kerfuffle is over a region barely the size of Yorkshire.
Sadly, there are plenty of redneck Tories (shouldn’t that be blueneck?) who see a marvellous opportunity to get fracking back on the table. I fear things are going pear shaped, but on top of it all climate change will make everything so much worse. The old song we sang as schoolkids comes to mind. Three wheels on my wagon.
A bit of a pickle
+Perhaps one solution for the Great Ukrainian Mess (GUM) would be for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to hold a fresh referendum on whether they want independence. Such a referendum was held a few years ago, with 90% saying yes, but that was held in conditions of questionable Russian influence. This time perhaps such referendums could be held under the aegis of the UN (without the participation of NATO countries or Russia). When the original vote of Ukrainians to leave the Soviet Union took place in 1991 (also won with a huge majority in all areas of Ukraine) one wonders how people thought their new country would turn out. As it was, just like Yeltsin’s Russia, Ukraine descended into a morass of corruption and decay. I don’t suppose Donbas people were voting for that when asked about leaving the Soviet Union (which was teetering on the edge anyway). So perhaps the people of Donetsk and Luhansk might with good reason want to form their own republics now. Naturally neither Putin nor the West would want to see another independence referendum (Indyref2) since Putin is happy with the last one and both the UK and Spain have parochial objections to people having their say on such matters. The history of Ukraine has been one of constantly shifting borders and barely sustainable stability or even existence. Clearly this history continues to the present day, and it seems will go on for quite a while yet. If it were possible both sides should back off and let the people decide, but both sides—Putin and NATO—have already invested too much in their obdurate posturing to see sense.
+Talk about inflation. A few weeks ago, a jar of Garner’s pickled onions in Sainsbury’s was £2.90. It’s now £3.50. And the government is doing nothing about it.
+You don’t need a massive grasp of history to know that twice (at least) in the last two hundred years or so Russia (aka the Soviet Union) has been invaded from the west. Both events are seen as seminal in the history of Europe. On the last occasion, the possibility of Hitler defeating Bolshevism was cheered to the rafters by many Tories who clearly adhered to the ‘better dead than red’ line, and who even before Hitler’s invasion were privately seeking avenues to side with Hitler. This is all well documented. Is it possible that Putin takes a long view of history? Is there a chance that he has developed a sense that ’the West’ is full of schemers who cannot be trusted? (In that frame of mind following in the footsteps of Stalin.) It is to my knowledge an uncommented on feature of the current impasse, but might Putin not have looked at the West’s invasion of Iraq (commonly described as a war for oil) and wondered whether his own resource rich country could fall foul of a similar pursuit? It shouldn’t really be too difficult to penetrate Putin’s thinking whatever the case, but what is clear is that ‘the West’ still sees itself as triumphant, and that is the tone which determines our side’s response to Putin’s manoeuvres. I imagine that this might just get up his back a little bit.
+If diplomacy brings forth language which is difficult to understand, art language is not left far behind. I am indebted to a press release on eflux for this introduction to an exhibition:
'Andreja Kulunčić’s research project, You Betrayed the Party Just When You Should Have Helped It is a rhizomatic approach that aims to ponder the transformation of the body subjected to self-colonization in order to survive in a traumatic environment, and to present methods of activating a symbolic location deprived of modern forms of public acknowledgement.'
Couldn’t be clearer.
A Red warning
+Here’s an exclusive report. Russian military forces continue to move around Russia! Unlike NATO forces (mainly American) which never move around within their own borders, the Russians are preparing for World War Three (which is how our Foreign Secretary, hopeless PM and Pres. Biden like to portray the threat). The threat is ‘imminent.’ It’s been imminent ever since, well, ever since it was imminent. We’re just waiting for the Russians to stage a ‘false flag’ incident to justify their invasion of Ukraine. This too is imminent. It is a remarkable testimony to the strength of character of our Foreign Secretary, Liz Trussworthy that she can cope with this permanent state of imminence. I wonder if Putin feels the same way, or is he just relaxed and rehearsing on a bigger stage his well-known predilection for high-end judo? For beginners, that’s when you use your opponents weight (and effort) to throw them to the floor. I think the reference to judo is apposite. But neither Biden or Trussworthy seem to have grasped how the game works.
+We’re about to see the arrival of Storm Eunice, with winds of up to 100 mph possibly hitting the constituency of Jacob Rees Mogg down in the south west. I have to confess that every time I hear the news about Storm Eunice I mishear it as Storm ‘Eustice,’ which is of course the name of our utterly on the ball Environment Secretary. This sparks the thought that named storms should be named after members of the Cabinet. When Storm Nadine or Storm Jacob sweeps in the citizenry would be petrified, but not on the mega scale if Storm Trussworthy terrorised the land. We’ve already had Storm Boris of course, which has already caused severe damage.
Oleaginous words of wisdom
Lord Mandelson, one of the most revered politicians of any persuasion since at least 1782 has spoken, his words dripping with oleaginous wisdom. Quoted on LabourList-
He praised Starmer for having “crossed a threshold in many people’s minds” in recent months, adding: “He’s manifestly much more interested in being a winning Prime Minister for the country than simply a popular leader of his party. “Actually, I think party politics barely interests him. I think changing the country does. He has really successfully driven home to all of us in Labour that we have to learn the lessons of Corbyn and learn the lessons of our defeat in 2019 and that there is no going back.”
Well, we know in very practical terms that party politics doesn’t interest Starmer since under his leadership the Labour Party has been made practically bankrupt in its efforts to get rid of too many members of the wrong sort, as I believe Rachel Reeves thought a worthwhile approach too. This phrase ‘being a winning Prime Minister for the country’ intrigues me. The question is winning what? Are we talking about carrying through a radical transformation of society or merely the keys to No.10? Starmer kicked off with his 10 pledges to the membership in the leadership contest of 2020 since when most if not all have been ditched. Will Labour’s next manifesto enthuse anyone? Labour needs to shed its bland managerialism asap and whip up some excitement if wants to cement a lead in the polls, rather than relying on what could be a passing phase of Tory unpopularity. I will await a call from Starmer’s office to tell them what’s needed. (First bit of advice: steer clear of Mandelson: he’s toxic.)
A lot has been written about Pegasus, the mobile phone hacking software sold by the Israeli company NSO Group to all sorts of regimes, good(?) and bad, on the pretext that it can be used to track down terrorists. Of course, if it can track terrorists down, Pegasus can track anyone down. The software seems to have an unlimited ability to turn your phone into a personal spy—on yourself. So it was refreshing (in a weird confirmatory way) to learn that Pegasus is not alone. Of course, there simply has to be many similar spyware systems around, and a case that went before the U.S. Dept. of Justice highlighted one:
Three Former U.S. Intelligence Community and Military Personnel Agree to Pay More Than $1.68 Million to Resolve Criminal Charges Arising from Their Provision of Hacking-Related Services to a Foreign Government
That’s the headline from a DoJ press release from last September (why practically every word starts with a capital letter I don’t know—perhaps they were just chuffed). The press release said:
“According to court documents, the defendants worked as senior managers at a United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)-based company (U.A.E. CO) that supported and carried out computer network exploitation (CNE) operations (i.e., “hacking”) for the benefit of the U.A.E government between 2016 and 2019. Despite being informed on several occasions that their work for U.A.E. CO, under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), constituted a “defense service” requiring a license from the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), the defendants proceeded to provide such services without a license.”
“These services included the provision of support, direction and supervision in the creation of sophisticated “zero-click” computer hacking and intelligence gathering systems – i.e., one that could compromise a device without any action by the target. U.A.E. CO employees whose activities were supervised by and known to the defendants thereafter leveraged these zero-click exploits to illegally obtain and use access credentials for online accounts issued by U.S. companies, and to obtain unauthorized access to computers, like mobile phones, around the world, including in the United States.”
“Between January 2016 and November 2019, the defendants and other U.A.E. CO CIO employees expanded the breadth and increased the sophistication of the CNE operations that CIO was providing to the U.A.E. government. For example, over an 18-month period, CIO employees, with defendants’ support, direction and supervision, created two similar “zero-click” computer hacking and intelligence gathering systems that leveraged servers in the United States belonging to a U.S. technology company (U.S. Company Two) to obtain remote, unauthorized access to any of the tens of millions of smartphones and mobile devices utilizing a U.S. Company Two-provided operating system. The defendants and other CIO employees colloquially referred to these two systems as “KARMA” and “KARMA 2.”
Perhaps this story didn’t get the coverage it deserved in the mainstream press because the offence these chaps were charged with were more like white collar crimes such as not getting a license to trade their ‘KARMA.’ There’s no colourful illustration just yet of precisely how it was used (that’s for a further instalment). But there’s more to it, and we might want to ask ourselves why the UAE, who had bought Pegasus wanted KARMA too? Did they, in their negotiations for the famous rapprochement with Israel want something with which they could spy on Israeli diplomats which wouldn’t potentially have an Israeli cyber ‘backdoor?’ In any case, just how many cyber spying software programs are in use by governments? And how many of these spyware outfits reside in the private sector without any significant regulation? The market’s global. The laws are parochial. More later on this one, I suspect.