Category : Foreign Relations

(W Post) U.S. intelligence document shows Russian naval blockade of Ukraine

Newly declassified U.S. intelligence shows that a Russian naval blockade has halted maritime trade at Ukrainian ports, in what world leaders call a deliberate attack on the global food supply chain that has raised fears of political instability and shortages unless grain and other essential agricultural products are allowed to flow freely from Ukraine.

Russia’s navy now effectively controls all traffic in the northern third of the Black Sea, making it unsafe for commercial shipping, according to a U.S. government document obtained by The Washington Post.

The document, based on recently declassified intelligence, analyzed the density of Russian naval activity along portions of Ukraine’s southern coast and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia occupied and annexed in 2014. The blockade that ensued following Russia’s invasion in February halted civil maritime traffic, “entrapping Ukrainian agricultural exports and jeopardizing global food supplies,” according to a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the intelligence.

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Posted in Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(WSJ front page) Ukraine War’s New Phase Shifts Outlook for its End

Nobody knows how or when the war will end in Ukraine, but it’s clear that right now Russia isn’t winning. According to Western governments and private analysts, Moscow failed to achieve its initial goal of a lightning strike into Kyiv to take down the government. And success for its Plan B, a scaled-down offensive to push Ukrainian forces back in the east and southeast of the country, looks increasingly difficult.

Some things that seemed highly probable at the start of the war, such as the collapse of the Ukrainian state, now are seen as unlikely. Ukraine is in an existential fight, said the chief of the British defense staff, Adm. Tony Radakin in a speech in London on Monday, “and it is going to survive.”

In this latest phase of the war, tank battles are being supplanted by artillery-dominated exchanges. The Russians are undertaking offensives in some places, including in the eastern region of Luhansk. They finally overcame the last remaining Ukrainian holdouts in the southern port city of Mariupol. Elsewhere, the Ukrainians are counterattacking, most notably in the north beyond Kharkiv.

“The war is entering a protracted phase,” Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov told European Union defense ministers on Tuesday. He said there were “many indications of Russia preparing for a long-term military operation,” including engineering and fortification works in the Kherson and Zaporizhya areas.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Economist Cover story) The coming food catastrophe

Mr Putin must not use food as a weapon. Shortages are not the inevitable outcome of war. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades. Welcome to the era of climate change.

All this will have a grievous effect on the poor. Households in emerging economies spend 25% of their budgets on food—and in sub-Saharan Africa as much as 40%. In Egypt bread provides 30% of all calories. In many importing countries, governments cannot afford subsidies to increase the help to the poor, especially if they also import energy—another market in turmoil.

The crisis threatens to get worse.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Economist) Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is running out of steam, again

Eighty years ago the second Battle of Kharkov was raging in what was then the western Soviet Union. The Red Army had heroically driven the Nazi Wehrmacht back from the gates of Moscow. It gathered in a bulge west of Izyum, a town to the south of Kharkov, as Ukraine’s second city was then known. The subsequent Soviet offensive, launched on May 12th, was a disaster. Soviet armies were driven back and encircled. Over 170,000 Soviet troops were killed. Nikita Khrushchev later focused on the battle when denouncing his predecessor as Soviet leader, Stalin. “This is Stalin’s military ‘genius’,” he sneered, citing the crude tactics of frontal assault. “This is what it cost us.”

The Russian army is once again gathered around Izyum. And once more it is on the retreat from Kharkiv, as the city is now called, after another underwhelming campaign. It has been a month since Russia, having abandoned its assault on Kyiv, launched a fresh offensive in the eastern Donbas region. The idea was to encircle Ukrainian troops in a large salient stretching from Izyum in the north to the city of Donetsk in the south, in part by driving south from Izyum.

There have been minor successes. Russia has taken almost all of Luhansk province—it held only the southern part before the war—bar a salient around the well-defended city of Severodonetsk. It has also pushed south of Izyum, taking villages towards Barvinkove, an important rail junction, and the industrial cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. Yet progress has been achingly slow—one or two kilometres a day—and casualties heavy. The war is now dominated by grinding artillery duels, rather than swift mechanised offensives. Much of Donetsk province is still in Ukrainian hands.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Economist) The war in Ukraine is spurring transatlantic co-operation in technology

A command centre to scan the digital realm for global disinformation campaigns. Standardised plugs for electric cars that will work both in America and in the European Union (eu) and so lower the cost of building the infrastructure needed to decarbonise. A transatlantic team to scout for attempts by China and others to manipulate global technical standards in their favour. These sorts of initiatives sound like common sense, but they are difficult in a world where even allies have competing regulators, vying for technological dominion. Happily, a transatlantic diplomatic undertaking that most people have never heard of is trying to change all that.

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The group in question, called the “Trade and Technology Council” (ttc), will convene in Saclay, a suburb of Paris, on May 15th and 16th. A constellation of grand officials from either side of the Atlantic—including America’s secretary of state, commerce secretary and top trade negotiator, and the eu’s commissioners for trade and competition—will be meeting for the second time. Whereas their first meeting in September in Pittsburgh was mainly meant for participants to get to know each other, the gathering in France will assess progress on their work so far and set goals for the next two years.

It is a momentous task. The ttc is the West’s response to efforts by China and others (notably Russia after its invasion of Ukraine) to build an autocratic digital world and bring the physical supply-chains that underpin it under their control. “The big question is whether democratic governments can develop a meaningful alternative,” explains Marietje Schaake of the Cyber Policy Centre at Stanford University. If America and the eu resolve their differences in tech, other countries are bound to follow their lead: the pair account for 55% of the global market for information technology, whose value is expected to reach a staggering $4.4trn this year, according to Gartner, a consultancy.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Globalization, Russia, Science & Technology, Ukraine

(Washington Post front page) Oil Sales Remain Russia’s Lifeline

Despite the European Union’s drastic measures to wind down imports of Russian oil, Moscow still has plenty of buyers — and at prices steep enough to keep government revenue high and its coffers flush.

Before the war with Ukraine, Russia sold about half of its 7.85 million barrels a day of crude and refined oil to Europe. But with the war and the E.U.’s vow to abruptly end its reliance on Russian oil and gas, the Kremlin has been benefiting from high world prices while looking for new customers and reorienting its export strategy toward Asia.

The windfall shows how hard it is to punish a major oil and gas power such as Russia when so much of the world — especially developing countries — depends on fossil fuels.

Even with “severe oil production cuts” expected this year, Russia’s tax revenue “will increase significantly to more than $180 billion due to the spike in oil prices,” according to Rystad Energy, an independent research firm advising investors. The figure is 45 percent higher than in 2021.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(FT) ‘We are now living in a totally new era’ — Henry Kissinger

We are now [faced with] with technologies where the rapidity of exchange, the subtlety of the inventions, can produce levels of catastrophe that were not even imaginable. And the strange aspect of the present situation is that the weapons are multiplying on both sides and their sophistication is increasing every year. But there’s almost no discussion internationally about what would happen if the weapons actually became used.

My appeal in general, on whatever side you are, is to understand that we are now living in a totally new era, and we have gotten away with neglecting that aspect. But as technology spreads around the world, as it does inherently, diplomacy and war will need a different content and that will be a challenge.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, History, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Uncategorized

(WSJ) Biden Officials Divided Over Easing China Tariffs to Slow Inflation

The Biden administration is split on whether to pare back tariffs on imports from China in an effort to cut consumer costs and reduce inflation, as the White House gives renewed consideration to a step that has divided officials.

On one side of the debate within the administration are Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who favor easing the tariffs on some of the roughly $360 billion annually of Chinese imports put in place under the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

On the other are Trade Representative Katherine Tai and others who are reluctant to relinquish U.S. leverage over China in a continuing effort to reshape Chinese economic behavior, according to the people.

President Biden has been undecided on the question but has recently revisited the issue as the White House looks to reduce the highest inflation in four decades, according to one of the people. The discussions come as the administration on Tuesday started a legally required review of the Trump-era duties. The U.S. Trade Representative is required to study the impact on tariffs first imposed in 2018 on the economy after four years.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., China, Economy, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General

(Washington Post) Looming ground battle is crucial phase in Ukraine, U.S. officials say

U.S. military officials assess that a crucial, and perhaps decisive, phase of the Ukraine war is shaping up in the eastern part of the country, where Russian troops may surround Ukrainian forces in hopes of pummeling them in an epic, long-distance ground battle reminiscent of the last century.

New U.S. shipments of heavy artillery and counter-artillery radar, tactical drones, armored vehicles and other equipment are being rushed to Ukraine before tens of thousands of troops, amounting to up to half of the Ukrainian army, are caught in what is known as a “double envelopment” maneuver that would bring them under simultaneous attack from two sides.

The Ukrainians are located in a north-south crescent between deep Russian lines in the southeastern Donbas region, and a potential pincer movement to their west.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(FT) Putin abandons hopes of Ukraine deal and shifts to land-grab strategy

Vladimir Putin has lost interest in diplomatic efforts to end his war with Ukraine and instead appears set on seizing as much Ukrainian territory as possible, according to three people briefed on conversations with the Russian president.

Putin, who was seriously considering a peace deal with Ukraine after Russia suffered battlefield setbacks last month, has told people involved in trying to end the conflict that he sees no prospects for a settlement.

“Putin sincerely believes in the nonsense he hears on [Russian] television and he wants to win big,” said a person briefed on the talks.

Though Moscow and Kyiv agreed their first draft communique at a meeting in Istanbul in late March, talks stalled after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing war crimes against civilians in cities such as Bucha and Mariupol.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Washington Post) Commander hints at Russian ambitions beyond Ukraine

A Russian commander said Friday that Moscow wants to take “full control” of eastern and southern Ukraine, in part so it could have a path to neighboring Moldova — raising fears that the nearly two-month war could spill outside of Ukrainian borders.

The comments from Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s Central Military District, seemed to hint that the Kremlin — which has been stymied in its bid to take over the Ukrainian capital — still wants to conquer wide swaths of its neighbor’s land, and potentially threaten the nations that lie beyond. They drew swift condemnation from Moldova, where residents have worried since the beginning of the war they could be next in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

Minnekayev said capturing Ukraine’s east and south would create a “land corridor” to the Crimean Peninsula — which the Kremlin annexed in 2014 — and give Moscow influence over “vital objects of the Ukrainian economy,” according to the Russia state media outlet Tass. It would also provide “another way out to Transnistria,” Minnekayev said, referring to a thin strip of land that runs along Moldova’s border with Ukraine that functions as a separate nation, though it is not recognized as such, even by Russia.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Church Times) Conflict likely to get worse, say Ukrainian church leaders

Churches in Ukraine have advised citizens to be ready for an intensification of Russia’s invasion, as representatives of the Council of Europe condemned the destruction of religious sites, and pressure continued for Russian Orthodox leaders to call for a ceasefire in the two-month war.

“The war that Russia has imposed on us and on the whole world did not begin with missiles and bombs — it began with deception, untruth, and lies,” the head of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said in a Sunday homily.

“The Lord is now showing us how we must resist with the testimony of truth. Evil is evil, not just an alternative viewpoint, and war is war, not just some conflict. Rapists, looters, and murderers are criminals, and what they are perpetrating is a genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Metropolitan Epiphany was speaking as evidence emerged that Russian forces had launched a new offensive along a 300-mile front line in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Moscow confirmed on Monday that its shells and missiles had struck more than 1000 targets.

The Metropolitan said that Ukrainians knew from experience that Russia had long concealed “evil plans to restore the tyranny of a rotten, overthrown empire”, and that the divine commandment to love neighbours did not mean “loving the evil they do”.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine, Violence

(Atlantic) Eliot A. Cohen–This Is the War’s Decisive Moment:The United States and its allies can tip the balance between a costly success and a calamity.

The relatively brief but bloody war in Ukraine is entering its fourth phase. In the first, Russia tried to depose Volodymyr Zelensky’s government and sweep the country into its embrace in a three-day campaign; in the second, it attempted to conquer Ukraine—or at least its eastern half, including the capital, Kyiv—with armored assaults; in the third, defeated in the north, Russia withdrew its battered forces, massing instead in the southeastern and southern areas for the conquest of those parts of Ukraine. Now the fourth, and possibly decisive, phase is about to begin.

For those of us born after World War II, this is the most consequential war of our lifetime. Upon its outcome rests the future of European stability and prosperity. If Ukraine succeeds in preserving its freedom and territorial integrity, a diminished Russia will be contained; if it fails, the chances of war between NATO and Russia go up, as does the prospect of Russian intervention in other areas on its western and southern peripheries. A Russian win would encourage a China coolly observing and assessing Western mettle and military capacity; a Russian defeat would induce a salutary caution in Beijing. Russia’s sheer brutality and utterly unwarranted aggression, compounded by lies at once sinister and ludicrous, have endangered what remains of the global order and the norms of interstate conduct. If such behavior leads to humiliation on the battlefield and economic chaos at home, those norms may be rebuilt to some degree; if Vladimir Putin’s government gets away with it, restoring them will take a generation or longer….

Upon what the United States and its allies do in the next few weeks hangs more than the American people realize. The evidence suggests that Russia’s armies can, if met by a well-equipped Ukrainian force, be thoroughly wrecked and defeated. While Russia itself will likely remain a paranoid and isolated dictatorship after this war, it can be defanged, even as its own folly reduces it to the ranks of a third-rate power. But war is war, and the future is always uncertain. All that is clear right now is that a failure to adequately support Ukraine will have terrible consequences, and not just for that heroic and suffering nation.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., England / UK, Europe, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(RNS) World Council of Churches faces calls to expel Russian Orthodox Church

The World Council of Churches is under pressure to oust the Russian Orthodox Church from its ranks, with detractors arguing the church’s leader, Patriarch Kirill, invalidated its membership by backing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and involving the church in the global political machinations of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The debate garnered a response on Monday (April 11) from the Rev. Ioan Sauca, acting general secretary of the WCC, which claims 352 member churches representing roughly 580 million Christians around the world.

Sauca, a priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church who has visited Ukrainian refugees and publicly criticized Kirill’s response to the invasion, pushed back on the suggestion of expelling the ROC, arguing doing so would deviate from the WCC’s historic mission to enhance ecumenical dialogue.

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Posted in Ecumenical Relations, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Military / Armed Forces, Orthodox Church, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(WSJ) Israel’s ‘War Between the Wars’ With Iran Expands Across Middle East

The Israeli military says it has carried out more than 400 airstrikes in Syria and other parts of the Middle East since 2017 as part of a wide-ranging campaign targeting Iran and its allies, offering its fullest picture yet of its undeclared war with Tehran.

Israeli leaders refer to the campaign as the “war between the wars,” which they say is aimed at deterring Iran and weakening Tehran’s ability to hit Israel in the event of an open war between the two regional adversaries.

Israel’s airstrike campaign in Syria has hampered Iran’s military ambitions, military analysts say, but it has also pushed the conflict into other arenas, with both countries now battling at sea, in Iran, and above Israel’s skies.

“It’s not 100% success,” said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who retired last week as head of Israel’s air force, where he served as architect of the campaign. “But without our activity, the situation here might be much more negative.”

Among the targets hit by Israel: Russian-supplied air-defense systems, drone bases operated by Iranian military advisers, and precision-guided missile systems bound for Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Syria

(Church Times) Parishes navigate obstacles to help refugees arriving in UK

Churches across the UK are continuing their efforts to assist refugees from the war in Ukraine.

The latest figures from the United Nations show that almost 4.3 million people have left Ukraine since the outbreak of war. The International Organization for Migration says that 7.1 million are displaced within the country.

In rural North Yorkshire, the Rector of the Whorlton Benefice, the Revd Dr Robert Opala, has been involved in helping several Ukrainian families find sanctuary.

Dr Opala, who is originally from Poland, has been working with the Middlesbrough-based charity Investing in People and Culture, which has facilitated the connections needed for refugees to apply for a visa under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The application process, Dr Opala said, has proved “difficult and complicated”, and has created “a lot of frustration and even anger”.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Military / Armed Forces, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized

(Economist) Fearmongering works. Fans of the truth should fear it

Hungary’s way of life is under attack, if you believe the ruling party. A Jewish billionaire plots to flood the country with a million Muslims. Perverts want to teach its children sexual deviance. The opposition are spoiling for war with Russia. The only way to stay safe is to back Viktor Orban, the prime minister. On April 3rd his party, Fidesz, won roughly half the vote and, thanks to gerrymandering, two-thirds of seats in parliament. Mr Orban called it a triumph for “our brand of Christian democratic, conservative, patriotic politics”. It was actually a victory for the paranoid style.

The threats the regime describes are largely imaginary. Hungarians are free to follow their traditions if they choose. George Soros has no power over their borders. There is no global conspiracy to corrupt Hungarian children. And the fact that the opposition do not share Mr Orban’s admiration for Vladimir Putin does not mean they are warmongers. No matter. Since Mr Orban took office in 2010 he has won control of nearly every significant media outlet. The opposition leader, Peter Marki-Zay, had only five minutes on public television during the campaign—barely enough to introduce himself, let alone dam a river of lies.

Mr Orban’s victory entrenches a corrupt and semi-authoritarian regime in the heart of the European Union, the world’s premier club of liberal democracies.

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Posted in Anthropology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General, Psychology

(NYT front page) The End of the (Pipe)line? Germany Scrambles to Wean Itself Off Russian Gas

Past a nudist beach and a sleepy marina, a gigantic mesh of metallic pipes rises from the pine forest behind the tiny village of Lubmin on Germany’s Baltic coast.

If few people have heard of Lubmin, from Berlin to Washington almost everyone seems to know the name of the two gas pipelines arriving here directly from Russia: Nord Stream 1, which carries almost 60 million cubic meters of natural gas per year to keep Europe’s biggest economy humming. And Nord Stream 2, built to increase that flow but abruptly shuttered in the run-up to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The pair of pipelines has become a twin symbol of Germany’s dangerous dependence on Russian gas — and the country’s belated and frenzied effort to wean itself off it — with calls growing for the European Union to hit Moscow with tougher sanctions as atrocities come to light in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, proposed banning imports of Russian coal and soon, possibly, its oil. But Russian gas — far more critical to Germany and much of the rest of Europe — was off the table. At least for now.

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Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Germany, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

([London] Times) Britain, US and Australia to develop hypersonic weapons and laser defence systems

Britain, the US and Australia will work together on the development of hypersonic weapons and the technology to shoot them down after Russia claimed to have tested the weapons in Ukraine.

The landmark Aukus security pact will be expanded to include co-operation on the advanced high speed weapons, and the sharing of electronic warfare and cyber capabilities.

Hiding key targets and the development of laser weapons, which could disrupt the missile’s flight path, could form part of the plans for anti-hypersonic weaponry, British officials said.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Australia / NZ, England / UK, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Science & Technology

(NYT) Bristling Against the West, China Rallies Domestic Sympathy for Russia

While Russian troops have battered Ukraine, officials in China have been meeting behind closed doors to study a Communist Party-produced documentary that extols President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a hero.

The humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, the video says, was the result of efforts by the United States to destroy its legitimacy. With swelling music and sunny scenes of present-day Moscow, the documentary praises Mr. Putin for restoring Stalin’s standing as a great wartime leader and for renewing patriotic pride in Russia’s past.

To the world, China casts itself as a principled onlooker of the war in Ukraine, not picking sides, simply seeking peace. At home, though, the Chinese Communist Party is pushing a campaign that paints Russia as a long-suffering victim rather than an aggressor and defends China’s strong ties with Moscow as vital.

Chinese universities have organized classes to give students a “correct understanding” of the war, often highlighting Russia’s grievances with the West. Party newspapers have run series of commentaries blaming the United States for the conflict.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Globalization, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(FT Magazine) ‘We packed fast’: those who left Ukraine, in their own words

Anastasia and Sonia arrived from Dnipro in central Ukraine. Hosted by the Świderski family

Anastasia says:
“My sister called me at 6am, February 24, and asked me if I am alive. I was shocked because I didn’t know what was happening at all, I didn’t listen to the news. My daughter was supposed to have a concert in the kindergarten that day, and she’d just woken up. We never watch the news on television, but after she called we turned it on to see what she was talking about. We saw that they started shooting and bombing all over Ukraine. I was shocked and didn’t know how to react. I started crying. We called a relative that has connections with the army and asked what to do, and she said that we have to leave the city.”

Marcin says:
“It was mostly my wife’s initiative [and] when Anastasia came to us, she asked why we are doing this, and it’s hard to explain. It’s something that feels so natural to us. Maybe because of ­historical reasons, that we thought that in the past, as a nation, we were abandoned during the war. So right now we feel this natural solidarity with this other country that is kind of in the same position — that there is an aggressor, and the rest of the world can’t really intervene, or they don’t want to. And I think that this is something that we as Polish people feel quite familiar with . . . There was no calculation. We didn’t even think it through that well.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces, Pastoral Theology, Poland, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine, Violence

(WSJ) Russian Strategy in Ukraine Shifts After Setbacks, and a Lengthy War Looms

Russia’s war on Ukraine shifted gears this week, as Moscow, lacking the strength to pursue rapid offensives on multiple fronts, began pulling back from Kyiv and other cities in the north, and refocused for now on seizing parts of the country’s east.

The pivot, after five weeks of intense fighting, was a gauge of the intensity and effectiveness of Ukrainian resistance and signaled a decision by the Kremlin to pursue what is likely to become a prolonged war of attrition.

Ukraine’s counterattacks—including a helicopter strike inside Russian territory—and Moscow’s redeployment toward Donbas in Ukraine’s east suggest that both sides believe they can win, making it unlikely that peace talks will result in a deal anytime soon.

Russia’s “military and political strategy hasn’t changed, it remains to annihilate Ukraine,” said Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian minister of defense who advises President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. But he said, “Now, their capabilities no longer match their strategic vision.”

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(BBC) Bishop of Coventry wants to retain ties with Volgograd despite twinning pause

The Bishop of Coventry wants the city to retain its link with Volgograd.

Coventry council voted on Tuesday to suspend the city’s 80-year twinning arrangement with the Russian city due to the Ukrainian war, despite an appeal by the Right Reverend Christopher Cocksworth for it to continue.

The bishop said it was important to “draw a distinction between the Putin state and the people of Russia”.

He said he would keep in contact with friends in the Russian city.

The Labour-run council said it was pausing its twinning links “with a heavy heart” until “such a time” they could resume.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Russia, Ukraine, Urban/City Life and Issues

(NYT front page) With Eyes on Russia, the U.S. Military Prepares for an Arctic Future

After parachuting into the frigid Alaska interior, Capt. Weston Iannone and his soldiers navigated miles through deep snow, finally setting up a temporary outpost on a ridgeline next to a grove of lanky spruce trees that were also struggling to survive.

Darkness was setting in, the temperature had fallen below zero, and the 120 men and women who had gathered as part of a major combat training exercise in subarctic Alaska had not yet erected tents. The supply line for fuel, essential to keep warm through the long night ahead, was lagging behind.

“Everything is a challenge, from water, fuel, food, moving people, keeping them comfortable,” said Captain Iannone, the 27-year-old company commander, as his soldiers shoveled deeper into the snow in search of a solid foundation to put up their sleeping quarters. “This is inherent training — understanding how far we can push physically and mentally.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia

(Economist) Ukraine’s foreign minister warns of faltering European resolve

The European Union surprised the world—and itself—with its unified response after Vladimir Putin ordered his tanks into Ukraine on February 24th. Unprecedented sanctions and new security policies swiftly appeared. But as the war grinds into its second month and Russian missiles and shells continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities, European resolve has begun to wane. That is the stark assessment of Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. “What we saw in the beginning of the war was the rise of the European Union as a powerful player that can bring change,” Mr Kuleba told The Economist. “What I see in the last ten days in the European Union is backsliding back to its normality where it cannot decide on strong and swift action.”

Mr Kuleba’s remarks were made on March 22nd by video link from an undisclosed location inside Ukraine. He highlighted two trials facing his country: Russian aggression on one side, and Western hesitancy on the other. The stakes remain as existential as ever, despite Russia’s initial setbacks on the battlefield. Russia’s shelling rings louder than its words. “There is no correlation between diplomatic dynamics and the dynamics on the battlefield,” Mr Kuleba said. Ukraine’s ability to prevail against its larger neighbour rests on three pillars, he argues: Ukrainian stamina, weapons supplies and Western sanctions. “We always realised that there would be no country fighting shoulder to shoulder with us, that it would be the cross that we have to bear. But to help us, countries can do two things: send us necessary weapons and impose sanctions.”

Western sanctions have already made an impact. “Almost every tenth sentence [Russian negotiators] say is about sanctions,” Mr Kuleba said. “It’s a pain for them.” But not yet painful enough. Many of the toughest-seeming measures have turned out to be what the minister calls “half-measures”.

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Posted in Europe, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(WSJ) Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B’

After Russian forces failed to secure a quick victory over Ukraine, senior U.S. officials see signs the Kremlin is shifting to a new strategy to secure key territorial objectives while seeking leverage to compel the Ukrainian government to accept neutrality between Russia and the West.

The U.S. and its allies had widely interpreted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initial objectives to include the seizure of Kyiv in a matter of days, and the replacement of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government with a pro-Russian regime.

None of that has come to pass. A senior U.S. official said indications suggest more than three weeks of grueling combat—in which Ukraine has put up fierce resistance to Russian forces—has prompted Mr. Putin to adjust his tactics.

The new assessment of Mr. Putin’s intentions, which is shared by senior officials within the Biden administration, is to compel Kyiv to accept Russian claims to Ukraine’s southern and eastern territories. Having seized both Crimea and regions of Donbas in 2014, Russia seeks to secure a “land bridge” between western Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, and to expand Russian control of the Donbas region.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Economist) Ukraine fights on–Despite negotiations, there seems to be no end in sight

The war, the dictator insisted, was “going to plan”. If that is his opinion then his minions are keeping him from the truth. According to American defence sources, 10% of Russia’s invasion force has been lost, presumably either killed or wounded. It is shy at least 233 tanks, 32 surface-to-air missile launchers and 41 planes, drones and helicopters, according to Oryx, a blog which tracks such weapons using pictures made public on the internet. On top of that which has been destroyed, a fair bit of workable Russian kit has been captured—much of it towed away gleefully, and on video, by farmers with tractors.

These are severe losses of men and materiel. What is more, they seem to have fallen disproportionately on elite units such as the vdv airborne forces, Spetsnaz special forces and the First Guards Tank Army, an armoured force purportedly both well trained and equipped. British defence intelligence says that these losses are so severe that they have left Russia “struggling to conduct offensive operations”. It has been forced to redeploy forces from its eastern military district (which stretches to Vladivostok), from its Pacific fleet and from Armenia; it is also recruiting Russian and Syrian mercenaries.

This is a high price for what are, as yet, relatively scant gains.

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Nikkei Asia) Czar Vladimir Putin is divorced from reality: Niall Ferguson

These are miscalculations, not signs of madness. They’re the kind of miscalculations you make if you are very divorced from reality, because you lead the life of a czar, in vast — if hideous — palaces, surrounded by people who are terrified of you and tell you what they think you want to hear. If I put myself in Putin’s position, I don’t think he’s trying to resurrect the Soviet Union. He’s looking back even further and trying to bring back the Russian Empire, with himself as “Czar Vladimir.”

It’s an ideology of conservative, orthodox nationalism that Putin offers, that has nothing to do with the Soviet legacy. A lot of people get this wrong.

He has a huge incentive to speed up the defeat of Ukraine, using more brutal methods if that’s what it takes. Because if he doesn’t win, then I think his position at home will become very vulnerable.

If I’m him, the crucial thing now is to achieve victory over Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian army as fast as possible so that we can get to some peace negotiation from a position of strength. In that negotiation, Putin might be willing to make some concessions to get the sanctions reduced or removed.

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Posted in China, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Economist leader) The Stalinisation of Russia–As it sinks in that he cannot win in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is resorting to repression at home

To grasp Mr Putin’s appetite for violence, look at how the war is being fought. Having failed to win a quick victory, Russia is trying to sow panic by starving Ukrainian cities and pounding them blindly. On March 9th it hit a maternity hospital in Mariupol. If Mr Putin is committing war crimes against the fellow Slavs he eulogised in his writings, he is ready to inflict slaughter at home.

And to gauge Mr Putin’s paranoia, imagine how the war ends. Russia has more firepower than Ukraine. It is still making progress, especially in the south. It may yet capture the capital, Kyiv. And yet, even if the war drags on for months, it is hard to see Mr Putin as the victor.

Suppose that Russia manages to impose a new government. Ukrainians are now united against the invader. Mr Putin’s puppet could not rule without an occupation, but Russia does not have the money or the troops to garrison even half of Ukraine. American army doctrine says that to face down an insurgency—in this case, one backed by nato—occupiers need 20 to 25 soldiers per 1,000 people; Russia has a little over four.

If, as the Kremlin may have started to signal, Mr Putin will not impose a puppet government—because he cannot—then he will have to compromise with Ukraine in peace talks. Yet he will struggle to enforce any such agreement. After all, what will he do if post-war Ukraine resumes its Westward drift: invade?

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Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Bloomberg Opinion) Hal Brands–China Placed a Losing Bet on Vladimir Putin

For one thing, Putin’s attack has underscored the financial and technological dominance of the Western world. There is simply no precedent for the speed and severity with which the U.S. and its allies have punished Putin, almost totally isolating Russia from the global economy.

Sanctions are inflicting severe damage on Russia; a stock-market collapse, import problems and a debt default all loom. China is watching from the sidelines as the world’s leading democracies have shown the willingness and ability to pummel international aggressors economically. Although China, with a larger, more diversified, more globally integrated economy, is a far harder target that Russia, Xi must be wondering what economic carnage awaits his country if it attacks Taiwan.

Second, Russian aggression has activated antibodies to Chinese power. Japan, Singapore and Taiwan joined the anti-Putin sanctions team because they worry that unchecked aggression in Europe will tempt Beijing to make moves in the Pacific. If Putin sets a precedent of successful conquest, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has said, “it will have an impact on Asia, as well.”

Warnings that Beijing might use force against Taiwan in the next few years no longer seem so hyperbolic, which means that Putin’s gambit could result in more determined, multilateral containment of China.

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Posted in China, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine