Russian President Vladimir Putin may have used an ultra-long table to protect him from coronavirus, but he might need more than that to protect him from Russia’s hard-line military elite.
When the final leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, died last month, we were reminded of the disastrous 1991 coup by the hard-line elements within his administration.
Claiming Gorbachev was ill, the coup leaders, headed by former vice president Gennady Yanayev, declared a state of emergency and attempted to take control of the government.
Side by side at a press conference, they sat stony faced. They were when asked by reporters what had happened to Gorbachev, and why tanks were rolling through Moscow on the way to the White House.
“He’s very tired, he needs rest” was the line fed to non-believing Russian journalists, who for the first time, had the taste of press freedom within their grasp.
“Very tired” or very detained? In Russia, the difference between in power, or out, is only determined by the strength of the person who pushes the hardest.
Push or be pushed
In recent months, Russia’s business elite have had a shocking habit of falling out of windows and finding other sudden yet creative ways to die.
Ravil Maganov was the chairman of Russia’s second largest oil producer, Lukoil. He died after falling from a hospital window in Moscow – the latest in a series of businessmen who suddenly… died.
Journalists who asked questions to police were referred to the state Investigative Committee, who of course never return calls.
At least six other Russian businessmen, mostly tied to the energy industry, died suddenly in unclear circumstances over the last few months.
The only thing they had in common was their suspected wavering loyalty to Vladimir Putin.
Unusually among Russian companies, Lukoil had taken a public stand against Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
On March 3, the company’s board of directors expressed concern over the “tragic events” in Ukraine and called for an end to the conflict.
Power is everything
Inside the Kremlin, power is key. It’s not a place for losers. Eat or be eaten. Push, or be pushed.
Putin took the military risk of his life in February, when he sent his troops to Ukraine for a “special operation”. After an easy win in Crimea back in 2014, a divided west and European Union, and a (former) British Prime Minister who was busy unsuccessfully holding on to power after defending his covid-parties, February seemed the perfect time to bring the country in a fabulous Soviet pastime – invading the neighbours.
But Ukraine did not fall. Kyiv did not fall. And the “drug addicted” leadership in Ukraine, led by former actor Volodymyr Zelensky, turned out to be a more resilient and even more handsome opponent than Putin had anticipated.
Putin may go for shirtless horse rides, but Zelensky looks like an in the trenches leader, with that wife. You just want him to win.
Everywhere you look, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster, pushing it towards further isolation. Yes, it has friends in low moral places, from China to North Korea, and flip flopping nations like Turkey and India that are reliant on its cheap military hardware – they have their own problems.
Remember the 40 mile column that was snaking its way towards Kyiv? Or the 400 mercenaries sent to kill Zelensky?
Granted, it’s hard to know exactly what IS happening across Ukraine, as Kyiv’s military propaganda is disturbingly good. Journalists aren’t allowed to report from the front line, and the narrative is firmly being dictated from Ukraine’s side.
Which is a huge problem for Vladimir Putin. While Russian troops may have had no idea why they were crossing the border to fight their brothers, back home in Moscow, the message is out that Putin’s war is failing, no matter how hard the Kremlin suppresses the media in Russia.
Russians are world experts at reading between the lines.
Who’s to blame?
Russian hard line military leaders are blaming the Kremlin for the embarrassing failure, and these guys don’t mess around.
There are two things that every Russian man is born with – a lifelong live of vodka, and a world-leading sense of pride.
Russia is a proud country, proud of its victory over the Nazis, proud of its history, even though no one can exactly agree on what that is.
Control the narrative
Which makes Putin’s failure in Ukraine a disaster for him.
He may be riding high in the polls, but in Russia, you can never believe the polls. Honesty does not live freely in Russia.
So how does this all end? Russian troops are said to be withdrawing from the Kharkiv region at record pace, commandeering anything with wheels to roll back to the other side of the border.
The West has known all along it cant afford to humiliate Putin, despite how much it might like to. The man still has the ability to kickstart proceedings that would lead to a long nuclear winter.
Putin himself seems so scared of assassination that he couldn’t even attend Gorbachev’s funeral (among a number of reasons I’m sure).
Don’t drink the tea
Russia’s military commanders must be furious, and asking some tough questions. Why were their soldiers sent to Ukraine in such a bad state? Some don’t have any food, or water, or blankets, so they don’t sleep. Morale is disastrously low. I mean, how good can you feel when a mobile crematorium is parked outside your tent?
What happened to all the money that’s been spent on military infrastructure and war-time logistics?
Why are they fighting with weapons that date back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? What on earth happened to Russia’s prized Air Force? Where have they been?
Why is Russia now having to ask its neighbours for Soviet-era weapons to keep fighting?
At first, many believed that Putin was playing 4D chess. Setting up Trump, creating RT to confuse with a propaganda war, dividing Europe, cuddling up to China.
Putin isn’t playing chess at all. He’s playing Scrabble. No agenda, no strategy. Just making up words as he tried to defend the war.
But Scrabble sounds like the perfect game to play when you’re under house arrest.
Something has to give. The business community has so far found that criticising Putin’s war finds you too close to an open window on a 20 storey building.
But will Putin have the luck silencing the hard-line military commanders?
Watered down meetings for Pacific leaders
Solomon Islands Prime Minster concludes his second overseas trip in a week as strategic competition heightens
It’s hard to believe a time when leaders from the Pacific jumped on board their emissions-spurting jets to meet with the U.S. President.
But last week 12 leaders from across the Pacific gathered in Washington to meet with President Joe Biden in the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit.
“We honoured the history and values that our nations share and expanded our cooperation on key areas that will benefit our people for years to come,” President Biden said.
What was the meeting about?
Leaders from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia were among the guests at the summit.
They discussed maritime security, climate change, and economic development.
Of course, climate change is a crucial issue for these Pacific Island states, many of which are low-lying and vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures and sea levels.
These countries are already experiencing higher temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels.
There are also long-term climate variables, which are expected to occur in the future.
The U.S. believes the summit was a platform to “reaffirm its commitment to the Pacific region” and “strengthen its relationships”.
But it was only a matter of time before the climate guise was dropped.
Security is the key word here, because President Biden’s definition of this, may differ from the low-lying states of the Pacific.
Why was it important?
One word: China. When Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi blitzed through 10 Pacific countries earlier in the year, he had a big deal on his mind: a regional security pact.
“China practices the diplomatic principle of equality among all countries,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The Pacific sensationally declined to sign up to the sweeping deal, which included greater economic and security ties.
Wang said the Pacific region should not to be “too anxious” about Beijing’s intentions.
“China is not a newcomer, but rather an old friend with Pacific Island countries,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Solomon Islands is the key example here, especially after Prime Minster Manasseh Sogavare’s stance on the Declaration following last week’s U.S.-Pacific Partnership.
Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele said he watered down the initial language because it “put us in a position where we’d have to choose sides”.
He added there were “indirect” references to China, however, officials later found “common ground” and Solomon Islands signed up.
It’s no surprise Sogavare was then seen standing next to President Joe Biden for the official photo at last week’s Washington Summit. Fiji’s leader Frank Bainimarama was also strategically on the other side.
It was the first time in 40 years where a Fijian Prime Minister had an official audience with the U.S. President.
Why is Solomon Islands at the centre of this?
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare met with Australia’s leader Anthony Albanese in Canberra today, where the pair reiterated their relationship as “proud Pacific nations”.
Australia remains Solomon Islands’ largest development partner. But Sogavare’s state visit largely remained behind closed doors, with no media opportunities scheduled.
Prime Minister Sogavare welcomed Australia’s $16.68 million commitment to support the 2023 Pacific Games, and offer to support the next Solomon Islands’ election—an issue where earlier friction was caused.
Sogavare’s visit was part of Canberra’s plan to reduce friction between the two nation.
Earlier this year, Honiara signed a security alliance with Beijing. It stirred a diplomatic pot over concerns a Chinese military base could be established on the island nation.
Australia’s then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked for greater transparency over the deal.
But Sogavare lashed out at Australian officials in his nation’s parliament, asking where the same transparency was over the AUKUS alliance between Australia, Britain and the U.S.
The recent Washington summit was the perfect opportunity for President Biden to roll out the red carpet and discuss his administration’s plans for the Indo-Pacific region.
On the other hand, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “will keep in close communication with all parties” and “make good use of the mechanism of China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers’ Meeting”.
How close to a full scale nuclear war are we really?
Since President Vladimir Putin’s latest warning that he is ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia, the question of whether or not the former KGB spy is bluffing has become much more urgent.
There are several reasons why Putin’s nuclear warnings have the West worried. First, Russia has been increasingly aggressive in its actions in recent years, from annexing Crimea to intervening in Syria. This has led to a feeling that Putin is becoming more and more reckless and unpredictable.
Second, Russia has been beefing up its nuclear arsenal, with reports indicating that it now has more nuclear warheads than any other country in the world. This increase in firepower makes Putin’s threats all the more credible.
Last but not least, there is the fact that Putin is a former KGB agent. This means that he is no stranger to playing games of brinkmanship and bluffing. In the past, he has used nuclear threats as a way to get what he wants. For example, in 2008, he threatened to aim nuclear missiles at European cities unless the United States agreed to drop plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
The West is worried
Given all of this, it’s no wonder that Putin’s latest nuclear threats have the West worried. Only Putin knows if he is actually bluffing, but given his track record, it’s certainly a possibility.
If a nuclear weapon were used in Ukraine, it would cause a massive humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of people would be killed or wounded, and millions more would be displaced. The economic and social damage would be enormous, and Europe would be plunged into chaos.
In addition, the use of nuclear weapons would also have devastating consequences for the rest of the world. The nuclear non-proliferation regime would be dealt a serious blow, and there would be a renewed risk of nuclear war.
The world would become a much more dangerous place.
A nuclear explosion in Ukraine would have a regional impact, but it could also have global consequences. The use of nuclear weapons would violate the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and this could lead to other countries acquiring nuclear weapons. In addition, the risk of nuclear war would increase, and this would have a negative impact on the entire world.
The UN has condemned Russia’s threats of nuclear war, and it has called on all parties to refrain from any actions that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. The UN Secretary-General has said that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and he has urged all sides to return to the negotiating table.
Russia has several allies in its war against Ukraine. These include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Russia also has the support of China and Iran.
The war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on energy prices.
Due to the conflict, there has been a disruption in the supply of natural gas and oil from Ukraine. This has led to an increase in prices for these commodities.
The West can only threaten Putin further, as they’ve done all year, since President Biden warned that Russia was about to invade Ukraine.
Every step of the way, Putin has done exactly what the West has feared.
“These are the guys?” Putin’s Dad’s army
Vladimir Putin’s army is in a bit of a pickle. They’ve been drafting retirees, and telling conscripts to use tampons for bullet wounds.
This isn’t exactly the most impressive fighting force we’ve ever seen. In fact, they look more like dad’s army than anything else.
It’s clear that Putin is desperate to beef up his forces, but it seems like he’s just throwing bodies at the problem instead of actually preparing them for battle.
Pictures from Sevastopol in Crimea show groups of men — many well into their 50s and 60s gripping weapons and wearing uniforms.
Several appear in questionable fighting shape.
This could be a big problem for Russia if they actually get into a serious conflict. We hope for their sake that they never have to find out.
Thousands of Russian men are fleeing the country to avoid conscription. This just goes to show how unpopular Putin’s policies are, even among his own people.
The Kremlin is now trying to catch thousands of Russian men as they try and leave the country. But it’s not going to be easy.
Many of these men are willing to risk everything to avoid being drafted into Putin’s army.
It’s estimated that up to 100,000 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine since the conflict began.
This is a huge loss of life for Russia, and it’s all thanks to Putin’s reckless policies.
Many of these soldiers were just boys, barely out of their teens. They had their whole lives ahead of them, but they’ll never get to experience it now.
It’s tragic, and it’s all thanks to Putin. He needs to be stopped.
At the same time, a video shared on social media shows a Russian officer telling new recruits what to expect.
“I say right away if you are near the fire, you are f***ed,” she says, before reeling off a list of items they will need to acquire themselves before entering the war zone.
“Take sleeping bags with you, you will sleep where you have to.”
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