This Week's Topics:
Russia-Ukraine Update: Possible Chemical Weapons Use
Ukraine Set to Join E.U.
Finland and Sweden on Track for NATO Membership
Russia Warns of Major Conflict with U.S.
French Election Update
Sudan Faces Collapse
Israel and Palestinian Conflict
Pakistan Ousts Prime Minister
Recent Air Force Simulation Predicts Chinese Victory
History's Mysteries: Oleg Gordievsky
Russia-Ukraine Update- Possible Chemical Weapons Use:
What is the Russia Ukraine Update?
The word out of Mariupol is that Russian forces have used chemical weapons against civilians. It was reported in a Telegram post by the Azov Battalion. They have been heavily involved in the fighting in Mariupol and posted that Russian forces had dropped "a poisonous substance of unknown origin" during a drone attack on the city's largest metals plant.
Has any of that reporting been confirmed?
No reputable journalist or neutral individual on the ground in Mariupol have been able to confirm the attack. On Tuesday this week, pro-Russian separatist forces in Donetsk denied carrying out the attack. Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister said the government was investigating the allegations, and they added that early assumptions suggested phosphorous ammunition had been used.
Would the use of phosphorous weapons even be considered a Chemical attack?
The Chemical Weapons Convention does not classify phosphorus as a chemical weapon. However, using it as an incendiary weapon near civilians would be illegal. It would also be another notch on the war crimes belt for President Putin.
Ukraine Set to Join the E.U.:
Does this get Ukraine any closer to NATO membership?
It appears the Ukrainian government is not happy with how NATO has conducted itself during the invasion. The biggest disagreement centers on the "No Fly Zone" that has still not happened over Ukraine. NATO views a "No Fly Zone" as an escalation of war with Russia and are not ready to make that call.
You mentioned that Ukraine is set to join the European Union. What would be the benefit there?
First, it sends a clear message to Russia that Ukraine has no intentions of surrendering its independence and sees itself as part of Europe going forward. Ukraine will also benefit from the political support and solidarity of E.U. member states. This can only help boost morale during the invasion and remind Ukrainians what they are fighting for.
So will they be fast tracked into the EU?
There has been some waffling back and forth as the E.U. leadership met in Versailles recently. They rejected the plea by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to quickly accept Ukraine into the E.U. as the war with Russia continues. The accession process normally takes years or even decades, with the candidate nation required to meet a number of EU-set criteria.
Earlier this week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and an E.U. delegation traveled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on the first trip by senior European Commission officials since Russia's invasion started. She presented Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with paperwork for his country to join the European Union.
The E.U. President also stated, “We stand ready to support you in filling out this questionnaire. It will not be, as usual, a matter of years, but rather a matter of weeks," to complete this step.
How does the process work now that Ukraine has the paperwork?
The paperwork is a questionnaire that forms the basis of an opinion that gets passed on to the European Council. That paperwork will be submitted to the council this summer where they can vote to fast track Ukraine.
Will they be fast tracked like the EU President stated?
Honestly, I cannot see that happening right now because the process will be stalled by bureaucracy within the European Union.
Finland and Sweden on Track for NATO Membership:
Where do Finland and Sweden stand with joining NATO?
The two countries are very close to being approved as members of NATO. They took a major step towards joining NATO this week after their prime ministers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s security landscape and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.
Russia has warned both countries against joining NATO and would see any such move as a provocation. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, has said that if Finland and Sweden entered NATO, Russia would have to “rebalance the situation” with its own measures.
What could Russia do to “rebalance the situation?"
They would form their own alliances and plan to attack one, if not both of those countries with the backing of nations like Belarus, China, Iran, and various other pro-Soviet countries. At that point the balance will have shifted from debate on NATO’s role in the world to war within the borders of Europe. This is quite a defining moment in history.
Russia Warns of Major Conflict with U.S.:
Would that include the United States?
Between President Biden not backing down from his statements on genocide in Ukraine, and Russia warning of a major conflict with the U.S.; I do not see a scenario where the United States would sit out for any if war is declared in Europe. Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said that the U.S. is provoking Russia and said, "We warn that such actions are dangerous. They can lead the U.S. and the Russian Federation onto the path of direct military confrontation."
Why was the genocide comment so polarizing?
Most countries, like France, consider the news coming out of Washington, D.C., as dangerous and an escalation in rhetoric. NATO countries still want to remain out of at war with Russia. They view Biden’s comments as unhelpful. Ukrainian President Zelensky, however, praised Biden’s comments as he has called Russian aggression towards Ukrainian civilians genocide.
French Election Update:
Let’s talk about the French elections and whether the outcome of that election will improve relations.
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen were the top two candidates. However, there was a strong push made by the Left Party in France to push their candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon into the next round of voting. That did not happen; so we have the liberal Emmanuel Macron vs the right-wing Marine Le Pen.
And if Macron wins?
France stays status quo. They denounce Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine, but they offer little in regards to boots on the ground in Ukraine to help push back against the Russians. But if Marine Le Pen, who is polling only 2 percentage points behind Macron, were to win it could offer a dramatic change of foreign policy in France.
This week Le Pen stated that if she were to win the election, she would withdraw France from NATO. Once the war in Ukraine has been completed with a peace treaty, she would force NATO into closer relations with Russia. Le Pen is trying to straddle the fence between her support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and her domestic programs that could possibly win the election. Russia is not necessarily the most popular country right now.
Sudan Faces Collapse:
So what is happening in Sudan?
It has been a tough year for the African nation. Two separate coups have left the country in economic collapse, and its people are outraged. The country has been cut-off from billions in foreign assistance, so the military led government is raising prices and taxes on everything from healthcare to cooking gas. These increases have infuriated citizens.
In 2019 Omar al-Bashir was ousted as the leader of Sudan, and a power-sharing agreement was struck between the military and civilians. This lasted until an October 2021 coup ended that relationship. Now, with dwindling resources and teetering on the brink of economic collapse, Sudanese leaders traveled to Moscow to request help from the Russian government.
Isn’t Russia having their own little economic crisis? They certainly are. However, a blockade of Port Sudan prior to the coup and barricades along a trade route with Egypt have restricted exports of goods such as sesame seeds, peanuts, and cotton. That would help bring in badly needed cashflow. Sudan could request to purchase Russian products like oil and natural gas at a steep discount in order to subdue rising prices. The government could also find buyers for their products from Russia. The Russian government is looking to alleviate the dire situation that sanctions have put on the country. It is a precarious situation to put Sudan in as any perceived alliance with Russia could make NATO countries levy sanctions on the already very poor country.
Isreal and Palestinian Conflict:
Any updates on the Israeli--Palestinian conflict?
Multiple Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli police in various incidents this week. Israeli police have justified the killings as self-defense. However, Palestinians have called for an inquiry into the killings, and The European Union’s diplomatic mission to the Palestinian territory accused Israel of using unacceptable excessive force in fatally shooting the unarmed woman.
What is the opinion coming out of the Jewish occupied areas in the region?
It is such a nuanced geopolitical situation. Israelis consider Palestinian hatred for the Jewish state as the root cause of violence; while Palestinians express their desire to be treated as equals within the region. There will be no quick fix to the conflict here, and violence will ramp up before a resolution is even considered. That is just the politics of the region.
Pakistan Ousts Prime Minister:
Do you have an update on what is going on in Pakistan?
I certainly do. Pakistan's parliament ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan with a vote of no confidence this week. This was after a previous vote of no confidence last week was denied by Khan’s supporters in parliament. The debate over a no confidence vote was so intense that at one point, a prisoner van was parked in front of parliament in anticipation of Khan’s arrest.
Ahead of the vote, Khan repeatedly accused the United States of plotting to overthrow him and said he would not accept an "imported government" if he lost the vote. The U.S. has denied Khan's claims. This week, Pakistan's parliament elected Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to replace Khan.
With the change in leadership, what are the top agenda items for the new prime minister?
With inflation rising, the first agenda item is fixing the economy. This is followed by improving relations with ally countries. It will not be an easy task for the new prime minister. The cost of basic necessities such as food and fuel are skyrocketing, and the government's foreign exchange reserves are fast depleting.
Recent Air Force Simulation Predicts Chinese Victory:
You said an Air Force simulation predicted China would win in a war against the U.S. Can you please elaborate on that?
Sure. This week, the U.S. Air Force released details about this past fall’s war gaming effort where pyrrhic success led to extreme loss of life and equipment. It also was able to prevent a total takeover of Taiwan by confining Chinese forces to a single area.
Why would the Air Force announce a loss against China?
The equipment being used during the war game were theoretical pieces of equipment because many key technologies featured during the exercise are not in production or even planned for development by the service.
Why even war game with items that are not even in development?
Ultimately, it is a funding issue. It gives the Air Force an opportunity to see where they are lacking in technologies so they can bring that to Congress. With the information from the war game, Congress could fund those new technologies.
The military can then use that funding to improve its overall capabilities. With those improved capabilities, the U.S. would theoretically stand a much better chance of defeating China in the very real possibility they invade Taiwan.
So the war game actually has two benefits: getting a sense of how the war would play out and also providing the U.S. government with its military’s shortcomings.
Exactly. It is not just about winning and losing. It is about how military leaders will react in conflict, and also how the U.S. military’s equipment would hold up against an adversary’s defense. So, as of right now it does not look good if China invades Taiwan. But this month the Air Force will send its first spending request to the Biden administration. I’d bet they will get everything they ask for with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
History's Mysteries: Oleg Gordievsky:
Who is this week's historical figure?
This week, we will discuss Oleg Antonovich Gordievsky. He is a former colonel of the KGB who became a bureau chief in London. He was also a double agent who provided information to the British MI6 from 1974 to 1985.
Gordievsky joined the Foreign Service and was sent to East Berlin in August 1961--just before the erection of the Berlin Wall. The building of the wall appalled him, and he became disillusioned with the Soviet system. After spending a year in Berlin, he returned to Moscow. He joined the KGB in 1963 and was sent to the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen in 1966. He became outraged by the Soviets crushing of the Prague Spring reform movement in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Because of this, he began sending covert signals to Danish and British intelligence agents and agencies that he might be willing to cooperate with them.
Can you elaborate on the Prague Spring?
It was a mass protest in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic that began on 5 January 1968, and continued until 21 August 1968. This is when the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact members invaded the country to suppress the reforms.
So was he upset with the way the Soviet Union handled the protests?
Exactly. So In 1974, he agreed to pass secrets to MI6. He then learned to speak English and lobbied heavily for a position that opened up in London. So the KGB posted him in London in June 1982. He was quickly recalled to Moscow and feared for his life, but the U.K. put plans together to exfiltrate him from Moscow if his life were to be in danger or if he were to be arrested.
Did he get arrested, or did he escape?
On July 19, 1985, Gordievsky went for his morning jog, but he instead managed to evade his KGB tails and boarded a train to Vyborg--near the Finnish border--where he was met by British embassy cars. They managed to lose the three KGB surveillance cars following them. The escape plan was code-named "Operation Pimlico," and the British agents stuffed Oleg in the trunk of a Ford Sierra sedan. They then made it across the border to safety.
Is he still alive?
He certainly is. However, there have been a few attempts at poisoning him. Gordievsky lived for years in a "safe house" in London with extremely tight security.
What contributions did his information make in the world of geopolitics?
Two of Gordievsky's most important contributions were averting a potential nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, when a NATO exercise was misinterpreted by the Soviets as a potential first strike, and identifying Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet heir-apparent long before he came to power. The information passed on by Gordievsky became the first proof of how worried the Soviet leadership had become about the possibility of a NATO nuclear first strike.
A pretty fitting history’s mysteries for where we are in 2022.
History really does repeat itself. We can see that the Soviet Union was concerned all those years ago about a nuclear capable NATO alliance. The concern remains in modern day Russia.
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