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Ukraine: Fixing a Broken Country

by John Brian Shannon

HISTORY:

As far back as the early 1980’s the ‘Donbas region’ of Ukraine was a hotbed of separatist sentiment and was mostly ignored by the former Soviet Union although it was occasionally useful for Moscow to support the separatists to better control successive independent-leaning Ukrainian governments.

Over decades of time, this situation evolved so that whenever Luhansk or Donetsk separatists pushed their agenda in Ukraine too far, Ukrainian governments simply called Moscow to assist by delivering a military-style thrashing to the Donbas separatists, effectively ending further protests, demonstrations, or separatist leaders speaking on either Ukrainian TV or Donbas television or radio stations (and sometimes, illegal Donbas radio stations).

It was such a small matter that Western policymakers criticised Soviet actions in the Donbas region less than once per decade. Nobody cared because eastern Ukraine was one of the least important places on planet Earth from 1945-onward.


MAJOR AIRLINE CORRIDOR PASSES RIGHT OVER DONBAS REGION:

In the 1990’s, the airspace above Ukraine suddenly became useful for transcontinental airlines which were able to shave hundreds of miles from their route when travelling from Europe to the burgeoning Middle East, India, anywhere along the refurbished Silk Road route (China’s One Belt-One Road route, first proposed by former President of China Hu Jintao in 1999) and Australia.

This huge surge of tourism created virtual traffic jams in the skies over eastern Ukraine — home of the Donbas separatists.

Airlines saved millions of dollars of fuel per year by taking the Ukrainian route to and from the Middle East, India and Western Australia. But the separatists were wary of such overflights. In fact, there were a number of aircraft shootdowns in the skies over Donbas since 1998, although the separatists were never directly implicated in these incidents.

NOTE: Since the Russian Army commenced hostilities with a view to complete occupation of the Donbas region on February 24, 2022, the world’s airlines have taken care to stay away from Ukraine as you might expect.


WHAT DOES EVERYONE WANT?


Russian president Vladimir Putin just didn’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to attack eastern Ukraine.

It seems that the Russians have become uncomfortable with a separatist region located near their southern underbelly. Several strategic Russian cities and military bases (including Russia’s largest and most secret nuclear airbase) are located within 600-miles from Luhansk, Ukraine = less than 30-minutes flight time for a western fighter jet.

You can be assured that more than any other security issue Russian generals face, it’s that nightmare that keeps them awake at night.

With increasing talk of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, and the broken promise by Western countries to not invite the Baltic republics to join NATO (at the end of the Cold War in 1990, Western politicians agreed with Russia that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania wouldn’t join NATO for 50-years) it looks like the Russian president decided that the West intended to again act in bad faith.

Op-Ed: Russia’s got a point: The U.S. broke a NATO promise (LA Times)


The EU leadership doesn’t want all of Ukraine:

1: Ukraine has always been an economic black hole — as far back as Peter the Great — and every year since, the country has been a drain on Russian and later, Soviet finances. Even since Ukraine won their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 it can barely afford to exist. It’s a ruggedly beautiful and harsh land, populated with durable people who somehow manage to grow millions of tons of hardy wheat, barley, and sunflowers every year. But not as profitably as the United States or Canada.

2: For it’s part, the EU doesn’t want to inherit a troubled eastern Ukraine that borders Russia’s most strategic region. If the EU were to attempt to solve the problem of the Ukrainian breakaway republics it would carry huge geostrategic implications for the EU-Russia relationship. And the EU would find themselves at a distinct disadvantage should the Ukrainian separatist republics call Moscow for military assistance. Never in history would a major power have willingly walked into such an obvious and well-laid trap. No way at all for the EU to win, even if the American military were to offer significant help.

Which is why the EU seems to be passively watching the convulsions in the Donbas while trying to provide maximum humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the conflict zone.

Eventually, Russia will fully occupy and control the Donbas region and those republics will simply and quietly become part of Russia and the remainder of Ukraine will join the EU.

And because the strategic eastern portions of Ukraine would by then belong to Russia, any future Russian president would see little remaining threat to whatever happens to be left of Ukraine, joining NATO.


The US and Canada don’t want to get involved in another shooting war in Europe:

Neither country wants a war with Russia, especially over two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine, nor will they offer anything more than moral support to Ukraine, to the EU, or to NATO, combined with humanitarian support for the millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Let’s hope that North America’s greatest contribution will come in the form of humanitarian assistance by accepting Ukrainian refugees into their countries with easy entry requirements.

Other than the fact that eastern Ukraine was a useful flyover route for European and Middle Eastern airlines, there’s nothing in Ukraine of any real value to US or Canadian investors — no oil, no natural gas, no mining. It’s mountainous, swampy, brutally cold in winter, and the land there is only useful to those willing to engage in subsistence farming or timber production.

Why Donbas is at the heart of the Ukraine crisis (CNN)


Vlad Putin wants the Donbas region; The EU wants the rest of Ukraine to join the EU; And North America is playing along:

The only factors then are time (because, given enough time these three goals will reach a point of convergence) and the unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Russia, the European Union, and North America need to dramatically ramp-up their response to those negatively affected by Russia’s military action in eastern Ukraine.

Each of these blocs must immediately begin to offer expedited travel and immigration arrangements to a people that are simply and profoundly victims of geography and circumstance. They’ve done nothing to deserve what’s happening to them and it’s up to Western countries do the right thing.

And so far, the response by these three blocs has been underwhelming.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing a war they didn’t start or want, deserve a Western response orders of magnitude better than they’ve experienced to date.

Three Ways the UK Can Be Part of the COP26 Solution Instead of Part of the (CO2) Problem

First, we need to decide if we’re actually going to do something about rising CO2 levels, increased air pollution and rising sea-levels, or whether we’re on another junket to a UN Climate Change Conference.

See: UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, October 31 through November 1, 2021.

Once we’ve decided that, we’re in a better position to decide if this conference is the one that will save humanity (from itself) or whether we must wait for a future COP summit to make concrete progress toward clean air in cities, lower pollution levels generally, and decreased sea-level rise.


At Present, We’re On Track to Lose This Fight

It’s being widely reported by major media outlets that even if every government on Earth kept it’s best CO2 reduction promises, we’d still be far below meeting our CO2 reduction targets… by such a large margin that instead of limiting global warming to +1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, we’d actually experience a global warming of +3ºC by 2050.

That is not acceptable.

Widespread crop failures due to agricultural drought (in some areas) massive flooding (in other areas) a huge uptick in wildlife die-offs, millions of square miles of low-lying land lost to the sea forever, and catastrophic consequences for human life would be the result of missing our 2015 Paris Agreement targets.

And if we end up in such a situation, we’ll have no one to blame except the politicians of today… for it is their job to create legislation and regulation, have them passed into law, and see that those regulations are enforced.

It isn’t the responsibility of hockey players, nor is it the responsibility of bus drivers, waitresses, fast food workers, airline pilots or English literature professors to do this — it’s the responsibility of politicians to protect us from the poor policies of previous politicians.


Is Climate Change ‘Too Big’ a File to Leave to Politicians?

Well, don’t look now, but yes, it is ‘too big a problem’ to leave to politicians if past experience is to guide us.

Yet, there have been signs of excellence in some jurisdictions.

California, for one, which used to have the worst air pollution in the United States along with astronomical respiratory related healthcare costs, is now among the best in the world in advanced clean air policy.

The beautiful country of Norway is another shining example that sources almost 100% of its electrical power from renewable energy and is a place where 40% of new cars sold are electric vehicles, and by 2025, petrol-engined cars won’t be available for sale. Existing petrol and diesel-engined cars will still be legal to own and drive in Norway, but you won’t be able to buy or import a new diesel or petrol-engined car in Norway. And the sky didn’t fall, Norway’s economy didn’t crumble, and life continues a.

There are other stellar examples in the world of farsighted environmental policy by governments, but not enough.

But California, Norway and others have proven that it is possible to reduce vehicle emissions and switch to renewable energy at the same time — and both enjoy robust economies — so don’t even try that argument.

Switching to a green economy does cost money, but saves more money than it costs over the medium and long term.


Three Concrete Ways the UK Could Take Real Action Against Climate Change:

  1. END ALL ENERGY SUBSIDIES. People who receive subsidized energy use more energy. Obviously. Lowering energy wastage is the best way to lower consumption. Whether petrol or diesel motor fuel subsidies, utility company subsidies, or other energy subsidies — ALL SUBSIDIES = MORE ENERGY USAGE/WASTAGE/CONSUMPTION/DEMAND. Therefore, even renewable energy subsidies, yes, even renewable energy subsidies, must be discontinued in order to lessen total demand. When you lessen demand, you meet your clean air and CO2 targets.
  2. SWITCH ALL MOTOR AND AIRCRAFT FUELS TO BIOFUEL BY 2025. Biofuel burns 80 per cent cleaner than conventional petroleum fuel in cars, light trucks and semi-trailer transport trucks. Even moreso in jet aircraft engines, as Boeing, Etihad Airlines, Virgin Air, Alaska Air and the US Navy have proven beyond any doubt. Those jets burn 94 per cent cleaner compared to conventional kerosene fuel and they have a lighter maintenance schedule because they don’t produce as much soot in the combustion process. When you burn clean biofuel, you meet your clean air and CO2 targets.
  3. LEGISLATE THAT ALL CARS, TRUCKS AND SEMI TRUCKS BE POWERED BY ELECTRICITY BY 2025, AS NORWAY HAS DONE. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV’s) are wildly popular with those who own them, they require far less maintenance, they’re more reliable, they don’t pollute, and batteries will become about as recyclable as petrol engines are at the moment. And you can charge BEV’s at home from an ordinary wall socket. Plus, they have astounding acceleration from a standing start. And no noise. If you like peace and quiet, you’ll love electric vehicles. When you drive EV’s, you meet your clean air and CO2 targets.

It is important to state that by utilizing any one of those above three choices, the UK
(or any country) would meet its Paris CO2 emission reduction targets.


The Time for ‘Kicking the Can Down the Road’ is Long Past

Now is the time for real and concrete action designed to meet all of our clean air and CO2 targets.

There can be no excuse at this late date for inaction or tepid moves toward clean air/CO2 emission reduction, or people (voters) will become convinced that climate change/clean air targets/CO2 emission targets/sea-level prevention problems are ‘too big’ for mere politicians to solve, and at that point, politicians will increasingly find themselves disrespected and marginalized in every future decision-making process!


Save Our Planet or Leave!

So, by not solving the climate crisis now, today’s political leaders will become even more irrelevant to their citizens than at present.

In contrast, by solving the climate crisis now when it matters, it means that policymakers will help to create a less toxic environment for people and wildlife, help to reduce the incidences of floods, droughts, pestilence, a loss of biodiversity, and will help to lower healthcare costs and taper the mind-blowing financial costs associated with countering sea-level rise… and for politicians, it means saving their profession from contempt and eventual marginalization.

by John Brian Shannon

Why Haven’t We Helped Rebuild Beirut?

One year ago, a massive blast destroyed part of the city of Beirut and levelled its port facilities.

Since then, Beirut has cleaned up much of the debris field extant in the aftermath of the catastrophic explosion which claimed 218 lives, injured 6,500, and the country has suffered widespread political and economic instability.

Not much rebuilding has occurred within the blast zone, but repairs to buildings are progressing as homeowners and business owners can afford to do so with their own limited funds. Very minimal Lebanese government assistance has been made available to those affected by the disaster.

One bright spot is that Lebanon got a new Prime Minister last week — which means that if reconstruction can be directly and efficiently stimulated at this important moment — that in itself will assist political stability in the country.

Lebanon: Billionaire Najib Mikati named new prime minister-designate (Al Jazeera)


Timing is Everything

Especially where disasters are concerned — whether natural or human-caused — there exists a short window of opportunity where assistance can (when it arrives on time) act as an economic multiplier in the local economy, compared to the same amount of assistance (monetary value) arriving later in the crisis which isn’t appreciated as much as early aid.

Now that most of the rubble has been cleared, now that inspection of the site is no longer required by investigators, now that the country has appointed a new Prime Minister (who is also a former Lebanese Prime Minister) now is the time for the UK to lead Western nations in sending exactly the kind of aid that Beirut needs, in a timely fashion, to help the long-suffering Lebanese people rebuild their damaged city and its demolished port facilities.


Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

Sending ‘too little, too late’ isn’t the way a Top Ten country should comport itself at any time — let alone when now is the optimum time to respond. For if such countries don’t lead at troubled times, they don’t deserve their high place in the world.

To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)


What Should the UK do?

Lead. Plain and simple.

UK leaders must respond to the newly changed political situation in Lebanon as a Top Ten economy should.

This could be as simple as sending one aid ship per week to Lebanon for the next 12-months.

What should the first shipment include? Obviously, the world is still in the middle of a pandemic, and therefore, PPE and COVAX vaccines should be made available to the people of Lebanon as they’re dealing with the same COVID-19 (and variants) as everyone else, and they’re still dealing with the aftermath of an apocalyptic explosion.

So, the next time you catch yourself bemoaning having to wear a mask in public, remind yourself that Lebanese people had half of their country’s most important city blown up a year ago, it’s still blown up, and they must still wear masks in public. Now that’s something to complain about! Having to wear a mask to the office isn’t.

The second shipment might need to be drinking water, or fuel, or maybe some excavating equipment so that Beirut workers can do some quick repair work on its port facilities to ensure foreign aid arriving in ships can be efficiently unloaded and goods directed to the appropriate organizations.

Whatever the people of Beirut need on a week-to-week basis; It should be our sincere pleasure to send it.


How to Pay for It

There’s no need for the UK government to consider raising taxes to pay for weekly aid shipments to Beirut for the next year as the government has already set aside .7% of GDP to spend on its annual Foreign Aid budget.

The UK can spend that .7% of GDP anywhere in the world and it makes sense to help Lebanon at this pivotal time and the disaster in Beirut should become the UK government’s highest foreign aid priority over the next 12-months.

Instead of the risk attached to sending huge sums of money as foreign aid that could be diverted to less worthy causes (it happens, sometimes, in politically unstable countries) it’s better to send useful goods to Beirut by ship, every week, thereby employing the UK foreign aid budget in a way that directly helps Beirut residents cope with the devastation they’re experiencing and stimulates rebuilding of the heavily damaged port and city.

Let’s hope that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sees the wisdom of sending concrete aid, in a timely fashion, to the long-suffering people of Lebanon, in keeping with the UK’s high moral standing and privileged position in the world.

by John Brian Shannon

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