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Ukraine: Fixing a Broken Country
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.
Written by John Brian Shannon
The Way Forward for Belarus
All people who live in democracies have the right to be governed in a way that the majority approves — that’s the foundation of the thing we call “democracy”.
And so it is in Belarus, a country that professes to be “democratic” and is a country that boasts a “democratic constitution” that guarantees the rights and responsibilities of citizens, government, the judiciary and the military. Therefore, no one could seriously argue that Belarus isn’t a democracy.
However, even in the best democracies, disputes can arise and sometimes those disputes relate to ‘who really won’ the most recent election.
Sometimes, it’s merely a case of ‘sour grapes’ where the losing side in the election won’t accept the results and subsequently mobilize their base to protest the loss, or to keep its base ‘fired-up’ until the next election, or they use the uprising to embarrass the governing party to induce it to submit to certain political demands. Which seems a bit sketchy, but it happens.
So, who won?
Thus far, no one has proven that the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, fraudulently won the August 9th election — nor has anyone proven that the opposition party led by Svetlana Tikhanouskaya lost the election, although tens of thousands of her supporters have been protesting every day since the election results were announced.
Which could be everything, or it could be nothing.
Therefore, what we need is an international effort, perhaps led by the UN, to investigate allegations that President Lukashenko stole the election and is refusing to step down, and have the UN publicly announce their findings.
Then, and only then, will we know who has won the Belarusian election.
How to Build Enough Momentum to Find the Truth of the Matter
1: Telephone Diplomacy Works
In 1990, then-U.S. President, George H. W. Bush’s telephone diplomacy worked wonders when Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded the tiny country next door to Iraq on 2 August 1990. President H.W. Bush subsequently telephoned almost every world leader and convinced them that it was necessary for the world to deal with the murderous Iraqi dictator and to evict Iraq’s military from Kuwait.
It took only one weekend for H.W. to create a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ with the noble goal of evicting the Iraqi Republican Guard from peaceful Kuwait. And HW’s plan worked magnificently. In a matter of weeks, Kuwait was liberated with the help of several countries.
2: “How Many Divisions Has the Pope?”
In 1981, Poland’s new Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law (to purportedly) crush a rapidly growing pro-democracy trade union movement known as Solidarity which threatened his (autocratic at best, and dictatorial at worst) leadership of Poland.
America’s President Reagan quickly conferred with the Pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II (who was shot in a failed assassination attempt two weeks after that phone call in 1981) to ask what help the Church could offer to the people of Poland, most of whom were Christians of either Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church persuasion.
The quote above; “How many divisions has the Pope?” was uttered by former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin commenting on how much military power the Catholic Church didn’t have in comparison to the dozens of military units (divisions) that the former Soviet Union did have during Stalin’s time in power.
As it turned out, the fall of Soviet communism had much to do with the Catholic Church and its (even more powerful in Russia) brethren, the Russian Orthodox Church. So much so, that the Western attempt to engineer the fall of Soviet communism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and end the Cold War would’ve failed without the help of tens of millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the former Soviet Union.
How many divisions, indeed.
In today’s Belarus, most of the population there profess Christian belief and attend some kind of church, although, as in 1980’s Poland, most would be adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church, not Catholic. Still, there are many more Christians than Belarusian soldiers were you to count them by division strength.
In 1980’s Poland when (Christian) Polish soldiers were ordered to fire on (Christian) Solidarity movement supporters to end the many street protests, the soldiers refused to shoot their (Christian) brethren. And when the soldiers and police refuse orders to shoot, the largest majority wins.
Let’s hope that the situation in Belarus doesn’t ever approach that level of danger and drama, but it could be that if a fair and transparent body finds the Belarus leader has illegally held onto power after losing the recent election, that the threat of mobilization of millions of Belarusians by the Churches combined with the present level of citizen protests could provide the impetus for President Lukashenko to step down before things get out of hand.
That’s called a ‘leveraged exit’ in the diplomatic world where the leader will lose if world leaders proceed one way, but lose by a much wider margin if world leaders proceed another way regarding Belarus.
3: The UN ‘Soft Power’ Option
Of course, the United Nations has plenty of powers that it can bring to bear for a successful conclusion in Belarus, but only if it decides to do so. Unless a UN member proposes (basically sponsors) such an action, it usually doesn’t happen.
But the situation in Belarus is practically crying out for UN involvement — to at the very least! — have the UN independently verify which side won the August 9 election.
- The UN General Assembly could convene to discuss the matter and create a UN Resolution calling on President Lukashenko to step down if the evidence proves there’s been major fraud committed by the government or its agents.
- Further steps could be employed by the UN Security Council if it feels regional stability could be affected, employing a wide array of options against the Lukashenko regime if the evidence proves major fraud was committed by the government or its agents.
Such Security Council resolutions could involve trade restrictions against Belarus, ‘No Entry’ to any UN member country by Belarusian government officials, closing of Belarusian embassies and consulates around the world, and all airline traffic to and from Belarus could be cancelled until further notice, oil and gas shipments to Belarus could be diverted or delayed, and other options could be employed besides that very short list.
Life would quickly become very difficult for the present leader of Belarus if he’s found to have engaged in some kind of major election fraud.
Which to Choose?
It seems the first order of business is to ascertain whether the election was fraudulent or whether the results are merely unpopular with a vocal minority of voters.
Second, some kind of diplomacy must be employed to convince the Belarusian leader that it’s a fight he can’t win (if there has been election fraud) and that he must step down immediately in exchange for minimal prosecution.
Third, pressure must be brought to bear in a unified fashion, where the lightest punishment is first employed (the powerful Christian demographic added to the existing protest pool) and punishments are increased every 14-days (UN General Assembly resolution) followed by UN Security resolutions (closing Belarusian embassies and consulates) followed by curtailment of oil and gas to Belarus, and finally closing the airspace of Belarus to civilian airlines and closing of land borders especially to passenger trains — all designed to increase the pressure on President Lukashenko to step down for the good of the country.
At no time (assuming he’s guilty, which hasn’t been proven yet) should he feel that he could win, and he must be made to realize that every subsequent 14-days his life will be worse than in the previous 14-days.
So, let’s find out if there indeed has been election fraud — before we proceed! — because it’s astonishingly easy to depose a world leader when the facts become known in such cases. And then the UN, the Churches, and the citizens of that country can all work together to build a better future for their people no matter what has occurred.
Historically speaking, deposing a leader is the one thing that works every time that we actually try — but please! — let’s get our facts straight before we proceed further.
UK to America: We’ll Hand Over Prince Andrew When You Hand Over Anne Sacoolas
Reports today indicate that US investigators want to interview the UK’s Prince Andrew in the hope he may have information that will help them prosecute Jeffrey Epstein for numerous charges in the United States, as if Mr. Epstein were still alive. But apparently he isn’t, having died while incarcerated in New York City on August 10, 2019.
After all, Prince Andrew did associate with New York City’s high and mighty, and no doubt had crossed paths with the now infamous Jeffrey Epstein, and Andrew the Duke of York visited Jeffrey the American financier on at least one occasion.
How much assistance the Duke of York might be able to give to US investigators is open to debate as it’s highly unlikely that Prince Andrew was involved in any illegal or unethical activities having been schooled his entire life to avoid those kinds of situations lest it bring disrepute upon the British Royal Family.
Were I one of Elizabeth’s children, I’d rather face Grendel, Arimaspians, or Smaug the dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle earth than cross their mother. You know how mothers get when you disappoint them. It just isn’t done, dear boy. Now mind your mother’s words. Hehe.
And that lifetime of living a highly controlled life is why I don’t believe that Andrew has done anything wrong in this, or any other legal case on the planet.
Nor do I believe that the Prince is guilty of anything more than naivety when crossing paths with certain of New York’s elite. In other words, Andrew knows nothing that would be of use to US investigators, so why ask to drag him across the ocean to answer questions of which he has no knowledge?
Seems a bit of smear campaign, actually. Or, maybe it’s their way of generating more publicity for their case against the (now) infamous (and dead) Mr. Jeffrey Epstein. One wonders what that’s all about.
Maybe It’s About Politics
One thing is sure in politics; If you’re in trouble — blame the other guy! Because that works. Every time.
But only because the media love a scandal and can’t wait to beat the police at their own game, their lurid headlines practically screaming, ‘We Beat the Police at Their Own Game! Now, Read This.’ Hehe.
I should say that most media outlets these days operate at a high professional standard, but they still take great pride in finding out important things that police investigators have missed or disregarded. Nature of the ‘biz, as they say. ‘Nothing personal, police persons. We know you’re trying your best, but we’re smarter and have a bigger budget.’
Yes, it’s a bit like that. But a little competition never hurt anyone, and if it does, you’re in the wrong business because being an investigator (whether employed by the police or by the media) is not for the thin-skinned.
So, if you’re a politician and you’re in some kind of trouble, you’re best bet is to always blame the other guy, proffer some scandalous tidbits to media and police investigators, and be prepared to stand back and watch them do your work for you. And besides, it’s rather fun watching the sharks circling your enemy, getting closer with each pass.
In the end, it’s a short term reprieve and you better have an escape plan that holds water — because once the sharks get bored with your political enemy they’ll be circling you with resolve. ‘Toot a loo, old boy. Should’ve taken the high road.’
Anyway, someone in New York is in trouble, and dragging a Prince of the Realm into the maelstrom might just take the pressure off him or her by distracting everyone for the next six months. So, I hope whomever it is has a plan to save themselves beginning December 2020.
Diplomatic Immunity From Prosecution
Whether we like it or not, all Heads of State and their senior staff, PM’s, Ministers of the Crown and registered diplomats of any country have 100% diplomatic immunity from prosecution except immunity from war crimes prosecution, as do Royal Family Members hailing from any country.
Whether that immunity extends to Anne Sacoolas (a US diplomat’s wife) is uncertain. But what is certain is that Prince Andrew is 100% protected from prosecution from any government. It must be that way, or every royal person and Head of State would face hundreds of frivolous court cases against them each year — due to jealousies, due to the games played by enemy or competitor nations, and due to the powerful forces of anarchy that hide in plain sight.
For example: Whether you agree with all of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s policies or not; Would it be fair that he spends his entire premiership in courtrooms defending himself from scurrilous allegations and frivolous cases, and would that be fair to British taxpayers? Of course not.
The same can be said about the important work done by the country’s diplomats, spies, senior military commanders and royal family members, almost all of whom have been tapped at various times for covert or sensitive missions abroad to protect the UK and enhance its security.
Therefore, Prince Andrew is 100% protected from prosecution so what do investigators hope to gain by inviting the Prince to New York City for questioning if they can’t charge him (let alone convict him) due to his diplomatic immunity, and what information do they hope to gain? Don’t they already have it? And if not, why not?
Something seems off.
Maybe telephone the good Prince, investigators. But his knowledge of Jeffrey Epstein is likely to be minimal as they were raised from birth as differently as it is possible to conceive and Andrew probably spent relatively little time with him.
Reciprocity Or Not?
In any event, the request for Prince Andrew to travel to New York to give evidence against the deceased Jeffrey Epstein should receive the same consideration that the UK government and Royal Family received from American authorities in regards to America’s Anne Sacoolas who allegedly killed young Harry Dunn in a motorway incident on August 27, 2019.
As I always say, ‘Every day we teach others how to treat us.’ And American authorities have certainly taught the UK government how to treat a polite request for an American citizen to be returned to the UK to have her case heard before the courts.
You said you wanted a reciprocal relationship America!
So do we. And it has (weirdly) turned out that not sending either person is also reciprocal. Although not in the way both sides had intended.
And that’s why the UK government shouldn’t allow Prince Andrew to travel to the United States (ever) until Anne Sacoolas is returned to the UK for the purposes of determining her guilt or innocence in the matter of the death of young Harry Dunn from Northamptonshire.
If the UK government bows to the Americans on this matter — then maybe it’s time for a Labour government, one that will stand up for the rights of Britons everywhere — whether it stands up for a son of wealth like Prince Andrew, or a son of utterly decent and working class parents.
Should Anne Sacoolas never return to the UK that’s no skin off my nose as the UK can live without her. On balance, that means that Prince Andrew should never appear in the USA, for any reason, including personal vacations.
But to my mind, every day that Mrs. Sacoolas refuses to return to the UK seems to incrementally prove her guilt in the matter of Harry Dunn’s death and the cost to America of that refusal should be Prince Andrew’s refusal to appear in the USA to give his testimony in the Jeffrey Epstein affair. Juste est juste!