War in Ukraine

I had been thinking, or perhaps hoping, that the Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine was an elaborate feint, intended to provide cover for a smaller-scale operation, such as a partial occupation of the Donbass, but today’s events seem to indicate that Vladimir Putin has a bigger objective in his sights, though exactly what that is is still unclear. An invasion of the entire country would surely be significantly more trouble than it was worth, so Putin may be content to inflict a heavy defeat on the Ukrainian army before withdrawing to the newly-declared republics in the east, perhaps retaining territory along the Sea of Azov to secure a land corridor to Crimea.

Of course the war is unlikely to play out exactly the way that Putin intends, and there is always the risk of unintended escalation, but one does not get the impression that there is any appetite in the West for a general continental war, so the actual violence will probably be confined within the borders of Ukraine. The diplomatic and economic effects of the crisis will spread more widely though, and the long-term consequences of a full-scale renewal of the Cold War are unlikely to be benign. I’m clinging to the hope that, contrary to recent appearances, Putin is in fact a rational actor who has some sort of strategic plan, and that things won’t get too out of hand, but that belief may prove hard to sustain in the days ahead.

22022022

Today, 22/02/2022, is another palindromic day, though it isn’t quite as universal as the last one, back in February 2020, as it doesn’t work in the US format (02/22/2022), nor in China (2022/02/22). Still, I’ll take any momentary diversion in these troubling times

Oscar predictions 2022

Much like last year, I haven’t seen many of the movies up for an Academy Award in March, but I do read enough reviews to have an opinion, on the main categories at least, so here are my forecasts:

  • Best Actor – Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Best Actress – Olivia Colman
  • Best Supporting Actor – Jesse Plemons
  • Best Supporting Actress – Judi Dench
  • Best Director – Jane Campion
  • Best International Feature – Drive My Car
  • Best Picture – The Power of the Dog

There’s still a month until the ceremony, so I might update this list if I get around to actually watching some more of the nominated films.

Ukrainian tensions

Two issues have been dominating the news in this neck of the woods recently; the first, of little interest beyond these shores, is the continued unravelling of the Johnson government, the second, rather more globally important, is the prospect of a general continental war breaking out as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.

It had been looking like both of these stories were petering out over the last week or so, as Johnson moved to shore up his position with a somewhat reckless scaling down of pandemic-related restrictions, while President Putin’s military posturing appeared to have produced diplomatic results sufficiently impressive to allow him to avoid the risks of a hot conflict.

I think Boris has done enough to see him through the immediate storm, though the looming cost of living crisis may yet sink him as the year goes on, but the Ukrainian situation has taken an unexpectedly alarming turn, as western governments, led by the US, have ramped up talk of an imminent invasion, making it harder for Putin to back off without at least some sort of offensive action.

I’m hoping that this latest development is a finely-calibrated move by the Biden administration to limit Russian diplomatic gains, rather than an attempt to goad Putin into a military adventure in the expectation that it will be as disastrous for Russia as the invasion of Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union back in the 80s. That conflict, kindled by the CIA, may have achieved its Cold War aim in hastening the fall of the USSR, but it was an unmitigated catastrophe for the Afghan people, who, along with the rest of the world, are still living with its consequences 40 years on. A repeat, this time in the heart of Europe, doesn’t bear thinking about.

It is hard to believe that even the most belligerent elements on either side would be willing to roll the dice on such a scale, but, then again, history is littered with examples of comparable misjudgements, and events rarely follow the plan once the shooting starts. I guess we’ll just have to hold our breath, and hope that we’re soon back to a time where a clown in Downing Street is the biggest thing we have to worry about.

Dishonourable member

I watched the film Munich – The Edge of War at the weekend. Although it has had some good reviews I was rather unimpressed; for a supposed thriller the pace is painfully slow, and the central premise – that bourgeois liberal democracy, personified by Neville Chamberlain, defeated fascism by revealing Hitler’s lack of honour – is somewhat fantastical, to say the least.

Interestingly, today’s liberal press and opposition seem to be adopting a similar approach in their efforts to topple Boris Johnson, with equally uninspiring results. While it would obviously be ridiculous to equate Boris with Adolph, the common theme is the liberals’ complete inability to understand that their opponents are no longer playing by the rules of the game. Loudly denouncing Johnson’s transgressions, then waiting for him to do the decent thing, doesn’t look like a winning strategy. Relying on the Conservative Party to depose him is an equally forlorn hope, as Tory MPs seem increasingly willing to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to reconcile whatever high-minded ideals they might profess with their desire to remain in power (see also: Donald Trump, the GOP).

As ever, liberals shy away from the conclusion that the behaviour of the likes of Johnson implies; that the problem lies not with one or another disreputable politician, but with the system itself.

I guess it’s possible that Johnson may eventually push his luck too far, and precipitate a Tory revolt, or perhaps he will grow weary of all the drama and quit. If so, his successor may placate bourgeois sensibilities by displaying a more refined sense of decorum, but fundamentally things will remain the same. Capitalism produces the inequalities in wealth and power that allow the ruling class to live in a different world from the masses, and as long as that state of affairs persists then nothing will really change.

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