19 March 2022
https://iview.abc.net.au/show/national-press-club-address/series/0/video/NC2211C007S00l Press Club
19 March 2022
https://iview.abc.net.au/show/national-press-club-address/series/0/video/NC2211C007S00l Press Club
22 June 2022
I am currently in Finland, holidaying after the EuPRA (European Peace Research Association)
Conference in Tampere.
I had hoped that there would be more insights on the Ukraine situation, but peace research has its
topics and budgets set years ahead, so Ukraine was barely mentioned and no new insights given.
Finland generally is very pro-Ukraine, with Ukrainian flags flying alongside Finnish ones at railway
stations and even Ukrainian flag stickers on traffic poles.
The conference was mainly about ‘positive peace’ which means trying to get harmonious social
policy, with papers on minority, immigrants and disadvantaged groups, rather than ‘negative peace’
which is taken to be the absence of war. So there was surprisingly little on politics or foreign policy.
The situation of the indigenous ‘Sami’ (formerly called Lapps) was also a big topic. Researchers claim
it is very hard ever to get funding for peace research, and it has to be framed as ‘conflict resolution’.
The conference had a distinctly feminist flavour both in attendance and in tone. It was very
competently organised, principally by Masters and PhD students from the Tampere Institute of
Peace Students. Despite their acronym, TIPSY, the students were very serious and organised.
Participants were shepherded around by Norse goddesses, who seemed charmingly unaware of
their aesthetic attributes.
Finland is an affluent, modern country of 5.5 million with an ambience very like Sweden. They have
the best education system in the world, and almost all speak excellent English. Signs used to be
written in Finnish, Swedish and Russian, but there is a trend towards Finnish and English, as all
Swedes speak English, and Russian is becoming less important to the Finnish economy. Finnish is
quite a distinct and unusual language, quite different from Swedish, which was used by the elite
when Sweden occupied Finland, and is widely spoken. Finland has high taxes, a good welfare system
and a very high standard of public facilities. Incomes seem high as prices are about 50% higher than
in Australia. Petrol is about $A3.75/litre. There is a Universal Basic Income and no visible poverty.
I had not known much about Finnish history, but it had been something of a rural backwater with a
very low agricultural population, principally populated from Sweden. It was under Sweden until the
Swedish-Russian war of 1721, when it came under Russia. The Swedes took it back in 1788, and
Russia took it back in 1809, but left it relatively autonomous. Finnish nationalism was relatively late
to develop, starting in the 1850s. A Scot, Finlayson, set up textile factories in Tampere in the 1850s,
based on the model of Manchester, England. Tampere became the industrial heart of Finland. Lenin
came to Finland and stayed for some time in Tampere as it had a high population of workers. He
promised to give the Finns autonomy if the revolution succeeded. He actually met Stalin in Tampere
so the Lenin Museum there claims that there was the birthplace of the Soviet Republic.
Stalin had his own methods of funding the revolution, which included robbing banks such as the
Helsinki branch of the Russian bank. Relations between the Russians and the semi-autonomous
Finns had generally been good, though the Tsar in his last days from 1899 tried a policy of
Russification, which was not popular.
Lenin had to flee Finland from the Tsarist police, but after the revolution succeeded in 1917 the
Finnish Senate declared independence. Lenin kept his promise and supported the new republic but
he hoped for world revolution, so sent help to the Reds in Finland who initiated a civil war in 1917.
The Reds were strong in the industrial cities such as Tampere. The White nationalists were more
middle class and rural. The war was short and brutal with victory to the new White republic but
many were killed and there were considerable recriminations. Russia at that time was fully occupied
with its own internal strife, but Finland respected their power, remained neutral and benefitted
from trade with Russia, as it increasingly industrialised.
In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, which pledged non-aggression
between Germany and Russia and gave the western half of Poland and Lithuania to Germany. The
eastern half of Poland and all the countries east of it were ‘given’ to Russia.
The Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia were in this agreement, and so was Finland. Safe from attack by
Russia, Hitler then started WW2 by attacking Poland, and the Russians moved to take their half (so
that Poland ceased to exist). The Baltic States quickly fell to Russia, but Finland resisted, successfully
at first, but the Russians overcame them and took some territory in an unfavourable settlement, but
left them some degree of independence. When Germany invaded Russia, they demanded passage
through Finland to attack Norway, and the Finns agreed, not having much option. The Finns then
supported the Germans to get some of their territory back from the Russians, so in the settlement
after the war in 1944, the Russians took even more territory from the Finns, including part of
Lappland in the north, so that Finland no longer reaches the Arctic Ocean and Russia meets Norway
After WW2 the Finns built a Nordic welfare state and developed their industries, Nokia being the
best known example. Farm forestry is still a major industry, particularly pine and silver birch. There
are almost no grazing animals. They concentrated on education and industrialisation and their
economy grew as fast as many of the Asian ones, but with higher wages. They took a very neutral
foreign policy stance not to offend Russia, but did join the Euro currency launch in 2002.
Geographically, Finland is quite a large country as it extends so far north. It has no mountains and
only low hills and a large number of lakes which tend to have their long axes to the south-west due
to fact that the country was covered by a huge sheet of ice in the Ice Age, which moved to the south
west. It is quite warm in summer (now) and the Finns go to their summer cottages on the lakes. In
winter it is very cold, so all the houses are triple glazed and well insulated. There are no solar panels
and they are trying to become carbon-dioxide neutral, telling you on the tickets how much carbon
dioxide is produced by your bus or train journey. 28% of the electricity used is of nuclear origin.
Travelling is reasonably easy, though the Finnish language is difficult but almost everyone speaks
reasonable English. Getting used to cars on the right side of the road is a bit of a challenge, and
walking on the footpaths also, and the latter is rendered more complicated by the fact that the
footpaths also have a section for bikes and electric scooters which takes half the footpath, but there
is no consistency on which half. Finns smoke more than Australians and seem to have a lot of junk
food restaurants, so I suspect that the prevalence of obesity will be rising, especially as electric
scooters now considerably outnumber bikes, and are available everywhere to be picked up and used
after buying a plan and putting in a code.
It is a question of getting used to things, but in the meantime I am enjoying the capital of Lappland,
Rovaniemi. It is not possible to see the Northern Lights as these are at the Winter solstice in
December- here at present the sun sets for about half an hour a day and it never gets dark. The 8am
temperature is 14 degrees. I have heard that it is cold in Australia.
25 April 2022
While the brutal tactics of the Russians in Ukraine make horrendous continuing news, significant aspects of the origins of Russia’s Ukraine invasion have been ignored by Western media. This does not justify the invasion, but one might wonder if the Donbas region in the East could ever have been retained within Ukraine.
It is well known that there is a gradation across the Ukraine from West to East, those in the West favouring Europe about 90%, but those in the East, the Donsek region, has almost 90% keen to merge with Russia. There was a strong separatist movement in these provinces, with ongoing fighting. The Ukrainian army was not keen to fight other Ukrainians and it was said that neo-Nazi groups were involved in fighting the separatists using very Fascist tactics.
Historically there had been some strong right wing groups in the Ukraine, and it might be noted that when Germany invaded, troops from Ukraine were recruited and fought with them against the Russians. At the end of the war, naturally these groups were not seen, but it has been said that the CIA was in touch with them, and that they facilitated the successful storming of the Ukrainian Parliament in the coup in 2014, which led to the Donbas region in the east attempting to secede from Ukraine and Russia seizing Crimea. It might be noted that Crimea was given to Ukraine by Russia in 1954 when they were both part of the USSR. The transfer was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev who needed the Ukrainian votes to further his own career, and made little difference while Ukraine was in the USSR.
Fighting continued in the Donbas region which includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. The fighting led to the Minsk Agreement in September 2014, but the agreement failed leading to Minsk II in February 2015. Luhansk and Donetsk were supposed to become autonomous regions, but it has never happened. Fighting has continued, so Russia’s claim that they are fighting Nazis is not as absurd as it has been painted, at least in those regions.
When the USSR was collapsing the US Secretary of State James Baker promised Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990 that NATO would not recruit countries to the East. However, those countries were fearful of a Russian resurgence and wanted to join NATO. The USSR collapsed in 1991. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999 and Russia objected. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004. Note the marked move of NATO to the East. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. The Balkan countries presumably joined as protection against Serbia, which started the wars as Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991-1999. Serbia was a strong Russian ally.
Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia wanted a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, but Ukraine along with Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed membership aspirations. No one was willing to give a guarantee the Ukraine would not join NATO even as the Russian troops massed for the invasion, though some hoped that Putin was bluffing.
Russia is now the 11th biggest economy in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia at 12th and 13th, so economically it is only a middle power, but having been a superpower with an empire recently, it has weapons far in excess of other middle powers and as it pursues a commodities-led recovery it hankers for its old Empire.
The German Social Democrats, the coalition partners of Angela Merkel, assumed that if Russia were integrated into the European economy by Germany buying their gas there would be no wars. This has been a major miscalculation. Germany was dependent on Russia for 55% of their gas, this having gone up when then they closed their nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster. They still get 39% of their gas from Russia and are reluctant to turn it off as it would cause a major recession there. This is very controversial in Germany at present. Someone calculated that German purchase of Russian gas can pay for a tank every 20 seconds.
Here is an article by Gregory Clark, who spent 10 years with the Australian Dept. of External Affairs (which was the Foreign Relations Dept.) and resigned in 1965 in protest at Australia going into Vietnam. He went to Tokyo and was the lead correspondent for The Australian in Japan 1969-74 and a Japanese academic. He came back as an advisor to Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1974-76 (the Whitlam era), and returned to Japan after that.
6 February 2022
Probably not, but it is possible and they are likely to take some action.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was largely due to their economy being unable to compete with more efficient market-based ones. But US Secretary of State James Baker in 1990 promised Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards.
The Eastern European countries were effectively given independence. Their attitudes varied. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were very keen to have protection. Poland, which was abolished as a nation in WW2, simply being divided in half and incorporated into Russia and Germany by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 was also looking for protection.
NATO, led by the US has been joining up countries so that only the two closest to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have not joined. Now the US is now loudly proclaiming Ukraine’s ‘right’ to join NATO if it chooses. The US has a lot of hubris, a tin ear, an arms lobby that needs sales and a recent history of doing what it likes. It has also installed military facilities in some of the countries closet to Russia. Those with long memories may recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 when Russia tried to station missiles there and there was a major confrontation. The US has bases all over the world encircling its rivals. The Russians do not, and when they tried to these was a major confrontation. One can also note that there are no natural barriers to military advances in Europe. Napoleon and Hitler swept across Russia and Russia swept them back.
Ukraine, the former ‘breadbasket’ of the Soviet Union is the closest big country to Russia and also could control Russian access to the Black Sea so has special significance. Internally it has quite a varied attitude to Russia. Those in the Eastern part of the country are very pro-Russia, while those in the West would like more integration with Western Europe. There is a succession movement in Donbass, an eastern province, and Russia is accused of helping the separatists. The capital, Kiev, is on the Dnieper river, which bisects the country from north to south, just downstream of Chernobyl. In 2014 there was a coup which was shown to be CIA-supported. The Parliament was invaded, much like the US on 6 Jan 2021, but in Ukraine’s case the President fled and new government was installed, highly favourable to the US. Russia responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula, which has their key naval base in the Black Sea. It might be noted that in a plebiscite a huge majority of Crimeans supported Russia against Ukraine.
In an interview on 7.30 on 1/2/22 Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner pointed out the US hypocrisy on NATO membership. He also pointed out that Russia does not want to invade. There would be Western sanctions, but Russia would also be stuck with a guerrilla war situation having to suppress part of what they occupied perhaps indefinitely. They cannot count on being welcomed even into eastern Ukraine. Invading armies usually are not. They would lose a lot of face internationally and there would be trouble on side or another in selling their gas to Western Europe.
It might be overlooked with all the US statements on Ukraine that Germany, France and Italy, surely the heavyweights of Europe, have been very silent. Germany has decommissioned its nuclear plants, cut down on coal and now gets a third of its energy from Russian gas. It cannot replace that amount of energy in the short-term. They are very aware of what a war in Europe means. Europe is more economically integrated and in general, this is good thing.
Russia will be supported by China if the sanctions start to bite, and the US dollar is gradually becoming less important as a world currency, a trend that the Chinese are working hard to accelerate.Even the Ukrainian President is now on record saying that the US must take much of the blame for the current situation.
It seems that the US arms industry, which has spent decades having little wars to keep itself at the centre of that fading economy is lost in its own hubris. It sees this merely as an opportunity to sell arms to the Ukrainians. It is a market, and an economic game. The Russians have existential concerns, not to mention the loss of face. They are likely to take some action. Diplomacy needs to work and the US has to be restrained. Finland has lived on the Russian border for many years as a democracy that minded its Ps and Qs. The Ukraine should probably do the same.