Nowhere is watching Russia’s faltering attempt to crush its democratic neighbour more closely than Taiwan. The Ukraine war is seen in Taipei as a demonstration of how determined resistance and the ability to rally a global alliance of supporters can frustrate a much larger and heavily armed rival. Taiwan has spent the past few years planning how it would cope if China attacked. It is developing a doctrine of defence warfare right out of the Ukrainian playbook.
On the 16th floor of a tower block in Vilnius, Lithuania, is an office with a nameplate so incendiary that it has started a trade war. The ‘Taiwanese Representative Office’ violates a rule that China imposes upon its trade partners: never allow Taiwan to open official offices. Call it ‘Taipei’, or anything, just not ‘Taiwan’. Lithuania recently decided that an important principle is at stake: should small countries be bullied by big ones? It thought not – and has allowed Taiwan to use its own name at what is regarded as a de facto embassy.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, it was by no means certain that there would be a united response from the West. The sanctions imposed on Russia after Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 were fairly limited, especially from the European Union. Germany pressed on with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia. But now, America, Europe and much of Asia have been united in applying severe sanctions against Russian banks, companies and oligarchs.
I used to be able to afford to go to restaurants. Yes, it was a treat, but it was just about doable, and though it was never a pleasure to be presented with the bill, it didn’t leave you reeling from shock and buyer’s remorse.
The schnitzel in my favourite London restaurant has gone up from £12 to £20 for the small one and from £22 to £33 for the normal-sized one. Meanwhile, restaurants and pubs all over Britain no longer offer a mere hamburger.
‘One of the things about being in Moscow as the guest of the Russian government,’ says Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, ‘is this real attempt to make you feel like an outsider.’ It comes, he says, ‘from a fundamental Russian suspicion of foreigners’: ‘The Kremlin is designed to intimidate you. It’s designed to make you feel as if you are at the centre of a great empire.’
Dearlove joined the Secret Intelligence Service in 1966, and though spies are always a little cagey about their past, it seems he served as an intelligence officer behind the Iron Curtain.
Buying a tank is not as easy as you might think. When we started looking for one, people delighted in telling us: ‘Oh, you should have bought one in the 1990s. There were hundreds available for practically nothing!’ Well, not anymore. Especially not if you are picky about what sort of tank you want.
I’m collecting artefacts for a new museum of totalitarianism and wanted a T-54 or T-55, two models which are pretty much the same as each other with just a few alterations and which are the most-produced tanks in history.
Our age isn’t the first to set an English landscape of our dreams against the one which actually exists, or see earning a living from the land as something base and destructive. The tension has always been there between people who work the land and the utopian dreamers for whom every mark of the plough is a scar.
Farmers bristle at talk of countryside utopias and rewilding, and passionate wilders can’t see why land managers do things which they think are harmful to the land.
‘Sides to middle’, that’s the cry. When your foot goes through the flat sheet in the night, there’s only one thing for it: scissors down the centre, then sew it edge to edge. Good as new – for as long as your stitches hold up. If you’ve paid for Egyptian cotton, you cannot cut your linen into dusters the minute the thread count wears thin.
Besides, call it eco-activism, call it penny--pinching, mending things is fun.