Ukraine war

Putin’s ‘peace’ is a partitioned Ukraine

52 min listen

On the podcast: In his new year’s address this year Vladimir Putin made no mention of the war in Ukraine – despite missile strikes over the Christmas period – and now Owen Matthews reports in The Spectator this week rumours that Putin could be looking to broker a land-for-peace deal. Unfortunately – Owen says – this deal would mean freezing the conflict along its current lines and the de facto partition of Ukraine. Owen joins the podcast alongside The Spectator’s Svitlana Morenets who gives her own take on Putin’s ‘peace’ deal in the magazine this week. (01:21) Next: Former Sky News and GB News broadcaster Colin Brazier writes a farmer’s notebook in The Spectator this week about his new life

Katy Balls, Christina Lamb and Sam Leith

20 min listen

This week:  Katy Balls discusses the SNP’s annual conference and asks what will it take to hold the party together if things get much tougher over the next twelve months (01:10), Christina Lamb goes to Ukraine, only to be told that she’s ‘at the wrong war’ as events unfold rapidly in the Middle East (06:55), and Sam Leith chats to the man who heads up the tiny publishing house that regularly churns out Nobel Prize winners (12:13).  Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran. 

Will the Online Safety Bill target moths?

As is now well-known, Ulez (the ultra-low emission zone) will expand from 29 August, taking in suburban parts of Kent, Surrey, Essex, Herts. This fact gave Richard Lofthouse, an editor and motoring journalist, an idea. He has done much to help, a volunteer group within Ukraine which seeks gifts of 4×4 pickups abroad and repurposes them to help the war effort. Some are armour-plated, for instance, and fitted with a gun turret at the back. Others can be turned into field ambulances, and so on. There is an endless need for wheels in Ukraine, the life of each pick-up ‘in theatre’ being a matter of weeks. As I write, nearly

Lisa Haseldine

From ABC to AK-47: Russia’s new wartime curriculum

Russia’s education system is about to undergo a radical transformation. Next month, when the new academic year begins, classes will be required to teach teenagers how to assemble, handle and clean Kalashnikov rifles, how to use hand grenades and how to administer first aid in combat. This military training for sixth-formers – 16 and over – will be taught as part of their ‘fundamentals of life safety’ classes. Such classes have existed in various forms since the 1980s. In the past children have been taught quite practical skills, including how to stay safe in terrorist attacks, deal with radiation poisoning following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and, more recently, the basics

The unlikely rise of Germany’s defence minister

An unlikely political star has risen in Germany. Boris Pistorius, a 63-year-old father of two is a career politician and, as of January, defence minister, an office that has proved a dead end for many of his predecessors. On the face of it, Germany’s Boris has little by way of stardust. Yet he is the country’s most popular politician by a country mile and his department is set to increase its budget at a time when overall government spending is being sharply cut. It seems for the first time in decades, Germany is serious about security and defence – but how long will that seriousness last? Pistorius is often seen

What Beijing wants out of the Russian invasion

52 min listen

As Xi Jinping visits Vladimir Putin in Russia this week, this episode of Chinese Whispers is returning to one of the missions of this podcast series – to look at things as the Chinese see them.  My guest today is Zhou Bo, a retired Senior Colonel of the People’s Liberation Army whose military service started in 1979. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. He’s an eloquent and informed advocate of Beijing’s perspective. On the podcast, we discuss why China hasn’t criticised Russia more, despite its purported support for sovereignty, to what extent it really means its peace plan, and

Biden’s muddle on Chinese arms for Russia

Will China send arms to support Russia? That was the possibility that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised at the Munich Security Conference, accusing Beijing of considering doing so. China has officially rejected this claim and, as of last night, so has President Biden. ‘I don’t anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia,’ Biden told ABC, seemingly directly contradicting his right-hand man on foreign policy. Is this just another case of Sleepy Joe misspeaking, a comment that will have to be walked back by his team in the hours to come? After all, Biden has form. He has previously pledged to defend Taiwan

Ukraine needs more than tanks

What weapons will Ukraine get next? It’s a crucial question that matters perhaps more than anything else for understanding how the Russo-Ukraine war will end. For the last few months two different systems have received the most attention, systems that Ukraine has asked for almost daily. These are tanks, or MBTs (Main Battle Tanks), the key armoured vehicle of 20th and 21st century land warfare, and ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems), the longest-range ammunition now available for the US-made HIMARS rocket launchers already in Ukraine.  Both are needed for the quickest possible Ukrainian victory in the war, though for now it seems that the first, tanks, are on their way and the

Bear baiting

Oh those Russians. When they’re not beating up English football fans, they’re cheating at the Olympics. They occupy other countries and shoot down civilian airliners, then pretend it wasn’t them. They’re helping Assad win the Syrian civil war. They’re even driving up London house prices. There’s no infamy, apparently, of which Russians are not guilty. ‘OK — we did do all those things,’ admits a Moscow broadcaster friend, a little sheepishly. ‘But everyone else does them too! We’re the only ones to get punished, because everyone hates us.’ Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russians have become the world’s official pariahs. Russian athletes have been kicked out of the

Watching the next war

Late last month, on a windswept plain near the Polish town of Zagan, the defence ministers of Poland, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands joined the Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, to watch Nato’s response to Russia’s incursions into eastern Europe. The dramatic culmination of a week of military manoeuvres, Exercise Noble Jump was a spectacular show of force by Nato’s new VJTF brigade. More than 2,000 troops from nine countries fought a fierce mock-battle against irregular militia, with live ammunition. Huddled in the attendant press pack, struggling to insert my earplugs, this awesome demonstration felt like confirmation — if any were needed — that Europe stands on the brink of a

Wanted: a party leader willing to talk about defence

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”James Forsyth and John Bew discuss the lack of foreign policy in the election campaign” startat=928] Listen [/audioplayer]In the 1984 US presidential election, Ronald Reagan came up with an effective way of embarrassing his rival Walter Mondale over defence. ‘There’s a bear in the woods,’ ran his television advert, showing a grizzly bear wandering through a forest. ‘For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it all.’ During the British general election campaign, the Russian bear isn’t making any attempt to hide — it is standing on its hind legs and pawing at the trees with its claws. Although everyone can see the bear,

Shelling, militiamen and shattered villages: welcome to eastern Ukraine’s ceasefire

  Eastern Ukraine For a moment, the sound of shelling is drowned out by a thumping beat coming from a camouflaged van. ‘Separatysty [Separatists]!’ says the rousing chorus: ‘The day of your death is here!’ We are with a Ukrainian nationalist militia in a village outside Donetsk airport, which is in the hands of pro-Russian rebels, usually referred to by the Ukrainians as terorysty or bandyty. But despite their bravado, the war is not going well for the Ukrainian side. There have been a series of disastrous setbacks, towns and territory lost, whole units put to panicky flight. The shattered village, Piesky, reminds me of Chechnya or Bosnia, the houses’

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Peter Hitchens and Ben Judah debate Putin’s empire building” startat=33] Listen [/audioplayer]Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding? There remain 300,000 neutral square miles between the two, mostly in Ukraine. From Moscow’s point of view, this is already a grievous, irretrievable loss. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the canniest of

Why a City job should be graduates’ last resort

August is the season for conversation about career choices. Every holiday party seems to include new graduates or next year’s graduands in need of grown-up advice. Many yearn to be pastry chefs, having devoted their student years to watching The Great British Bake Off. Some want to be journalists, and I tell them it’s more fun than having a secure job with a decent income. Happily I’ve only met one young man this summer who wants to go into financial PR, the métier in which I believe Satan himself did his first internship. ‘Diplomacy’ is often mentioned, I suppose because there’s a lot of that on the telly these days

Violence, fear, confusion: this is what comes into a leadership vacuum

The old cliché that ‘nothing happens in August’ has again been brutally disproved. From the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war to the Russian invasion of Georgia six years ago, August is a month often packed with violence — but rarely more so than this year. In Syria, Christians are being crucified for refusing to convert to Islam. In northern Iraq, there are reports of mothers throwing their children from mountains rather than leaving them to the jihadis who are parading the severed heads of their victims. Russian convoys are rolling towards the Ukrainian border as Vladimir Putin tests the resolve of the West. Barack Obama has

I know how ineffective sanctions are – but these ones just might work

‘Sanctions,’ said Kofi Annan, ‘are a necessary middle ground between war and words.’ Neither the EU nor the US will deploy troops or missiles to defend Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists, while Vladimir Putin basks in hostile Western words and turns them to domestic advantage. That leaves sanctions as the only means of seeking to influence him. But do they work? Evidence is not persuasive: in 200 cases studied by academics in Washington, from the League of Nations action against Italy’s aggression in Abyssinia in the mid-1930s to Russia’s assault on Georgia in 2008, sanctions were judged successful in one third of cases; in many of those, success was ‘partial’. In

Sanctions won’t tame Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Talking might

The civilised world felt as if its heart had been touched by an icicle. Photographs of murdered children. Biogs of people like us; we could have been on that plane. We will be on similar ones, now reminded of our vulnerability to frivolous barbarians in possession of terrifying weapons. Grief and fear lead rapidly to anger: to the demand that something must be done to punish the evildoers and rescue us from insecurity. That might seem a comforting thought. It is also false comfort, for there is a basic problem. What can we do? When in doubt, think hard, in a long historical perspective. Paradoxically, that apparently arid discipline may

Vladimir Putin’s empire of lies

According to Russian state television, flight MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian government forces who believed they were targeting Vladimir Putin’s jet returning from a summit in Brazil. An unnamed Spanish air traffic controller allegedly overheard two Ukrainian fighter pilots talking about the secret operation at Kiev’s Boryspil Airport. Ukrainian jets were supposedly seen tailing the doomed flight just before it exploded. Or, no — the plane was actually downed by a surface-to-air rocket fired from Kiev-controlled territory. Russian spy satellites recorded the whole incident, apparently. Sorry, scratch that: according to the Donbas Republic’s self-declared minister of defence, Igor Girkin (nom de guerre Igor Strelkov), the Malaysian Boeing was actually

Peter Mandelson’s diary: The accomplishments of George Osborne – and Vladimir Putin

My trips to meet Russians in Russia these days are a little less controversial than my encounter with them in Corfu. The Corfu trip, though, did have the bonus of throwing me together with George Osborne, whom I had not known previously. Returning from St Petersburg I awoke on Saturday to his interview on the Today programme. If the Tories win the next election (unlikely in light of last week’s performance) it will be down to his political skill and determination. And his being joined at the hip to Cameron. If Blair and Brown had managed the same double act, Labour would still be in power today. The St Petersburg

No, Putin didn’t plot to invade Ukraine. But now he might have to

So what, exactly, does Vladimir Putin want? ‘To start World War Three,’ according to the embattled Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk. ‘To rule as president for life with powers on par with the tsars,’ according to Alexei Navalny, leader of Russia’s tiny opposition. To ‘force a major change of boundaries on Europe… and break the post-Cold War consensus,’ according to Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister. Actually, Putin himself has always been rather clear about his ambitions. ‘Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so,’ Putin told the State Duma in his first speech as prime minister, back in August 1999. ‘It has always had and still has