Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?

As the Kremlin’s spokesman tells us – somewhat improbably – that regime change was never Vladimir Putin’s goal, the debate on whether Russia and Ukraine should be negotiating gets another bounce.

Depressing – but necessary – to bear in mind that a settlement will rest more on power than on justice.

Some other lessons from the conflict also seem to be getting neglected.

Continue reading “Ukraine: what’s to negotiate?”

Take that, Mr Putin: More support for Ukraine is to be provided by NZ

Buzz from the Beehive

Sticking it to the Russians by providing more support for Ukraine  was the most significant news item officially posted on the Beehive website since our previous report.

An announcement about immigration regulations and visas might have nudged it as a headline grabber, butit didn’t mention “nurses”.

The latest posts tell us our hard-working ministers have been –

Appointing the next Ambassador to Argentina announced

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced the appointment of Kathryn Beckett as New Zealand’s next Ambassador to Argentina.

Kathryn Beckett has most recently served as the Unit Manager of the United Nations, Human Rights and Commonwealth Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She has also served as Counsellor at the New Zealand High Commission in Vanuatu and as First Secretary at the New Zealand Embassy in Viet Nam.

She will be accredited to Uruguay and Paraguay, based at New Zealand’s Embassy in Buenos Aires and takes up her position in April.

Extending and enhancing our assistance to Ukraine

The names of the PM, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare are attached to this announcement.

They said New Zealand is extending its defence commitments and providing further support and personnel to assist Ukraine, as part of the Government’s ongoing response to Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion.

New Zealand will contribute $1.85 million to the World Food Programme for emergency assistance across the globe.

“This builds on earlier food security support to other countries in early 2022,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

The decisions made:

  • Training: Extend New Zealand’s support to the United Kingdom armed forces-led operation to train Ukrainian personnel, with the deployment of one infantry training team numbering up to 66 NZDF personnel from 30 November 2022 to 31 July 2023.  At present the NZDF has two infantry training teams totalling 120 personnel training Ukrainian personnel in the UK.
  • Intelligence: Extend the NZDF’s existing intelligence contribution of up to 12 personnel in the UK, as well as New Zealand-based open source intelligence staff, from 30 November 2022 to 30 June 2023. In addition the NZDF will provide two additional support positions to the UK for the same period.
  • Command and administration support: The deployment of up to eight NZDF personnel to Europe from 30 November 2022 to 31 July 2023 to assist deployed NZDF personnel throughout Europe supporting Ukraine’s self-defence efforts.
  • Logistics: Recommence the deployment of four personnel from 30 November 2022 to 30 June 2023 to a logistics hub in Europe to support Ukraine.
  • Liaison: Extend the NZDF’s existing liaison officer contributions in the UK and Europe from 30 November 2022 to 30 June 2023.
  • Global food security support: $1.85 million to the World Food Programme to help address global food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine.
  • NATO Trust Fund: Additional $1.85 million contribution for non-lethal military equipment and supplies for Ukraine’s self-defence during the northern winter.

More information about sanctions, travel bans, and export controls against Russia; as well as diplomatic, military and economic support to Ukraine can be found on the MFAT site here.

Granting  more visas through a resumption of the parent category

Immigration Minister Michael Wood announced the Government is ensuring skilled migrants can resettle in New Zealand with their families

It  is resuming selections of the Parent Category Expressions of Interest (EOIs), to make New Zealand an even more attractive destination for high skilled migrants looking to resettle long term.

The first selection of EOIs has been made and will continue to be selected in date order with the oldest EOIs being selected first. Selections will take place every quarter, with up to 2,000 visas a year granted to people with existing expressions of interest.

More information on the Parent Category and EOI process can be found on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Appointing a Judge and Associate Judge of the High Court

Attorney-General David Parker announced High Court Associate Judge Peter Andrew has been appointed a Judge of the High Court, and Tauranga King’s Counsel Grant Brittain has been appointed an Associate Judge of the High Court.

They will take up their appointments on 21 November 2022, sitting in Auckland.

Why Britain left

If you want a palimpset of reasons for why the UK brexited the European Union, look no further than Bloomberg’s headline:

“EU Will Propose Crisis Tool for Supply Chain Emergencies: Bloc wants ability to require certain orders be prioritized; Plan expected to be made public this month; some see overreach.”

OK.  And then the detail:

“The European Commission wants the power to force companies to fill orders within the European Union first during times of crisis, or risk fines.

According to a draft document seen by Bloomberg News, “the Commission may, in exceptional circumstances,” require companies to accept such priority rated orders of “crisis-relevant goods.””

Well it sounds reasonable.  But then:

“If they don’t, companies could face fines up to “1.5% of the average daily turnover in the preceding business year for each working day of non-compliance,” the draft said.”

Hmm. So that may be why:

“ … Nine EU countries — including Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands — warned this summer as the proposal was being drafted that it could overstep the bloc’s authority.”

The policy springs from the EU’s well-remembered failures in coordinating the actions of its member states in the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

If enacted, the powers to suspend private contracts and direct company production would represent a remarkable restraint – and indeed control – of trade.  But arguably on the lines of the powers of the US government in similar circumstances, its supporters would retort.

What is less clear is why the combined national powers of the EU’s 27 member states to manage crisis (under the wise guidance of the EU) are not enough.

The EU policy rests on the truism that because elected national governments find it hard to cooperate, power must steadily aggregate at a higher level. So far the traffic has been one way.

Now, while the UK government dealt better with the vaccine and medical supply issues that so embarrassed the EU, many would say that since Brexit it has been no slouch itself when it comes to generating bad policy.  

But you could also argue that it hasn’t built an instrument for its creation; that it is clearly responsible when it fails; and that it is less overt in taking failure as a reason to push policy further.

And these coordination issues are not mere technical problems, they are the essence of politics.

Take the biggest issue of the year: Ukraine.

The actions of the German government (and those of a few other European countries) suggest they believe their economic and security interests are served by appeasing Vladimir Putin – up to a point.  Others very much do not. So agreement on a meaningful EU common policy is impossible.

In this instance, you might agree that’s not good. But do the benefits of a political union which would allow a single body to enforce a common foreign policy (including say a decision to go to war) outweigh the costs of political diversity in a continental union with nearly 500 million citizens?

Great exam question. Discuss.  Additional marks will be awarded for incorporating America’s 250-year examination of the pre-inclusive proposition that all men are created equal.

So Europe’s don’t-look-at-us approach is less a weakness of the European Union, and more a reflection of the diversity of its interests (even if one believes some of them to be mistaken). And conversely, a common policy will arise from shared fear of Russian political influence, rather than different political machinery.

The belief that Europe’s problems are those of political machinery and can be solved by transferring power to higher and more technocratic levels to ensure uniform outcomes, starts to assume the dimensions of a category error (although the average Brexiteer could be forgiven for only intuiting this proposition).

Therefore Europe’s more sensible national leaders will, as Bloomberg reports, perform their traditional function of curbing the EU’s more outrageous demands.

Exiled from this demanding chore, Britain’s new PM will have the less-traditional responsibility of examining and disgorging political responsibilities and associated powers which accumulated during Britain’s membership of the EU and have yet to be reshaped. This will offend many people.

And the sheer scale and all-embracing nature of this task should not be underestimated. Just look at Boris and company’s tortured efforts to reach a compromise which keeps Northern Ireland embedded in the United Kingdom without a further decisive break with the EU.

Liz Truss does seem cheerfully ready to offend many of the right people but one fears that it may take serious economic weather before enough believe it’s really necessary.

Thubron, Gorbachev and Putin: who is the odd man out?

It’s hard to believe Colin Thubron, writer, is more than eighty years old.  In his latest epic – ‘The Amur River: Between Russia and China’ – we can wince as he describes carrying fractured ankle and ribs for several thousand miles from the swamps of Mongolia through Russian detention.

Thubron is really a historian of sorts.  His longevity (personal and professional) and his absorption in the contested Eurasian borderlands allows him to interpret his interlocutors’ most painful memories.

Mikhail Gorbachev – who died yesterday – was another student of Russian history.  Google has no record of the esteemed travel writer’s meeting the last supreme leader of the USSR (Thubron’s breakthrough work ‘Among the Russians’ was published in 1983) but one imagines he would have been uniquely equipped to distil the inherited memories of the Russian-Ukrainian family’s suffering during the Stalin famine.  

Assuming that the politician would let him do so.

Gorbachev leaned on history to create a vision for a greater Russian state.  But – like his predecessor Kerensky – he found neither state nor people would respond to his plan in a coherent fashion.

Odd you might think, because when the – perhaps inevitable – civil war broke out in August 1991, the old order vapourized in a few skirmishes.  And despite being on the winning side (wasn’t everybody then), there was no following – or place – for Gorbachev in the new order.

Vladimir Putin also has a keen interest in Russian history.  Indeed it’s the basis of his vision for the country’s future.

As news comes through that there is still no place for Gorbachev in the new order (the Kremlin won’t give him a state funeral), it’s ironical to consider that Putin is the Soviet leader who has managed to achieve a reformulation of the USSR.  Gorbachev’s dream – now as nightmare.

If Gorbachev was the theorist with the plan, Putin was the pragmatist.  Where Gorbachev fragmented the system and gave away both sticks and carrots, Putin – with the attention to needs of the most astute democratic politicians –  painstakingly, and with a great deal of trial-and-error, built a durable coalition from old powers like the security services, the military command and ethnic bosses, and new powers, like the oligarchs.

Putin’s power grew as competing forces (including some former allies of convenience, like the oligarchs) were neutralised.

People from prosperous and gentle countries, like New Zealand, can be obtuse in coming to terms with the fact that both peaceful and violent societies need a dedicated cadre of public servants thinking about where to use violence and kill; on whom to inflict it; and by what rules and procedures.  Indeed, it can be more complicated at the kinder end of the spectrum (ask our defence officials about their participation in the Russian-killing programme, for example).

Putin is one of those public servants.  He joined the KGB, the Soviet institution which quintessentially embodied that responsibility.  

While Gorbachev’s actions showed a tremendous desire to avoid the use of force to achieve his goals, it’s hard to say that about Putin.  His record suggests an emotional attitude closer to Stalin’s, of whom the poet Osip Mandelstam (also one of his victims) said: 

“He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries. / He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.”

One can imagine a powerpoint presentation in the Kremlin running through the kill-list, with Putin then leading a vigorous discussion on the appropriate toxins, calibrating the suffering to the crime.  Personal justice demands personal attention.

But back to Thubron, whose ruminations remind us that sometimes – as with Gorbachev – you just can’t force some things on the Russians, and sometimes – as with Putin, and others – you can.

Thubron’s people are the descendants of camp survivors, war veterans, party torturers; those who endured the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ones born after; and those who just kept their heads down.

By getting into an extended war in the Ukraine, Putin’s ability to force things on Thubron’s people may be slipping.  It’s giving them a choice: between an insular and – in some ways – more secure society, and a freer and, in social terms, less stable one.  With the price paid in lives.

You can see that China’s General-Secretary Xi might have a keen interest in restricting the scope for choice in Russia and thus be anxious to help Putin redeploy Russian soldiers to the Ukraine from Colin Thubron’s Amur river.

With Ukraine’s attempts to recapture Kherson building up and reports of facilities to re-educate Putin’s ‘liberated’ Ukrainians, we get a step closer to an answer.

PM traces shift in our independent foreign policy under Labour – and rails against ‘morally bankrupt’ United Nations

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, enjoying her  global celebrity  status  in Australia,  has  also succeeded in  clawing back  her  poll  ratings  in New Zealand.   According  to the  Roy Morgan  poll,  Labour has  risen  a  couple  of  points  to   33.5%  while  National has  edged  back a  point  to 39% since  May.

On the  Roy Morgan  sampling, the  Maori Party  would  hold  the balance  of  power.   Given the  apparent distaste of that party’s two members  in Parliament  for  parties  of the  Right, this could ensure  Labour  has  another term .

Ardern brushed off  a  question on the  ABC  about her  global celebrity  status, saying  her  total  focus  was  at  home.

“That  is  what matters  to  me”.

Nevertheless  her major  speech  in  Australia, to  the  Lowy Institute,  centred on  NZ’s  foreign  policy  and  traced  how  far   NZ  has moved since  Labour  took office in 2017. Continue reading “PM traces shift in our independent foreign policy under Labour – and rails against ‘morally bankrupt’ United Nations”

Yes, the speed limit (on one stretch of our roads) has been lifted but Wood must do much more to rate with Bob Semple

Buzz from the Beehive

Transport  Minister Michael  Wood   has been  busy  beating   his drum  over  the  move  to lift  the  speed  limit on the Waikato Expressway to  110km/h, between Hampton Downs and Tamahere.

He  points  out that the Waikato Expressway is a key transport route for the Waikato region, connecting Auckland to the agricultural and business centres of the central North Island.  The features making it safer for travelling at higher speeds include having at least two lanes in each direction, a central median barrier, and no significant curves.

His press statement was among those to flow from the Beehive since Point of Order’s previous Buzz, including news of further support for Ukraine:

  • $4.5 million to provide Ukraine with additional non-lethal equipment and supplies such as medical kit for the Ukrainian Army
  • Deployments extended for New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) intelligence, logistics and liaison officers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium
  • Secondment of a senior New Zealand military officer to support International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations, and additional funding to the ICC, including the Trust Fund for Victims.

Continue reading “Yes, the speed limit (on one stretch of our roads) has been lifted but Wood must do much more to rate with Bob Semple”

Impeding food production with taxes on emissions is a bad idea when the world is tipping towards mass hunger

As the war in  the Ukraine drags  on, the  international   food  crisis  is  deepening. The  Economist put it  simply but grimly:

“The war is tipping a  fragile  world towards  mass  hunger. Fixing that is  everyone’s  business”.  

So  shouldn’t  the  New Zealand Government   be  exhorting  farmers to  go  all out to produce  as  much  as  they  can   for  this  country  to be  lifting  its  food  exports?  Is   this  the  time   for  the  government  to be erecting  new  hurdles to impede the  production  of  food?  Shouldn’t  it  delay  the  plan  to tax methane emissions for  at  least  12  months? 

Let’s look  at what  The  Economist further said:

“The  war is  battering a  global food  system weakened   by  Covid-19, climate  change,  and  an energy  shock.  Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened.

“Together, the two countries supply 12% of traded calories. Wheat prices, up 53% since the start of the year, jumped a further 6% on May 16th, after India said it would suspend exports because of an alarming heatwave.   

“The widely accepted idea of a cost-of-living crisis does not begin to capture the gravity of what may lie ahead. António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, warned on May 18th that the coming months threaten ‘the spectre of a global food shortage’. The  high cost  staple foods has already raised the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn.

“Nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. If, as is likely, the war drags on and supplies from Russia and Ukraine are limited, hundreds of millions more people could fall into poverty. Political unrest will spread, children will be stunted and people will starve.”

 ANZ Bank  economist Susan Kilsby, in her recent edition of the  bank’s Agri-focus, said global food prices continue to strengthen as shortages loom for basic foods such as grains.

“This means there will also be a shortage of carbohydrates to feed livestock. This won’t directly impact New Zealand food production systems, but it will impact our competitors who rely on grain to produce beef and milk. At the same time, the price of growing pasture has also gone up, as global fertiliser costs have soared.”

The shortages of those basic feed stocks would underpin global production costs and keep production in check, but it would also erode the ability of poorer countries to import the higher-value foods that New Zealand exports, Kilbsy said.

The recent lockdowns in China had disrupted supply chains and impacted demand for some of the food products we export to China.

They also were having a significant impact on the economies of many other Asian nations.

“China plans to increase fiscal spending to offset some of the impacts of the lockdowns, but the direct impact of the disruptions to supply chains will be felt even harder in many other Asian nations.

“The quantity of New Zealand’s meat, dairy and horticultural goods available for export globally has been impacted by either detrimental weather or labour shortages.”

Kilsby noted that He Waka Eke Noa has delivered its recommendations for pricing agricultural emissions and the Government is expected to formally adopt these recommendations in December.

“Methane emissions pricing is expected to have a larger impact on deer, sheep and beef farms than dairy farms.”  

Point  of  Order  notes  that the  government  has  been  silent  on  these  issues  (admittedly Agricultural Minister Damien  O’Connor  has  been on  missions  abroad).

But  surely   this  is time for  it to  take  the  lead  in   striving to  expand  the country’s food  production  and  exports to feed a world which The Economist says is headed for mass hunger.

Buzz from the Beehive – lots of spending, some foreign affairs initiatives and (be nervous, readers) a review of our electoral laws

Just in case the affected voters and constituencies haven’t bothered to check how much funding they are being given in Budget 2022 (or how much they have  lost in some cases), ministers have been letting them know in post-Budget press statements.

At least, they have been letting them know when the sums have been increased. They tend not to draw attention to budgets that have been cut.

Today we learn that – Continue reading “Buzz from the Beehive – lots of spending, some foreign affairs initiatives and (be nervous, readers) a review of our electoral laws”

Buzz from the Beehive: Aussie PM is congratulated, US trade mission is announced, and a quintet gives war criminals cause to quaver

The country’s international relationships have loomed large in Beehive announcements since Friday.

One press statement – from the PM – congratulated Anthony Albanese and the Australian Labor Party on winning the Australian Federal election.  Jacinda Ardern said:

“Australia is our most important partner, our only official ally and single economic market relationship, and I believe our countries will work even more closely together in these tumultuous times.”

Ardern hopes to meet Albanese “in the near future” and looks forward to working with him on a range of issues including supporting New Zealanders living in Australia, making trans-Tasman business even easier, deepening our partnership with our close friends in the Pacific, and advancing our interests on the world stage.

A statement this morning announced the PM will lead a trade mission to the United States this week to support export growth and the return of tourists post COVID-19. Continue reading “Buzz from the Beehive: Aussie PM is congratulated, US trade mission is announced, and a quintet gives war criminals cause to quaver”