Friday, 11th March, 2022

[Day 725]

Today was a dismal day but we did not mind too much because it was the day when our domestic help calls around and we are always glad to have a chat and a catch up on the week’s news. But through the post this morning, I received another flash drive which is the same size as the SSD in my MacBook (a measly 128GB) so I rapidly reformatted it to the MAC formatting system and then got it to work making a backup of all of my transient (non-App) files. This was going to take it about an hour and somewhat more so I just let it get on with it whilst I had breakfasted and then showered. As the day was so showery, Meg and I had a think (but not for long) and decided to go down into town by car. So we collected our newspaper and then set off for the cafe in the park where we anticipated that we would meet with our two regular friends. This proved to be the case and in no time at all we were discussing big geo-politics. Should Estonia be admitted to Nato and was it a good idea to admit the Baltic states to Nato and so on. Of course, the over-riding question to all of this is to determine if there is a point at which ‘the West’ feels compelled to challenge Putin’s Russia directly although the risks of a third World War and a nuclear confrontation are increased considerably. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the country has reached a ‘strategic turning point’ in the conflict, and that he is convinced Ukraine can win. He also accused Russia of deploying Syrian mercenaries into Ukraine, following Vladimir Putin’s invitation for volunteers to fight for the country. Meanwhile, there are several reports that are indicating that drones are being successfully used to attack Russian supply lines and 2-3 Russian commanders were killed in the last day or so. Also, the Ukrainians are very successfully utilising some not so subtle propaganda when they capture any Russian soldiers who are usually conscripts. The first thing they do is to put a mobile phone in the young conscript’s hands and say ‘Phone your mother and tell her where you are and what you have been doing‘ This is proving to be quite an effective tactic as it means that information not provided by the Russian state is going straight into the families and communities from which the young conscripts come and this is certainly helping to fuel whatever counter-culture there is in Russian society at the moment.

And now for domestic political news – although not a million miles away from the Ukrainian conflict. I think it is fair to say the UK response to accepting refugees from the Ukraine has been laggardly, bureaucratic and quite frankly inhumane. We are requiring that refugees have passports and then must travel from Calais to Lille or to Paris or to Brussels to get a visa having submitted a long application form and supplied their biometric data. Practically every other European society are allowing the refugees in instantly and indicate they will get the paperwork sorted out later. But the UK is insisting that everyone supplies a visa and biometrics in case terrorists use the crisis to ‘sneak’ into the UK. Two sources told Sky News that Mr Johnson, his new chief of staff Steve Barclay and Number 10 head of policy Andrew Griffith have been cautious about opening up routes for Ukrainians to come in large numbers without full checks. ‘The problem is Number 10 – the PM and Steve Barclay – who are personally slapping this down’ said a source. A Tory source said that some people in Number 10 have been more hardline on migration issues than many expected, and it was unfair that Ms Patel was getting the blame. It does seem almost unbelievable that Priti Patel’s suggestions for more humanitarian approaches are being slapped down. There has been some reluctant liberalisation announced day by day and the latest sitution is that one can apply online (assuming, of course, that you can supply biomtrics and passpports online). It really does seem that our present Home Office throws up every (bureaucratic) obstacle it can think of to allow more Ukrainians to enter the country but the media are already focussing upon the cruelties involved in the system – asking a blind, 80 year old mother who have never used the internet to travel to Lille or to Paris and wait there for days until an application for a visa is accepted or rejected. To illustrate the problem, then about 760 visas have been granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme, with 22,000 applications ‘on their way through’. This represents less than 3.5% of the total eligible. Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked multiple questions about the UK’s handling of Ukrainian refugees at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, a government source said, with everyone said to be raising concerns. As one cabinet minister is reported to have said ‘The process isn’t necessarily going as fast as it could be. Is the Home Office the right department to be running this? Not sure’ If I were a cartoonist I would certainly draw a cartoon of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in their flight into Egypt being turned back at the border because they did not have a visa.