Wednesday, 16th March, 2022

[Day 730]

Today turned out to be wet and windy – just as the weather forecasters had predicted but unpleasant enough to be sure. We did have plans to go out to one of the small neighbouring towns but it was not the kind of weather for strolling up and down a place you do not really know so we quickly bandoned those plans. Instead, we decided to go back to our usual haunts of a trip to Droitwich and then we got there, we made for our usual coffee shop and treated ourselves to coffee and scones – scones are not really my thing when I am trying to count the carbs but their teacakes had failed to arrive this morning. Then we went round Wilko which is always a pleasure. I managed to buy a replacement for an ‘Anglepoise’ style lamp which bit the dust the other day. Its replacement is a small but beautifully designed little spot light in a dove grey which completely lights up the dull corner of my deak and cost me the princely sum of £6.50 (which is about half the price of its nearest competitors such as Asda and even Argos) Other purchasers seem to have given it glowing reviews (if these are to be believed) but so far, it absolutely needs my needs and according to the blurb on the side of the led bulb box, the bulbs should last for an average of 25,000 hours (11-12 years of use if I have it on for 6 hours a day.

The news today has been dominated by news other than from the Ukraine. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian woman who has been in jail in Iran for six years. Her husband has campaigned tirelessly for her release but the Iranians have been hanging onto her for years on a variety of trumped up charges in an attempt to get the UK to pay a long-standing debt. This is a historic £400m debt for tanks bought by the Iranians but not delivered (in the days of the Shah of Iran) For years, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) claimed the two issues (of the unpaid debt and the gaol sentence handed out to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe) were not connected. But in practice, the Iranians made them one and the same issue. Some in the FCDO had wanted to pay the debt but were prevented initially by reluctance within the Treasury and the United States, fearing it would reward hostage-taking and even fund terrorism. So this good news has largely crowded even the Ukraine war.

There are some indications this evening that the Russians and Ukrainians may be having ‘serious’ peace talks with each other. With Moscow’s ground advance on the Ukrainian capital stalled, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said a neutral military status for Ukraine was being ‘seriously discussed’ by the two sides. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s demands for ending the war were becoming ‘more realistic’. According to the Financial Times, a 15-point plan to end the fighting has been drawn up. This includes a ceasefire and a Russian withdrawal, with Kyiv having to accept neutrality and curbs on its armed forces. Citing three sources involved in the negotiations, the FT said Ukraine would have to give up its bid to join NATO – something Mr Zelenskyy has already hinted at. Of course, it would not be the first time that negotiations have started, appear to be progressing and then break down. There was also the reaction broadcast on Radio 4 this morning that sometimes both sides, even in a severe conflict, may find it in their interests to ‘pause’ or having a temporary ceasefire if only to resupply and this despite the negotiations going on above their heads.There seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that the Ukraine’s potential membership of NATO is now ‘off the table’ and I am sure that the degree of autonomy to be given to the two Russian speaking areas will be contentious in the extreme.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that the number of today’s blog is 730 i.e. exactly twice 365 or a complete two years of blog. So this blog started when as a society we were just about to start on the very first lockdown and one has to reflect that we have had quite a significant couple of years. In fact, the everyday news of the pandemic seemed to end on one day and the war in Ukraine started on the next. I do get the feeling that like those kaleidoscope puzzles that you shake and then all of the pieces end up in a different configuration, one has almost the same feelings about the current world order. For example. Germany has made an immense shiftt in its own foreign policy and is now going to sepnd a much higher proportion of its GDP on armaments – no doubt reasoning that with Russia in its present leadership this is no time for pacific sentiments.