Something, whatever, should be done to end the ruinous Russia-Ukraine war. It seems to have hit a stalemate, with no quick end in sight. The two countries must take deliberate steps to stop this war.
The world must push them to this end. The high fuel and food prices and general disorganisation across the world that it has brought has made everybody suffer.
Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenksy needs to take the lead in this initiative. He should open negotiations with Russia. His country's cities are being destroyed by fusillades of missiles and drones fired from Russia. Infrastructure is being systematically destroyed.
The electric grid is in shambles. Power blackouts are the norm. This has affected critical facilities like hospitals. Worse, millions of Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees.
It is important to keep in mind that the war is being mainly prosecuted inside Ukraine. This means the destruction is happening in Ukraine in a mostly one-sided way. The Ukrainian war effort is concentrated on expelling the Russians from regions of eastern Ukraine like Donbas, which Moscow had annexed.
The Nato military alliance that groups together America and Western Europe is actively backing Ukraine. But up to a point. True, they have gifted Ukraine with enormous quantities of armaments and billions of dollars in cash.
However, the US especially is wary of giving heavy weapons that will allow Ukraine to extend the war into Russian territory. That is a no-no for America because it could have unpredictable consequences.
That’s the reason Nato countries have baulked at supplying state-of-the-art jet fighters to Ukraine. There’s a risk a hemmed-in Russia could retaliate with nuclear weapons. Nobody wants that at all.
Now Zelensky is desperate for advanced weapons from the West to take the war to the Russians. He was recently promised Patriot anti-missile batteries from America. This system is quite sophisticated and will limit Russia’s missiles hitting Ukraine.
Sweden is helping with field artillery. Britain is providing munitions and Challenger tanks. However, what Zelensky badly wants are Leopard tanks made in Germany. They are reputed to be the best in the war business. They are very manoeuvrable and agile. But Germany is not too keen to supply them to Ukraine.
Other European countries that bought the Leopard tanks are willing to give some to Ukraine. The snag is, Germany must give permission to countries who have bought its weaponry before they are given out or sold to third parties, and the country is not keen to give the okay.
Officially it has given two reasons for this reluctance. First, it says it doesn’t want the war to escalate. Second, it wants to see if America will offer Ukraine its own Abrams tanks. Talks between the Nato allies on whether to offer the tanks had been scheduled for Friday in Germany. The country could still be persuaded to give the Leopards away, but it will be a tough sell.
Drain Russian resources
The strategic goal of the West seems to be quite cynical. It's to give Ukraine sufficient weapons that will drain Russian resources and strain its military. But not enough to fight effectively inside Russian territory. Nato is calibrating this war accordingly.
The idea is to weaken the once-vaunted superpower severely. Last week, British Defence minister Ben Wallace made this clear: "We are with Ukraine for the long haul. Whether it takes five years, 10 or even 15." Without a doubt, Russia miscalculated by invading Ukraine. It has no real ally in this war except its neighbour Belarus and to some extent Iran and North Korea. Yet all these cannot quite match Western military firepower.
The big loser will be Ukraine. It could succeed in expelling the Russians from the annexed regions, yet it is Ukraine that is being systematically reduced to rubble. Zelensky should stop being gung-ho and open negotiations immediately.
Nato should support that. I think Russia knows it won't win this war outright. It is most likely amenable for talks without putting impossible preconditions. The weapons Nato can supply Ukraine are clearly superior to Russia's armoury.
No war can have a happy ending. Even when you are powerful. Europe itself is sliding into recession. One of the reasons is that Russia has cut gas and oil supplies to the West. (Russia is the second largest exporter of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia).
Moscow is itself reeling from painful Western sanctions. Still, a European recession will affect Africa grievously.
The most visible impact of the war on Africa is rising fuel and food prices, and inflation and financial instability. As of Thursday, the US dollar was exchanging at a mean of KShs124, the lowest the shilling has fallen in living memory.
Meanwhile, commodities like wheat, fertiliser and sunflower (for making cooking oil), of which Ukraine and Russia were big exporters, have experienced price shocks. Supply chains of various commodities have also been badly disrupted.
The closure of Black Sea ports, from where most of the African trade with Russia is conducted, has been heavily felt by African countries. The poorest are the hardest hit as a large proportion of their consumption expenditure goes to food and transport. And all this coming at a time Africa and the world have yet to recover fully from the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Let’s not over-tax Kenyans for the sake of higher revenues. We can scale back and still live comfortably within our means. Kenyans are over-taxed and their businesses over-regulated. SMEs struggle to thrive in such an environment. By all means, go for tax evaders and make them pay.
I believe we can close many tax loopholes when we need these people. But please don't introduce too many punitive taxes. We need lower taxes and deregulation. Kenyans need the extra money in their pockets for stimulus.
[email protected]; @GitauWarigi