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Russia is behaving like the 'Beast from the East'
THE British are more obsessed with the weather than most nations and any slightly unusual climatic event is greeted with screaming headlines in the press. To be honest, British weather is not that interesting. Despite being on a latitude that should bring extreme cold in winter and moderate heat in summer, our weather is dominated by the prevailing jetstream, which roughly flows from Canada across the unfrozen Atlantic. Sometimes, more northerly and sometimes more southerly, bringing the remnants of weather systems from the West. Rain and showers predominate, although the odd high-pressure system over Europe can bring dry events - cold in winter and hot in summer.
The last few winters have seen little ice and snow. However, this year has been different, due to a phenomenon known as a "Polar Vortex", which has thrown the jetstream off course. The month of March saw extremely cold air flow in from Russia, resulting in two major snowfalls over most of the country. As we are not used to this, water pipes burst, transport systems shut down, thousands were trapped in their cars and many rural areas were cut off for several days. Cue panic buying of food and disruption to supermarket supplies.
The media dubbed the first snowfall as the "Beast from the East" and the second as its return. There were initial dire warnings of "Beast from the East 3" over the Easter weekend ("White Easter Beast") but it turned out to be quite a washout, with torrential rain and snow across large parts of the UK.
Between the two "Beasts", a real one reared its ugly head. A Russian ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent in the city of Salisbury.
It is now clear that this was an assassination attempt by the Russian government, following on from several previous murders by them in the UK. I say "clear" because many countries have accepted the UK government's verdict, based on "comprehensive intelligence assessment" and scientific analysis, pointing the finger at President Vladimir Putin's regime and expelling diplomats as a result. Britain has been joined by the EU, the US, Australia and Canada in this action, with Russia responding tit-for-tat.
It has taken too long for nations to publicly accuse Mr Putin's Russia of international aggression. There are some historic sanctions in existence, but a lot of violent acts in recent years have been swept under the diplomatic carpet - the annexation of Crimea and parts of Ukraine, together with the shooting down of MH17, as well as war games threatening the Baltic states and Belarus. But the biggest piece of aggression has been in Syria, where Russia has supported the discredited regime of Bashar al-Assad since 2015.
The Syrian civil war must be the most shameful event in recent diplomatic history. As part of the "Arab Spring", it began in 2011 with civilian protests against the oppression of the Assad government. The rebels appealed many times to the "West" for assistance, even if only diplomatic, but were ignored as the major players, such as the US and UK, had their fingers burnt badly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their cause was then infiltrated, even hijacked, by extremist groups including ISIS, which saw an opportunity to expand its caliphate out of Iraq. The "rebels" could then be condemned by all sides and would receive no external assistance, apart from the Kurds, who saw their own opportunity to bolster their aims for nationhood. The shameful scenes that ensued and continue today in full media Technicolor are a stain on the whole world. The bombing and gassing of innocent civilians and a massive refugee crisis which reaches into the heart of Europe are changing EU policy on borders and influencing elections in several countries.
Russia was very happy to answer Mr Assad's pleas for help, giving it naval and airforce bases in the Mediterranean, and has been actively involved in several of the atrocities carried out by the regime. The international response to this aggression has been muted, while the death toll rises to more than 400,000 and external refugees to over 5.5 million.
The United Nations (UN), as ever, is powerless, not least because Russia has a veto on the Security Council. The UN's history of settling conflicts is appalling and no better than the discredited League of Nations.
It has taken a failed assassination attempt in the UK (although the two people involved have been seriously maimed) to actually unite nations and start to condemn Russia for its various aggressive actions. Hopefully, this will spur Mr Putin to have a more conciliatory mood.
- The writer is a business communications consultant in the UK