Ukraine servicemen ride on a tank. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon: "Nato is getting ready" for Russian aggression in Baltics

In light of Russia's seizure of Crimea and fighting in Ukraine, the Defence Secretary warns that the Baltics may be next.

The Defence Secretary has warned that the Baltics could be next to face Russian aggression.

Following the Russian President Vladimir Putin's seizure of the Crimea, and the intense fighting in Ukraine, Michael Fallon is concerned about Russia's neighbours in the Baltics, saying there is a "real and present danger" in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The Baltic states are members of Nato, and so any combative moves by Putin in that part of Europe would be a significant development in the conflict. Indeed, Fallon called for Nato states to be prepared for aggression from Russia "in whatever form it takes", and added that "Nato is getting ready" for such circumstances:

I'm worried about Putin. I'm worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing Nato.

As the BBC reports, one principle of Nato is that an "attack against one or several members is considered as an attack against all".

The UK government has been accused of taking a back seat role in the Ukraine crisis so far, its most significant intervention being heavy economic sanctions against Russia. Fallon's comments suggest not only Britain's view that the conflict in that part of the world is far from over, but also that it could reconsider its decision not to have a military role or provide "lethal assistance" to Ukraine.

And it's not just Fallon. Labour's shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, is also concerned about Putin's approach to the Baltics:

President Putin clearly has a strategy for the Baltic states – that emphasises dependence on natural gas and the manipulation of Russian minorities – which needs to be recognised and responded by both the EU and Nato . . . Following recent developments in eastern Ukraine, the international community must be ready to increase the pressure on the Kremlin by extending economic sanctions if President Putin refuses to change course.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496