DURING my recent time in Ukraine one date seemed to occupy the minds of many people I spoke with while in the country. That date was May 9, which falls tomorrow and will see Russia have its annual Victory Day parade.

For decades the parade which ­commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II, has been used by Russian leaders to flaunt their strength and ­demonstrate Russia’s ­military ­prowess.

But this of course is no ordinary year, far from it, as Russian forces find ­themselves engaged in the biggest land war in Europe since those distant days battling Nazi Germany.

To say that the Victory Day parade is a big deal in Russia would be a gross ­understatement. Speaking to CNN the other day James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia Programme at the UK based defence think tank Chatham House, summed it up thus: “May 9 is ­designed to show off to the home crowd, to intimidate the opposition and to please the dictator of the time.”

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Put quite simply tomorrow’s parade ­matters not just for Russians but for ­ordinary Ukrainians as well as those ­Western political leaders who fear ­Russian President Vladimir Putin could use its symbolic significance to shift the dynamic of what to date has been a ­lumbering Russian military campaign since the invasion on February 24.

Few observers doubt that the Kremlin would have liked nothing better than a string of significant military gains in the run up to tomorrow’s parade. The fall of Mariupol or major victories in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region would doubtless have pleased Putin.

The Ukrainians themselves being all too aware of the propaganda boost such victories would have given Russia before tomorrow’s parade, have so far denied Putin such territorial prizes. But having been deprived of such victories what then might we expect from the Russian leader tomorrow?

The first thing worth watching for – and which concerns Western officials – is that Putin might use the occasion to ­formally declare war on Ukraine, something to date he has not done, instead ­describing the invasion as a “de-Nazification” ­process or “special military operation”.

A formal declaration of war however would be the toughest option while ­using the opportunity to enact Russia’s ­mobilisation law might be preferable.

This would allow Putin to assemble more troops, extending conscription and shift Russia’s economy on to a war footing in a week when the EU turned the screw on Moscow by announcing a raft of new sanctions, including a ban on Russian oil imports by the end of this year.

Whatever Putin decides there’s growing speculation that tomorrow’s parade could well be a slimmed down version of past events.

Last year Putin used the day’s ­celebration to spread propaganda and to throw jabs at the West, denouncing ­“Russiaphobia” and vowing that his ­nation would defend its interests.

On display were more than 12,000 troops, 190 pieces of military hardware, plus a fly-past by nearly 80 military ­aircraft.

But the reality of the battlefield ­inside Ukraine right now means Moscow might have to think again for tomorrow. If ­parade guides published so far are ­anything to go by then Russia looks to have scaled own this tremendously ­important event by almost 35%.

As several security analysts have ­noted, among them Craig Hooper of Forbes ­business magazine, the shift is marked.

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“The shrunken parade reflects both the forces committed to the battlefield and large losses. The usual large contingent of Rosgvardia (National Guard) forces, ­after being mauled in Ukraine, are absent,” ­observed Hooper.

“The Russian military knows that this year’s Victory Day parade is a sad and tawdry show, and Putin, if he shows up, will have to sit through it all. It will not be a pleasant experience,” Hooper added.

But it’s precisely this potential for ­embarrassment that some say might drive Putin to new and even more aggressive levels of action. Mobilisation, martial law, a formal declaration of war, a declaration and annexing of a “people’s republic” in the south-eastern Ukrainian city of ­Kherson, any of these are possibilities.

As the war stretches into another month Ukrainians and Western nations alike are in suspense and will be watching closely for more tell-tale signs from ­Russia’s ­Victory Parade.

United States of America

IF some of last week’s most significant polls are anything to go by then an overwhelming majority of Americans are in favour of preserving abortion rights. 

The polls came in the wake of the startling publication last week by Politico magazine of a leaked initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. It revealed that the Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v Wade decision that safeguarded protected women’s access to abortions. 

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” Alito wrote in the draft opinion labelled “first draft”, which was not expected to be finalised for at least several more weeks and could change in its final form.

The National:

Following the leak, protesters rallied under the slogan “off our bodies” in cities across the US last week demanding abortion rights be protected.

“I just feel that we’re going backwards,” one of the abortion rights supporters Jane Moore told Reuters news agency of the prospect that Roe, which legalised abortion nationally nearly 50 years ago, could be struck down.

“It actually breaks my heart and makes me angry at the same time.”

Abortion rights were already expected to be a major issue and dividing line in many of the congressional midterm election battles, but last week’s events have now only added to the political and social upheaval, months before voters go to the polls. 

While many Republicans are still cautious that the court had not yet made a final decision some were upbeat at the prospect that the nearly 50-year-old ruling could be overturned.

“It’s about time!” Republican gubernatorial candidate for Wisconsin Lt Gov Rebecca Kleefisch tweeted last week.

For their part Democrats reeling from the leaked draft opinion, looked to capitalise on anger over the possibility but it might not work out as they expect. 

“Conventional wisdom right now is this helps Democrats because it will spur turnout, but it also could certainly spur turnout for base Republicans,” Glen Bolger, a Republican strategist was cited by The New York times as saying. “Generally, most voters focus on the economy, for instance, and right now of course, inflation is dominant.”

Political analysts point to the governor’s races as where the impact of the issue might be most felt in the elections.

Without the court’s protection for abortion rights, states would be free to enforce their own restrictions or protections giving a state’s executive an outsize role in determining whether abortion is legal.

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But Democrats point to the latest polls which show that Americans strongly oppose completely overturning Roe v Wade. 

According to a recent Washington Post -ABC poll 54% of Americans think the Roe decision should be upheld while 28% believe it should be overturned. 

Other polls appear to concur, leaving democrats believing that the US Supreme Court last week may have just given them an issue with which to turn around their flagging midterm election fortunes.

Tuesday, November 8 this year will tell whether their belief is borne out.

Either way abortion rights will remain a divisive issue in US politics.

Central African Republic 

WE’VE heard a lot of late about atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. Among their ranks too are said to be mercenary fighters from the Russian military contractor the Wagner Group. But in far-away Central African Republic (CAR) a similar litany of horrors is infolding largely unnoticed by the outside world. 

Or at least it was until the US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released detailed eyewitness accounts as part of a report of what is happening on the ground, that makes for grisly, if all too familiar reading. 

The witnesses described how Russian contractors killed at least 12 unarmed men at a roadblock last year. They also recounted how Russian mercenaries unlawfully detained and tortured civilians in several other incidents in recent years.

A civil war in the CAR that began in 2013, pitting numerous militias against a state on the verge of collapse, had eased considerably in recent years. But about a year ago, fighting resumed abruptly when rebels launched an offensive to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadera (below). 

The National:

It was after the president called on Moscow for help, that hundreds of Russian paramilitary forces helped push back the rebels, who still hold sway over swathes of the country.

Security analysts say the Russian military contractor is increasingly active in Africa, helping Moscow to expand its political influence and gain access to government revenue and natural resources. Reports of similar atrocities have also surfaced in the West African country of Mali.

According to data compiled by the NGO Armed Conflict Location and event Data Project (ACLED), as many as 456 civilians died in nine incidents involving Malian forces and Wagner between January and mid-April this year.

Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at HRW, said the Russian-identified forces seemed to be operating with complete impunity.

“The failure of the Central African Republic government and its partners to forcefully denounce their abuses, and to identify and prosecute those responsible, will most likely only fuel further crimes in Africa and beyond,” Sawyer said in a statement last week. 

And so, it’s not only Ukraine it would seem where the Wagner Group are making their violent presence felt. As Russia expands its influence across Africa and the contractor is further deployed as part of that process it’s more than likely stories like that highlighted by HRW will continue to surface.


REGULAR readers of Four Corners will know I have something of a fascination for the Caribbean country of Haiti. It stems back to numerous visits I have made over the years to this turbulent and beleaguered nation. 

In that time, I’ve seen a president overthrown and watched as Haiti suffered one of the worst earthquakes of modern times. But rarely can this volatile, impoverished country have experienced a more torturous time than what it is currently undergoing. 

Last week two events occurred that served as stark reminders of the turmoil that grips Haiti. The first was the release of Dominican Republic diplomat Carlos Guillen who was freed after four days having been abducted by a gang in Haiti. 

The second was the extradition of the leader of one of those most feared gangs called 400 Mawozo which last year abducted a group of missionaries from the US and Canada.

“Germine Joly aka ‘Yonyon’ was extradited, aboard a special FBI plane following a request for judicial assistance issued by the US judicial authorities,” Haiti’s National Police said in a statement.

It was the 400 Mawozo gang that made global headlines last October with the kidnapping of 17 missionaries who were held for two months, and in recent weeks has clashed with a rival gang in gun battles that have forced thousands to leave their homes.

More than 1200 people, 81 of them foreign nationals, were abducted last year, according to Haiti’s Centre for Analysis and Research on Human Rights.

Right now, Haiti is a place where gangs pretty much run everything having grown in strength ever since last July’s assassination of President Jovenel Moise left a power vacuum.

Today large portions of the capital Port au Prince and much of the countryside are no longer controlled by government authorities. 

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As Jess DiPierro Obert an American freelance journalist and one of the few based in Port au Prince outlined recently in The New Humanitarian magazine, “gangs have been part of the Haitian political landscape for decades often deployed by leaders to rally support or quell opposition”. 

But observers say what is happening now in Haiti where nearly half the population is under the age of 24 is unprecedented as violence spirals.

Not surprisingly the situation has angered and frustrated many Haitians, who are demanding action from Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration. 

But even with international help to boost underfunded and understaffed police force the chances of curtailing

the violence look slim and Haiti’s gangs look set to rule the streets for some time to come.