IT was way back in 1987 that German teenager Mathias Rust landed a small Cessna plane near Red Square in the heart of Moscow.

Rust later said that his aim was to “build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds”.

For his efforts to help bring about world peace, Rust was jailed for more than a year while his gesture of flying 500 miles through Soviet air defences to land at the gates of the Kremlin surprised many, not least the Russians themselves.

Fast forward to last week’s alleged drone attack on the Kremlin and a similar sense of astonishment prevails as to how anyone could have breached the ­defences of one of the world’s most protected ­political redoubts.

Who exactly flew those drones over the Kremlin last Wednesday is a ­question yet to be answered.

While details are scant, three possible scenarios present ­themselves. The first is that it was ­indeed an audacious attempt to assassinate ­Russian president Vladimir Putin, as the Kremlin claimed, though this is barely credible given how small the ­explosion was.

“Pretty, but ineffective, unfortunately,” said one senior Ukrainian official when asked about the attack shortly after the Kremlin issued its statement.

“At the ­moment I don’t know who did it. It seems it wasn’t ours.”

The second explanation is that it was in fact a Kremlin-staged military ­black-flag operation designed to justify a violent ­response on Ukraine by Russia.

But this begs the question would ­Russia really run the risk of a black-flag ­operation that suggests the Kremlin is vulnerable and all that would mean for Putin’s reputation in the eyes of ordinary Russians?

The third – and perhaps most likely ­explanation – is that Ukraine did ­indeed carry it out as a way of sending a ­symbolic and demonstrative message to Putin saying “see, we can reach you should we choose”.

Small drones of the kind used last week generally need the controller to be ­comparatively close nearby, ­suggesting again that if Ukraine was behind the ­alleged attack, then it was perhaps carried out by agents or partisan groups aligned to it.

That being the case it will certainly have given both Putin and Russia’s ­security services food for thought as to the threat level posed.

Adding further to Russia’s woes in what has not been a good week for the ­Kremlin and its war with Ukraine was the sharp escalation of the rivalry between Russia’s disparate military forces fighting on the ground.

READ MORE: Sudan: Scottish family stuck amid conflict, says SNP MP

That rivalry reached a new and ­bitter pitch after the head of the Wagner ­mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin ­published a statement and ­expletive-ridden video in which he raged at Russia’s top generals, defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov with whom he has a long-running feud.

“They came here as volunteers and are dying for you so that you can have a wealthy life and sit in your redwood ­offices. Keep that in mind,” Prigozhin said, glaring furiously into the camera and surrounded by dozens of Russian corpses.

“We have a 70% shortage of ­ammunition. Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where is the ******* ammunition?”

In ­another video issued later, he accused Shoigu and Gerasimov of being responsible for “tens of thousands of Wagner dead and injured” and said he would hold them to account before announcing that he would withdraw Wagner forces from the still raging battle around the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

The stated withdrawal date of May 10 this week gives Russian defence chiefs just five days to fill the gap a Wagner pullout would create. Some analysts say Prigozhin’s behaviour looked like an ­attempt to pin the blame for Russia’s ­setbacks and losses in Ukraine on Shoigu at precisely the moment when Kyiv is set to launch a major counteroffensive.

This rapidly escalating spat between the Wagner chief and Russia’s top ­generals is bad news for Putin and puts the Russian leader in a tricky position requiring him to intervene before the situation boils over with all the destabilising potential that would entail.

In short, the pressure is mounting on Putin and Russia and as ­Ukrainian ­attacks intensify on its infrastructure there is a growing sense that Kyiv’s much-anticipated counteroffensive is not far off commencing.

If the last week has been a bad one for the Kremlin, it could be about to get a whole lot worse.

Erdogan faces toughest race in coming election

He has been Turkey’s leader for two decades. In that time, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been an uncompromising politician and one known also for his capacity to see off any opposition. 

But as the country’s voters head for the polls on May 14, deciding the fate of Turkey’s democracy less than three months after a February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people and displaced more than 5.9 million across southern Turkey and Syria, Erdogan faces a tough political contest.  

Currently, the forthcoming election is on a knife edge with most polls showing Erdogan trailing by a small margin.

Were Erdogan to be politically evicted, not only would it be a profound political reversal, but the global ramifications would also make a significant mark.  

To begin with, it would point the direction as to where Turkey is heading economically and what role it might play in its relations with countries and leaders in the Middle East, European Union, Nato and the United States.  

Above all else, the election will take place amid a serious economic crisis and what analysts say is the erosion of democracy under Erdogan’s rule. 

During his first decade in power, Erdogan rode an economic boom but in the second decade, all that has changed as he took over complete control of monetary policy and insisted on his unorthodox theory that high interest rates cause inflation.

The result has been prices racing out of control and people alarmed at the price of staples. 

Facing off against Erdogan is opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and presidential nominee for the six-party Nation Alliance bloc. 

Should Kilicdaroglu win the presidency, he has pledged to restore the bank’s independence and bring inflation down to single figures. But polls indicate that both men will struggle to secure 50% of the vote since several other candidates are also vying for the presidency. 

If neither candidate captures half the vote, a run-off will be held on May 28. This would mark the first time Turkey has gone to a second round since a new presidential system took effect in 2017. 

“Erdogan’s pathway to victory really can’t be a first-round win – that’s not realistic,” says Selim Koru, an analyst at the Ankara-based Tepav think tank.  

“He needs to get parliament in (the) first round, then in (the) second round, argue ‘Vote for me, or else we’ll have a divided government’,” Koru was cited by the Financial Times as saying. 

Turkey’s demographics will likely play a key role in the outcome. Nearly five million first-time voters, most of whom would have only known Erdogan as a leader, are expected to take part this year. 

The impact of the earthquake will also be a factor, given that most of the provinces struck by the quake were strongholds of Erdogan and his AK party and many of those citizens displaced are not expected to vote. 

Many analysts say that should Erdogan lose, it would send a message to democrats everywhere that the erosion of democracy can 
be reversed. 

This month will tell whether that message goes out, but there’s no doubt that this time around, Erdogan has his work cut out.

Generals dig in for long haul as civilians continue to pay price

‘TO Jaw-Jaw is better than to War-War,” goes the old saying. This weekend – on the face of it at least – Sudan’s warring parties looked set to talk as well as fight after negotiations were said to be taking place in the Saudi city of Jeddah. 

The US-Saudi initiative is the first serious attempt to end three weeks of fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that has turned parts of the capital Khartoum into war zones and derailed an internationally backed plan to usher in civilian rule following years of unrest and uprisings. 

But whatever happens between the respective envoys in Jeddah this weekend, the reality on the ground in Sudan would suggest that both sides remain unwilling to make compromises to end the bloodshed. 

So far, army leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a career military officer, and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former militia leader known as Hemedti who comes from the strife-torn western region of Darfur, have shown little public willingness to negotiate. 

Both the army and the rival RSF have insisted they will only discuss humanitarian ceasefires and not negotiations on ending the conflict leaving many regional analysts to conclude that both warring generals are digging in for a protracted war.  

Witnesses reported continued air raids and explosions in various parts of Khartoum on Friday, just as the envoys were heading to Jeddah. 

The conflict has killed about 700 people so far, most of them in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) that monitors political violence.  

Speaking last week at a Senate hearing US director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that Washington expected the conflict to continue for a long time.

The fighting was “likely to be protracted as both sides believe that they can win militarily and have few incentives to come to the negotiating table,” Haines warned. 

“Both sides are seeking external sources of support, which, if successful, is likely to intensify the conflict and create a greater potential for spillover challenges in the region.” 

Haines’s remarks were echoed by a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General who said the conflict could cause hunger and malnutrition for 19 million people in the coming months. 

It’s a bleak assessment for a crisis that to date, the international community seems at best to have been slow to respond to and which might yet result in widespread regional instability.  

Caribbean nations ponder dropping monarchy

THEY have been independent for decades. But both Belize and Jamaica, like 12 other commonwealth nations outside Britain, retained the UK sovereign as head of state.  

All that however could be about to change after leading politicians in both countries said they are on course to ditch King Charles III as their head of state and become republics.  

Ever since the death of Queen Elizabeth, debates have resurfaced across the Caribbean over whether to split from the monarchy, as Barbados did in 2021 when Charles attended republican celebrations that year as the royal standard was lowered for the last time on an island once known as “Little England.” 

The British monarch is also head of state in 14 other countries: Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. 

But for many in the Caribbean, the monarchy is a reminder of colonial occupation, slavery and exploitation.

Speaking recently at a meeting to discuss the monarchy, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s minister of legal and constitutional affairs, made the case for severing ties with King Charles as the country’s head of state. 

“The British Crown, the presence of Britain in Jamaica, is mixed up with the transatlantic slave trade, and with it, injustice and racism,” Malahoo Forte said.  

In a more recent interview with Sky News, she said that Charles’s coronation has accelerated her nation’s plans to become a republic. 

“Time has come. Jamaica in Jamaican hands,” she told the broadcaster. 

A similar view, it appears, exists in Belize whose prime minister Johnny Briceño said the country is “quite likely” to be the next state to leave the Commonwealth and become a republic. 

In an interview with The Guardian, the centre-left prime minister did not specify if he would draft a bill to become a republic, but the motion would first need parliamentary approval before being put to a public referendum. 

However, a poll run by the company owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft, the British-Belizean businessman and former deputy chair of the Conservative Party, revealed that Belize would vote to maintain the monarchy in a hypothetical referendum held tomorrow. 

In the findings, 48% of Belizeans said they would vote to keep the monarchy, while 43% would opt for a republic. 

The poll, conducted in February and March this year, included 510 adults 
from Belize and 22,701 adults from the other countries where King Charles III is head of state.