Pulling Together


Dover: the price of Odessa?

In mid-March things looked bleak for Odessa. As Russian armies advanced across Southern and Northern Ukraine it seemed only a matter of time before the last major port city on the Black Sea coast would come under the same attack as Mariupol in the East. No one at the time expected that to change and then, in a few days it all did. In the last week of March Putin announced a change in Russia’s direction. Many did not believe him, but as the weeks passed the Russian army has moved East to concentrate on the Donbas region.

The suggestion was that Putin’s original war aims were simply proving too difficult and he had chosen a different strategy; to continue the piecemeal takeover of Ukraine he had started with the Crimea eight years earlier.

Meanwhile at the other end of Europe, in one of the countries vociferously supporting Ukraine, another crisis was being planned. On 17th March, in a move which shocked the UK, P&O made its entire crews redundant and summarily replaced them with agency workers paid a fraction of the staff’s wages. The action ignored legal requirements to inform the government and unions in advance, and sparked a huge public controversy.

Deprived of experienced and trained staff, P&O ferries have not been able to meet safety standards and have been unable to sail ever since. Other operators have insufficient capacity to carry the cross-Channel trade and lorries are stuck in a huge queue on the approach to Dover. We must presume there are similar queues building outside Continental ports for lorries coming the other way. As a result, British produce cannot be exported and foreign items cannot be imported without experiencing huge delays. Lorry drivers are unable to sleep, as the queue might need to move forward at any time so the drivers must stay alert. This means by the time they reach the boats they are too tired to drive safely and must pull over on the other side of the channel to get some sleep before going further, causing more delay. Perishable items could be unfit to eat by the time they arrive.

What is the connection between this snarling up and frustration of Britain’s trade and Putin’s war in Ukraine? DP World! DP World operates the port of Odessa, the port that looked doomed at the time of the P&O sackings, sackings made so suddenly neither the workers nor the government were informed in advance, so suddenly that P&O could not use their redundant ships to train replacement crews beforehand. Why would any sensible ship operator replace their crews with untrained staff so their ships could not sail for weeks, when they had spare capacity to use for training? That’s hardly good succession planning.

So let’s apply a little imagination and see where it might lead. Let us suppose President Putin wanted to retaliate against the UK for both sanctions and supporting Ukraine with weapons. How might he do that? Perhaps, by finding a UK interest he could impact. DP World, with a port under threat of destruction, and controlling most of Britain’s trade with its neighbours, would be an obvious pressure point. Since Putin presumably was the only one who knew he wouldn’t attack Odessa, once he’d taken that decision he was free to use it as a bargaining tool. If he agreed with its owners not to attack it in exchange for a favour he could use them to attack the UK without the UK realising his part in it.

Of course, this is pure imagination. I have not a shred of evidence for any of it, so it’s a bit fanciful. Yet it is fully consistent with Russia’s “Hybrid Warfare” policy, so it can’t be entirely ruled out without more information.

And it does make a brilliant conspiracy theory!

So, enjoy the thought. Sleep well.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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