It is reported today that lawyers acting for Libya have demanded the return of ruins kept in Windsor Great Park. I was questioned about these recently and found no evidence in my research that indicates these were looted from Leptis Magna by the colourful 19th century British Consul, Colonel Hanmer Warrington.
The story is covered in chapter 3 of my book, Liberating Libya. William Smyth, captain of the survey ship HMS Aidwho was later awarded a Royal Geographical Society gold medal visited the North Coast of Africa in 1817 and at Tripoli had, with the help of the consul, secured an agreement with Pasha Yusef Karamanli. He returned to London with 37 marble columns from Leptis Magna and subsequently submitted a proposal to the Admiralty, suggesting that while he charted the coastline from the ship, now renamed HMS Adventurer, a land party should survey the historical sites. That survey was led by Lieutenant Frederick Beechey exactly 200 years ago.
Warrington served in Tripoli for 32 years from 1812 until 1834. His principle achievement was to prevent the French from becoming the dominant partner in Libya. There are several places where his diplomatic agreements might be found, but there is absoulutely no way, the Libyan rulers would have allowed him to stay for another 25 years if these marbles were stolen in 1817.
The parading of Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin by the Russian government is an appalling, but not unexpected, contravention of the laws of war. Their surrender in Mariupol is similar to the situation of the last British prisoners-of-war in World War One, who surrendered in Siberia and were transported to Moscow during the Russian civil war. They can expect to be treated as high-value political prisoners, which is better than captured enemy soldiers, who Russia treats with barbarous contempt.
They will still be psychologically “leant-on” to revoke their previous loyalties and interrogated to give away details of Ukrainian locations, tactics and command structures. However, their value as Prominente will mean that they will not suffer the same physical degradations as the other Ukrainian marines captured in the besieged port.
The proposal to exchange them for a Russian political prisoner is also not new. In 1920, Brian Horrocks and the other British soldiers were exchanged for the political envoy Babushkin and seven other Bolsheviks in a convoluted operation that took the best part of six weeks to conclude. It will be very distressing for Shaun and Aiden’s families, but hopefully history will repeat itself and the story will have a similar ending to Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners.
Ben Barry at the International Institute of Strategic Studies has produced an excellent brief on the next steps of the Russian campaign in Ukraine.Ben, who I know well from our Bosnia postings, wrote a hard hitting internal report on the war in Iraq that was never published and is not afraid of telling it as it is.
The detail in his report about Russian equipment confirms what I witnessed in 2017. I also agree with his assessment that when the Russians move away from urban centres, they will use more artillery and air power against the defending forces, as they elevate the campaign from a “special military operation” to a “local war”. In 1942, General Montgomery described these same tactics, that he used at El Alamein, as “crumbling away” the enemy’s capabilities. It is only a matter of time…
We have been getting rid of Britain’s conventional land forces and not replacing them with anything as capable as the latest Russian hardware. The reality is that prioritising “Cyber” capabilities has made us extremely vulnerable and completely reliant on other nations for our own defence. If we are serious about stopping Putin in his tracks, we must deliver on programmes such as the Ajax light tank that was supposed to replace our dated Scimitars five years ago and reinstate the armoured training programme that is required to build a capability that can match Putin’s army.
In 1995, I was in the Balkans during a period when all sides committed war crimes; the worst of which was the genocide in Srebrenica, which resulted in over 8,000 civilian deaths. By then, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had already been established by the United Nations. Those of us deployed with UNPROFOR took evidence after any attacks which we believed contravened the law, such as when white phosphorus was fired into civilian blocks of flats soon after I arrived in Maglaj.
Eight years later, I found myself back in Bosnia planning the NATO military operations to hunt PIFWCs (persons indicted for war crimes). Each military operation involved specialist Italian Carabinieri who set up an inner cordon and a Special Forces arrest team from one of the signatory countries.The secret diplomatic process that was sewn up in capital cities and the Hague, was a brilliant example of the international community working together for a common purpose and provides an exemplary model for those who are calling for war criminals to be indicted in the current war in Ukraine.