VLADIMIR Putin is a dictator overseeing war crimes. Denying him victory has made more invasions less likely. But every week the war in Ukraine continues, not only are Ukrainian civilians killed, but millions starve to death in famines in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and Ethiopia, partly through disruption of Russian and Ukrainian grain exports.

The UN’s World Food Programme says the war needs to end; that it gets 50% of its food aid from Russia and Ukraine; that grain exports from Ukraine have fallen by three-quarters since the invasion. These figures include the time since the July UN-brokered export deal under which Russia agreed to give safe passage to ships exporting Ukrainian grain, and, unofficially, sanctions on Russian grain and fertiliser, exports were to be eased. Russia is already threatening not to renew the deal in November, claiming its own exports haven’t been permitted in practice. In Somalia alone, one child is starving to death every minute.

Former Chair of the US Joint chiefs Of Staff Mike Mullen is among those calling for negotiations to end to the Ukraine war, as the risk of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons increases. President Zelenskyy, understandably outraged at Putin targeting civilians, says Ukraine will only negotiate with Putin’s successor. But if Putin thinks his position is under threat, he may use nuclear weapons.

A peace deal requires compromise by both sides. This would likely mean Ukraine formally ceding Crimea, as Sevastopol is the only deep-water port Russia has access to as a Black Sea naval base giving Mediterranean access. No Russian government will give it up any more than the UK would give up Gibraltar, or the US Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Guaranteed water supplies from the Kherson region on would also be required, though Kherson should be returned to Ukraine. Ceding only areas held by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014 would complete a fig leaf for Putin to hide his defeat behind, without letting him gain new territory from the invasion.
Duncan McFarlane, Carluke

Puzzle behind pommel find

THE sword pommel found at Blair Drummond is a wonderful object and an exceptional discovery ("‘Exceptionally rare’ Middle Ages Scots sword pommel is unveiled", The Herald, October 26). Dr Alice Blackwell suggests there was no evidence of a battle in the area where the pommel was found, but this area of Scotland was the most strategic and contested areas in Scotland (since Roman times).

At about the time of the pommel, Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, attacked the Kingdom of Fortriu in Northern Scotland. He died and his army was destroyed at the battle of Dun Nechtain in 685 by King Bridei mac Bili. It is not inconceivable that components of his army made their way south and were attacked at Blair Drummond. Or that other Northumbrians fighting in Scotland, such as Duke Berhtred of Dunbar (killed by the Picts in 698), leader of the Northumbrian army and second only to the King, may have lost the pommel in that area.

The pommel may not have been Northumbrian at all; all these various Northern and Irish Kingdoms had intermarried ruling families and had a broadly-shared design culture. There is now a reasoned suggestion (Dr Victoria Whitworth) that the Book of Kells may owe some (or all) of its origins to identifiable Pictish features and designs, and perhaps to a single scribe at Portmahomack Monastery.

Also discovered at that site was a metal-working area of the highest quality, including a metal boss thought to have been made by the same craftsman who had produced another Irish treasure, the silver Derrynaflan Paton. Could the pommel have its origins there? We will probably never know who was behind the pommel, partly because of the repeated destruction of many important sites of cultural and historic importance in Scotland; but it’s good to have its beauty where we can all see it.
GR Weir, Ochiltree

A word in your shell-like

A JAPANESE team using sophisticated genome mapping techniques has “discovered” that octopuses evolved from a clam ancestor (“Octopuses evolved from clam ancestor”, The Herald, October 26). Way back, in the 1960s while studying zoology at university, I learned that the octopus, like all other members of the order Octopoda, were classified on anatomical or taxonomic grounds as Cephalopoda – a class within the Phylum Mollusca which of course includes the humble clam.

All molluscs, including clams, snails and cephalopods like octopuses and squids share common taxonomic characteristics such as a fleshy mantle, important in respiration, and a rasping tooth called a radula. Perhaps the article should rather have suggested that modern genomic techniques have not in fact discovered, but rather may have confirmed, that the older, old-fashioned, taxonomic classification of octopuses as molluscs was indeed correct.
Dr David K Gemmell, Lanark

We can always hope

DOUG Maughan (Letters, October 27) says he has no desire for Scotland to beat the world at anything. Really?

I'm sure I'm not the only Scot who has been longing for decades for our national football and rugby teams to impress at that level. I suspect the closest we came was 55 years ago, when we beat the World Cup winners of the previous year. Meanwhile we can take pride in the inspirational achievements of a few of our tennis players, golfers, swimmers and athletes.

Scotland world champions? Perhaps some day? I see the Irish cricketers are doing well in the Antipodes just now.
David Bruce, Troon

The ASBO accolade

BRYCE Drummond's thinking that God has a mischievous sense of humour (Letters, October 27) reminded me of a Church of Scotland minister's late arrival at a local 80th birthday party. Said minister had been preaching in an Edinburgh housing scheme where, he remarked, one's standing in society seemed to be determined by the number of Asbos handed down.

Scotland is the only UK country not to have replaced antisocial behaviour orders. All out of step but us?
David Miller, Milngavie

Don't look up, or down

REGARDING Bryce Drummond’s letter today regarding camouflaged dog poo under the fallen autumn leaves, at least once it's over, we’ll be able to see the green leaves on the trees. Oh no, it’s the discarded dog poo bags thoughtfully cast to the heavens and hung up on the branches.
Steve Barnet, Gargunnock


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