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Venezuela Sentences US Mercenaries to 20 Years in Prison

teleSUR | August 8, 2020

Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab Friday reported that the two former U.S. military officers Luke Denmnan and Airan Berry, who participated in the failed invasion attempt in Venezuela, were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Denmnan and Berry tried to force their way into Venezuela along with 50 other citizens of the Caribbean country to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“The U.S. former military officers confessed to the crimes of conspiracy, association, illicit trafficking of war weapons and terrorism,” Saab tweeted.

These crimes appear in Venezuela’s Penal Code, and for them, the mercenaries were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“The former U.S. soldiers, who admitted their responsibility in the events, were accused by the prosecutors in the case of serious crimes,” Saab explained.

The U.S. Silvercorp former members were detained in the second attempt of an attack against the Venezuelan coast.

At least eight people died and half a hundred more were arrested during the search and capture of the mercenaries.

Last May, Venezuela’s justice system ordered preventive detention for 40 people due to their involvement in the failed invasion attempt.

August 8, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Lebanon SITREP: second letter from a Lebanese friend

The Saker | August 7, 2020

My Lebanese friend just sent me this report about Hassan Nasrallah’s speech today:

– There is much to say, but Sayyed did not allow the enemies any chance to turn this disaster into a ‘campaign’ against the Resistance, whereby the Resistance ‘reacts’ and gets led into their traps, further leading the country into chaos and destruction

– it must be said, Sayyed calmly but categorically denied that Hezbolllah had any knowledge of what goes on at the Port of Beirut, including what goes into it and what goes out of it. To quote his exact words:

‘We neither adminster the port (of Beirut), nor do we control it, nor do we interfere in it, nor do we know what was going on in the port, nor do we know what was present in the port. Some people said: ‘is it possible that you know about the Port of Haifa (in Israel) more than you know about the Port of Beirut?’. Hezbollah’s main responsibility is resistance. Hezbollah might know more about the Port of Haifa more than it knows about the Port of Beirut. (Knowing about) the Port of Beirut is not (Hezbollah’s) responsibility, yet (knowing about) the Port of Haifa is in fact (Hezbollah’s) responsibility, because it is part of the deterence equation and the (Resistance’s) defense strategy for Lebanon. Yet Hezbollah is not administering, nor controlling, nor is it interferring in, nor does it know what is happening in the Port of Beirut, nor what is present there and not present there, and how things are being administered there, this is something we don’t interfere in at all.’

– Sayyed also calmly but categorically denied that there were any weapons or ammunition belonging to Hezbollah at the port, and that the investigation will soon reflect this reality too.

– Sayyed said that even if this explosion was caused by sabotage, the point now is for the Lebanese state to uproot and rid itself of internal enemies (whether out of negligence they are enemies, or out of intentional malice)

– If the state cannot do that, then the belief in Lebanon as an entity and an idea may be completely lost, even for Hezbollah

– in general, the speech was 1) one of compassion towards Lebanon and its people, and 2) turning the apparent threat (against Lebanon and the Resistance) into a major opportunity.

– Sayyed said this disaster could in a positive sense, allow Lebanon to get out of the (economic and political) siege and difficulty that it was in

– So it seems Hezbollah sees real possibilities in this track (and not as some thought, that the US will be able to continue besieging Lebanon as it was doing prior to the disaster)

– to illustrate, you know there are many oil tankers that are on their way from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria (this is a major development), not to mention the changing international (particularly Western) political attitude towards Lebanon and support for it (even if only officially and publicly, because no state wants to appear like it is harming and besieging Lebanon at this moment before public opinion)

– Perhaps the Resistance sees that even economically, what Sayyed was saying about looking politically and economically eastward (in addition to any westward options) will now be an undeniable option (one that opponents of the Resistance cannot possibly argue against)

– Sayyed said all those that think we are beseiged today and are launching all of these political and media campaigns following the disaster, must know that the Resistance is way too powerful today, and that the whole regional situation is different

– let’s not forget that the US Elections are almost upon us, so perhaps any chance for the Trump administration to really escalate its confrontation any further with Hezbollah and the Resistance Axis has been severely compromised by this national disaster in Lebanon

– Not to mention the Resistance Axis has the upper hand across the region today, if seen purely from a military perspective

– I heard one anti-Hezbollah commentator on Lebanese TV saying: let’s see what Nasrallah is going to say in his speech, there is so much pressure on him now, Hezbollah is cornered, if this explosion is by Israel, then Hezbollah will be pressured to militarily respond, and if the explosion was caused directly or indirectly by Hezbollah, or even that Hezbollah had knowledge of the ammonium nitrate that was stored at the port all these years but didn’t do enough to rectify this situation, then the blame of the Lebanese people will be on the group etc etc

– So Sayyed basically does the opposite to the ill-wishes of such people. He calmly refutes all the lies, and sends out a message of compassion, condolence, support, calmness and hope for the Lebanese as a whole, and a message of power and strength to the supporters of the Resistance

– Even if there was sabotage (by say Israel) that led to the explosion, there was definitely major ‘negligence’ by Lebanese officials, and so they need to be punished strongly and harshly and before all the eyes of the Lebanese. This will be the final opportunity and test for the viability of Lebanon as a state. If the Lebanese state does not pass this test, then lebanon is finished.

– So, what point or value is there, especially at this moment, for Hezbollah to entertain the idea, or go down the track of: this may have been a sabotage by Israel and we must respond? No value whatsoever, it just further corners the Resistance and in the wrong corner (i.e turns this disaster into a defensive one for Hezbollah, one in which the group apparently needs to respond to Israel due to a crime that cannot be proven, and at a time when the Lebanon is in no position for such a confrontation)

– And Sayyed mentioned it, he said regardless if it was a missile or sabotage that caused the explosion, a major reason that led to this disaster is the utter negligence of certain Lebanese officials

– So either Lebanon does indeed have hope as an entity (so show us oh officials by holding the negligent ones to account, regardless of their sect and party, just as we say regarding the enemy collaborators), otherwise, Lebanon has no hope any longer, and Hezbollah will then draw its equations accordingly

– All Lebanese are furious and now watching: who will be punished, will those responsible really be punished?

– Anyway, just by Sayyed highlighting all of this, it completely removes all pressure and focus away from Hezbollah, and places it where it belongs: the ones responsible for this disaster. Even the Harriri tribunal is now completely defused by Sayyed’s intelligent approach today. Lebanese popular opinion is now looking for the perpetrators of this crime, not the crime in 2005 (which has been for many years used by the pro-US camp in Lebanon politically)

And by the way, with one swipe Sayyed completely defuses talk of a new international tribunal and foreign intervention after the explosion, by telling all Lebanese: you all claim you trust the Lebanese army don’t you?!! Well, let the army carry out the investigation. Complete check mate. The administration of this crisis remains Lebanese, no internationalisation nor politicisation of this disaster on the official Lebanese level can now be justified

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

‘Coup-Plotters for Hire’: Unearthed USAID Nicaragua Regime Change Doc Puts 2018 Protests in Context

Sputnik – 05.08.2020

An uncovered US Agency for International Development (USAID) document lays out a blueprint for regime change in Nicaragua. An expert told Sputnik the playbook shines a new light on the 2018 protests in Nicaragua as well as similar operations in other countries targeted by the US, such as Venezuela.

A new report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has revealed a guide to regime change in Nicaragua by USAID. The document, which dates to March-April of this year, describes in frank terms how the agency, which maintains close ties with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), could create or exploit a variety of scenarios to remove democratically-elected Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his FSLN party from power in or around the upcoming 2021 elections.

Jill Clark-Gollub, assistant editor and translator at COHA, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Wednesday that many of the tactics outlined in the USAID document can be observed in the demonstrations that rocked Nicaragua in the summer of 2018.

‘Code-Speak for a Coup’

“It’s a contract hiring coup plotters – a ‘coup-plotters for hire’-type contract. And it’s really astounding how the whole document is based on the premise that we can impose a better version of democracy for the Nicaraguan people. It talks about a crisis and a transition, and all of this is code-speak for basically bringing about a coup.”

“It talks about three scenarios in which the transition can take place, and it says a transition could take place if our candidate wins the election, but other parts of the document make it clear that they don’t expect their pro-US candidate to win the election. They don’t even have a candidate. Then they talk about creating a crisis for a sudden transition – another code-speak for a coup – and then it talks about a delayed transition in which the FSLN party, the Sandinista Front for National Liberation, wins. And it’s even a free and fair election, and it’s recognized internationally, so it takes a longer time to get them out of there.”

“If you really hadn’t been paying attention at all, you would think there’s this country in crisis and that the US would be doing them a favor to get rid of that government and put in somebody else.”

US Officials Admit to Venezuela ‘Coup’

The news comes amid statements before a Senate committee on Tuesday in which US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) frankly admitted to having attempted to engineer a coup d’etat against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro beginning in January 2019.

“Our Venezuela policy over the last year and a half has been an unmitigated disaster,” Murphy told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We have to admit that our big play, recognizing [Juan] Guaidó right out of the gate, and then moving quickly to implement sanctions just didn’t work … First, we thought that getting Guaidó to declare himself president would be enough to topple the regime. Then we thought putting aid on the border would be enough. Then we tried to sort of construct a kind of coup in April of last year, and it blew up in our face when all the generals that were supposed to break with Maduro decided to stick with him in the end.”

Josh Hodges, the senior deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), told the panel USAID support has been instrumental in helping Guaidó’s movement to function.

“We are using development assistance to support the interim government and the National Assembly with technical training, staffing support, equipment and communication efforts,” Hodges said. “USAID’s support bolsters the interim government’s ability to effectively operate and interact with constituents, despite the increased repression from the illegitimate regime. Our assistance has enabled increased participation with legitimate officials.”

Manufacturing Crises via ‘Psychological Warfare’

Clark-Gollub told Sputnik that USAID being directly involved in plotting a coup was “interesting,” because “this in the past, I believe, would have been done by the CIA. Now it’s being done by USAID, and as I said, it’s advertised on LinkedIn. It’s like they have no shame anymore.”

“USAID has been funding Nicaraguan opposition and media groups for years,” she said, noting the 2018 civil disturbances were a case study in what the document describes. “You just need to go back two years and look at this document and all of this doublespeak and understand what I mean.”

“It’s almost embarrassing for the people who are allowing themselves to be used for this. The document talks about how they’re going to use NGOs and opposition parties and the media kind of to corral them to do what they need to do for this plot. So it reveals a lot of stuff that we’ve known, and it brings it out in the open. We have known the media is paid by the US; this is recognition that they’re directed by the US. And the shameful thing for people outside of Nicaragua is that our mass media just parrots what the self-serving Nicaraguan opposition media publishes in Nicaragua.”

She further noted the US was “trying to use the [COVID-19] pandemic for this crisis” mentioned in the document as a possible regime change scenario. “They even created their own citizens’ observatory with mysterious ‘scientific experts’ who they would never say who they were, who were publishing their own statistics on the number of infected and dying people in Nicaragua from the pandemic.”

Instead, Nicaragua’s health system, which the FSLN government has spent 13 years rebuilding and expanding, did not collapse on itself under the weight of the pandemic, as the US embassy in Managua predicted it would, but instead has weathered the storm well, with the lowest COVID-19 case fatality rate in Central America and a very low per capita fatality rate.

Clark-Gollub said use of these tactics “amounts to psychological warfare. They are just going to keep trying to build up, dig up things to make things into a crisis, and it’s terrible,” noting Nicaraguans are being “bombarded” with “fake news” about mass deaths and burials that are actually occurring in other countries.

Especially in 2018, the opposition was “on top of social media,” which the document also urges as a tactic. “We know that in 2018, there had been 2,000 young Nicaraguans recruited, mostly through the Catholic Church, to be social media influencers. And these were the ones putting out ‘color revolution’ type posts,” such as urging painting national colors over FSLN symbols. She also noted they would announce police violence at an event before it had happened, which created confusion and drove demonstrations about events that never occurred.

She recalled that former US national security adviser John Bolton called Nicaragua and Venezuela, along with Cuba, a “troika of tyranny,” writing in his recently released memoir that if one of the three falls, so will the others.

“These three countries are working toward a multipolar world, and the US does not want to see that succeed,” she noted.

“The Nicaraguan people got a big education in 2018; they understand that they’re under attack. It’s not as easy for them to be duped again about fake news that comes out, especially on social media. But that said, this does not mean this is not wearing on people, this psychological warfare … I think that the Nicaraguan people are standing firm and are going to continue to build their country.”

August 5, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Venezuela: US Backs Guaido-led Opposition in Election Boycott

By Ricardo Vaz and Lucas Koerner | Venezuelanalysis | August 4, 2020

The Trump administration threw its weight behind opposition leader Juan Guaido’s decision to boycott the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

“That corrupt election is not going to change Guaido’s status and I don’t think you’ll find anybody in the opposition leadership who will claim otherwise,” White House Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Abrams, considered one of the architects of the Reagan administration’s Central America wars as well as the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, added that he expects the several dozen countries who recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president” to continue doing so by not recognizing the South American country’s December 6 National Assembly elections.

On Sunday, Guaido’s press office published a statement on behalf of 26 opposition parties pledging not to participate in the constitutionally mandated elections.

“The Venezuelan democratic parties declare before the international community that we have unanimously decided not to participate in the electoral fraud convened by the Maduro regime,” the text read.

The opposition called on the international community to “reject” the elections and maintain support until “free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections” can be held. Major opposition parties likewise boycotted the 2018 presidential elections despite former Lara State Governor Henri Falcon leading the polls as the most popular opposition leader.

Guaido proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019, going on to lead several unsuccessful attempts to oust the government by force over the subsequent months. His backing from Washington and allies was based on his position as National Assembly president. However, the current legislative term expires in December.

Some of the largest opposition parties undersigning the election boycott, including, Democratic Action, Justice First and Popular Will, are currently facing internal leadership disputes. In recent months, the Venezuelan Supreme Court (TSJ) has intervened following legal complaints from party members, dissolving the existing leadership and naming new ad-hoc boards, which have all pledged to take part in the December elections. The new leaders were drawn from opposition sectors that had broken ranks with Guaido in late 2019 following mutual corruption allegations.

The Venezuelan government did not respond to the opposition and Abrams’ statements.

The boycott announcement came on the heels of fresh efforts to restart talks between the Maduro administration and the pro-Guaido opposition.

Last week, a delegation of Norwegian diplomats visited Caracas, meeting with government officials and opposition party leaders. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his government was ready to return to the table.

Guaido’s office, for its part, acknowledged the visit but denied any dialogue was underway, reiterating its rejection of the upcoming elections.

Representatives of Guaido and the Venezuelan government entered into negotiations brokered by Norway last year. However, the talks collapsed in August 2019 after Washington escalated its sanctions regime into a sweeping embargo, blocking all dealings with Venezuelan state entities and authorizing secondary sanctions against third party actors.

August 5, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Funerals Have Spiked in Numerous Nations

Across the globe, many more funerals are being held this year than normal

Click to see the full chart at the Financial Times
By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | August 5, 2020

It’s difficult to know what’s happening out there. Much of our coronavirus data is of dubious quality. Different jurisdictions count cases and deaths differently. Even countries with superior health care systems are reporting miscounts, delays, and odd glitches.

Nevertheless, some conclusions are possible. The UK’s Financial Times has compared the number of deaths that particular nations and cities have experienced so far this year to the average number of deaths in recent years.

Its verdict: Iceland, Israel, and Norway appear to have no excess deaths. COVID-19 fatalities are exceptionally low in each of those countries – amounting to only 830 between them so far. These deaths seem to have been counterbalanced by fewer deaths from other causes. During lockdowns, fewer people drown or die in automobile accidents, for example.

But in most of the countries examined, funerals have definitely increased. In Austria (+8%), Denmark (+6%), and Germany (+5%) the increase has been in the single digits.

In the US, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, deaths appear to be up by 25%. That’s a noticeable change. If you have sufficient space, staff, and medicine to treat 100 sick people, but 125 are lined up outside your door it’s going to be one horrendous day.

In some European countries, the increase has been more significant:

France +31%
Belgium +40%
Italy +44%
UK +45%
Spain +56%

The thing about this pandemic is that it isn’t evenly distributed. Many locales have been spared. But if you have the misfortune to reside in an especially hard-hit nation or city, matters have turned nightmarish:

Ecuador +117%
Peru +149%

Santiago, Chile +102%
Madrid, Spain +157%
New York City +208%
Lima, Peru +2

August 5, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

Lebanon SITREP: Letter from a Lebanese friend

The Saker | August 4, 2020

This was just sent to me by a good Lebanese friend:

Huge disaster, investigation underway, on face value was caused by utter negligence, corruption and incompetence of Lebanese state, but I am one of those that has been stressing that the enemies could have exploited this state negligence and corruption to trigger this disaster through sabotage. Few simple reasons for this, including:

a) this disaster completely serves current US-Israeli efforts to pressure Lebanon economically to bow down to their demands

b) the site of the explosion, Port of Beirut, was the transit through which 50-80% of Lebanon’s commodity and trade needs were met

c) the explosions struck wheat reserves stored there as well, exacerbating the dire economic situation and inflation further

d) Israeli officials few days ago were warning the Resistance that if they struck Israeli army targets (a response to recent Israeli crimes by Resistance was imminent), Lebanon’s infrastructure will be targeted

e) one year ago exactly Israel’s ambassador to UN said at the Security Council that the Port of Beirut had become ‘Hezbollah’s Port’. Lebanese ambassador said this was a direct threat to Lebanon’s civilians and security

f) last but not least, the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate (that exploded) were reportedly stored there 6 years ago, and they have been described as a ticking time bomb considering the irresponsible way that they were stored. Is it really coincidental that this ticking time bomb goes off today, at the worst possible moment for Lebanon (Country is falling on all levels, coronavirus, US siege at its peak etc)?

So, while initial reports have said this disaster was caused by the utter negligence, corruption and lack of accountability of Lebanese state institutions, an official investigation is currently underway, and the Resistance will certainly be doing its own investigation, because there was no worse possible time for this disaster to occur to Lebanon than today. Sabotage by the enemy must remain a strong possibility (though actually proving that may be difficult).

August 4, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | 4 Comments

Guaido-supporting opposition block to snub Venezuela’s parliamentary election, allege rigging in Maduro’s favor

RT | August 2, 2020

A coalition of over two dozen parties, all backing opposition figurehead Juan Guaido, have announced they will not take part in the upcoming parliamentary vote in December, claiming any outcome is an “electoral fraud” by default.

Although the election is to be held five months from now, on December 6, the block has already denounced it as fraudulent, arguing that the electoral system itself is unfair. The coalition at the same time rejected the notion that they are abstaining from the vote, arguing that it was “not an election” they have refused to participate in.

The statement, which was signed by 26 parties, comprising the coalition, accuses the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro government of cracking down on the deputies and having the Supreme Court to appoint members of the electoral board that favour Caracas.

The parties also claim that the government violated the constitution by increasing the total number of deputies from the current 167 to 277.

The coalition allege that they represent “the voice of the vast majority of the people of Venezuela,” calling on the international community to denounce the election as a fraud.

While critics have accused Guaido of foregoing an election so he can claim he still commands broad support among those opposing Maduro, there is not even a single opinion as to who leads the National Assembly in the country, plagued by a political crisis exacerbated by biting US sanctions.

Guaido, who declared himself ‘interim president’ in early 2019, while being a leader of the opposition-led National Assembly, was ousted as the head of the legislature this January in a vote by fellow MPs. Guaido claimed that he was barred from entering the assembly, with a dramatic video showing him climbing a fence to get into the parliament. However, other footage showed that Guaido in effect himself refused to enter the building, unless several other MPs, stripped of parliamentary immunity, would be allowed in. Subsequently, Guaido convened his own “national assembly” at the headquarters of El Nacional newspaper, with its members electing him a “leader” of the de-facto parallel structure.

While the Venezuelan Supreme Court ratified another opposition lawmaker, Luis Parra, as the head of the National Assembly in May, the US and its allies as well as the EU still back Guaido as the congressional president despite his push for a regime change somewhat losing momentum.

Despite the West’s continuous support of Guaido, Maduro has managed to withstand every US-backed forces attempt to overthrow him so far, including the failed military coup by Guaido supporters in April 2019 as well as sanctions on oil exports and the seizure of Venezuelan gold and oil assets. In May, a group of militants led by two Americans attempted to infiltrate Venezuela and kidnap Maduro. While there have been documents leaked to the media that appear to link Guaido to the group, the opposition leader has denied the Maduro government’s accusations of being the mastermind behind the op.

August 2, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment

Taliban Group Says Completed Release of 1,000 Afghan Prisoners Under Agreement With US

Sputnik – 31.07.2020

KABUL – The Taliban movement has completed the release of 1,000 Afghan prisoners as per the Doha deal agreed with Washington, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said on Friday.

“According to the Doha Agreement, in which the Islamic Emirate promised to release 1000 prisoners in exchange for 5,000 prisoners, this number was completed by us today,” Shaheen said.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban completed the process by releasing 82 prisoners in the Afghan provinces of Herat, Farah, Ghor, Nimroz, Zabul and Balkh, the spokesman added.

The Afghan government and the Taliban committed to releasing each other’s prisoners — 5,000 and 1,000, respectively — as part of a peace deal negotiated by the group and the United States in the Qatari capital of Doha on 29 February, with the outlook to launch intra-Afghan talks. Kabul has so far freed only 4,400 detainees, according to the Taliban.

Earlier this week, Shaheen said that the Taliban would release the remaining Afghan prisoners before the Muslim sacrifice festival of Eid al-Adha, which starts on Friday, as a goodwill gesture. The movement expects the peace talks with the Afghan government to start in August following the release of the prisoners.

July 31, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

New ceasefire reached in Donbass, but for how long?

By Uriel Araujo | July 31, 2020

The war in Donbass (part of a broader Russo-Ukrainian conflict) is often called the “forgotten war” in Europe. It has killed over 13,000 people since 2014. The conflict has been described as “frozen” since Minsk II agreement (February 2015). Such did not put an end to war itself – periodic shelling and fighting along the line of contacts never stopped – but since then, the number of casualties decreased and no further territorial changes occurred.

There have been other ceasefires: 2017, for example, was a year of intense fighting and quite a few failed ceasefires. In 2019, an agreement (often described as the “Steinmeier formula” after its German proposer) was signed between the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, and both “rebel republics”: the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). It came of course after intense negotiation and it basically proposes that free election be held in the LPR and DPR territories – observed and verified by OSCE officials. Subsequently, these territories could be reintegrated into Ukraine with special “autonomous” status. Some Ukrainian and rebel troops did withdraw after this agreement.

Unfortunately the Coronavirus pandemic has caused the Donbass situation to go backward. However, on Sunday, a new ceasefire was decided by the Minsk Trilateral contact group (backed by Putin and Zelenskiy), starting on Monday and that has generated some hope. However, two breaches have already been claimed by the Ukraine military on Monday, minutes after midnight, involving grenades and machine guns (no casualties were reported). Besides, other issues still linger such as the situation of war prisoners.

It is indeed too early to speculate on what will be the outcome of it. For many Donbass residents, being once again a part of Ukraine became unthinkable. The Ukrainian government’s offensives did take a large toll on civilians in Donbass. Hospital, schools, the local energy company’s office and many other buildings in the city of Horlivka (Donetsk), for example, were destroyed or damaged by shelling (in 2014). Many struggled without electric power and water cut off. Such wounds take some time to heal. Furthermore, on February (2019), Ukrainian legislators repealed a bill which would have made it possible for people living in both rebel republics to get their pensions without needing to take difficult trips outside of the conflict zone and then back home.

On the other hand, experts have noted that after the hottest phase of the war, so far there have not been large-scale civilian atrocities. It could indicate neither side has an interest in further fomenting “ethnic” divisions for political gain: there have not been mass rapes, mutilations or other such type of civil war tactics.

According to a key Luhansk official, the main challenges of Donbass now are not of a humanitarian nature but rather mostly political. There is no hunger, but there are indeed economical problems, most of which would be at least ameliorated if it were not for the lack of recognition from the international community. Both rebel republics are currently recognised only by each other and by South Ossetia, which in its turn, is itself a partially-recognised state.

This being so, neither of the two republics have embassies abroad. However, some representation bureaus have been opened, in Russia, Italy, France and a few other European nations. Last year, the LNR opened its first bureau outside of Europe: a “Cultural Representation Office” in Congo. This was a “foreign policy” win for the LNR, which is increasing dialogue with Congo and seeking other potential interlocutors.

It is hard to tell whether either of the two republics would be “viable” (both are heavily dependent on Russia as of now) without gaining international recognition. And the Russian Federation in its turn shows no intent of integrating Donbass into its territory – Donbass is not Crimea.

Professor Jesse Driscoll at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego sees the conflict as a civil war and not merely as a proxy war between Russia and Ukraine. In his view, describing it as a “civil war” – thus emphasizing internal Ukrainian political problems – should not be confused with a “capitulation to Russia” of some sort. It is rather about recognizing some of the valid concerns of the Russian-speaking and pro-Russian Ukrainian population (this region after all has historical and cultural ties to Russia).

To further complicate things, one should not think of the Donbass war as an ethnic conflict plain and simple. Ukraine is of course a strongly bilingual society (both Russian and Ukrainian, with a high degree of intermarriage). Furthermore, many people may declare themselves ethnically as either Russian or Ukrainian, depending on context. In fact, many self-declared “ethnic Ukrainians” are Donbass separatists (“pro-Russian”) while there were and are “ethnic Russians” fighting on the Ukrainian side – on the Azov battalion, even. The truth is that one’s political stance is often a better predictor – regarding one’s attitude towards the conflict – than language or ethnicity. And the main dividing issue was and is of course Maidan. It is about 2 possible Ukraines: one is an European nation, closer the West and the US. The other is a natural ally of Russia and part of the “Russian world” (culturally) and is also proud of its Soviet heritage.

These are the two world-views currently clashing in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the plight of the civilian population of Donbass remains.

Uriel Araujo is a researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts.

July 31, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Neither Trump Nor Biden Really Matter to China or Russia

By Finian Cunningham | Strategic Culture Foundation | July 30, 2020

Well, according to the Trump campaign, Democrat rival Joe Biden is the candidate whom Chinese leaders are rooting for to win the presidential election in November. “Beijing Biden” or “Sleepy Joe” would be a gift to China, so it goes.

In turn, trying to out-hawk the Republican incumbent, the Biden campaign paints Trump as being “soft” on China and having been “played” by Chinese counterparts over trade, the corona pandemic and allegations about human rights.

Biden, the former vice president in the previous Obama administrations, has vowed to impose more sanctions on China over allegations of rights violations. He claims to be the one who will “stand up” to Beijing if he is elected to the White House in three months’ time.

Last week, Biden declared he was “giving notice to the Kremlin and others [China]” that if elected to the presidency he would impose “substantial and lasting costs” on those who allegedly interfere in U.S. politics. That’s war talk based on worthless intel propaganda.

Trump meanwhile asserts that no-one is tougher than him when it comes to dealing with China (and Russia for that matter).

Given the Trump administration’s reckless policy of ramping up hostility towards China in recent months, that begs the question: how could a future Biden administration begin to be even more aggressive – short of going to war?

Relations between Washington and Beijing have plummeted to their worst levels since the historic detente initiated by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. The precipitous downward spiral has occurred under President Trump’s watch. So, how exactly could a prospective President Biden make the relationship more adversarial?

The truth is both Trump and Biden are equally vulnerable to domestic partisan criticism about their respective dealings with China. The belated high-handed approach that both are trying to project is pockmarked with risible hypocrisy.

The Trump campaign scores a valid point when it recalls how former Vice President Biden smooched and feted Chinese leaders with economic opportunities in the American economy.

Likewise, Trump stands accused of lavishing praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping while ignoring the impending coronavirus pandemic because Trump’s top priority was getting a trade deal with China.

The fact that both American politicians have U-turned with regard to China in such nasty terms must leave the authorities in Beijing with a deep sense of distrust in either of the would-be presidents.

Biden at one time waxed lyrical about his close relationship with Xi, but as his bid for the presidency heated up, Biden stuck the proverbial knife in the Chinese leader calling him a “thug”.

For his part, Trump previously referred to Xi as a “dear friend” while dining him with “beautiful chocolate cake” at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but his administration has since slammed the Chinese leader as “authoritarian”. Trump’s racist slurs over the pandemic being “Kung Flu” and “Chinese plague” must give President Xi pause for disgust with the falseness.

At the end of day, can either of these presidential candidates be trusted to pursue principled U.S.-China relations going forward? The toxic anti-China campaigning by both indicates a level of puerile treachery which foreshadows no possible return to any kind of normalcy.

One distinction perhaps between Trump and Biden is the latter is promising to repair relations with Western allies to form a united front against China. To that end, a hawkish confrontational policy under Biden may have more impact on U.S.-China relations than under Trump. Trump has managed to alienate European allies with his broadsides over trade tariffs and NATO spending commitments. Although Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently urged “an alliance of democracies” to confront China, that rallying call is likely to fall on deaf ears with European allies irked by Trump’s brash style. Biden on the other hand could bring a more unified Western policy of hostility towards Beijing (and Moscow) by affecting a more appeasing attitude towards Europe. In that way, Biden would be more preferred by the Pentagon and foreign policy establishment than Trump, just as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.

However, it is doubtful that Beijing is paying too much attention to what either candidate is saying or posturing at. If both of them can flip so much from talking softly to shouting loud anti-China profanities then their individual characters may be deemed malleable and unscrupulous. Both have shown a shameless streak in stoking anti-China bashing for electioneering gain. Trump pulled that trick last time out in 2016 when he railed against China for “raping America” only for him to discover “deep friendship” with Xi following that election. Now he has reverted to hostility out of self-serving calculation to whip up anti-China sentiment among voters. And Biden is apt to do the very same.

Forget about such fickle personalities when it comes to reading U.S. policy towards China. Beijing will be looking at the longer trajectory of how U.S. policy turned towards a more militarized approach with the “Pivot to Asia” under the Obama-Biden administration in 2011. Indicating how Deep State continuity transcends Democrat or Republican occupants of the White House, the next major indicator was in the Pentagon planning documents of 2017 and 2018 under Trump which labelled China and Russia as “great power rivals”. The American “ship of state”, it may be concluded, is therefore set on a collision course with both Beijing and Moscow in terms of ramping up a confrontational agenda. Who sits in the White House scarcely matters.

For Trump and Biden to trade barbs about which one is “softer” on China or Russia is irrelevant in the bigger picture of U.S. imperialist ambitions for global dominance. The logic of a waning American empire and the concomitant inherent belligerence to compensate for the perceived loss of U.S. global power are the issues to follow, not whether Trump or Biden clinch the dog-and-pony race to the White House.

July 30, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Taliban say will free Afghan government inmates before Eid al-Adha

Press TV – July 30, 2020

The Taliban militant group says it will release the remaining Afghan government prisoners before Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice) as a “goodwill gesture.”

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s office in Qatar, said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday that the militant group had decided to release the 1,000 prisoners before Eid al-Adha, which marks the culmination of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Shaheen called on the Afghan government to complete the release of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners that has been underway in a gradual format as part of a prisoner swap between the two sides.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday that his government would soon complete the release of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners in order to demonstrate its commitment to peace.

He also said negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban militant group were expected to begin “in a week’s time,” following the completion of the prisoner exchange.

The prisoner swap has been an Afghan government obligation under a deal between the United States and the Taliban that was struck in February. The Afghan government, which was not a signatory to the accord, was required to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The militants, for their part, were obliged to free 1,000 government captives.

The exchange has been regarded as a first step toward broader talks between the government and the militants. Its implementation had faced hurdles since the deal was signed.

The deal envisages a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban pledged not to attack American and other foreign forces. They made no such pledge in relation to the Afghan government and people.

The Taliban on Tuesday declared a three-day ceasefire for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, starting Friday. Kabul welcomed the announcement with a note of caution.

The truce announcement has been welcomed by the public and officials in Afghanistan and they have called for a lasting ceasefire in the war-ravaged country.

The militants declared a similar three-day ceasefire at the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in May. That truce prompted widespread relief across Afghanistan, but it was short-lived, with the militants resuming deadly attacks straight afterwards.

Official data shows that bombings and other assaults by the Taliban have surged 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States.

July 30, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

Venezuela Sets Parliamentary Election Date, Increases Number of Lawmakers

By Ricardo Vaz | Venezuelanalysis | July 2, 2020

Mérida – Venezuela will hold elections for its National Assembly (AN) on December 6.

National Electoral Council (CNE) President Indira Alfonzo held a press conference on Wednesday to announce the timetable for legislative elections, which are constitutionally mandated to be held before the end of the year.

The timetable includes electoral registry sessions from July 13 to 26, with electoral candidates and lists to be presented from August 10 to 19 and the campaign held from November 21 to December 6. An extensive series of audits will begin on August 14 and extend to January 21, 2021.

Alfonzo added that dates are subject to adjustment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s legislative elections will also see important changes in the CNE’s electoral norms as well as in the number of deputies elected to the AN.

Voters will elect 277 deputies for the 2021-2026 period, 110 more than in the current term. The CNE will not change the 87 electoral districts that currently exist. Out of the 277 AN deputies, 48 will for the first time be elected via a national list, and the rest in the 87 constituencies with a 52-48 split between electoral lists and individual nominations.

The reforms follow a ruling by the Supreme Court last month striking down two articles of the country’s electoral law and ordering the CNE to establish new norms for greater proportional legislative representation to ensure more “political pluralism.”

According to the CNE, 28 national political organizations, 52 regional parties and six representing indigenous peoples are currently approved to participate in the December election. The changes to electoral norms had been one of the topics discussed in the National Dialogue Roundtable between the government and a host of small opposition parties.

Following the CNE announcements, President Nicolas Maduro called on Venezuelans to participate in the parliamentary elections, stressing that the government will put safety and healthcare protocols in place.

“We have seen elections held around the world during this pandemic, and Venezuela is no exception,” he said in a televised address. Maduro went on to add that the participation of 86 political organizations “strengthens democracy and peace in the country.”

Leander Perez, an activist with the Homeland for All (PPT) party, told Venezuelanalysis that the new rules can benefit smaller parties and that leftist organizations such as the PPT and the Venezuelan Communist Party had been demanding more proportional representation for years.

“The new rules encourage smaller parties to submit their own national lists and achieve representation in the AN. The previous setup forced them to run in large coalitions, the [government-led] Great Patriotic Pole and the [opposition alliance] MUD,” he explained.

Asked what strategies leftist parties should pursue, Perez urged organizations to take advantage of the more favorable conditions and set up an “independent” bloc in parliament.

“We need to set up a bloc that will act independently from the [ruling] PSUV, in alliance with popular movements, to defend a leftist agenda: demanding higher salaries and the release of imprisoned trade unionists, opposing campesino evictions, denouncing privatizations, among other things,” he said.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaido reiterated that he will not take part in the elections, which he called a “farce.”

“There can be no elections in Maduro’s Venezuela,” a statement from Guaido’s press office read.The opposition leader has rejected taking part in elections as long as Maduro remains in office, repeatedly urging Venezuela’s armed forces to oust the president and install him in power.

Major opposition parties Democratic Action and Justice First were subjected to an intervention from the country’s Supreme Court last month, with their new leaders vowing to participate in the December contests. Guaido-aligned leaders have called for a boycott.

For its part, Washington declared it would not recognize the upcoming legislative elections.

Edited and with additional reporting by Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.

July 5, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment