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Gaza Massacre Exposes Western Hypocrisy on Russia’s ‘Annexation’ of Crimea

By Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation | 18.05.2018

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a new 19-kilometer bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with mainland southern Russia. Thousands of kilometers away, in occupied Palestine, a massacre was being carried out by Israeli soldiers with full support of the United States as it opened a new embassy.

The two events are not as disparate as one might think at first glance. They both involve “annexation” – one fictitious, the other very real. But Western hypocrisy inverts the reality.

While US dignitaries were opening the new American embassy in Jerusalem amid pomp and ceremony, some 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters were shot dead in cold blood by Israeli snipers. Among the dead were eight children. Thousands of others were maimed by live fire. The bloodshed could increase in coming days.

The relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli-occupied city of Jerusalem, ordered by President Trump, has been rebuked by the majority of nations. The American move pre-empts any negotiated peace settlement which was supposed to bequeath East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Trump’s decision to relocate the American embassy effectively endorses Israeli claims to the whole of Jerusalem as the “undivided capital of the Jewish state”. Israel has occupied all of Jerusalem in contravention of international law since the 1967 Six Day War.

In other words, Washington has shifted from tacit acceptance to an openly complicit policy in Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory, an annexation which has been going on for seven decades since the inception of the Israeli state in 1948. The now de facto American approval of the annexation of all Jerusalem marked by the opening of the US embassy is the culmination of 70 years of Israeli expansion and occupation.

Meanwhile, Putin’s unveiling this week of the bridge linking southern Russian mainland to the Crimea Peninsula is a timely reminder of the brazen hypocrisy of American and European states.

Since Crimea voted in a referendum in March 2014 to rejoin its historic homeland of Russia, Washington and its allies have continually complained about Moscow’s alleged “annexation” of the Black Sea peninsula.

Never mind that the Crimean people were prompted to hold their accession referendum following a bloody coup in Ukraine against an elected government by CIA-backed Neo-Nazis in February 2014. The people of Crimea voted in a peacefully constituted referendum to secede from Ukraine to join Russia, which it was historically a part of until 1954 when the Soviet Union arbitrarily assigned Crimea to the jurisdiction of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine.

For the past four years, Western governments, their corporate news media and think-tanks, as well as the US-led NATO military alliance, have mounted an intense anti-Russian campaign of economic sanctions, denigration and offensive posturing all on the back of dubious claims that Russia “annexed” Crimea.

Relations between the US and the European Union towards Russia have descended into the freezer of a new and potentially catastrophic Cold War, supposedly motivated by the principle that Moscow had violated international law and changed borders by force. Russia’s alleged “annexation” of Crimea is cited as a sign of Moscow threatening Europe with expansionist aggression. Putin has been vilified as a “new Hitler” or “new Stalin” depending on your historical illiteracy.

This Western distortion about the events that occurred in Ukraine during 2014, and subsequently, can be easily disputed with hard facts as a blatant falsification to conceal what was actually illegal interference by Washington and its European allies in the sovereign affairs of the Ukraine. In short, Western interference was about regime change; with the objective of destabilizing Moscow and projecting NATO force on Russia’s borders.

That is one way of challenging the Western narrative about Ukraine and Crimea. Through weighing up factual events, such as the CIA-backed false-flag sniper shootings of dozens of protesters in Kiev in February 2014. Or the ongoing Western-backed military offensive by Kiev’s Neo-Nazi forces against the breakaway republics of Donbas in Eastern Ukraine.

Another way is to ascertain the integrity of supposed Western legal principle about the general practice of annexation of territory.

From listening to the incessant public consternation expressed by Western governments and media about Russia’s alleged annexation of Crimea, one might think that the putative expropriation of territory is a most grievous violation of international law. Oh how chivalrous, one might think, are Washington and the Europeans in their defense of territorial sovereignty, judging by their seeming righteous repudiation of “annexation”.

However, this week’s grotesque opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem accompanied by the massacre of protesting unarmed Palestinians shows that Western professed concerns about “annexation” are nothing but a diabolical sham. In seven decades of expanding illegal occupation of Palestinian territory by the Israelis, Washington and the Europeans have enacted no opposition.

But when it comes to Crimea, even though their case is not valid, the Western powers never stop hand-wringing about Russia’s “annexation” as if it was the biggest crime in modern history.

Worse than hypocrisy, the US and European Union have been silently complicit in allowing Israel to continue annexing more and more Palestinian territory despite the stark violation of international law. Periodic massacres and whole populations held under brutal military siege in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have never registered any effective opposition from Western powers.

This week, Washington has gone one step further to, in effect, exult in the Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory in the most provocative way by opening its embassy in occupied Jerusalem. Then on top of that violation of international law, we have the obscenity of the Trump White House defending the massacre of unarmed civilians as “an act of self-defense” by the illegally occupying and US-armed Israeli military. A White House license to kill.

The pathetic, muted response from the European Union and the United Nations towards this state terrorism and criminality exposes their cowardly complicity.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has for months been hysterically accusing Russia of violations in Ukraine and Syria. Yet, on the mass murder of Palestinians this week, Haley was silent. Her only remarks were to congratulate Israel over the new US embassy in occupied Jerusalem.

So, the next time we hear Washington and its European allies pontificate to Russia about “annexation”, the only fitting response should be one of contempt for their vile hypocrisy towards Palestinian rights and the ongoing genocide of its people under Western-backed occupation.

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Saw As an Official Observer to the Russian Elections

By Gilbert Doctorow | Russia – Insider | March 23, 2018

In this piece, I will share impressions from my mission as an international observer to the Russian presidential election. The event was of historic importance given Russia’s rising standing in the world under the leadership of its front-runner candidate in the election, Vladimir Putin, and it has been covered widely in world media.

What will set this account apart from the rest is firstly the focus on one location, the Crimea, which I visited as monitor within a varied delegation of 43. The Crimea, for its part, had unusually high importance to the Russians and to the world at large, because the election there was rightly viewed as a second referendum on the reunification of Crimea with Russia in 2014, and that reunification or annexation, depending on your point of view, underlies much of the acrimonious confrontation today between Russia and the US-led “international community.”

The author interviewed by RT on election day.

A little remarked fact underscores my argument for the key importance of the Crimean vote: the precise date selected to hold the presidential election across the Russian Federation, 18 March. That is the anniversary of the formal unification, the culmination of the Crimean Spring of 2014, which followed by several days the original referendum approving unification. It will be recalled that the validity of that first referendum has been denied by Russia’s Western detractors, who insist the result was forced by the presence of Russian troops in the streets and an atmosphere of intimidation coming from pro- and anti-Russian demonstrations. The vote in 2018 has taken place in a totally calm situation, which removes all possibility of reservations about validity unless violations at polling stations could be identified.  At a minimum, the task of a monitoring group such as mine should have been to watch that issue very closely. How that functioned in practice, what I/we actually saw and did will make up the first part of this essay.

The entire force of international observers who spread out across Russia was quite heterogeneous and I will spend some time in the second half of this essay describing us: who we are, why we and not others were present in Russia for election monitoring work.  In this second half, I will also discuss something highly important that other commentators have avoided entirely: the fact that the elections come within the context of an intense political, economic and information war between Russia and the West that has in the past couple of years reached the level of the worst days of the Cold War. Consequently, once we look past the technical aspects of the vote, where there is, among serious professionals, a consensus that these elections were well administered and transparent, we find ourselves back in the midst of tendentious interpretation by both sides to the issue,  if not outright propaganda.  I will not dodge this question, and I do not expect to receive bouquets from anyone.  The task before us will be very simple: to try as best I can to give details about the circumstances of the balloting so that the reader can arrive at an independent conclusion. Without naming names, I will produce my evidence from personal experience on the ground that is missing from media accounts till now given their broad brush approach.

What we saw

The bare facts are that  voter turn-out in Crimea was similar to turn-out in Russia at large, coming to about 67% while ballots for Putin exceeded by far the Russian average:  about 92% for Putin versus the national average of approximately 77% for Putin.

What I am about to say to flesh out these bare bones comes from our group visits to 10 polling stations over the course of as many hours. The first two were in the city of Yalta. The next two were in small villages situated along the main highway running from Yalta north and west to the provincial capital of Simferopol. And the last six were in the city limits of Simferopol. The distance we covered was 80 kilometers. Given the poor state of repair of even roads of regional importance in Crimea, the time in transit, had we not stopped along the way, would have been nearly two hours.

Our group of about 20 traveling together was split between two mini-buses, one predominantly French speaking and the other predominantly German and English speaking. Each bus had local chaperones who, together with those of us monitors fluent in Russian could assist our linguistically handicapped colleagues.

Except for the very last polling station which was close to where we had lunch and was chosen spontaneously by our group without objection from our chaperones, all the polling places had been selected by our hosts in advance, which obviously is not the random selection you would like ideally to have in such an exercise. In several stations we were met by television film crews who were expecting us.

However, we were let loose in the polling stations and could speak directly not only with the senior administrator but also with voters, with the volunteers manning the registration desks, with the monitors from the local social chambers and representatives of the candidates, if any happened to be where we were, given that they moved around all day. That is to say we had every opportunity to hear complaints, to remark any peculiar goings-on, such as organized groups of voters showing up together. There were none. We heard of no scandals, and we saw no demonstrations or protesters of any kind around the polling stations. Instead what we witnessed was an intermittent flow of voters arriving, being processed efficiently, casting their ballots and departing.

In this connection, I want to stress that our group seemed to take its responsibilities rather seriously.  To be sure, when we started out in the morning we descended on our first polling booths like a group of aliens – everyone attached to their mobile gadgets and texting, arranging travel on line for their next destinations and not paying much attention to where we were. However, that phase passed quickly and my colleagues took an interest in the here and now throughout the rest of our rather long work day. We had the usual group photos outside a number of polling stations taken not only for official record but using our own mobile phones to create personal souvenirs. And we gave interviews to the waiting television crews, though that was only a minor diversion.

The polling stations we visited were for the most part secondary schools. Some were in buildings of the local civil administration. All were serviceable and well prepared to receive the public.  Many of the buildings had several stairs at their entrances. Among them some had permanent ramps, as is becoming very widespread in Russia to accommodate those in wheelchairs, parents pushing baby carriages and the elderly or infirm. Where no permanent ramp existed, temporary wooden ramps were installed, obviously at considerable expense and effort in what are otherwise quite poor districts. The Crimea obviously received no infrastructure investments during the 23 years when it was ruled by post-independence Ukraine, and is simply a poor region, however promising its future development may be.

This effort to facilitate voting also had another dimension, what I will call ambulatory ballot collection. Each station had a small sealed plexiglass ballot box which was taken out by volunteers on visits to voters who were too frail or too ill to come down to the polling station. The numbers of such voters were not big, something like 50 or 60 out of polling districts numbering between 1800 and 2500 registered voters. But the symbolic message was clear: that each citizen, each vote counts.

A special welcome was being offered at all polling stations to young people, specifically to those who had just turned 18 and were voting for the first time. They were each given a paper diploma issued by the city elders. Again, the numbers of such cases were tiny, running from 5 to 10 in the districts we visited, but the welcoming hand was visible.

I have mentioned measures taken by local volunteers to raise voter participation. The biggest effort to ensure eligible voters registered and easily found a voting station convenient to them was done at the federal level via the internet resources of the Central Election Committee using online registration and sms communications. In this regard, the Crimea was no different from any other region of the Russian Federation.

The single biggest impression from visiting polling stations was their sophisticated equipment to guaranty transparency, to empower the broad public to do citizen monitoring over the internet and to efficiently record the votes.

One of the first things we would see on entering the polling stations was the row of voting booths, with simple standardized assemble-disassemble frames and light cloth draw curtains for privacy.  That was the only holdover from the simple past. Each polling station now had two sets of “eyes”: CCTV cameras positioned to oversee the voter registration tables and the ballot boxes. These cameras fed live images to the internet and could be viewed by anyone in Russia online. Still more important for guarantying fair elections were the new electronic ballot boxes that were installed in about half the polling stations we visited, the rest being manual count boxes. The automated ballot boxes are autonomous, meaning they are not connected to the web and so are not subject to hacking. They are topped in effect by self-feeding scanners which automatically record each vote. Unlike purely electronic systems, the new Russian boxes receive and store paper ballots, meaning that if any dispute over the automated count arises, a manual count can always be done later.

A peek into some of the plexiglass ballot boxes on our visits showed up only check marks next to Putin’s name. That was about the only indication, wholly unscientific to be sure, of how sentiment was running.

Otherwise the polling stations were notable for being inviting to the public through their engagement of DJs operating simple loudspeakers blaring pop music at the entrances. One of the tunes that came up in various places was telling: “Crimea and Russia Together Forever!” One polling station had costumed teenage entertainers out in front of the building to amuse and babysit smaller kids while their parents were voting. At another polling station, girls and boys aged 8 – 10 wearing military cadet uniforms greeted each arriving voter and sent off the departing voters with a hearty “goodbye.” In that same station, retro patriotism also came up in another form, which possibly was spontaneous, possibly organized in advance: an eight year old girl reciting quite loudly and with good histrionic training a patriotic poem with the repeated refrain “Russia is Rising!”

Voting day ended in Simferopol on a pronounced patriotic note. There was a free pop concert in the main city square which drew a good-natured crowd of several thousand of all ages and ended in a magnificent fireworks display. During the 10 minutes or so of the fireworks, the orchestra and showmen sang the Russian national anthem, which was lustily supported by the entire audience.

To anyone with a recollection of the Soviet Union, all of this collective jollity and distinctly Russian pop music, which was always rather tame, seems all too familiar. However, it was well-intentioned, and it may be that a substantial part of what was promoted as Soviet models and tradition was always just a variation on Russian national culture.

Our work day ended in a municipal administration building of Simferopol where we held a press conference. Five of us with the best command of Russian, myself included, were assigned places on the dais. There were only a handful of journalists in the room, but questions were pitched to us by a moderator and the proceedings were broadcast live by several television crews. This was in lieu of a group report.

*   *  *   *

International Election Observers: who were we?

Russia’s Central Election Commission reportedly issued accreditation to 1,500 international observers whose nominations were put forward by a variety of sponsors, including Russian NGOs, the State Duma and international organizations. Some monitoring was done by diplomats from foreign embassies who requested accreditation, allowing them to visit polling stations and gather information. These monitors would later report only to their respective governments.

I was invited to Russia by a Moscow-based NGO called the Russian Peace Foundation, which entrusted administration of its allotment to a Warsaw based NGO called the European Council for Democracy and Human Rights. The original intention was to invite and accredit 150 individuals from all over the world.  In the end, only about 80 monitors arrived in Moscow via this channel, myself included. On the ground, in our Moscow hotel, I saw about half this number, and I never learned where the others may have been lodged. Out of that number only a couple of us were sent to Crimea, where we joined accredited monitors from other pools. We never discussed among ourselves who came from which sponsor group.

In the Crimea-bound contingent, I was the only American, and, one of the handful of fluent Russian speakers. This put me under the spotlight but also heightened my ability to engage the local electoral officials and voters.

The monitors with whom I came into contact, both in my own pool from the Peace Foundation with whom I associated in Moscow and coming from other pools with whom I associated in the small contingent sent to Crimea were all of mixed backgrounds.  Some were academics with think tank affiliation, or professional political analysts like myself. Some were elected legislators in their home countries or members of the European Parliament.

The politics of the elected deputies appeared to be mainly from what is called “far Right.” Specifically, I met with a Bundestag deputy from the Alternativ fuer Deutschland, with a French MEP formerly in the Front National and now in a group cooperating with Brexit campaigner and EU skeptic Nigel Farage. There were also a couple of Italian deputies from the Veneto Region said to be members of the Northern League. Though I did not meet with him on the mission, I was aware of the presence in Moscow of one observer coming from the “far Left” party Die Linke. Centrist parties seemed to be absent.  Within the contingent sent to Crimea there were also several who fit none of the descriptions above. I have in mind the representative of the President of Pakistan and the representative of the President of Malaysia.

The politic al convictions of those monitors with whom I spent some time could be characterized as ranging from mildly to extremely pro-Russian. Those who were in the latter category constituted perhaps 10% of the total. From our table talk over lunch, I understood that the several very pro-Russian monitors had a latent conflict of interest :  they each made some of their professional income in Russia, or, as was the case with one of the Italians, they are developing businesses in Crimea with local partners. From among this sub-group, two were particularly fluent in Russian and presented their propagandistic observations to the local journalists with whom we met in the polling stations and at the press conference. This is how one Crimean newspaper received the choice quotation which it duly published: that “today Crimea is the most democratic place in the world.” An over-the-top assessment that is frankly embarrassing to read.

I would call this case a distortion of the observer mission that was preconditioned by the general background of political, informational and economic warfare being waged between the West and Russia for the past several years. To my knowledge, the Russian Duma had extended invitations to all Members of the European Parliament, but the major centrist parties there opposed sending any representatives to observe elections which they knew in advance would be a sham because of their own ideological anti-Putin prejudices. Thus, who actually came and took part in the monitoring was the result of a self-sorting process. The MEPs and parliamentarians from national legislatures who came did so in the face of moral pressure from the majority of their peers, and they received strict prohibitions in particular against going to Crimea. I saw how one of the French MEPs initially in our Crimea contingent backed out at the very last minute and remained in Moscow to avoid scandals back home.

Propaganda and information warfare on all sides

The fierce political winds in the West against Putin, against Russia directed mainstream US and European media reports on the Russian election campaign for weeks in advance of the vote. The media denounced the process as fake because of the near certainty of the outcome, the re-election of Vladimir Putin. This mind-set even exerted a discernable influence on the most authoritative foreign observation body to come to the elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE contingent was the single largest group of international election observers, receiving 580 accreditations. Within that overall number there was a core group of 60 who were deployed in Russia six weeks before the elections. They met with local election boards, candidates’ representatives and others to build an information base on the elections. Then there were 420 additional short-term observers sent by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. And about 100 accreditations for the election-day mission were issued to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, who were nearly all European MPs in their respective countries.

I wish to stress that the OSCE did not send any election observers to the Crimea. In a statement issued by the United States Mission to the OSCE on 22 March, the reasons that evidently also guided the OSCE in its entirety are set out with the crystal clarity of a Cold War blast denouncing Russia’s “invasion and occupation of Crimea,” its staging of “illegitimate elections… [with] frequent and severe abuses, specifically targeting the Crimean Tatar community and others opposed to Russia’s occupation.” Russia is charged with coercing Ukrainian citizens in Crimea to vote in illegitimate elections. The 18 March elections are, per the US Mission, “another attempt by Russia to give its purported annexation of Crimea a semblance of legitimacy.”

Without further ado, I condemn this official US statement as an ignorant, willfully blind rejection of the realities on the ground in Crimea that I and other members of our monitoring team unreservedly established.

As for the OSCE monitoring mission to the rest of the Russian Federation, the various constituent groups mentioned above issued two pages of Press Releases on their findings at a press conference held in downtown Moscow the day after the elections. Given the institution’s credibility, that report has received a good deal of attention in global media.

The general conclusions were summarized at the top of the Releases:

“Russian presidential election well administered, but characterized by restrictions on fundamental freedoms, lack of genuine competition, international observers say.”

On the one hand, the OSCE report gave the Russians, and in particular the Central Election Commission, high marks for the professional administration of the elections as witnessed by their teams in the field on election-day. In particular, the press handout mentions as welcome the accuracy of voter lists and the legal changes that enabled voting in polling stations away from the permanent place of residence, a facility which was used by 5.6 million Russians. Tabulation was also assessed positively.

These bland-sounding compliments have to be put in an historical context to be fully savored.

The background is the 2011 Duma elections which were shown by Russian activists at the time to have been fraudulent due to ballot box stuffing, “carousel voting,” i.e. multiple voting and the shepherding of company employees and civil servants to the polling stations by their superiors. Incidents were reported of voter turnout in some districts exceeding 100% of registered voters. These outrages sparked mass street demonstrations that were fanned by encouragement from Western governments and media at the time. The Kremlin took note and instituted several procedural reforms and widespread implementation of CCTV cameras already the next year for the presidential election, which passed without incident and prepared the way for the extensive measures supporting transparency and fair voting that we saw on 18 March 2018. The government also took measures to protect itself and society from the would-be actors of regime change though mass demonstrations:  the rules on foreign-sponsored pro-democracy NGOs were tightened, as were rules on public assembly.

On the other hand, the OSCE Press Releases go far beyond the voting mechanisms, far beyond the specifics of this electoral campaign to challenge the entire Russian political culture.

“Elections are a critical part of democracy, but democracy is not only about elections. …. [I]mproving the real state of democracy in Russia requires full respect for people’s rights between elections as well,” Marietta Tidei, head of the delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly” is quoted as saying on page one of the handout.

The OSCE spokespersons direct attention in particular to limitations on rights of assembly, on free speech in Russia and to media control by the state, with unequal allocation of air time going to the president that short-changed his challengers

Perhaps the most condemnatory remarks in the OSCE Press Release relate to registration of candidates for the presidential race.

“After intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers, yet restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition…”

This was a thinly veiled reference to the rejection of the candidacy application of the famous blogger and corruption-fighter Alexei Navalny, who from the beginning to end was held up in Western media as the only real opponent to Vladimir Putin. This characterization of who was real opposition and who was a “Kremlin project” was itself a highly politicized issue that outside observers would have done better to side-step entirely.

There are several serious problems with the overarching negative analysis by the OSCE, which slotted very nicely into the predisposition of the Western media to trash the Russian elections. Whether by intent or by ignorance, the OSCE authors of the critique of the electoral campaign circumstances acted as the mouthpieces of the opposition candidates, most particularly the Liberal party candidates among whom Ksenia Sobchak was the most visible and vocal. They did not give any thought to counterarguments, which I will present here.

First, there is the issue of applying double standards and expecting the ideal of fair competition for all candidates to the nation’s highest office, when that standard is very rarely if ever met in the West itself. I would name little, neutral Switzerland as one country with credible  civic freedoms, campaign and voting procedures. I was about to name here Finland, another small and relatively homogeneous country which always gets high marks on democratic institutions, but then I recalled that a couple of years ago there was a great scandal over abuse of the newly introduced remote voting facility via the internet. That noisy scandal ended in one parliamentary deputy, a party leader and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, being stripped of her mandate for violations.  So there can be problems even in Eden.

Then, at the risk of being accused of “what-aboutism,” I am obliged to mention an egregious and relatively recent case of  suppression of mass opposition movements in the United States. I have in mind the case of Occupy Wall Street, which broke out in the midst of the Crash of 2008 and was on the point of achieving political traction when it was brutally crushed by police and court actions that blatantly violated constitutional protection of freedom of assembly and speech. No one has ever paid a price for those  abridgements of civil liberties which are still enshrined in law and regulations at the local level.

Let me now address the question of Vladimir Putin’s dominance in air time coming from his status and activities as president, not as candidate or debater, which he did not use at all. The OSCE observers  ignore that Putin has this dominance 365 days on 365 because he is one of the most widely traveled, most consequential heads of state in the world against whom most any human being in opposition would have a very difficult time. This is precisely why he had the support of 80% of the population in polls held repeatedly in the year leading to the elections.

His popularity after 18 years in power is explained not only by being hyper active but by being hyper-productive for the vast majority of the population. In that time in office national GDP multiplied several times and take home pay of the broad population rose 10 times. Under Putin the poverty rate was cut in half. And in the past 4 years his government restored the nation’s self-confidence over its place as a global leader thanks to the bloodless takeover of the Crimea in March 2014 through perfectly executed psychological warfare in which 20,000 Russian troops from the Sevastopol naval base overcame an equal number of Ukrainian forces on the peninsula with hardly a shot fired and no fatalities. Then came the successful air war against the Islamic State in Syria from 2015 to 2017 that also had negligible cost in Russian military personnel. And finally in the midst of the election, on 1 March President Putin unveiled Russia’s new, state of the art strategic weapons systems which he claimed restored the country’s nuclear parity with the United States. All of these achievements would leave any opposition candidates, however clever, tongue-tied.

Finally, no criticism of restrictions on freedom of assembly or speech can be made in the abstract. They were introduced by the Kremlin in the context of the political war on the country being conducted by the West with especial intensity since the 2014 reunification with/annexation of Crimea. It is indecent to fault the Russians for imperfect democratic institutions when the result of outside pressure has always been to rally the broad public around its leader and to make life very difficult for any opposition.

For anyone with a few gray hairs and recollection of Soviet days going back to the 1960s, the present situation in Russia and the criticism of authoritarianism brings to mind the issues that surrounded the introduction of the détente policy:  hard pressure on the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev was known to result in crackdowns on dissent and the rise in the numbers of political prisoners.

Today’s Russia is a far more humane society than the old Soviet Union, but it is a disservice to opponents of United Russia and Vladimir Putin to impose personal and sectoral sanctions as the US-led West has done since 2012, when it introduced the Magnitsky List or accelerated from 2014 to present under the pretext of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. What is surprising is that the country has virtually no political prisoners (Ksenia Sobchak could list only 16 dubious cases when she and other candidates met with Putin in the Kremlin on 19 March). During the campaign the candidates were able to express the most outrageous attacks  on the government and its policies using false accusations, on live national television without any hint of retribution.

Why was the Russian political landscape devoid of serious challengers? The achievements of the incumbent are only part of the story. Another big factor has been the “vertical of control” that Vladimir Putin implemented at the start of his rule 18 years ago to reestablish state power in the face of disintegration and chaos, in the face of local satrapies run by thieves bearing the title of oligarchs. Without broad reinstatement of self-rule at the regional level through direct election of mayors and governors, there is scant possibility of experienced candidates enjoying popular backing rising to challenge a president. There will be more of the same top-down “parties” and rootless power seekers who ran against Putin in 2018.  This question of preparing for democratic succession is the single biggest challenge facing Vladimir Putin in his fourth and last mandate.

My conclusion is that in the discussion about the Russian elections of 18 March everybody is using everybody else to score propaganda points. Nonetheless, even in this reality the monitoring missions served the worthy purpose of keeping the local Russian officials on their toes and encouraging transparency, in the Crimea and surely everywhere else. That is a very good thing in itself.

And I end this report with one more encouraging sign that I heard at our press conference in Simferopol that capped our election monitoring mission. We on the dais were interrupted for a short announcement by the head of the Simferopol government who gave tabulation of voter turnout as of 18.00 o’clock. He ended his recitation with this statement to the audience: “these elections are by and for us, Russians, not for anyone else.”   Now that  is a tremendous leap forward in Russian self-awareness and national pride. They have stopped looking abroad for validation. They have grown up…

For a brief overview of my findings as election observer in Crimea, see my 19 March interview with RT on Red Square.


Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017.

March 24, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Video | , , | 1 Comment

India stands by Russia as US crosses ‘red line’ in Ukraine

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 21, 2017

In a highly significant diplomatic gesture, India showed solidarity with Russia in the UN General Assembly vote on Tuesday, which condemned the human rights situation in Crimea and Sevastopol. The resolution, which was proposed by Ukraine and backed by the western powers was passed by 70 votes, with 76 countries abstaining and 26 opposing.

Interestingly, India was the only country from South Asia to oppose the resolution – Pakistan and Sri Lanka abstained – and one of just three from Asia-Pacific to do so – the others being China and Myanmar. The line-up of voting had the ominous look of an epic ‘East-West’ battle of a bygone era. There is no issue that can be more important for Russian foreign policy today than Ukraine. And US pressure is building up on Russia lately. From the US perspective, there is no better way to whip up the enemy image of Russia and shepherd dispirited European allies behind its transatlantic leadership than by rekindling the embers in eastern Ukraine. (Read my earlier blog US-EU-Russia tensions spill over the Ukraine.)

This has been, therefore, a brilliant assertion of India’s independent foreign policies. Simply put, the Modi government took a deliberate decision to stand up and be counted as Russia’s friend – although President Trump had just the previous day issued a birth certificate to India as ‘global power’. This would have been a decision taken at a political level – probably even at the highest level — because these are extraordinary times when Nikki Haley keeps a note pad to jot down where individual countries stood on issues of vital interest to the American foreign policy and, presumably, she is under instruction to  report directly to the boss. (BBC)

India has traditionally taken a dim view of the intrusive western attempts to use the pretext of human rights to politicize regional issues. But then, this is not like any other issue. Nothing brings it home [more] than the curious coincidence that even as the UN General Assembly vote on Crimea got under way, the US state department disclosed in Washington that the Trump administration has decided to cross the ‘red line’ in Ukraine. (Canada, which usually does the foreplay for the US, took a similar decision last week.) Moscow has repeatedly warned Washington against precipitating a flare-up in Ukraine by arming the forces of ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis who double as the ‘army’ in Kiev.

But Russia apparently anticipated the US move. In fact, there were far too many tell-tale signs that couldn’t be overlooked. Reports have been appearing of Ukrainian troop movements on the Donbas front. The Russian monitors within the OSCE group were being prevented from physically accessing the frontline. At a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on December 14, the Russian ambassador detailed the violations of the Minsk agreement protocol by the Ukrainian forces. (Transcript) On December 19, Moscow announced that it was withdrawing the Russian officers in the monitoring group, since “further work of the Russian Armed Forces’ mission at the Centre has become impossible.” (MFA)

A concerted attempt seems to have begun to ‘activate’ the front in Eastern Ukraine. Smarting under the humiliating defeat in the project to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, Washington is blackmailing Moscow.

The US National Security Advisor HR McMaster recently hinted at a new doctrine of ‘competitive engagement’ of Russia. Possibly, the generals in the Trump administration see the situation in Ukraine through the Cold War prism with a zero sum mindset. That will be a catastrophic mistake. Putin recently warned of massacres worse than Srebrenica if violence flares up again in Ukraine. But then, if there is another refugee problem, it will be after all Germany’s headache – not Trump’s.

Now, what could be the Russian counter-move? For sure, President Vladimir Putin would have thought through a long time ago already what should be the next step and the step thereafter and the step even thereafter if Trump refuels the conflict in Ukraine.

December 21, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

DONETSK: Alexander Zakharchenko declares new state of Malorossiya

By Adam Garrie | The Duran | July 18, 2017

In 1667, the Treaty of Andrusovo affirmed Russian sovereignty over historic Russian lands that had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth since the 14th century. These areas were de-facto Russian ever since the Treaty of Pereyaslav, signed in 1654 as an alliance between local Cossacks and the government in Moscow.

The restoration of Russian lands was affirmed in the 1686 Treaty of Perpetual Peace.

These regions became known as Malorossiya (Little Russian) and formed the triumvirate of the Three Russias under a single sovereign (Great Russia, Little Russia and White Russia). The lands of Malorossiya on the left-bank of the river Dnieper were later incorporated into further territorial gains from Poland-Lithuania on the right-bank of the river Dnieper in 1793.

In 1764, former Ottoman regions around the Black Sea including  the cities of Odessa and Donetsk formed Novorossiya or New Russia. The former Ottoman Khanate of Crimea formally linked up with this region in 1783.

The current borders of Ukraine were manufactured haphazardly under Bolshevik rule which effectively slammed together the historic regions of Novorossiya and Malorossiya with western regions bordering former Polish lands that had been subsumed by Austro-Hungarian rule in the late-modern period. Areas that were part of the Second Polish Republic between the world wars, including Galicia and the Czech and Hungarian regions of Carpathian Ruthenia, were incorporated into The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic after 1945.

https://i1.wp.com/theduran.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/lands.jpg?resize=1024%2C973

This odd mix of historic regions with different identities is the primary reasons that a conflict in the modern borders of Ukraine were simply a matter of “when” rather than “if”.

This reality has been acknowledged by Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic who today announced the intent of Donetsk to lead a restoration of Malorossiya as part of a drive to reincorporate historic Russian territories into a close relationship with The Russian Federation.

Zakharchenko stated,

“We propose to establish the state of Malorossiya. Malorossiya is an independent young state. A transition period of up to 3 years.

… The state ‘Ukraine’ showed itself as a failed state and demonstrated the inability to provide its inhabitants with a peaceful and prosperous present and future.

We should be supported by the residents of the regions. This solution is possible provided that the international community supports the idea”.

Donetsk People’s Republic Income and Charges Minister Alexander Timofeev added the following,

“We, the representatives of former Ukraine, declare the establishment of a new state, Malorossiya, which is a successor state to Ukraine. We agree that the new state’s name will be Malorossiya because the very name of Ukraine has discredited itself. The city of Donetsk becomes Malorossiya’s capital”.

He further stated that Malorossiya would develop a constitution based on discussions throughout the regions including in the new/revived area and would ultimately require approval via a democratic referendum.

Timofeev continued,

“Malorossiya is a multinational state with Russian and Malorossiyan being its official languages, and regional languages retaining their rights and statuses…

… The policy aimed at joining the Union State of Russia and Belarus while preserving independence and sovereignty. The keeping of a visa-free regime in agreement with the European Union. De-oligarchisation, un-cluding (sic) on a legal basis”.

When discussing the model of Belarus in respect of its relations with Moscow, Timofeev is alluding to the Union-State between Belarus and Russia which was created in 1996. This has allowed for open borders and common economic and military interests between Minsk and Moscow.

Zakharchenko affirmed that the new state might need to live under emergency conditions for three years due to aggression from remnants of the regime currently ruling in Kiev.

In spite of these difficulties Zakharchenko also struck an optimistic tone, encouraging people to dream big. He stated,

“All of us here are going to talk about the future. We propose a plan for the reintegration of the country through the law and the Constitution. We must build a new country in which the concepts of conscience and honour are not forgotten. We offer the citizens of Ukraine a peaceful way out of the difficult situation, without war. This is our last offer not only to the Ukrainians, but also to all countries that supported the civil war in Donbass. I am convinced that we will do everything possible and impossible”.

Representatives at the meeting where the announcement was made were drawn from historic Malorossiya and Novorossiya regions including Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Kherson, Nikolayev, Odessa, Sumy, Poltava, Chernigov, Kirovograd.

The leader of the regime in Kiev, Petro Poroshenko responded to Zakharchenko’s statement saying that Kiev would reconquer both Donbass and the Russian territory of the Crimean peninsula. Both of these statements speak to just how out of touch Poroshenko is with the realities on the ground.

Although the organisational phases of creating Malorossiya will be difficult due to the position of the Kiev regime and almost certainly the European Union also, the idea underlines something The Duran discussed in November of 2016,

“If the (Kiev) regime fell due to a combination of internal incompetence and international isolation, chances are that a more moderate government could be formed. Ideally such a new government would be one that recognises the democratic right to self-determination exercised by the Donbass Republics, one less hell-bent on extreme corruption and hopefully one that would hold regional referenda on autonomy and/or independence.”

Historic regions of different cultural, linguistic and sovereign backgrounds cannot be slammed together into an artificial state for an eternity. History shows that such states are typically dissolved or radically reformed after a certain period of uncomfortable pseudo-coexistence.

The impending collapse of the regime in Kiev and the longer term re-defining of the borders of the state now called Ukraine will have to be addressed sooner or later. The proposals which came out of Donetsk today are as good a beginning on the road to much needed change as any.

July 18, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ukraine, Crimea and the Push for War

By James ONeill – New Eastern Outlook – 19.02.2017

There are currently three major flash points in the world, where a false step could rapidly lead to escalation and a major war from which human civilization would be the main loser. Those flashpoints are the Middle East, the South China Sea and Ukraine/Crimea. In each of them Australia has made major missteps, invariably at the request of the Americans, and where Australia’s national interest is either non-existent or the opposite of the actions that have been taken.

The recent upsurge in fighting in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, collectively referred to as Donbass, where Ukrainian forces have vastly increased the artillery barrage of civilian areas has sharpened the likelihood of a more serious war breaking out. In these circumstances the responsibility of the media to accurately report what is happening and why is high. Yet, as is so often the case, we are treated to a non-stop barrage of misinformation and outright propaganda.

The reincorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation in March 2014 is invariably portrayed as the result of an “invasion” and “annexation” and that peace can only be restored with Crimea’s return to Ukraine.

This is not only a rewriting of history; it also ignores the crucial historical background of that region of the world and how that is relevant to the present day. A brief history is in order, if only because it is not something that the mainstream media will ever state, as wedded as they are to a narrative whose sole purpose is the demonization of Russia and of President Putin.

Ukraine itself has only had its modern borders since 1945. Prior to that time part had come under the sway of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and another part had been incorporated into Tsarist Russia in 1667. Following the peasant revolt of 1768/69 there was a partitioning between the Austrian empire and the Russian empire. It has therefore to a greater or lesser extent been a part of the Russian empire for more than 300 years. To give that some perspective, it is a longer period than either the United States or Australia has been a nation state.

Following the Ukrainian War of Independence from 1917-1921 it was absorbed into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics where it remained until the break up of the USSR in 1991.

Crimea has had a similarly chequered history. Prior to the Crimean War 1853-56 when Australian troops fought with the British and the Turks against Russia, Crimea had been part of the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great defeated the Ottomans in 1783 and thereafter Crimea was part of Russia. That war was fought on Crimean soil. Prior to the Ottomans, Crimea had for the previous 2000 years been variously parts of the Greek, Roman, Mongol and other empires. Then as now it occupied a strategic position on the Black Sea. The Crimean War had as a primary target the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Which is further evidence that nothing really changes.

After the Russian Revolution Crimea became an autonomous Republic within the USSR and stayed there until 1954. In that year, following a resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR it was transferred to Ukraine.

There are various theories as to why the transfer was made, one popular version being that it was a symbolic gesture marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming part of the Tsardom of Russia. The actual reasons do not matter so much as two other factors that were operative.

The first was that as an integral part of the USSR it did not make a great deal of political difference as to which State Crimea was nominally attached. The second factor was that neither the Russian people nor the Crimeans were consulted about the decision.

There things remained until February 2014 when a coup was mounted against the lawful government of Ukraine. The Australian media refuse to acknowledge that it was a coup, and that the coup was organized and paid for ($5 billion dollars) by the Americans, as the chief organizer, then Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland freely acknowledged to a congressional committee.

The Crimeans, as indeed also the residents of the Donbass region, were extremely unhappy with the takeover in Kiev of a frankly fascist government. The people of eastern Ukraine, including Crimea, are overwhelmingly ethnic Russian, speak the Russian language as their first language, intermarry with Russians across the border, and culturally identify with Russia.

A referendum was hastily organized and held on 16 March 2014. The result was that there was an 83% turnout, and 96.77% of those who voted were in favour of being readmitted to the Russian Federation. That result was condemned by the US and Australia, among other nations. The main objections stated were that the vote was held after Russian troops had “invaded” Crimea, and that the Crimeans had no right to hold such a referendum.

In one form or another those objections have been repeated by the western media ever since. An added claim is that the “annexation” of Crimea is further evidence of “Russian aggression” in general and that of Mr Putin in particular.

The facts are rather different. First, let us look at the “invasion” claim. There were already 25,000 Russian troops in Crimea. They were there pursuant to a treaty with the Ukrainian government, mainly associated with the very important Russian naval base at Sevastopol. It will be recalled that that naval base was a major target of the British and allied forces in the Crimean War more than 150 years earlier.

There was absolutely no evidence that the presence of Russian troops prevented the free exercise of the vote by Crimeans in the referendum, except indirectly in that their presence certainly deterred Ukraine from military intervention.

Independent polls conducted after the referendum, for example by the German Gfk polling organisation showed that 82% of those polled supported the referendum result and only 4% opposed it. Other, including American, polling organisations, obtained similar results.

The second major claim is that the referendum was “unlawful” and as such not recognised by the western powers. This is a classic example of western hypocrisy. Western governments are perfectly willing to accept independence referenda when it suits their geopolitical purposes to do so. There are a number of recent examples.

In April 1993 Eritrea held a referendum to establish its independence from Ethiopia. Only Eritreans were able to vote. It passed overwhelmingly. There was no objection from the US or Australia.

On 17 February 2008 Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. There was no referendum. Not only did the US not object, they bombed Serbia to encourage the government to accept the result. Australia protested neither the declaration of independence nor the illegal bombing.

The International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 23 July 2010. The Court noted that previous declarations of independence being declared invalid had to be seen in their specific context. Importantly, the Court noted as a general principle that there was an absence of a general prohibition against unilateral declarations of independence under international law.

The important factual difference in Crimea’s case is the long history of the peninsula as a part of Russia; its ethnic and linguistic ties to Russia; and that there was a referendum with the overwhelming majority of citizens voting to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia.

In September 2014 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum of whether or not they would remain a part of the United Kingdom or become a separate sovereign nation. In that case the referendum was narrowly lost although a mooted second referendum following the Brexit vote in the UK may well have a different result.

Again, neither the US nor Australia claimed that the Scots were not entitled to have a referendum, nor that they would refuse to recognise the result.

The final point to be made in this context is that in 1970 the United Nations General Assembly passed by acclamation (i.e. without dissent from either Australia or the United States) a Declaration on Principles of International Law .

In the section of the Resolution regarding “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was the following passage:

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.

What the Crimeans have done is no more nor less than they are entitled to in accordance with this Declaration. It is Australia, the United States and others that condemn Crimea and the Russians who are in breach of their legal and moral obligations.

A further illustration of western hypocrisy over Crimea and the Donbass is the total silence over the ongoing military assault against the civilian population of Donbass. The Minsk 2 Accords, initiated by France and Germany, and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine, contained a number of provisions designed to recognise the legitimate aspirations of the people of Donbass.

The Minsk 2 Accord provided, inter alia, for a ceasefire; a pullback of Ukrainian troops; for the Ukrainian Rada to pass specific laws relating to the governance of Donbass; and to amend the Ukrainian constitution to incorporate decentralization as a key component.

All of these provisions have been ignored and violated. Instead of condemning the Ukrainian violations and failure to carry out its obligations, the US and its allies have continued to blame Russia. Immediately after the US election, Senators McCain and Graham travelled to Kiev and urged Ukraine to keep fighting, promising American support.

There is no evidence that they did so with the support of then President –elect Trump and their authority to do so is unclear. The immediate result of the US Senator’s visit was an upsurge in the bombardment of villages and towns in the Donbass region.

There is an equally stunning silence from the Australian authorities. They seem incapable of understanding history, incapable of recognizing the efforts made by the Russians to create an economic arrangement that would benefit Ukraine through open association with both the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union; and of recognizing the grave potential for war posed by the reckless expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders.

Instead of recognizing the historical and geopolitical realities, including that Ukraine is now a failed state ruled by neo-fascists, they continue to parrot the tired cliché that the Russians are to blame.

Upon such fatal ignorance are wars often started.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law.

February 19, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crimea & Minsk Agreements: What the British media fails to mention

Ambassador’s view | RT | February 2, 2017

The escalation in eastern Ukraine is again presented in the British media as Russia’s attempt to wage a proxy hybrid war against Kiev’s pro-Western leadership.

For fear of an eventual improvement in Russia-US relations, they pray for the sanctions against Russia to stay unless the Minsk Agreements are implemented as well as a punishment for ‘Russia’s annexation of Crimea.’

Let me set the record straight on that.

The coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 backed by the West tore up the constitutional space in Ukraine. The legitimate president of the country was overthrown. It was marked by a severe lack of democracy and violence that posed a direct threat to the well-being of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea. Citizens of Crimea, which was an autonomy at the time, faced the choice of becoming an oppressed minority or severing their ties with the hostile regime to secure a future for themselves and their children. Legitimate local authorities made the decision to hold a referendum.

The independence of Crimea was proclaimed and an appeal to enter the Russian Federation was made based on the indisputable results of the popular vote. Standards of international law were fully observed as the right of nations to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter was exercised freely by the Crimeans.

Crimea was recognized as an independent and sovereign state by Russia, and on March 18, 2014 in Moscow the two countries signed a Treaty of Unification, under which the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became two new regions – subjects of the Russian Federation.

Let us take a look at the outcome. While entire regions of Ukraine are engulfed in a brutal war, and the population is being fed with shameless nationalist propaganda, the Russian Crimea is enjoying peace, stability and steady growth. What could be a better proof that the decisions made two years ago were the only right ones? We are convinced that many Ukrainians would prefer to live like the residents of Crimea live now – under conditions of stable economic development and social security. That is despite the attempts of the Ukrainian government to disrupt the life of the people there by cutting the peninsula off from essential supplies, trying to organize water, energy and food blockades. Does it mean people for sovereignty, rather than sovereignty for the people?

Unfortunately, there has been little progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements mainly due to Kiev’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under them to promote national accord and reconciliation. The recent escalation is clearly an attempt to divert public attention from the poor reform record and request for additional funds from their Western sponsors.

For the political solution to be achieved in Ukraine, the Minsk Agreements should be fully implemented, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line. However, the Ukrainian armed forces haven’t stopped shelling Donetsk and Lugansk, including the use of weapons that are supposed to have been withdrawn. This leads to civilian casualties and the destruction of property. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported many times the concentration of Ukrainian forces along the contact line.

According to the Minsk Agreements, signed two years ago, on the first day of the withdrawal of artillery Kiev had to engage in dialog, and start consulting with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives on the conditions for elections to be held on the basis of Ukrainian law and under OSCE oversight.

A month after the signing of the Minsk Agreements Kiev was required to enact a special status law adopting a resolution designating the territory that this law was supposed to cover. This hasn’t been done. A law was passed, the territories marked, but the law said that it didn’t apply to Donetsk and Lugansk!

The Minsk Agreements clearly say elections should be held in accordance with the OSCE criteria, one of which is to ensure that no one will be subjected to intimidation, harassment, etc. The statement by the Kiev authorities on “elections first, then amnesty” constitute a serious distortion of the sequence and logic of what was agreed. In accordance with the OSCE elections criteria, the amnesty should be granted before the elections.

It is crucial to understand at long last that the only way to settle the Ukrainian crisis is by implementing the Minsk Agreements, which represent a recipe for a political solution well in line with European values. What is required of Kiev is to treat its citizens as partners and abandon the Orwellian “anti-terrorists operation.” One cannot deal with its own citizens with a gun to their head.

And this intransigence should cease for the sake of comprehensive reforms in Ukraine, the lack of which is the key source of the present crisis. The declarations by British officials that sanctions against Russia can only be lifted after we fulfill our obligations according to Minsk treaty is a crude substitution of concept and a prolongation of anti-Russian politics of London.

Russia, together with France and Germany, is a guarantor of the Minsk accords, not part of it. The obligations written there are for Kiev and Donbass, in their quality as sides of the treaty and participants of the conflict, to fulfill.

Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko

February 2, 2017 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Leave a comment

Kiev to hold missile-firing exercise over Crimea, where civil aviation performs flights – Moscow

RT | November 25, 2016

Ukraine has made a unilateral decision to organize missile-firing exercises over Crimea, in the sovereign airspace of the Russian Federation, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsiya reported. Missiles will be fired in regions where civil and state aviation flights run.

Kiev’s move breaches a number of international laws and agreements, Rosaviatsiya said, adding that not only will the military exercise invade Russian territory, but the plans also had not been coordinated with Moscow.

Ukraine released an aviation notification on Thursday, activating “dangerous zones” in all flight levels near Crimea and the city of Simferopol for December 1 and 2, the agency reported. It added that the “dangerous” areas included airspace above open sea which is in Russia’s area of responsibility, and over Russian territorial waters.

The notifications released have not been coordinated with the appropriate Russian authorities, Rosaviatsiya said in its statement. It added that such unilateral moves demonstrate Ukraine’s unwillingness to work on the normalization of air traffic above the Black Sea.

Kiev has also violated annexes of the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, the agency said, while demanding the immediate cancellation of the planned actions in Russia’s sovereign airspace.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Army refused to comment on the matter, TASS reported. The head of the staff press service, Vladislav Seleznyov, told the agency it was not his department’s responsibility to “comment on this information,” and referred the outlet to other Ukrainian officials, including the Foreign Ministry, for more information.

The planned missile-launch exercises are “potentially dangerous for civil aviation,” Rosaviatsiya said in its statement, adding that it could lead to tragedies similar to those with Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Black Sea in 2001.

The investigation into the Malaysian Boeing-777 crash in eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, continues.

Another incident involving military missiles happened over the Black Sea in October 2001, when a Siberia Airlines Tu-154 en route from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk was downed by a missile launched by the Ukrainian military during an exercise. Seventy-eight people died.

Russia has informed both Russian and international air carriers of Kiev’s planned move, a Rosaviatsiya representative told TV channel Rossiya 24. Saying that Moscow is taking all measures to provide security for the flights, he added that Russia will be forced to ban all flights in the Crimea region should Ukraine not cancel its decision.

November 25, 2016 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

What Should We Do About Crimea?

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By Ron Paul | August 21, 2016

Is Crimea about to explode? The mainstream media reports that Russia has amassed troops on the border with Ukraine and may be spoiling for a fight. The Russians claim to have stopped a Ukrainian sabotage team that snuck into Crimea to attack key infrastructure. The Russian military is holding exercises in Crimea and Russian President Vladimir Putin made a visit to the peninsula at the end of the week.

The Ukrainians have complained to their western supporters that a full-scale Russian invasion is coming, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he may have to rule by martial law due to the Russian threat.

Though the US media pins the blame exclusively on Russia for these tensions, in reality there is plenty of blame to go around. We do know that the US government has been involved with “regime change” in Ukraine repeatedly since the break up of the Soviet Union. The US was deeply involved with the “Orange Revolution” that overthrew elected president Viktor Yanukovych in 2005. And we know that the US government was heavily involved in another coup that overthrew the same elected Yanukovych again in 2014.

How do we know that the US was behind the 2014 coup? For one, we have the intercepted telephone call between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. In the recording, the two US officials are plotting to remove the elected government and discussing which US puppet they will put in place.

You would think such undiplomatic behavior could get diplomats fired, but sadly in today’s State Department it can actually get you promoted! Nuland is widely expected to get a big promotion – perhaps to even Secretary of State – in a Hillary Clinton administration, and Geoffrey Pyatt has just moved up to an Ambassadorship in Athens.

Ambassador Pyatt can’t seem to control himself: Just as tensions were peaking between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea this month, he published a series of Tweets urging Ukraine to take back Crimea. Is this how our diplomats overseas should be acting? Should they be promoting actions they know will lead to war?

When the mainstream media discusses Crimea they are all lock-step: that’s the peninsula Putin annexed. Never do they mention that there was a referendum in which the vast majority of the population (who are mostly ethnic Russians) voted to join Russia. The US media never reports on this referendum because it produced results that Washington doesn’t like. How arrogant it must sound to the rest of the world that Washington reserves the right to approve or disapprove elections thousands of miles away – meanwhile we find out from the DNC hacked files that we don’t have a lot of room to criticize elections overseas.

What should we do about Ukraine and Russia? We should stop egging Ukraine on, we should stop subsidizing the government in Kiev, we should stop NATO exercises on the Russian border, we should end sanctions, we should return to diplomacy, we should send the policy of “regime change” to the dustbin of history. The idea that we would be facing the prospect of World War III over which flag flies above a tiny finger of land that most US politicians couldn’t find on a map is utterly ridiculous. When are we going to come to our senses?

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Crimea, Georgia and the New Olympic Sport: Russia Bashing

By Felicity Arbuthnot | Dissident Voice | August 19, 2016

In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.

— Eugene Victor Debs, 1855-1926.

Oh dear, as the fantasy of Vladimir Putin as “Vlad the Terrible” ratchets up in the US-UK-NATO driven new Cold War, the Independent runs a piece headed “What lies behind the new Russian threat to Ukraine”, the sub-heading is: “Vladimir Putin, his opponents repeatedly point out, has form on this. The war between Russia and Georgia took place in 2008 at the time of the Beijing Olympics”

Trying to find the “Russian threat to the Ukraine” is, as ever, a hard task. It was, of course, the US which organized the February 2014 coup which replaced the legitimate government and reduced yet another country to chaos. Russia, however, also appears the victim in a recent incident which triggered the Independent article which Katehon describes with admirable clarity:

A Ukrainian group of saboteurs was arrested last week (10th August) by Russia’s secret service, the FSB. It was revealed that the Ukrainians had intended to organize terrorist attacks in Russian Crimea. During the arrest, two Russian citizens from the Federal Security Service and military of the Armed Forces were killed. This tragic incident has provoked tensions between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian regime has begun to move its troops towards the border with Russia and the republics of Donbass, preparing for an invasion.

Thus Ukrainian forces are encroaching on Russia, not the other way round. Moreover, according to The Telegraph (August 10th): “Russian security agencies said on Wednesday that two Russians were killed as they thwarted Ukrainian commando raids into Crimea over the weekend.” (Emphasis added.) The paper expands:

The FSB said the agent who died was killed during an overnight operation on Saturday and Sunday, when officers smashed a ‘terrorist’ group and seized an arms cache including twenty homemade explosive devices. The Agency claimed Ukrainian forces tried to ‘break through’ twice more on Sunday night and Monday morning, killing a Russian soldier.

Katehon further comments:

Obviously, this hostile activity is coordinated with the United States and NATO, which want to unleash a new war on the border with Russia. At the same time, the US leadership believes that Russia will not inflict a crushing defeat on Ukraine and thereby objectively lower its status in the geopolitical confrontation by trying to solve an insolvable conflict. At the same time, the United States wants to show ‘Russia’s aggressiveness’ to Europe.

Faithfully toeing the West’s misteaching mantra, the Independent article dropped in:

Crimea has not experienced serious military action since it was annexed from Ukraine by the Kremlin in the chaotic aftermath of the Maidan protests.

Crimea, of course, was not “annexed” by a marauding Russia as is implicated.

Only two years ago the paper wrote of the referendum (March 16th, 2014) held in Crimea – arranged by Crimea, not Russia – in which over 95% of voters made their feelings clear over the US engineered coup:

Fireworks exploded and Russian flags fluttered above jubilant crowds on Sunday after residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia … after the polls closed late on Sunday, crowds of ethnic Russians in the regional Crimean capital of Simferopol erupted with jubilant chants in the main square, overjoyed at the prospect of once again becoming part of Russia.

The referendum was monitored by 135 international observers from 23 countries.*

Russia thus had not aggressively “annexed” Crimea, the people had voted to secede. Definition of referendum: “A general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.” (Oxford Dictionary.) At the time of the referendum Russia anyway had a lease on Crimea until 2042 under the Kharkiv Pact.

On the day of the referendum the White House released a statement ending, apparently without irony:

In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another. We call on all members of the international community to continue to condemn such actions, to take concrete steps to impose costs, and to stand together …

Breathtaking!

This from a country that has, since the end of World War 11, “forcibly seized”, invaded, interfered in or decimated thirty three countries to 2011 – not counting Syria and Ukraine subsequently.

As for “The war between Russia and Georgia took place in 2008 at the time of the Beijing Olympics”, in the Independent’s epic bit of Russia bashing:

Leaked State Department documents provide further evidence that United States authorities knew that the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, a key ally of Washington in the Caucasus region, initiated the August 2008 war with Russia.

Cables from US diplomats in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, were released through the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. They show that Washington was well aware that the Georgian government was intensifying its military build-up near the breakaway province of South Ossetia in the weeks before the outbreak of full-scale hostilities.

Further:

A cable records that US embassy observers witnessed 30 government buses ‘carrying uniformed men heading north’ towards South Ossetia the day of the Georgian attack.

The Georgian assault on South Ossetia, launched August 7, involved the shelling of the main city of Tskhinvali followed by a ground invasion by 1,500 troops. The operation destroyed hundreds of civilian properties and claimed the lives of an estimated 160 South Ossetians and 48 Russian military personnel.

Despite this knowledge of Georgian military preparations, once the war began, US ambassador John Tefft simply relayed the claims of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that Russia was the aggressor.

The pretext for the attack was US ally Georgia’s allegation of an imminent Russian attack.

The subsequent investigation into the invasion and destruction, held under Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, found that: “None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack”, were valid.

“In particular, there was no massive Russian military invasion under way, which had to be stopped by Georgian military forces,” Tagliavini confirmed.

“There is the question of whether the force by Georgia during the night of 7/8 August was justifiable under international law. It was not …”, the investigators found.

It was: “The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008” which “marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia”, the Report stated. Thus Georgia’s belligerence triggered Russia’s response in defence of an allied country, Russia’s own military personnel and Russia’s three military bases there.

The parallels between the Georgia and Crimea disinformation are stark, whether orchestrated by political Western Cold Warriors, or media ones.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov has said relating to the Crimea insurgents:

We really don’t conceal what is known, we show people who were detained, stores with weapons and munitions, which were detected in the Crimea. Of course we cannot show everything on TV, but we have irrefutable evidence that it was sabotage, which had been masterminded by the main directorate of intelligence of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry and aimed to destabilize the Russian Crimea.

He added:  “Russia is open for provision of additional facts … to our Western partners, who are seriously interested in avoidance (of a repeat) of what happened in the future. For that to happen, one should influence Kiev”, he added pointedly.

So why the Independent’s strange interpretation of above events and creating a fantasy of Russia planning an Olympic timed war? Heaven forbid it would be anything to do with their owner, Russian billionaire and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, who bought the ailing newspaper for just a £1 in March 2010, pledging major financial backing.

The Independent built a name on foreign policy expertise, but this year has been forced to shut down the main daily print version and the Independent on Sunday. Whilst the Independent is still on line, the only hard copy in its stable is the good, but more limited daily “I.”

Billionaire backers are rare in these straightened times. Mr Lebedev is a Putin critic. The cynic might say there could be a connection given the slant of the Crimea story. However, with titles Alexander Lebedev has backed at home and abroad, he has always vowed never to interfere with editorial policy, so many would surely regard such thoughts as conspiratorial rubbish.

* For minute detail on Ukraine complexities also see here.

August 20, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 1 Comment

US Election Campaign: Shaping Policy on Russia

By Andrei AKULOV | Strategic Culture Foundation | 24.07.2016

Donald Trump has secured the nomination of the Republican Party to become the next US president.

It has been a controversial campaign and the US policy on Russia is in the process of being shaped. While the media focused on Melania Trump’s plagiarism and other oddities during the Republican National Convention, something very important happened to provide a clue to the GOP presidential candidate’s stand on the issue. The Republican Party officially altered its platform on Ukraine and Russia.

Trump’s team proved its grip on the Republican Party is tight enough to make the entire institution adopt a new view on a major foreign policy issue. Trump-supporting delegates attending the GOP platform meeting in Cleveland insisted that the wording in the initial proposal be altered. They wrote a new amendment ruling out sending US weapons to Ukraine and made sure the new Republican platform does not include a provision calling for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, despite the fact that this view is widely supported by the GOP’s establishment.

The previous platform advocated «providing lethal defensive weapons» to Ukraine, reflecting the virtually unanimous position of the GOP foreign policy elite and national security leaders. Donald Trump won again.

Trump is a sober-minded politician known for his non-ideological, deal-making nature. Unlike other prominent Republicans, he harbors none of Russophobia. Trump realizes that sanctioning and the attempts to «isolate» Russia are bad for business and thriving business is what makes a nation great. He’s a pragmatic global dealmaker who keeps in mind the interests of an average Joe, not global imperial ambitions that make the US overloaded with international commitments and overstretched. Trump has exposed that the Republican party’s rank-and-file members are much less interventionist than previously thought. They don’t want confrontations or military operations abroad – the lessons and losses of Iraq and Afghanistan are too fresh. Trump has repeatedly said that radical Islamism and terrorism is a greater threat to Europe than Russia. He said he would «get along very well» with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mike Flynn, foreign policy advisor to Trump, has suggested that Moscow and Washington join forces to counter Islamic State in the Middle East.

The change of wording at the GOP program is telling but it does not signify the change of policy yet.

There is another important development that went down almost unnoticed by media.

On July 14, members of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a bill to tighten sanctions against Russia.

It contains new innovations to provide support for Ukraine. The Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act strictly binds the powers of the American President to lift sanctions against Russia with the status of Crimea.

The bill forbids NATO members from exporting arms containing US technology to Russia. It requires a regular report on foreign financial institutions «illicitly controlling Ukraine state-owned assets – namely Russian banks in Crimea». The proposed legislation extends the existing Magnitsky Act to new territories, including Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.

If the document is approved, the head of the United States will be able to lift the measures against Moscow only in two cases: after confirmation of the «restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea» or if it is proved that «the decision on the status of the Peninsula was under international control and recognized the democratically elected Ukrainian government». The bill also seeks to establish an international consortium to draw private investment in Ukraine by minimizing political risk to would-be private investors.

The proposed act poses a serious threat to the Russia-US relationship. While Washington repeatedly states that the lifting of sanctions depends on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, Moscow believes it’s ridiculous to link the sanctions with the implementation of the Minsk agreements, because Russia is not a party to the conflict and not the subject of the agreements on the settlement in Ukraine. If the bill becomes a law and Donald Trump wins the November election, he’ll have no choice but to comply with the new legislation’s provisions.

Indeed, there are conflicting trends in the US policy on Russia.

On July 20, important news related to the Russia-US relations was largely kept out of media headlines. Russian and US experts and military agreed to meet in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss the Syrian issue.

«We proceed on the basis that the military and political experts will launch intensive work in Geneva in the coming days in furtherance of the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow», the source said.

This is one of the results of the talks held in Moscow as part of the visit of the Secretary of State John Kerry on July 14-15.

During the visit, he was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin, held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was stated on the ministerial meeting that the sides agreed on specific steps to make the work on Syria more effective. No specific details of the agreed plan were provided. If the plan goes through, it will unite Russia and the US in the fight against the common enemy. But military cooperation and sanctions are hardly compatible. Evidently, there are conflicting trends that are shaping the US policy on Russia as the election race continues.

We’ve yet to make precise how the Democratic convention to take place in Philadelphia on July 25-28, 2016 will define its stance on Russia. One thing is certain – a large sector of American society stands for normal relations with Moscow. The alterations inserted into the GOP program serve as an irrefutable evidence to confirm this fact.

July 24, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the Crimea/Russia Reunion

By Ray McGovern | Consortium News | March 18, 2016

With high symbolism Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Crimea “to check on the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge, which will link the Crimean peninsula and continental Russia,” the Kremlin announced on Thursday.

As the Russians like to say, “It is no accident” that he chose today – marking the second anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea three weeks after the U.S.-sponsored coup in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, and just days after a referendum in which Crimean voters approved leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia by a 96 percent majority.

The 12-mile bridge is a concrete metaphor, so to speak, for the re-joining of Crimea and Russia. When completed (the target is December 2018), it will be the longest bridge in Russia.

Yet, the Obama administration continues to decry the political reunion between Crimea and Russia, a relationship that dates back to the Eighteenth Century. Instead, the West has accused Russia of violating its pledge in the 1994 Budapest agreement — signed by Ukraine, Russia, Great Britain and the U.S. — “to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine,” in exchange for Ukraine surrendering its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

Did Moscow violate the Budapest agreement when it annexed Crimea? A fair reading of the text yields a Yes to that question. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances, including alarm among Crimeans over what the unconstitutional ouster of Ukraine’s president might mean for them, as well as Moscow’s not unfounded nightmare of NATO taking over Russia’s major, and only warm-water, naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.

But what is seldom pointed out is that the other parties, including the United States, seem to have been guilty, too, in promoting a coup d’etat removing the democratically elected president and essentially disenfranchising millions of ethnic Russian Ukrainians who had voted for President Viktor Yanukovych. In such a context, it takes a markedly one-dimensional view to place blame solely on Russia for violating the Budapest agreement.

Did the Western-orchestrated coup in Kiev violate the undertaking “to respect the independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine? How about the pledge in the Budapest agreement “to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by the Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty.” Political and economic interference were rife in the months before the February 2014 coup. [See Consortiumnews.com’sWho Violated Ukraine’s Sovereignty?”]

Did Ukrainian President Yanukovych expect to be overthrown if he opted for Moscow’s economic offer, and not Europe’s? Hard to tell. But if the putsch came as a total surprise, he sorely underestimated what $5 billion in “democracy promotion” by Washington can buy.

After Yanukovych turned down the European Community’s blandishments, seeing deep disadvantages for Ukraine, American neoconservatives like National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland pulled out all the stops to enable Ukraine to fulfill what Nuland called its “European aspirations.”

“The revolution will not be televised,” or so the saying goes. But the Feb. 22, 2014 putsch in Kiev was YouTube-ized two-and-a-half weeks in advance. Recall Nuland’s amateurish, boorish – not to mention irresponsible – use of an open telephone line to plot regime change in Ukraine with fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, during an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.

Nuland tells Pyatt, “Yats is the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know. … He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve.”

Arseniy Yatsenyuk (aka “Yats”) was quickly named prime minister of the coup regime, which was immediately given diplomatic recognition by Washington. Since then, he has made a royal mess of things. Ukraine is an economic basket case, and “Yats” barely survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence and is widely believed to be on his way out.

Did Moscow’s strong reaction to the coup, to the danger of NATO setting up shop next door in Ukraine come as a surprise to Nuland and other advisers? If so, she ought to get new advisers, and quickly. That Russia would not let Crimea become a NATO base should have been a no-brainer.

Nuland may have seen the coup as creating a win-win situation. If Putin acted decisively, it would be all the easier to demonize him, denounce “Russian aggression,” and put a halt to the kind of rapprochement between President Barack Obama and Putin that thwarted neocon plans for shock and awe against Syria in late summer 2013. However, if Putin acquiesced to the Ukrainian coup and accepted the dangers it posed to Russia, eventual membership for Ukraine in NATO might become more than a pipedream.

Plus, if Putin swallowed the humiliation, think of how politically weakened he would have become inside Russia. As NED’s Gershman made clear, not only did American neocons see Ukraine as “the biggest prize” but as a steppingstone to ultimately achieve “regime change” in Moscow, or as Gershman wrote, “Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

Russian Equities

In a formal address in the Kremlin on March 18, 2014, the day Crimea was re-incorporated into Russia, Putin went from dead serious to somewhat jocular in discussing the general issue:

“We have already heard declarations from Kiev about Ukraine soon joining NATO. What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia. …

“We are not opposed to cooperation with NATO … [but] NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way around.”

A little-known remark by Putin a month later (on April 17, 2014) was unusually blunt in focusing on one of the main reasons behind Moscow’s strong reaction – namely, Russia’s felt need to thwart Washington’s plan to incorporate Ukraine and Crimea into the U.S. anti-ballistic missile deployment encircling Russia. Putin was quite direct:

“This issue is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.

This is a serious bone of contention, with far reaching implications. In short, if the Russian military becomes convinced that the Pentagon thinks it has the capability to carry out a strategic strike without fear of significant retaliation, the strategic tripwire for a nuclear exchange will regress more than four decades to the extremely dangerous procedure of “launch on warning,” allowing mere minutes to “use ‘em, or lose ‘em.”

Russia has been repeatedly rebuffed – or diddled – when it has suggested bilateral talks on this key issue. Four years ago, for example, at the March 2012 summit in Seoul, Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev asked Obama when the U.S. would be prepared to address Russian concerns over European missile defense.

In remarks picked up by camera crews, Obama asked for some “space” until after the U.S. election. Obama can be heard saying, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” Putin claims to have seen no flexibility on this strategic question.

What Coup?

The Obama administration and its stenographers in the mainstream U.S. media would like the relevant Ukrainian history to start on Feb. 23, 2014 with “Yats” and his coup cronies deemed the “legitimate” authorities. To that end, there was a need to airbrush what George Friedman, president of the think-tank STRATFOR, publicly called “the most blatant coup in history” – the one plotted by Nuland and Pyatt in early February 2014 and carried out on Feb. 22.

As for Russia’s alleged designs on Crimea, one searches in vain for evidence that, before the coup, the Kremlin had given much thought to the vulnerability of the peninsula and a possible need to annex it. According to the public record, Putin first focused on Crimea at a strategy meeting on Feb. 23, the day after the coup.

Yet, given the U.S. mainstream media’s propagandistic reporting on the Ukraine crisis, it is small wonder that the American people forgot about (or never heard of) the putsch in Kiev. The word “coup” was essentially banished from the U.S. media’s lexicon regarding Ukraine.

The New York Times went so far as to publish what it deemed an investigative article in early 2015 announcing that there was no coup in Ukraine, just President Yanukovych mysteriously disappearing off to Russia. In reaching its no-coup conclusion, the Times ignored any evidence that there was a coup, including the Nuland-Pyatt phone call. In regards to Ukraine, “coup” became just another unutterable four-letter word.

Last year, when Sen. John McCain continued the “no coup” fiction, I placed the following letter in the Washington Post on July 1, 2015 (the censors apparently being away at the beach):

“In his June 28 Sunday Opinion essay, ‘The Ukraine cease-fire fiction,’  Sen. John McCain was wrong to write that Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea without provocation. What about the coup in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014, that replaced President Viktor Yanukovych with pro-Western leaders favoring membership in NATO? Was that not provocation enough?

“This glaring omission is common in The Post. The March 10 World Digest item ‘Putin had early plan to annex Crimea’ described a ‘secret meeting’ Mr. Putin held on Feb. 23, 2014, during which ‘Russia decided it would take the Crimean Peninsula.’ No mention was made of the coup the previous day. …” (emphasis added)

And so it goes. More recently, in Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy magnum opus in The Atlantic on Obama’s foreign policy, there were two mentions of how Russia “invaded” Crimea, two allusions to Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, but not a word about the coup in Kiev.

Invincible Ignorance

In Catholic theology, the theory that some people can be “invincibly ignorant” can lessen or even erase their guilt. Many Americans are so malnourished on accurate news – and so busy trying to make ends meet – that they would seem to qualify for this dispensation, with pardon for not knowing about things like the coup in Kiev and other key happenings abroad.

The following, unnerving example brings this to mind: A meeting of progressives that I attended last year was keynoted by a professor from a local Washington university. Discussing what she called the Russian “invasion” of Crimea, the professor bragged about her 9-year-old son for creating a large poster in Sunday School saying, “Mr. Putin, What about the commandment ‘Thou Shall Not Kill?’” The audience nodded approvingly.

This picnic, thought I, needed a skunk. So I asked the professor what her little boy was alluding to. My question was met by a condescending smirk of disbelief: “Crimea, of course.” I asked how many people had been killed in Crimea. “Oh, hundreds, probably thousands,” was her answer. I told her that there were, in fact, no reports of anyone having been killed.

I continued, explaining that, with respect to Russia’s “invasion,” what you don’t see in the “mainstream media” is that, a treaty between Ukraine and Russia from the late 1990s allowed Russia to station up to 25,000 Russian troops on the Crimean peninsula. There were 16,000 there, when a U.S.-led coup ousted the democratically elected government in Kiev on Feb. 22, 2014. (I had grabbed the attention of the audience; yet stares of incredulity persisted.)

In contrast to Crimea’s bloodless political secession from Ukraine, the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terror operation” against ethnic Russians in the east who resisted the coup authorities in Kiev has killed an estimated 10,000 people, many of them civilians. Yet, in the mainstream U.S. media, this carnage is typically blamed on Putin, not on the Ukrainian military which sent to the front neo-Nazi and other right-wing militias (such as the Azov battalion) contemptuous of ethnic Russians. [See Consortiumnews.com’sUkraine Merges Nazis and Islamists.”]

A few weeks before the professor’s remarks, after a speaking engagement in Moscow, I had a chance to do a little souvenir shopping on the Arbat. The behavior of the sales people brought me up short. It was decades since I had served as a CIA officer in the Soviet Union; the shopkeepers then were usually taciturn, allergic to discussing politics, and not at all given to bragging about their leaders.

This time it was different. The sales people wanted to know what I thought of President Putin. They were eager to thrust two coffee cups into the shopping bag that I had filled with small gifts for our grandchildren. On one was emblazoned the Russian words for “polite people” under an image of two men with insignia-less green uniforms – depicting the troops that surrounded and eventually took over Ukrainian installations and government buildings in Crimea without a shot being fired. The other cup bore a photo of Putin over the Russian words for “the most polite of people.”

The short conversation that ensued made it immediately clear that Russian salespeople in Moscow – unlike many “sophisticated” Americans – were well aware that the troubles in Ukraine and Crimea began in Kiev on Feb 22, 2014, with “the most blatant coup in history.” And, not least, they were proud of the way Putin used the “polite green men” to ensure that Crimea was not lost to NATO.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst he headed the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. In retirement, he helped create Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US State Dept Pledges to Retain Sanctions Until Russia Returns Crimea

Sputnik — 16.03.2016

48c581ed-2d60-4ab7-aa80-6075262893e4Washington will not lift the sanctions imposed after the reunification of Crimea with Russia until Moscow decides to “return Crimea to Ukraine,” the spokesman for the US State Department said.

Crimea, which has a predominately ethnically-Russian population, seceded from Ukraine to rejoin Russia two years ago following a referendum on March 16 in which over 96 percent of voters supported the move.

“We will not accept the redrawing of borders by force in the 21st century. Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues. We again call on Russia to end that occupation and return Crimea to Ukraine,” John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.

He added that Washington remains committed to “a united, sovereign Ukraine.”

In 2014, the United States, the European Union and some of their allies imposed a series of economic sanctions targeting key Russian sectors as well as a number of individuals and entities over Russia’s reunification with Crimea and its alleged interference in the conflict between Kiev and independence supporters in eastern Ukraine, denied by Moscow.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 7 Comments