‘Difficult, full of disagreements’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a breakthrough was not reached in Friday morning’s talks on Ukraine, Reuters reports.
“I cannot see a breakthrough here at all so far,” Merkel said after top EU leaders met with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of an EU-Asia summit.
“We will continue to talk. There was progress on some details, but the main issue is continued violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” she added.
A political solution to the conflict in Ukraine has not yet been found, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy commented after the meeting, according to RIA Novosti.
Rompuy said the participants have all agreed on the need to follow through on the peace agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus at the beginning of September.
“What we agreed was the protocol of Minsk on the ceasefire, and the peace plan is of crucial importance,” Rompuy said.
“We have to implement this. This would guarantee again a future for Ukraine. So implementation, implementation, implementation — those are the key words.”
Earlier Vladimir Putin described his meeting with the Ukrainian president on Friday as “positive.” The Russian president’s spokesman however noted some of the meeting participants were reluctant to understand the true situation in eastern Ukraine.
“It was good, it was positive,” a smiling Putin told reporters after the discussions at the margins of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Italy according to Reuters.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile acknowledged the negotiations were “difficult” ones due to a number of differences and misunderstandings among the participants.
“The negotiations are really difficult, full of disagreements, full of misunderstandings,” Peskov said. “Nevertheless they are still taking place. There’s an exchange of opinions.”
“The participants have discussed in detail the implementation of the Minsk agreements effectively enough,” Peskov said.
“Unfortunately, some of the breakfast participants demonstrated their complete reluctance to understand the real situation in the southeast of Ukraine.”
The presidents of Russia and Ukraine met on Friday morning in Milan. They were joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
The meeting was hosted by the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who said that while some progress had been made, “a lot of differences” still remain on the Ukrainian crisis.
There’s a possibility Putin and Poroshenko will hold a bilateral meeting at the summit, Peskov said, adding that Russia would like journalists to participate.
“[Journalist participation] will depend upon our Ukrainian partners. We are open – we hope they are too.”
Putin drew gas figures for Merkel
Russian gas supplies to Ukraine are expected to be one of the most difficult issues on the summit agenda. Kiev is due to pay out $3.1 billion debt to Gazprom until the New Year, according to the latest Russia-Ukraine agreement. There are fears, though, that the crisis-struck country will not be able to make the payment, possibly leading to disruptions of gas supplies, including those to Europe via Ukraine.
The gas issue was among things the Russian president discussed with the German chancellor during their meeting on Thursday.
“Yesterday Putin informed Merkel in detail about the gas issues,” Putin’s spokesman said. “He literally took a pen and drew figures on a piece of paper to explain the situation.”
More gas discussions are to follow, as Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak and head of Gazprom Aleksey Miller are part of the Russian delegation in Italy.
According to Peskov, Thursday’s reports from Poland have shed much light on the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“Our Polish partners have reacted in such a lively way to news of Ukraine wanting to get Polish coal almost free of charge,” Peskov said. “This is the best illustration of what’s going on in the gas sphere. The Poles were greatly impressed and did not conceal their shock. But still they can fully understand the desire to have gas free of charge.”
Street Demonstrations In 21 European Countries Held To Protest Against TAFTA/TTIP; Another ACTA Revolt Brewing?
Last month, the European Commission refused to accept a request to allow an official EU-wide petition called a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to take place. This was a curiously maladroit move by the Commission: it would have been easy to allow the petition against TAFTA/TTIP and CETA to proceed, thank the organizers once it was completed, file it away somewhere and then ignore it. Instead, by refusing to allow it to take place, the European Commission has highlighted in a dramatic manner the deeply undemocratic way in which so-called trade agreements are conducted.
Moreover, those making the request have simply gone ahead anyway, launching what they call the “Self-organised European Citizens’ initiative Against TTIP and CETA“. Even though this was only launched last week, it has already collected over 600,000 signatures from European citizens at the time of writing, and there is every indication that it will go well past the nominal one million signatures that the ECI would have required. The European Commission’s refusal to allow the official petition was doubly stupid, since it came shortly before a Europe-wide day of action against TAFTA/TTIP that took place last Saturday, and doubtless encouraged people to take to the streets in order to make their views felt:
On October 11, 2014, tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organisations in 21 countries are organising actions to reclaim democracy, and stop the negotiations on three far-reaching trade agreements: the EU-US deal (TTIP), the EU-Canada deal (CETA) and the trade in services deal (TiSA).
This decentralised European Day of Action — consisting of over 300 actions, marches, meetings and flash mobs — is being organised by an unprecedented alliance of civil society groups and individuals, social movements, trade unions, rights defenders, farmers and grassroots activist groups.
Reporting on the event, Euractiv.com wrote:
Some 400 activist groups marched all over Europe on Saturday (11 October) in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as the EU-US trade deal crystallises opposition to a wide variety of issues — from shale gas to corporate finance.
That last point is important. Euractiv.com goes on to explain:
The opposition to TTIP has many faces however, and seems to embody a wide variety of concerns. In France, many small demonstrations focused on opposition to shale gas, especially in the South of France, while in Berlin protesters were worried that TTIP would weaken the powers of the German regions, or Länders.
Potentially, that could make the European opposition to TAFTA/TTIP even broader-based than it was to ACTA, where people were largely concerned about a single issue — digital rights. And just as the ACTA demonstrations started off small scale, but grew to hundreds of thousands of people before ACTA was rejected by the European Parliament, so the anti-TTIP movement in Europe could easily swell larger still. Especially if the European Commission continues to conduct the negotiations in secret and without any input from its citizens.
Lost among the talk of Ukraine’s Civil War and the ISIL threat is the coming Russia vs. West clash in Moldova.
The country is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, and the region of Transnistria has been de-facto independent for about two decades already.
As Moldova leaps towards the EU (it signed the Association Agreement at the end of June), it is also running towards NATO, and the US has pondered whether or not to grant it major non-NATO ally status via the tentative ‘Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014’ floating around Congress.
The problem is that Transnistria does not want to go along with Moldova’s vision of the future.
Instead, it has expressed its desire to politically and economically integrate with Russia, and over 1000 Russian peacekeepers are currently stationed there.
Its Russian-speaking and Russian-friendly population fears cultural and ethnic cleansing if Moldova moves closer to the West, since nationalists have been agitating for supposed ‘reunification’ with cultural cousin Romania.
After observing events in the run-up to and during Ukraine’s Civil War, Transnistria’s population surely has reason to worry about its fate. Unlike the people of Donbass, however, they will have no friendly, neighborly state to seek refuge in.
Worse still, tensions are already beginning to heat up. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Moldova and Ukraine of organizing a de-facto blockade over Transnistria, thereby placing its citizens in an uncomfortable economic position.
Also, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s plane was forced to turn around in May after visiting the region when Ukraine denied it air transit rights, in a previously unheard of application of diplomatic aggression that would be unthinkable if Rogozin was American.
As it stands, Transnistria is now surrounded by NATO-member Romania and vehemently pro-NATO Moldova and Ukraine, and each of these neighbors is conspiring against it to their own (and Washington’s) advantage.
Placed under such circumstances, the future looks dim for Transnistria, but Russian peacekeepers (and Moscow’s track record in protecting them) present a tangible guarantee for its security.
Russia’s President Putin is reported to have said in a conversation a while back that he could be in Kiev in two weeks. In our press, this was reported as yet more evidence of aggressive intentions, but, given even a moment’s thought, that is a patently false interpretation. It is also further evidence, as if more were needed, of the level of desperation American propaganda around events in Ukraine has reached. It is almost as though America’s intelligence/news media alliance started mimicking the almost forgotten Soviet apparatchiks of decades ago.
Yes, undoubtedly, the Russian military could be in Kiev in a couple of weeks. The very fact that they are not only shows what nonsense we hear from America and the coup-installed government in Ukraine. Clearly, Putin’s words were to the effect, “I wouldn’t have to tolerate the mess on our borders in Ukraine if I truly had aggressive intentions. For goodness sakes, use your brains, I could be in Kiev in two weeks.”
This deliberate misinterpretation of a casual statement stands out for me as one of the most pathetic of many pathetic things coming from Western politicians and media. And it is deliberate, for if it were the truth that the intelligence service of a superpower could only interpret statements with such feeble understanding, the world would have entered a new era of extreme danger, with idiots advising the commander who has his finger on the launch button. But I know there’s no genuine danger of that. The interpretation is intended only to shape American public opinion, never very well informed at the best of times. It’s a sound bite not intended to provide real information, just a momentary association of something very negative with the name of Russia’s president, indeed one of a stream of sound bites broadcast recently as though they meant something, as though they were news.
It is a classic method of propaganda, closely related to the technique in advertising of repeating a phrase or slogan or jingle over and over, no matter how silly its actual content is on analysis, and like all the best propaganda, it starts with a truth no matter how insignificant, incompletely reported, and removed from context. But there are two deeply concerning aspects to what otherwise would just be garbage. First, it flows from the writers and editors of what is supposed to be a free and open press, not advertising agencies trying to sell personal hygiene products, and thus demonstrates once more how meaningless is the term, “free and open press.” When the American government has a point to make, even a point that is dishonest or silly, in supporting some ill-conceived and dangerous policy, the entire press instantly enlists to echo it across the land, offering saturation access to the public that could not be bought for millions of dollars. At least in matters of foreign affairs, American journalism does not exist outside the childish fantasies of young journalism students thinking they are going to dig for the truth and serve the right to know once they graduate. You know, the bilge about the press being the fourth branch of government, the tribune of the people, and keeping citizens informed.
But more worrying is why the government or the press in America wishes now to cast aspersions on one of the world’s most important leaders? It has been more than three decades since Russia and the United States were commonly understood as enemies, each capable of obliterating the other. Why would anyone want to look backward to that? And why would anyone deliberately attack a man who has proved himself a sophisticated statesman, one whose words and behaviors show more consistency than those of any of our Western leaders, and especially president Obama who has not spent a day of his time in the White House without killing someone somewhere and surely has matched George Bush for lack of character.
Such cheap propaganda is symptomatic of aggressive intent. I believe the United States’ establishment is starting to feel a new sense of its relative decline in the world, and it is desperate to shore things up by hurting new competitors. The so-called pivot towards China is one of its tactics, and the expansion of NATO right against the face of Russia is another. Both are provocative and risky. And I only wish the world could understand that the United States is not that far from being a de facto bankrupt. It has no money for anything except by the unsound and unethical practice of printing more of it, knowing its special position as a world reserve currency allows it to cheat holders of dollars around the entire planet with their devaluation. And devalue it will, sooner or later, effectively leaving most of the bill for its stupid wars to be paid by others.
Geography and many other factors, such as the distribution of energy and other natural resources, say that Russia and Europe are over the long term destined to be strong, natural economic partners. But the United States has been Europe’s partner – indeed, a good deal more than a mere partner since WWII – and it does not like the prospect of Russia in any way displacing it. It is utterly backward thinking, but we are discussing brains driven by hormones here, not by logic or good will. I recall at an energy conference I attended during the Reagan era meeting a representative from the American State Department whose main message was that we had to stop Russian gas pipelines into Europe. As a believer in people freely buying what they need from others freely selling what they have, I didn’t agree with him and said so, and the people of Europe clearly weren’t convinced because many pipelines exist and many billions of cubic feet of gas flow.
The United States has taken every effort to get some return for its costly investment in a half-failed scheme to destabilize Ukraine, and with each deft move of Russia, it has played the old “look out for the commies” theme, just tarted up a bit so it doesn’t seem laughably out of date. The combination of the expansion of NATO plus scare-mongering about Russia buys some time against what I believe is inevitable. And minds driven only by the hormonal impulse of being dominant – full-spectrum dominance is the grotesque Washington insider expression – are incapable of clearly analyzing a situation, regardless of their intelligence and technology and information resources. And they are certainly not capable of acting on behalf of the great basic principles of rights and freedoms with which they sloppily wallpaper their every public statement. They are blind to the chances they take, to the risks they expose all of us to, and to the damage they create for the happiness and prosperity of millions of people.
America’s elaborate dirty tricks in Ukraine were intended to make Russia considerably less secure. You can almost imagine the buzz-cut thugs at Langley having a good laugh over expense-account steaks and martinis when they first thought they had succeeded, the laughter one expects from sociopathic American frat-boys who’ve just played a very dirty joke on someone, as by drugging some poor girl’s drink at a party and raping her. Perhaps the intentions included a plan ultimately to base missiles in Ukraine near Russia’s border, which would be a tremendously provocative act. Certainly it was hoped that gradually Ukraine would become more western-oriented, although the prospect for a poor country like Ukraine, one with shaky democratic credentials and not a good record in human rights, becoming in our lifetime full members of Europe is simply not in the cards. After all, the U.S. keeps pushing for Israel to become part of major European organizations, but that is too much even for some of America’s yes-men in Europe to accept.
Accusing Russia of looking out for what’s happening on her borders isn’t an accusation, it’s what all states do everywhere. Goodness knows the case of Cuba should provide perspective and food for thought. The United States has needlessly hurt that country for half a century with its embargo, many of the chief traditional products of Cuba having been things to satisfy the American markets, such as sugar and tobacco. But an embargo alone was never enough to secure the desired dominance. The United States invaded Cuba with a proxy army of Cuban refugees it trained, supplied, and paid. It tried to assassinate Cuba’s leader, many, many times, and it periodically sent terrorist forces to blow or shoot up things in Cuba. Ships in ports were shot up, hotels were attacked, and an airliner full of people was bombed. When Cuba asked for the return of America’s base at Guantanamo, a base only leased from Cuba originally under duress, the United States simply refused and still illegally occupies the land half a century later.
Of course, America was quite ready to hurl the world into nuclear war when it discovered that the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba as a way both of protecting its ally against new invasions and as increased leverage in dealing with an often inflexible and aggressive United States. The missiles were provocative, but most thinking people felt they were not adequate cause for nuclear war. Fortunately, President Kennedy was able to stand up against the terrible pressures of the military-intelligence establishment and reach a negotiated settlement with Premier Khrushchev, an act which many believe, including this author, later cost him his life in Dallas. Well, all that gives you just some idea of how America responds to what it considers trouble or meddling, even a hundred miles from its border.
We hear the accusation that Russia arms the rebels in Ukraine, as well as the Assad government in Syria. My answer is that America, which spends as much on its military as all others on the planet combined, is also the world’s largest arms dealer as well as a ready covert supplier to groups anywhere it deems as serving its interests, whether extremist groups, including ISIS, set up to destroy Syria or the Nazi-like groups affiliated with Ukraine’s new government and employed in its coup. America runs a virtual conveyor belt of death machines and munitions to Israel to keep it well supplied in upsetting peace throughout the Mideast and suppressing millions of people it took prisoner half a century ago, a situation which has ranked in my view as the world’s most dangerous until now. A great deal of the aggression and repression of Israel have to do with the fact that their best minds recognize the unfavorable situation into which they are locked: no population growth versus high population growth for Arabs, the most highly subsidized national economy in the world affording poorer prospects for most residents than their native places would, an interminable series of wars and repressions and acts which the world sees as atrocities, early dreams all soured by a sense of no way out, and perhaps a sense of having committed a colossal blunder in starting it all.
So in a very real sense, both America and Israel, unwilling or unable to deal with their tremendous problems in a statesmanlike, realistic, and enduring way, dance a hideous danse macabre, with the entire world forced to watch in fear and horror.
When you compare Europe today to, say, Europe of fifty years ago, something more than a little disturbing becomes apparent. Then, despite the height of the Cold War presumably giving reason for greater solidarity with America, there were many independent voices in Europe. France had a consistently strong and decisive voice, and it was determined not to be subservient to NATO. Britain, today perhaps the worst example of subservience to America in all things, also showed independence at critical points, as when it refused to send troops to the holocaust of Vietnam despite great pressure from President Johnson. Today, there are no independent voices, and despite the clear, long-term interests of Europeans in having good relations with Russia, we see country after country acquiesce to America’s demands for destructive sanctions. Even Holland, a country we think of as fair and tough-minded, issued an interim report on the destruction of Malaysian Airlines’ MH17 which told us nothing we already didn’t know. That was clearly at the insistence of the United States, unwilling to see its proxy government in Ukraine revealed for the violent and incompetent operation that it is. NATO, an obsolete organization by any measure, has been expanded, serving primarily the interest of continued American hegemony in Europe, and America pushes the idea of every member spending more on its military. The United States also has Europeans committing to plainly idiotic purchases, as in buying the F-35, a plane one great American fighter jet designer called the worst ever conceived. The plane cannot ever do what it was supposed to do because it was foolishly commissioned to do a bit of almost everything, and the Pentagon wants as many others chipping in to subsidize the immense cost of salvaging something from the wreck. Perhaps the F-35 is emblematic of a conquered Europe, throwing away money on junk because America expects them to do so.
Produced by Rinaldo Francesca.
For a full transcript with links please visit:
Music by Kevin McLeod, available at http://incompetech.com/
President Vladimir Putin has said that sanctions against Russia directly violate World Trade Organization (WTO) principles, and that Russia will continue to defend its economy with protective measures.
The sanctions violate the main principles of equal access for all WTO members to economic activity and access to goods and services in the market, Putin said at a meeting with advisers in the Kremlin on Thursday.
“The limitations introduced against our country are nothing but a violation by some of our partners of the basic principles of the WTO,” the President said, adding that sanctions “undermine free enterprise competition.”
On September 12, the US and EU expanded sanctions against Russia aimed at hurting Russia’s main industry – oil. The US and EU have led sanctions against Russia, along with Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and others over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the Ukraine conflict.
The best way for Russia to counter these unfair advantages is to develop its domestic market, the President said.
“In response, we took protective measures, and I would like to stress that they are protective; they are not the result of our desire to punish any of our partners or influence their decision in any way.”
Russia introduced protective measures over food supplies on August 7 in response to Western sanctions. The Kremlin and White House sanctions tit-for-tat has been escalating since March, when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia.
The food ban is due to only last a year, but at today’s meeting the President said that Russia needs to focus on increasing its market competitiveness over the next eighteen months to two years.
One of Russia’s main competitive advantages is its huge domestic market, and it should be filled with more Russian-made products, Putin said.
The President said that Russia’s decision to join the WTO in 2012 was a difficult transition for the country, but that it raised economic standards.
At the meeting President Putin laid out a list of economic priorities for the Russian state. At the top are developing the infrastructure, boosting lending, continuing to develop the agricultural and technology sectors, and increasing overall competition.
Russia joined the WTO in 2012 after nearly two decades of back and forth negotiations on the conditions for entry.
A top European court has struck down restrictions imposed by the European Union against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) on an alleged charge of circumventing US-led sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In a judgment on Thursday, the Luxembourg-based EU’s Court of Justice said it “annuls… the EU March 23, 2012 [ruling] concerning restrictive measures against Iran in so far as it listed Central Bank of Iran.”
“The reasons relied on are so vague and lacking in detail that the only possible response was in the form of a general denial,” the court ruled on Thursday, adding that “those reasons therefore do not comply with the requirements of the case-law.”
It said the charge leveled against the CBI is “insufficient in the sense that it does not enable either the applicant or the Court to understand the circumstances which led the [European] Council to consider…to adopt the contested act.”
The court also ordered the 28-nation European bloc to “bear one half of its own costs and to pay one half of the costs of Central Bank of Iran.”
At the beginning of 2012, the US and EU imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.
On October 15, 2012, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran.
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany reached an interim deal in the Swiss city of Geneva last November, according to which the six countries accepted to ease sanctions against Iran in return for the Islamic Republic limiting certain aspects of its nuclear activities. The deal came into effect on January 20 and expired on July 20. The two sides then agreed to extend the duration of the agreement until November 24.
The two sides are scheduled to resume talks on Friday to discuss removal of sanctions against Tehran.
Ukraine and the EU parliaments simultaneously ratified the economic and political parts of the Association Agreement that will strengthen ties between Kiev and Brussels. Economic integration is postponed until the end of 2015.
The document was approved at 1:00pm in Kiev and there was a synchronous signing session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Ukraine’s Rada voted 355 votes in favor out of 381 total, and the European Parliament supported the ratification with 535 ‘yes’ votes and 127 against, with 26 abstaining.
“From tomorrow I task the government with approving the implementation of the agreement and immediately implementing it into the force of law,” President Petro Poroshenko said at the ratification in Kiev. Poroshenko said he hopes the agreement will help Ukraine reform its economy and fight corruption, and that someday Ukraine hopes to apply for EU membership.
Ukraine “has embarked on the European path and nobody will are to shut the door to the EU membership for Ukraine,” the President said, as quoted by ITAR-ITASS.
Free trade with Europe’s $13 trillion economy will be postponed until January 2016, due to the weak state of Ukraine’s economy which would make it vulnerable to a sudden influx of European goods. Ukraine will continue duty-free trade with Russia and other CIS states until December 31, 2015, and on January 1, 2016 will begin economic integration with the EU.
Ukraine will still have the benefit of sending exports to Europe under a preferential trade code, but duty- free trade will not come into effect until 2016, protecting both Kiev and Moscow from economic risk.
In 2013, Ukraine exported goods worth $16 billion to Russia, nearly 25 percent of all total exports. In comparison, Ukraine exported $17 billion to Europe in the same 12-month period.
Since the political tension has intensified between the two, both have been cutting back on imports. In the first seven months of 2014, Russia reduced Ukrainian imports by 23.7 percent down to $6.7 billion, according to Russia’s Statistics Bureau. At the same time, Ukraine has been decreasing goods bought from Russia, which have fallen 20.7 percent to $9 billion. The lack of cooperative trade between the two has left a negative balance of trade of $2.3 billion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has estimated that nixing duty-free trade with Russia and switching over to the European system will cost Ukraine €165 billion over the next 10 years.
During trilateral talks in Brussels on Friday, Ukraine, Russia, and the EU agreed Ukraine’s integration into Europe’s trade orbit will begin on January 1, 2016.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the economic (the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, or DCFTA) part of the Association Agreement with the EU along with ex-Soviet nations Georgia and Moldova on June 27.
Ukraine signed the political part of the agreement on March 21, shortly after Crimea rejoined Russia.
The Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) will replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement Ukraine signed with the EU in 1998.
A senior European Union official has revealed that some EU member states have purchased oil from ISIL Takfiri militants despite their rhetoric against the group.
In a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana Hybas-kova said some European countries have purchased crude from the ISIL.
She, however, refused to disclose any names despite pressure by some Parliament members to do so.
The EU official also warned against any support by the West for separatist Kurdish groups who, she said, would destabilize the Middle East.
Earlier reports accused Turkey of buying and transporting oil from both the ISIL and Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. According to the reports, Western intelligence agencies could track ISIL oil shipments as they moved across Iraq and Turkey.
ISIL reportedly controls eleven oil fields in northern Iraq as well as Syria’s Raqqa province.
US intelligence officials estimate that the Takfiri militants earn more than USD 3 million a day from oil profit, theft, human trafficking and ransom. They say the militants sell oil and other products via established networks in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Turkey has denied reports of involvement in ISIL’s oil smuggling operations.
Global Information Society Watch | September 2014
Years before Edward Snowden leaked his first document, human rights lawyers and activists have been concerned about a dramatic expansion in law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies’ efforts to spy on the digital world. It had become evident that legal protections had not kept pace with technological – that the state’s practical ability to spy on the world had developed in a way that permitted it to bypass the functional limits that have historically checked its ability to spy. These concerns culminated in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, a set of principles intended to guide policymakers, activists and judges to better understand how new surveillance technologies have been eating away at our fundamental freedoms and how we might bring state spying back in line with human rights standards.
Over a year and a half in the making, the final version of the Principles appeared on July 20, 2013, the first weeks of what we might call the Snowden era. An updated version was issued in May 2014. The Snowden revelations, once they started rolling in, affirmed the worst of our concerns. Intelligence services as well as law enforcement had taken it upon themselves to spy on us all, with little consideration for the societal effects. Lawmakers and even the executive had little comprehension of the capabilities of their own spymasters, and how our digital networks were being turned against all individuals everywhere. The need for the Principles was confirmed in spades, but the long and difficult job of applying them to existing practices was just beginning.
Since then, the Principles have, we hope, been a lodestar for those seeking solutions to the stark reality exposed by Snowden: that, slipping through the cracks of technological developments and outdated legal protections, our governments have adopted practices of mass surveillance that render many of our most fundamental rights effectively meaningless. The Principles have been signed by over 470 organizations and individual experts, by over 350,000 individuals throughout the world, and endorsed by the United Kingdom’s Liberal Democratic Conference, as well as European, Canadian, and German parliamentarians.The Principles have played a central guiding role in a number of the rigorous debates on the need to limit states’ increasingly expansive surveillance capacities. Their impact is already evident in, for example, the United States’ President Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report and the the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recent report on the right to privacy in the digital age. Their influence has also manifested in some of the administrative, legislative and administrative attempts to address surveillance problems post-Snowden. Perhaps most importantly, they have functioned as a rallying point for campaigning and advocacy initiatives around the world.
Below, we spell out some of the key features of the Principles. A more detailed explanation of the legal grounding for our conclusions in human rights jurisprudence can be found in a Legal Analysis and Background Materials document generated in support of the Principles.
Core Definitions in International Human Rights Law
The Principles begin with defining two core concepts that spell out the “what” and the “how” of measured surveillance. The first concept focuses on the type of data to be protected, while the second one ensures that a broad range of surveillance activity constitutes an interference with privacy rights. Outdated definitions of these two terms have led to expansive surveillance practices, as wide swaths of sensitive data or surveillance activities have been deemed outside the scope of legal protections. These definitional changes are designed to re-focus privacy protections away from artificial examinations of the kind of data or method of interference, and back on the ultimate effect on the privacy of the individual.
The Principles make clear that it’s time to move beyond the fallacy that information about communications does not pose as serious a threat to privacy as the content of communications. Information about communications, also called metadata, subscriber information or non-content data, can include the location of your cell phone, clickstream data, search logs, or anonymous online activity. Individually, these can be just as invasive as reading your email or listening to your phone calls. When combined and analyzed en masse, the picture painted by such data points can be far more revealing than the content of the communications they accompany. In spite of this reality, pre-Internet age (in fact, postal service-based!) legal conceptions have persisted in some legal systems, offering less or, in some instances, no protection at all to information that is not classified as ‘content’. What is important is not the kind of data is collected, but its effect on the privacy of the individual.
As explained in Legal Analysis and Background Materials which have been prepared for the Principles:
“The Principles use the term “protected information” to refer to information (including data) that ought to be fully and robustly protected, even if the information is not currently protected by law, is only partially protected by law, or is accorded lower levels of protection. The intention, however, is not to make a new category that itself will grow stale over time, but rather to ensure that the focus is and remains the capability of the information, alone or when combined with other information, to reveal private facts about a person or her correspondents. As such, the Principles adopt a singular and all-encompassing definition that includes any information relating to a person’s communications that is not readily available to the general public.”
This concern has been addressed by the latest report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who made clear that:
“From the perspective of the right to privacy, this distinction between [content and metadata] is not persuasive. The aggregation of information commonly referred to as “metadata” may give an insight into an individual’s behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity that go beyond even that conveyed by accessing the content of a private communication.”
Given the revealing nature of metadata and content alike, states should be restrained from unchecked interference with any protected information: from revealing a speaker’s identity if it is not public; from wantonly vacuuming up the websites or social media one has visited; from stockpiling information on all the people one has communicated with; and tracking the ‘when’, ‘from where’, and ‘for how long’ of all our digital activities. In the pre-Internet age, the much more limited amount and kind of “metadata” available to law enforcement was treated as less sensitive than content, but given current communications surveillance capabilities, this can no longer be the case.
Communication Surveillance: Much of the expansive state surveillance practices confirmed during the past year depend on confusion over whether actual “surveillance” has occurred and thus whether human rights obligations even apply. Some have suggested that if information is merely collected and kept but not looked at by humans, no privacy invasion has occurred. Others argue that computers analysing all communications in real-time for key words and other selectors does not amount to “surveillance” for purposes of triggering legal privacy protections. Still others seek to reduce privacy protections to ‘harmful uses’ of information. Such legal variations can mean the difference between reasonable and carefully targeted investigations and a surveillance state built on the continuous mass surveillance of everyone.
In the digital age, where the most sensitive portions of our lives are constantly communicated over digital networks, it has never been more important to ensure the integrity of our communications. It means little whether the interference takes the form of real-time monitoring of Internet transmission, hacking into individuals’ mobile devices, or mass harvesting of stored data from third party providers. The mere recording of Internet transactions – even if ultimately unviewed – can have serious chilling effects on the use of our most vital interactive medium. We have to ensure that all acts of communications surveillance are within the scope of human rights protections and, hence, are “necessary and proportionate”.
On this front, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report, made clear that:
“any capture of communications data is potentially an interference with privacy and, further, that the collection and retention of communications data amounts to an interference with privacy whether or not those data are subsequently consulted or used. Even the mere possibility of communications information being captured creates an interference with privacy, with a potential chilling effect on rights, including those to free expression and association.”
To remedy this issue, the Principles define “communications surveillance” as encompassing the monitoring, interception, collection, analysis, use, preservation and retention of, interference with, or access to information that includes, reflects, or arises from or a person’s communications in the past, present or future.
Scope of Application
The Principles also address a long-standing problem arising from narrow interpretations adopted by some states regarding the extraterritorial application of their human rights obligations. Some have argued that the obligation to respect privacy and other human rights of individuals effectively stops at their national borders. In a world of highly integrated digital networks, where individual interactions and data routes defy any semblance of territorial correspondence, such distinctions are meaningless. The Principles therefore apply to surveillance conducted within a state or extraterritorially, and regardless of the purpose for the surveillance – including enforcing law, protecting national security, gathering intelligence, or another governmental function.
The OHCHR’s report explicitly underscores the principle of non-discrimination:
“Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law” and, further, that “in this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In this regard, the OHCHR’s report has underscored its importance:
“measures to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity regardless of the nationality or location of individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance.”
The 13 Principles
The substantive Principles are firmly rooted in well-established human rights law. Generally, any limits on human rights should be necessary, proportionate and for a set of permissible purposes. These limits must be set out in law, and cannot be arbitrary.
Under international human rights law, each right are divided in two parts. The first paragraph sets out the core of the right, while the second paragraph sets out the circumstances in which that right may be restricted or limited. This second paragraph is usually called the “permissible limitations” test.
Regarding the right to privacy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have stated that the “permissible limitations” test under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among other articles are equally applicable to Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
The OHCHR report has neatly summarized these obligations with respect ot Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy rights
“To begin with, any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be provided for by law, and the law must be sufficiently accessible, clear and precise so that an individual may look to the law and ascertain who is authorized to conduct data surveillance and under what circumstances. The limitation must be necessary for reaching a legitimate aim, as well as in proportion to the aim and the least intrusive option available…Any limitation placed on the right (an interference with privacy, for example, for the purposes of protecting national security or the right to life of others) must be shown to have some chance of achieving that goal. The onus is on the authorities seeking to limit the right to show that the limitation is connected to a legitimate aim. Furthermore, any limitation to the right to privacy must not render the essence of the right meaningless and must be consistent with other human rights, including the prohibition of discrimination. Where the limitation does not meet these criteria, the limitation would be unlawful and/or the interference with the right to privacy would be arbitrary.”
Legality – No Secret Laws: The principle of legality is a fundamental aspect of all international human rights instruments and the rule of law. It is a basic guarantee against the state’s arbitrary exercise of its powers. For this reason, any restriction on human rights must be prescribed by law. The meaning of “law” implies certain minimum qualitative requirements of clarity, accessibility, and predictability. Laws limiting human rights cannot be secret or vague enough to permit arbitrary interference.
On that front, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights made clear that:
“To begin with, any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be provided for by law, and the law must be sufficiently accessible, clear and precise so that an individual may look to the law and ascertain who is authorized to conduct data surveillance and under what circumstances.”
The need to meaningfully and publicly explain rights-infringing practices—while important in all contexts—is key to any effective check on communications surveillance as such practices tend to be surreptitious and difficult to uncover. Given the highly technical and rapidly evolving nature of communications surveillance, it is also incumbent that laws are interpreted publicly and not through secret processes effectively free from public scrutiny. The state must not adopt or implement a surveillance practice without public law defining its limits. Moreover, the law must meet a standard of clarity and precision that is sufficient to ensure that individuals have advance notice of, and can foresee, its application. When citizens are unaware of a law, its interpretation, or the scope of its application, it is effectively secret. A secret law is not a legal limit on human rights.
In her landmark report Pillay made clear that:
“Secret rules and secret interpretations even secret judicial interpretations of law do not have the necessary qualities of “law”. Neither do laws or rules that give the executive authorities, such as security and intelligence services, excessive discretion; the scope and manner of exercise of authoritative discretion granted must be indicated (in the law itself, or in binding, published guidelines) with reasonable clarity. A law that is accessible, but that does not have foreseeable effects, will not be adequate. The secret nature of specific surveillance powers brings with it a greater risk of arbitrary exercise of discretion which, in turn, demands greater precision in the rule governing the exercise of discretion, and additional oversight.”
Laws should only permit communications surveillance by specified State authorities to achieve a Legitimate Aim that corresponds to a predominantly important legal interest that is necessary in a democratic society.
Under international human rights law, any restriction on our fundamental freedoms must generally pursue a permissible purpose or “legitimate aim.” These purposes or aims are often enumerated within the Article itself. The Principles therefore require that communications surveillance only be undertaken in pursuit of a predominantly important legal interest. Such interests have been described by Germany’s highest court as “the life, limb and freedom of the individual or such interests of the public a threat to which affects the basis or continued existence of the state or the basis of human existence.”
Regarding the right to privacy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have stated that the “permissible limitations” test under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among other articles are equally applicable to Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary interference with the right to privacy.
The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has similarly affirmed, in its 2014 Report, that “any limitation to privacy rights reflected in article 17 must be necessary for reaching a legitimate aim”. The Report elaborates:
“Surveillance on the grounds of national security or for the prevention of terrorism or other crime may be a “legitimate aim” for purposes of an assessment from the viewpoint of article 17 of the Covenant. The degree of interference must, however, be assessed against the necessity of the measure to achieve that aim and the actual benefit it yields towards such a purpose.”
Finally, communications surveillance cannot be employed in a manner that discriminates on the basis of grounds such as race, colour, sex, language religion or national origin, as such discrimination constitutes an illegitimate purpose.
Necessity, Adequacy and Proportionality
International human rights law makes clear that any interference with our fundamental freedoms must be “necessary in a democratic society”. In its General Comments No. 27, the Human Rights Committee clearly indicates that it is not sufficient that such restrictions serve a legitimate aim, they must also be necessary to it. Restrictive measures must also be adequate or appropriate to achieving their protective function. They must also be the least intrusive options amongst those which might be expected to achieve the desired result, and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected. Finally, any restrictive measure which undermines the essence or core of a right is inherently disproportionate and a violation of that right.
Applying these foundational principles to the context of communications surveillance, the Principles affirm that:
Necessity: Often, a surveillance objective might be achieved using far less intrusive mechanisms. While it is by no means necessary to exhaust other options, it should be recognized the communications surveillance is inherently invasive and should not be a tool of first recourse.
Adequacy: It is not sufficient to show that a given surveillance practice is necessary for achieving a given objective, it must also be adequate and appropriate to it. As noted by the High Commissioner, at minimum, communications surveillance which interferes with privacy “must be shown to have some chance of achieving [its] goal.”
Proportionality: Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that interferes with human rights and poses a threat to the foundations of a democratic society. Communications surveillance for investigative purposes, in particular, should only occur once the state has convinced an objective third party – a judge – that a serious threat to a legitimate interest exists and that the communications mechanism in question will yield information that will assist with that serious threat.
No voluntary cooperation:
Current digital networks and interactions entrust vast amounts of personal and sensitive data in the hands of a wide range of third party intermediaries, including ISPs, email providers, hosting companies and others. Through their discretionary decisions to comply (or not) with state surveillance requests, these intermediaries can dramatically impact on the privacy rights of all. Such voluntary sharing bypasses due process and poses a serious threat to the rule of law. The Necessary and Proportionate principles therefore prohibit any state communications surveillance activities in the absence of judicial authorization.
Contrary to many official statements, the modern reality is that state intelligence agencies are involved in a much broader scope of activities than simply those related to national security or counterterrorism. The Necessary and Proportionate Principles state that communications surveillance (including the collection of information or any interference with access to our data) must be proportionate to the objective they are intended to address. And equally importantly, even where surveillance is justified by one agency for one purpose, the Principles prohibit the unrestricted reuse of this information by other agencies for other purposes.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report also emphasized that point:
“The report explained that the absence of effective use limitations has been exacerbated since September 11, 2001, with the line between criminal justice and protection of national security blurring significantly. The resultant sharing of data between law enforcement agencies, intelligence bodies and other State organs risks violating Article 17 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because surveillance measures that may be necessary and proportionate for one legitimate aim may not be so for the purposes of another.”
Integrity of Communications And Systems:
No law should impose security holes in our technology in order to facilitate surveillance. Undermining the security of hundreds of millions of innocent people in order to ensure surveillance capabilities against the very few bad guys is both overbroad and short-sighted, not least because malicious actors can use these exploits as readily as state agents. The assumption underlying such provisions—that no communication can be truly secure—is inherently dangerous, akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It must be rejected.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report supports that conclusion, stating that:
“The enactment of statutory requirements for companies to make their networks “wiretap-ready” is a particular concern, not least because it creates an environment that facilitates sweeping surveillance measures.”
Notification And Right To An Effective Remedy
Notification must be the norm, not the exception. Individuals should be notified that access to their communications has been authorized with enough time and information to enable them to appeal the decision, except when doing so would endanger the investigation at issue. Individuals should also have access to the materials presented in support of the application for authorisation. The notification principle has become essential in fighting illegal or overreaching surveillance. Any delay in notification has to be based upon a showing to a court, and tied to an actual danger to the investigation at issue or harm to a person.
Before the internet, the police would knock on a suspect’s door, show their warrant, and provide the individual a reason for entering the suspect’s home. The person searched could watch the search occur and see whether the information gathered went beyond the scope of the warrant. Electronic surveillance, however, is much more surreptitious. Data can be intercepted or acquired directly from a third party such as Facebook or Twitter without the individual knowing. Therefore, it is often impossible to know that one has been under surveillance, unless the evidence leads to criminal charges. As a result the innocent are the least likely to discover their privacy has been invaded. Indeed, new technologies have even enabled covert remote searches of personal computers and other devices. Any delay in notification has to be based upon a showing to a court, and tied to an actual danger to the investigation at issue or harm to a person.
The OHCHR report lays out four characteristics that effective remedies for surveillance-related privacy violations must display:
“Effective remedies for violations of privacy through digital surveillance can thus come in a variety of judicial, legislative or administrative forms. Effective remedies typically share certain characteristics. First, those remedies must be known and accessible to anyone with an arguable claim that their rights have been violated. Notice (that either a general surveillance regime or specific surveillance measures are in place) and standing (to challenge such measures) thus become critical issues in determining access to effective remedy. States take different approaches to notification: while some require post facto notification of surveillance targets, once investigations have concluded, many regimes do not provide for notification. Some may also formally require such notification in criminal cases ; however , in practice , this structure appears to be regularly ignored.”
The 2014 OHCHR report continues, stressing the importance of a “prompt, thorough and impartial investigation”; a need for remedies to actually be “capable of ending ongoing violations”; and noting that “where human rights violations rise to the level of gross violations…as criminal prosecution will be required”.
Safeguards for International Cooperation:
Privacy protections must be consistent across borders at home and abroad. Governments should not bypass national privacy protections by relying on secretive informal data sharing agreements with foreign states or private international companies. Individuals should not be denied privacy rights simply because they live in another country from the one that is surveilling them. Where data is flowing across borders, the law of the jurisdiction with the greatest privacy protections should apply.
More to Be Done: The Necessary and Proportionate Principles provide a basic framework for governments to ensure the rule of law, oversight and safeguards. They also call for accountability, with penalties for unlawful access and strong and effective protections for whistleblowers. They are starting to serve as a model for reform around the world and we urge governments, companies, NGOs and activists to use them to structure necessary change.
But while the Principles are aimed at governments, government action isn’t the only way to combat surveillance overreach. All of the communications companies, Internet and telecommunications alike, can help by securing their networks and limiting the information they collect and retain. Online service providers should collect the minimum amount of information for the minimum time that is necessary to perform their operations, and to effectively obfuscate, aggregate and delete unneeded user information. This helps them in their compliance burdens as well: if they collect less data, there is less data to hand over to the government. Strong encryption should be adopted throughout the entire communications chain and, where possible, for data in storage.
It’s clear that under the cloak of secrecy, malfunctioning oversight and the limited reach of outdated laws, the practice of digital surveillance in countries from the far north to the far south, have overrun the bounds of human rights standards. We all hope to see activists around the world showing exactly where a country has crossed the line, and how its own policymakers and the international community might rein it back. We must call for surveillance reform to ensure that our national surveillance laws and practices comply with human rights standards and to ensure cross-border privacy are in place and effectively enforced. Working together, legal plus technical efforts like deploying encryption, decentralization of services and limiting information collected, can serve as a foundation for a new era of private and secure digital communications.
- International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, updated July 2014 https://neccessaryandproportionate.org/text
- EFF, Article19: Legal Analysis and Background Materials: International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, May 2014 https://en.necessaryandproportionate.org/LegalAnalysis
- The Right to Privacy in the Digital Agehttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/DigitalAge/Pages/DigitalAgeIndex.aspx
- Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to privacy in the digital age
- Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2013. Annual Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/docs/reports/2014_04_22_%20IA_2013_ENG%20_FINALweb.pdf
- Human Rights Committee, General Comment 27, Freedom of movement (Art.12), U.N. Doc CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9 (1999).
- UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, A/HRC/13/37
- UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, A/HRC/23/40
When placed in the proper context, recent events in Ukraine emerge as part of a pattern of “silent coups” typical of the era of President Barack Obama in which “regime change” is disguised as “democracy promotion” but actually overturns democratically elected leaders.
The Ukrainian coup unfolded in three stages: the establishment of the justification for the coup, the coup itself, and the exploitation of the coup to move Ukraine into the American sphere. All three stages bear the Obama administration’s fingerprint of looking like democracy even as the democratic will of a population is negated and reversed.
These modern coups are unlike the classic military coups executed by earlier U.S. presidents, such as those that removed Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Allende in Chile in 1973. Nor are they like President George W. Bush’s “regime change” involving overt U.S. invasions. The Ukrainian coup was so disguised as to be unrecognizable as a coup. The Obama-era coups require no tanks and few guns. They usually don the trappings of “pro-democracy” domestic protests.
The first stage establishes the justification for the coup. It pretends to be the expression of the public will through mass democratic expression in the streets. But it actually amplifies the voice of a disaffected and defeated minority. This pattern under President Obama took shape in the streets of Tehran in 2009 after the people of Iran made the mistake of once again choosing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their president – not the choice America wanted, so the choice had to be changed.
Next, the complaints of the U.S.-desired but defeated Hossein Mousavi and his Green Movement were picked up and amplified by the West, claiming that the election had been fraudulent, justifying a popular uprising for “regime change.” Except that the result hadn’t been forced on the people.
Despite frequent promises to furnish evidence and despite frequent opportunities to do so, Mousavi never delivered the case for electoral theft. And, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself pointed out, this was no narrow victory where the rigging of a few votes or even a few hundred thousand votes could steal a victory. “How can they rig eleven million votes?” the Ayatollah asked of an election that got about an 85 percent turnout and saw 40 million people cast ballots.
But it is not just the titanic challenge of moving millions of votes from one side of the electoral ledger to the other. The polls, both before and after the election, continually showed that the votes were always there for Ahmadinejad. Former U.S. national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett have documented that 14 methodologically sound polls — run externally by experienced Canadian and American polling organizations and internally by the University of Tehran — demonstrated the predictability, reasonableness and legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s 62.5 percent vote total.
On election night, the University of Tehran’s polls showed Ahmadinejad vacuuming up 57 percent of the vote. In post-election polls, between 55 percent and 66 percent of voters said they had voted for Ahmadinejad (who had a strong base of support among poorer Iranians and especially among rural voters whose opinions were less noticeable to the Western press).
The Western refusal to recognize the democratically elected Ahmadinejad coupled with the credence and amplification that America gave to the exaggeratedly popular Green Movement created the umbrella under which Mousavi’s movement could take to the streets and attempt the removal of a regime unwanted by Washington.
Such a coup-in-disguise exploits one of the potential troubles with democracy. It is the nature of democracy that the majority of people, not the unanimity of people, get to select the government. Even if a government wins a convincing 62.5 percent of the vote, that leaves a sometimes dissatisfied 37.5 percent of the people to take to the streets.
In a large country like Iran, where 40 million people voted, that translates into 15 million people who can take to the streets. When picked up by a sympathetic Western media, protests by even a fraction of those numbers can create the appearance of a mass social movement that justifies supporting what appears to be a popular demand for a change in regime. A “pro-democracy” social movement is born.
In Iran, a group that could not change the government through the democratic electoral process appeared to make a strong “democratic” case to change the government through social pressure. A mass minority protesting in the streets produced a cry heard more loudly around the world than a silent majority in a secret polling booth. It was still the minority, but – in such cases – “democracy” can be wielded as a weapon against democracy. If you can’t bring about the government you want in the polls, bring it about in the streets.
This Iran experiment of legitimizing a coup by transforming the minority, which failed to democratically change the government at the polls, into a mass movement expressing the “public will” to change the government in the streets fell short of its goal although creating a widespread impression in the West that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was illegitimate.
Other ‘Silent Coup’ Attempts
Four years later, a similar silent coup attempt appeared in the streets of Venezuela. With the death of Hugo Chavez, America saw the opportunity for the first time since 1988 to have a leader elected in Venezuela who did not insist on his country’s autonomy from the U.S. But, to America’s dismay, the people voted to continue the Bolivarian Revolution by electing Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro.
The Western media lens immediately focused not on the election of Maduro and Chavez’s party but on the claims of fraud issued by Maduro’s opponent (and Washington’s choice) Henrique Capriles. Despite Maduro agreeing to an audit of the voting machines, despite Capriles never filing his legal charges, despite 150 electoral monitors from around the world – including the Carter Center – certifying the election as fair and despite recognition by every other country in the world, the U.S. State Department continued not to recognize the Maduro government and continued to call for a recount and review.
When Capriles called his democratically defeated supporters to the streets, the Western media lens, as in Iran four years earlier, focused on and amplified the protests. As with Iran, Washington’s refusal to recognize the elected government and the U.S. legitimization of the protests provided cover to the opposition while it attempted to overturn the election results and overthrow the elected government.
Once again, “democracy promotion” was wielded as a weapon against democracy. Yet, in Venezuela, the experiment failed again, as it may have in Turkey and Brazil where Washington also looked with disfavor on the election outcomes.
In Brazil, Lula da Silva won 61.3 percent of the vote in 2002 and 60.83 percent in 2006. In the most recent election, in 2010, Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, won a majority 56.05 percent of the vote. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, far from declining in popularity, had seen his government’s actions rewarded with increasing voter support: 34 percent in 2002, 46.66 percent in 2007 and 49.83 percent in 2011. Nevertheless, in both countries, the defeated minorities took to the streets to attempt what they could not achieve in the polls.
This silent coup technique would prove more successful in Egypt where the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi would be removed from office not by democracy and the ballot box but, at least in part, by the defeated minority walking out of the polls and into the streets. “Democracy promotion” protests in Cairo and elsewhere set the stage for Morsi’s ouster by the Egyptian military.
The Ukrainian ‘Success’
The first stage of the Ukrainian coup — the establishment of a justification for the coup — fits this same pattern. As Seamus Milne said in the Guardian, the protest in the streets of Ukraine was “played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government.” But, he adds: “it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality.”
Though President Viktor Yanukovych is often portrayed in the Western media as a dictator who was flown in by Russia, the man the protestors were trying to remove on the streets was elected in 2010 by a plurality of 48.9 percent of the people in elections declared fair by international observers.
So this was not a mass “pro-democracy” movement ousting an unelected dictator. As in Iran, Venezuela and Egypt, this was the case of the losers of the last election trying to reverse those results by going into the streets. But, to make the script work, Western governments and media alter the roles and turn the democratically elected president into the undemocratic one and the opposition into the democracy.
Thus, the West cooperated in the de-legitimization of the elected government of Ukraine and the legitimization of a coup. Such a silent coup is made to appear “democratic” by making it look like a heroic “peoples” movement arising spontaneously from the street.
Having legitimized the cause of the coup-makers, the second stage is the silent coup itself. In this stage, the silent coup is disguised as the shuffling of the legal and constitutional workings of a nation’s parliament. Once again, the coup is executed by wielding “democracy” as the chief weapon.
This aspect of the silent coup – making it appear as simply a discontented population leading to a dispute among constitutional institutions – was developed and perfected in Latin America. During Obama’s presidency, it first appeared in Honduras where democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was whisked out of the country in a kidnapping at gunpoint that was dressed up as a constitutional obligation because Zelaya had announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution (since the old one favored the privileged oligarchy).
The political establishment – hostile to Zelaya’s proposal – falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek reelection. The ability to stand for a second term would have been considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya.
The Honduran Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional; the military kidnapped Zelaya; and the Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president. In other words, it was a coup in constitutional disguise. As American diplomatic cables made clear, the U.S. State Department knew the change in regime was a coup cloaked in the costume of a constitutional act. (Nevertheless, the result of the coup was supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)
The second appearance of this coup pattern occurred in Paraguay when the right-wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left-leaning Fernando Lugo in a replay of the parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, a coup was made to look like a constitutional transition.
The right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it. Embassy cables again show that the U.S. was prepared to permit this kind of coup.
The Ukrainian coup is the third incarnation of this pattern of silent coup during the Obama administration. The coup that removed Viktor Yanukovych was disguised to appear as the workings of parliamentary democracy (after street protests in Kiev – supported by U.S. officials – and violent clashes between police and demonstrators created a crisis atmosphere).
With the clashes growing more intense, the parliamentary process that removed the democratically elected leader of Ukraine had three phases. In Act I, after Yanukovych had reached an agreement guaranteed by three European nations to accept reduced powers and to call early elections so he could be voted out of office, government security forces withdrew from the streets leaving public buildings unguarded. That allowed protesters to take control.
In Act II, the opposition made sure that it had the numbers and the strength to take over the parliament by pouncing when, according to the UK Guardian, “many of the MPs for southern and eastern Ukraine were absent from the session. Instead they were at a pre-scheduled congress of regional politicians in Kharkiv” and by intimidating those who remained who were loyal to Yanukovych.
Journalist Robert Parry wrote that neo-Nazi right-wing protesters occupied the government buildings “and forced Yanukovych and many of his allies to flee for their lives.”
In Act III, political parties that held just a minority of the Ukrainian parliament — mostly from the west — dismissed Yanukovych, favorably altered the constitution and formed a new government and began passing new laws often unanimously under intimidation. Parry wrote that “With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws . . . as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene” – a coup in constitutional disguise.
So, what was really a coup was made to look, as in Honduras and Paraguay, like the legitimate democratic actions of the parliament.
Creating a Pretext
The original issue used as a pretext for the coup was Yanukovych’s abandonment of an economic alliance with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia. But polls clearly demonstrate that the numbers on each side of the choice paralleled the numbers in the 2010 election: a nearly even split. So, the side that took over in the streets and in the parliament was the same side that lost in the 2010 election and did not represent a democratic change of the people.
As in Honduras and Paraguay, the silent coup in parliamentary disguise was assisted by the West. The trigger for the coup was consistently presented in the West as Yanukovych simply abandoning the E.U. in favor of Russia. But the West pushed him into a situation that made the crisis inevitable.
According to Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, “it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected President of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, ‘You must choose between Europe and Russia’.” Cohen added that Washington and the E.U. rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of collaboration for the E.U., America and Russia all to help Ukraine without forcing it to choose.
Having said that Yanukovych must choose one or the other, the West then made it impossible for him to choose the West. Robert Parry reported that the E.U. was “demanding substantial economic ‘reforms,’ including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund.” Russia, however, offered $15 billion in loans without such demands.
And in addition to the austerity measures, Cohen added that the E.U. proposal also “included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies.”
In effect, the West forced Yanukovych to choose Russia, thus setting the stage for the violent protests in the street. The U.S. government then protected and nurtured those protests. Both Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland publicly endorsed and supported the protesters’ undemocratic demand for regime change.
Washington then provided cover and legitimacy to the violent movement in the street by condemning not the protesters’ fire bombs and other acts of violence but the police response. And America did more than rhetorically support the protest: it helped finance the disruptions.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to, according to Robert Parry, “promote political action and psychological warfare against targeted states.” Allen Weinstein, its original project director, said in 1991 that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the C.I.A.”
Parry reported that the U.S.-government-funded NED listed a staggering 65 projects that it funded inside Ukraine, creating “a shadow political structure of media and activist groups that could be deployed to stir up unrest when the Ukrainian government didn’t act as desired.” (In a September 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post, NED President Carl Gershman had referred to Ukraine as “the biggest prize.”)
In other words, NED money financed projects that helped drive the coup, but there was apparently much more U.S. money than what NED supplied. In December 2013, Victoria Nuland told an audience at the Ukraine Foundation Conference that the U.S. had invested over $5 billion in a “democratic Ukraine.”
But Nuland said more than that. She accidentally revealed the American handwriting on the Ukrainian coup script. In an intercepted phone call that was made public, she was caught plotting who the Americans wanted to be the winner of the regime change. She told the American ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, that Arseniy Yatsenyuk was America’s choice to replace Yanukovych (and he did).
Pyatt also refers to the West needing to “midwife this thing,” a metaphorical admission of America’s role in the coup. At one point, Nuland even seems to say that Vice President Joe Biden, himself, would be willing to do the midwifery.
The Third Stage
Having made what was clearly a coup appear to be the legitimate shuffling of parliamentary democracy, the new government was ripe to advance to the third stage: moving Ukraine into the American sphere. Like the silent justification of the coup and the silent coup in constitutional disguise, the moving of Ukraine into the American sphere was a silent takeover: no invasion necessary.
The new government formally asked to ally itself with the patrons who helped place it in power in the first place. On Aug. 29, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk—the very man Victoria Nuland was caught naming as America’s choice to replace Yanukovych – announced that his cabinet had approved a bill putting an end to Ukraine’s non-aligned status that would pave the way for “resumption of Ukraine’s course for NATO membership.” The bill will now be sent on to parliament.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded immediately to Yatsenyuk’s announcement by reminding the world of NATOs 2008 decision that Ukraine would become a member of NATO if it so wanted and added that NATO would “fully respect” Ukraine’s intention to join.
So the silent coup had set the stage for the silent takeover of Ukraine by the West, as Ukraine slides out of Russia’s orbit and into NATO’s, a hostile takeover of a country in democratic disguise.
On its own, the Ukrainian intervention clearly has the markings of a U.S.-backed coup. But, removed from isolation and placed into the context of other coups and attempted coups that have taken place during Obama’s presidency, the Ukrainian coup can be seen to be the culmination of a pattern of coups made to look not like coups but like the admirable exercise of “democracy.”
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.