You have heard that Sweden is hunting a ”submarine” and that it is ”presumed to be Russian”. Here is an example, Financial Times of October 21 – which incidentally also announces that the Swedish Prime Minister vows to increase defence spending.
Not the slightest evidence
There are only three problems with this:
1) There is not the slightest evidence of there being anything military, neither that it is a submarine nor that, whatever the object might be, it is Russian.
2) Even with CNN, BBC and AlJazeera this is nothing but speculative low-grade yellow press journalism. This is possible in the field of defence, security and peace because much less is required of journalists when they write about these matters than when they write about, say, domestic politics, economics, sports, books or food and wine. In these fields you are expected to have some knowledge and media consumers are able to check.
3) It serves other purposes than bringing you information: either to increase further the negative image of Russia, push Sweden into full NATO membership – see the remarkable offer by NATOs former Allied Supreme Commander, Stavridis – for NATO to come and help Sweden – or to scare the Swedes into feeling that it is necessary to pay even more to the Swedish military (a mechanism also called fearology).
Virtually every aspect of the media hype is based on prejudices instead of interest-based analysis and on partial and paid expertise that follows the ‘party line’. Russia has ‘denied’ it is there; Holland has ‘dismissed’ that its submarine should be there.
With one or two exceptions, all Swedish and international media have avoided asking: Could it be something else but a sub and somebody else but the Russians – or nothing at all?
The alleged-ness of it all is good enough to pass for objective reporting in the – alleged – free media.
From Swedish defence force to farce
Worse, the Swedish military has already made a fool of itself – not to be expected given the fairly large resources it has at its disposal.
It has sold off helicopters it now dearly needs.
It’s been – at least officially – relying on tips from ordinary citizens and one wonders where the intelligence (in more than one sense of that word) is.
A suspicion that a (Russian) special forces man had gone on land turned out to be an Swedish pensioner out fishing.
It has published a blurred photo of a wave-covered ‘object’ to be seen far out through some trees and indicated wrongly where that photo was taken.
One indeed wonders whether this farcical performance is made to show that it is so helpless that it must have large resources.
The more relevant consideration would be: How on earth can such amateurism be so easily accepted by the government, media and the people – and even used as an argument for what the PM has just announced?
Or to put it crudely: What does the Swedes get for their tax money?
Sweden is not a helpless pawn in the game
Sweden with a population of roughly 9 million is # 33 on the world list of military expenditures, spending US $ 6,2 billion per year. That is US $ 657 per capita, # 17 in the world.
Russia spends US$ 403 per capita and its overall military expenditures is 8% of NATO’s.
Sweden, thus, is not a helpless pawn in some game. If its military isn’t able to do better when it is really needed, someone should be made responsible.
Is it Russian?
If there is something out there, is it likely to be Russian? Not very likely.
Moscow knows very well that if a Russian submarine was found and brought up to the surface, it would mean a huge boost for those in Sweden and elsewhere who would like to see Sweden as a full NATO member. That is not in Russia’s interest.
But of course, the Russians could play a high-risk game in these waters with some NATO subs or be plain foolish. It can’t be excluded – but it isn’t very likely that the object is Russian.
If it Russian, Sweden itself may anyhow have an interest in not officially finding anything – to keep the Russians in the dark about how much it knows and whether or not there already is a NATO assistance in this case. In both cases we are likely to never be told what it was all about.
Could it be from NATO?
Could it be from a NATO country? If so, we’ll also never know that.
The Swedish Chief of Staff has said that if something is found it would be shot at to come up to the surface. But it’s unthinkable that Sweden, if it knew an object to be from a NATO country – would a) shoot at it and b) tell the world that it knew.
After all, most violations of the Swedish air space has been known since the 1980s to be done by NATO fighters but it’s basically only when Russian fighters come near or violate that the Swedish defence establishment leaks it or the media are interested in it.
Sweden isn’t a neutral country today, if it ever were.
Could NATO have an interest in these waters? In the wake of the Ukraine crisis we are back to a kind of Cold War situation and NATO has moved its military positions forward in various ways and held a steady focus on the Baltic States.
So, yes, NATO could be in Swedish waters with or without the knowledge or consent of the Swedes; it could be roaming around to check on the Russians simply because tension has built up.
It could be placing sonars or whatever devices for future emergencies – while not wanting Sweden to know that it considers Sweden so close to NATO that it can just as well be used.
And if so, Sweden would rather not be told. Clearly Sweden could not officially endorse a NATO submarine presence on its territory as part of Anti-Submarine Warfare or planning for future war with Russia. Both parties know that.
My concluding prediction is therefore rather simple: for the above reasons the Swedish military will soon call off the whole thing and the affair will have served its purpose – precisely by not stating what it was, who it was or why it was. Or if it was.
What the purpose of the event may be remains to be revealed at some point in the future. Or perhaps never if – the purpose was fearology for increased militarisation.
Somebody somewhere knows what’s going on. And they put citizens’ security at risk for purposes they would never tell you.
Radoslaw Sikorski — the speaker of the Polish Parliament and that nation’s former foreign minister — was forced to apologize after claiming that he overheard Vladimir Putin in 2008 suggest that Ukraine should be divided between Russia and Poland.
A bombshell report published by Politico Magazine over the weekend called “Putin’s Coup” alleged that Sikorski heard that the Russian president told Donald Tusk, then the Polish prime minister, that Poland should “become participants in the divide of Ukraine” during a Polish delegation’s 2008 visit to Moscow.
“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine… This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow,” Politico’s Ben Judah quoted Sikorski as saying following an interview that formed the basis of the Sunday article.
“He (Putin) went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together.”
“We made it very, very clear to them – we wanted nothing to do with this,” Sikorski went on.
On Monday, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said that, if Putin did suggest as much, then that would be “scandalous.”
On Tuesday, however, Sikorski found himself in a scandalous situation himself and had to respond to multiple accusations that he made up the conversation between Putin and Tusk. The Russian president’s spokesman labeled the alleged remark as “utter nonsense,” and Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Russia’s Gazeta.ru the report “looks like total tripe.”
Responding to a mounting backlash, Sikorski said over Twitter that the interview with Judah was “not authorized” and that “Some of the words have been over-interpreted.” However the Politico journalist was fast to remind Mr. Sikorski that in the US members of the press do not “authorize” interviews. Judah also said to the Polish broadcaster TVN24 that he was “not sure what Sikorski had in mind” when he said some of his comments had been “over-interpreted.”
On Tuesday, Sikorski was confronted at a press conference by Polish journalists, demanding clarifications regarding his remarks. However, the ex-foreign minister was vague about whether or not he made the remarks published by Politico. Before long Sikorski admitted that he never personally heard of Putin offering to divide Ukraine, then refused to go into more details or answer additional questions from the media.
This awkward press conference infuriated even Sikorski’s fellow party members, and Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz publicly lashed at him.
“I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. I will not tolerate this kind of standards that Speaker Sikorski tried to present at today’s (news) conference,” Kopacz said, according to the Associated Press.
After that, Sikorski called in a second press conference, where he changed his position once again. He said Tusk and Putin never met during a bilateral meeting in Moscow in 2008 as he originally had suggested and the scandalous remarks were made later that year at a NATO summit in Bucharest. Additionally Sikorski apologized for putting both the former and current Polish PM in an “awkward position.”
“I apologize for the awkwardness, which took place this morning,” Poland’s TVN 24 quoted Sikorski as saying. “Especially as a former journalist, I never avoided contact with the media.”
However, Sikorski might be forced to change his version of history once again. According to the official NATO schedule of Putin’s meetings from the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, the Russian leader and his Polish counterpart didn’t hold any bilateral meetings in Romania either.
US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby have been challenged over the Department of Defense’s claims that the US must “deal” with “modern and capable” Russian armed forces on NATO’s doorstep.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu expressed “grave concern” and “surprise” at a Wednesday speech made by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference. Hagel declared that US armed forces “must deal with a revisionist Russia – with its modern and capable army – on NATO’s doorstep.”
During a State Department briefing on Friday, however, an AP journalist suggested that it would be more logical to say that “NATO has moved closer to Russia’s borders.”
“Is it not logical to look at this and say – the reason why Russia’s army is on NATO’s doorstep, is because NATO expands,” journalist Matt Lee said.
“That’s the way [Russian] President Putin probably looks at it, it’s certainly not the way that we look at it,” Kirby said in response to the journalist’s reasoning.
Though he eventually admitted that NATO has expanded, Kirby added that “NATO is not an anti-Russia alliance, it is a security alliance.”
“It wasn’t NATO that was ordering tons of tactical battalions and army to [the] Ukraine border,” Kirby added, before being reminded that Ukraine is not part of NATO.
Kirby then refused to agree with the point that the Russians could understandably perceive NATO’s expansion as a “threat,” especially given that the alliance existed as “anti-Soviet” for half a century.
“I’m not going to pretend to know what goes in President Putin’s mind or Russian military commanders… I mean, I barely got a history degree at the University of South Florida,” Kirby joked, dodging the question.
Kirby assured that NATO’s moves were not “hostile and threatening,” but rather a matter of security. He added that he was “worried about their [Russia’s] moves around Ukraine.” Psaki then cut in, saying that “other countries feel threatened,” and urged the conversation to move on.
In terms of new threats at NATO’s borders, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Friday that it is the US which has been “stubbornly approaching… closer to our doors.”
Relations between Russia and NATO have been tense since the alliance accused Russia of becoming involved in the Ukrainian conflict – a claim Russia has continuously denied.
Following Crimea’s accession to Russia in March, the US and Europe bombarded Moscow with sanctions. NATO also significantly increased its military presence near Russia’s borders, especially in Poland and the former Soviet Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which have expressed concern at the potential for Russian incursions into their territories.
Bible thumping and carpet bombing
The really interesting thing about the Junior Senator from Texas is the fact that he demonstrates that anyone who wants it badly enough can become president. It is, of course, something for which there is a precedent, when voters elected an inexperienced and largely unknown Barack Obama. Cruz shares Obama’s lack of preparation for the highest office while he is also something of a throwback to fellow Texan George W. Bush’s tradition of anti-intellectualism and lack of curiosity about how the rest of the world interacts with the United States. This is particularly unfortunate as Cruz, a conventional Republican conservative on all social issues, ironically has chosen to identify differences in foreign policy to distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican pack.
Cruz might rightly be seen by some as a nightmarish incarnation of a narrow minded conservative Christian vision of what the United States is all about, aggressively embracing a world view based on ignorance coupled with the license granted by God endowed “American exceptionalism” from sea to shining sea. His father is an Evangelical preacher and the son has successfully absorbed much of both the blinkered notions of right and wrong as well as the Elmer Gantry style, but that is not to suggest that he is stupid. By all accounts Cruz, a graduate of Princeton and of Harvard Law School, is extremely intelligent and by some accounts endowed with both extraordinary cunning and ambition. He is possessed of excellent political instincts when it comes to appealing to the constituencies in the GOP that he believes to be essential to his success.
Washington has seen presidents who were truly religious in the past but it has rarely experienced the Cruz mixture of demagoguery combined with a Biblically infused sense of righteousness which admits to no error. His Manichean sense of good and evil is constantly on display, but he is most on fire when he is speaking to his fellow conservative Christians, most recently at the gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa. Cruz was one of a number of GOP speakers, which included potential presidential hopefuls Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan, who were received tepidly while Cruz was greeted with cheering and a standing ovation before launching into his most recent theme, blaming the White House for not pressuring foreign governments to protect their Christian minorities. The enthusiastic reception was not surprising as Cruz is, after all, the “real thing” speaking “their language” fluently and the Evangelicals know it.
Cruz is intelligent enough to realize that what he is peddling is a type of narrative designed to make himself electable. What he actually believes is somewhat irrelevant except that if he is an actual zealot he might well be immune to viewpoints that run counter to his biases, dangerous in a president. A year ago Cruz grandstanded in leading the GOP dissidents’ attempt to shut down the government over the issue of Obamacare, a move that the party leadership regarded as a major “tactical error.” He was widely condemned for his performance in the media and within his own party but he made points with the constituency he was courting, the Tea Partiers.
The disturbing thing about Cruz is that his foreign policy statements are awash in what must be a willful disregard of reality, but, as with the threatened government shutdown, he apparently knows what will sell with the Bible thumping America first crowd that he is primarily targeting. His latest leitmotif which he has been hammering relentlessly is the worldwide persecution of Christians, with the clear implication that it is uniquely a Muslim problem. It is also a line that is being pursued by the Israeli government and American Jewish groups, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is somehow a protector of Christianity. He opposes negotiations with Iran, for example, because a Christian pastor is in prison there. That several other Americans are also being held by the government in Tehran, including a former US Marine, appears to be of secondary importance and US broader regional interests do not enter into the discussion at all.
As part of his strategy to outflank his competition in the GOP, Cruz is shameless in his promotion of Israel and its interests. He did so recently by telling an audience of beleaguered Middle Eastern Christians that they had “no greater ally than Israel,” a statement so palpably out of sync with the actual experiences of those in the audience that he was booed of the stage. His response: “Those who hate Israel hate America.” Countering conservative critics of his performance Cruz subsequently wrote that “… the only time at least some of these writers seem to care about persecuted Christians is when it furthers an anti-Israel narrative for them.”
Cruz will, of course, find Israel haters wherever he looks as it constitutes a convenient way to dismiss critics without affording them a hearing. He will never concede that Israel discriminates against its Christian minority in spite of the considerable evidence that it does so. That Israel chooses to describe itself as a Jewish State, a designation that Cruz enthusiastically supports, does not ring any bells for him though he is quick to pounce on Iran for calling itself the Islamic Republic.
This willful blindness derives from the fact that Israel is central to Cruz’s foreign policy thinking. He has visited the country three times since becoming Senator. In Des Moines last week he spoke about Israel and he has referred to it from the Senate floor literally thousands of times, according to the Congressional Record. His private Senate office features a large framed photo of himself with Netanyahu. Nearly every speech Cruz makes sooner or later comes around to the issue of “standing for Israel” even when there is no logical reason to make that connection. At the recent Values Voters Summit in Washington he brought the cheering crowd to its feet by shouting “We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel.”
To be sure, part of the Cruz strategy comes from his recognition that no Republican can become a presidential candidate without the endorsement of Israel’s supporters. Cruz has met privately with the leaders of Jewish organizations, including Bill Kristol, editor of the neocon Weekly Standard and founder or board member of the multitude of pro-Israel alphabet soup organizations that seem to spring up spontaneously. The Weekly Standard has, not surprisingly, promoted the Cruz candidacy. Cruz also has his eye on Jewish money. He is seeking the support of Las Vegas casino mega-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who could single handedly fund his campaign if he should choose to do so, as well as with other potential donors.
Cruz, who apparently believes he has learned something from the Vietnam and Iraq fiascos, describes his foreign policy in simple terms: have a clearly defined objective, use overwhelming force, and then get out. If viewed at face value, the formula is an antidote for prolonged and unsuccessful nation building, which would be good, but it has to be taken in the context of Cruz’s other pronouncements. He describes the world as being “on fire” and his rhetoric is uniformly belligerent. He sees “overwhelming” military intervention by the US as a God given right whenever the policy makers in Washington feel threatened and he also regards the military option as a first resort without any regard for what is going on in the country that is the target. Making a mess and leaving it is a recipe for international anarchy.
In a recent speech Cruz denounced the Administration for talking with Iranian representatives at the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. He characterized the event as “swilling chardonnay with the Iranian government.” That the United States has very compelling interests to be working with Iran both on ISIS and on nuclear proliferation apparently escaped Cruz’s grasp, so he was left with little more than a cheap shot joke to explain his unwillingness to negotiate with a government that he and Israel have repeatedly demonized.
Regarding Russia, Cruz has called for an expansion of NATO and more sanctions without any explanation of what the strategy might be or any curiosity about where increasing pressure on Moscow might lead. As a Cuban American he is inevitably hostile towards the government in Havana. Regarding Iran, Cruz supports harsher sanctions even though it would mean an end to negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.
Cruz’s foreign policy vision has been reported to be finding a “sweet spot” between the nation building of the Democrats and the reflexive belligerency of some Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who have not apparently realized that the country is weary of war. In reality however, Cruz veers strongly towards McCain-like solutions, accepting military interventions while eschewing the occupation and rebuilding bits only because they are too expensive and prone to misadventure to entertain. Sadly, like other GOP hawks, Cruz does not recognize that Washington has caused many if not most international problems, that foreign nations actually have interests that should be respected or at least considered, that military solutions are rarely sustainable, and that inextricably linking the United States to a rogue nation like Israel might not actually be good policy. But such considerations count for little when a man with a mission is on his way to become President of the United States.
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.
NATO member states have started supplying weapons to Ukraine, the country’s Defense Minister said on TV. His comments came a few days after a similar statement by a Ukrainian presidential aide sparked a diplomatic scandal and a rash of denials.
In an interview with Channel 5, Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Geletey said that he had held verbal consultations with the defense ministers of the “leading countries of the world, those that can help us, and they heard us. We have the supply of arms under way.”
“This process has begun, and I feel that this is exactly the way we need to go,” the minister said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who attended the Sept. 4-5 NATO summit in Wales, announced that he had negotiated direct modern weapons supplies with a number of NATO member states.
Poroshenko claimed that some of the NATO member states said during bilateral consultations they are ready to supply Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal arms, including “high precision weapons,” as well as with medical equipment.
NATO has had repeatedly said that the alliance is not going to supply any weapons or military equipment to Ukraine. At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance would not interfere if member states made decisions of their own regarding arms supply to Ukraine.
When Poroshenko’s aide Yury Lutsenko wrote on his Facebook page that the US, along with France, Italy, Poland and Norway, would supply modern weapons to Ukraine, the news prompted all the countries mentioned in Lutsenko’s post to say they had no information about supplies.
Last Sunday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was the first to deny the arms delivery, saying he was not aware of a secret deal to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons.
Shortly afterward, Norway, Italy, and Poland also denied the report.
While the United States, United Kingdom and NATO are pushing for war with Russia, it behooves people and their governments around the world to take a clear stand for peace and against violence and war, no matter where it comes from. We are at a dangerous point in our history of the human family and it would be the greatest of tragedies for ourselves and our children if we simply allowed the war profiteers to take us into a third world war, resulting in the death of untold millions of people.
NATO’s decision at its summit in Wales (September 4-5) to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.
NATO is the leadership which has been causing the ongoing wars from the present conflict in the Ukraine, to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and others.
NATO’s latest move commits its 28 member states to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on the military, and to establish a series of three to five bases in Eastern Europe where equipment and supplies will be pre-positioned to help speed deployments, among other measures.
This decision by the United States/NATO to create a high readiness force with the alleged purpose of countering an alleged Russian threat reminds me of the war propaganda of lies, half-truths, insinuations and rumors to which we were all subjected in order to try to soften us all up for the Iraq war and subsequent horrific wars of terror which were carried out by NATO allied forces.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) observation team, NATO’s reports, including its satellite photos which show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside sovereign territory of Ukraine, were based on false evidence.
While NATO is busy announcing a counter-invasion to the non-existent Russian invasion of Ukraine, people in Ukraine are calling out for peace and negotiations, for political leadership which will bring them peace, not weapons and war.
This spearhead military force will be provided by allies in rotation and will involve also air, sea and special forces. We are also informed by a NATO spokesperson that this force will be trained to deal with unconventional actions, from the funding of separatist groups to the use of social media, intimidation and black propaganda.
No doubt the current Western media’s demonization of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people, by trying to inculcate fear and hatred of them, is part of the black propaganda campaign.
NATO’s latest proposals of 4,000 soldiers, and a separate force of 10,000 strong British-led joint expeditionary force also proposed, is a highly aggressive and totally irresponsible move by the United States, United Kingdom and NATO. It is breaches the 1997 agreement with Moscow under which NATO pledged not to base substantial numbers of soldiers in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis.
NATO should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact disintegrated but it was not and is now controlled by the United States for its own agenda. When speaking of NATO, one of President Bill Clinton’s officials said “America is NATO”. Today NATO, instead of being abolished, is re-inventing itself in re-arming and militarizing European states and justifying its new role by creating enemy images – be they Russians, IS (the Islamic State), and so on.
In an interdependent, interconnected world, struggling to build fraternity, economic cooperation and human security, there is no place for the Cold War policies of killing and threats to kill and policies of exceptionalism and superiority. The world has changed. People do not want to be divided and they want to see an end to violence, militarism and war.
The old consciousness is dysfunctional and a new consciousness based on an ethic of non-killing and respect and cooperation is spreading. It is time for NATO to recognize that its violent policies are counterproductive. The Ukraine crisis, groups such as the Islamic State, etc., will not be solved with guns, but with justice and through dialogue.
Above all, the world needs hope. It needs inspirational political leadership and this could be given if President Barack Obama and President Putin sat down together to solve the Ukraine conflict through dialogue and negotiation and in a non-violent way.
We live in dangerous times, but all things are possible, all things are changing … and peace is possible.
A military alliance in search of an identity: For over two decades NATO has had branding issues. To justify its existence, it absolutely needs an enemy. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Russia now fits that bill.
CrossTalking with Mark Sleboda, Alexander Mercouris and Brian Becker.
Arms firms that provide core military components for drones deployed by the US to conduct covert strikes in violation of international law allegedly bought access to NATO’s summit in Wales last week, a British human rights charity says.
The defense companies concerned doled out up to £300,000 to ‘exhibit’ their military wares at the conference in Newport. Among the firms present were General Dynamics, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and MBDA, according to a British government press release.
General Dynamics manufacture Hellfire missiles utilized in most US drone strikes, while Raytheon make the targeting system for the Reaper drone deployed by the CIA and other actors to conduct strikes across the globe. Lockheed Martin operates as a contractor to provide select support services for both the Reaper and Predator, and MBDA is a European company that manufactures the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Brimstone – a variant of the Hellfire missile.
The US drone program has received widespread public criticism both at home and abroad. Critics say attacks carried out in foreign countries, including Yemen and Pakistan, are in violation of both international and US law.
Although US drone strikes have culminated in hundreds of civilian casualties, they are subject to little oversight, according to Reprieve. President Barack Obama has refused to formally acknowledge the program’s existence.
Reprieve’s Legal Director Kat Craig said it’s “deeply worrying” that a group of firms who potentially profit most from this breach of international law were able to buy access into an international global summit like NATO.
“It is unacceptable that the US’ drone campaign, and the UK’s support for it, has been allowed to remain in the shadows for so long”, he added.
“President Obama must be far more open about it – as must his European allies, especially the UK and Germany, about the support they provide.”
Craig suggested the drone manufacturers’ presence at NATO signaled their inherent capacity to buy political influence “behind closed doors,” highlighting the opaque, illicit and legally questionable nature of much of the global arms trade.
NATO has pledged some 15 million euros to Ukraine, with several of the bloc’s member states pledging separate bilateral support and military cooperation, involving medical supplies as well as lethal and nonlethal military equipment.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a “comprehensive and tailored package of measures” including the donation of 15 million euros “through NATO” at a joint news conference with the Ukrainian president on Thursday on the first day of the NATO summit in Wales.
He said that this would be in addition to other measures such as advising Ukraine on defense reforms and further bilateral aid.
“This is about improvement of logistics, the improvement of command and control, the improvement of communications, and cyber defense,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
He added that bilateral aid would include the provision of “high precision weapons” as well as medical equipment.
Poroshenko made careful statements regarding Ukraine’s potential induction into NATO, saying that membership criteria need to be met first.
“The new parliamentary election will help us a lot to accelerate the reform process,” Poroshenko said, adding that the most significant reforms to be made would be to the economy, and ensuring the rule of law and anti-corruption.
He said that he had some optimism for Friday’s peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, after which a ceasefire is expected to commence.
Rasmussen expressed caution: “If recent statements from President Putin represent a genuine effort to find a political solution, I would welcome it,” Rasmussen told reporters. He said that recent offers had been a “smokescreen” for further destabilization on the ground.
A US Navy destroyer and, reportedly, a French frigate have entered the Black Sea, as NATO builds up its presence in the region while tensions remain high in Ukraine. Another two warships are expected to arrive in the area by the end of the week.
The US Navy 6th Fleet official command has confirmed on its official Twitter account that the destroyer USS Ross, (DDG 71), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is now in the Black Sea.
“USS Ross enters Black Sea, promoting peace and stability while working with NATO allies and partners,” a statement said.
The US Navy has stressed that “the Ross’ presence in the Black Sea serves to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to strengthening the collective security of NATO allies and partners in the region.”
“The US Navy maintains an enduring commitment to forward-presence throughout the region in order to have ready-forces available if a crisis were to occur,” the statement said.
Another NATO warship, France’s Commandant Birot, also arrived in Black Sea waters on Wednesday night, according to a military diplomatic source cited by the Itar-Tass news agency.
“Both ships have passed through the Bosphorus and entered the Black Sea between 21:00 and 22:00 Moscow time,” the source was quoted as saying.
Commandant Birot has joined another French warship, the Dupuy le Lome, a surveillance ship designed to collect signals and communications from beyond enemy lines. Up until September 4, the Dupuy le Lome was the only NATO ship in the region. The vessel is scheduled to leave the area on September 5.
A total of four NATO warships are expected to enter the Black Sea before September 7. The USS Ross and Commandant Birot will be joined by Canada’s HMCS Toronto, a Halifax-class frigate, and a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbon.
Under the Montreux Convention of 1936, warships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days. It also stipulates that the maximum deadweight of a non-regional warship in the area should not exceed 45,000 tons.
NATO warships have been operating in the area since this spring, when tensions started escalating between Kiev forces and rebels in southeastern Ukraine.
Despite the three-week limit, the alliance has managed to secure its presence in the area by constantly rotating warships there.
Deployed to the region in mid-May, the Dupuy le Lome was preceded by the destroyer USS Donald Cook, sent to the Black Sea in early April.
In July this year, NATO deployed a total of nine vessels, setting a record for the post-Soviet period.
On August 7, the US missile cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea and left the region at the end of the month.
NATO has been discussing its “more visible” presence in Eastern Europe, referring to the three Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – as there has been little progress in resolving the conflict in Ukraine. The issue is now being discussed in Wales, where the military alliance is meeting on Thursday and Friday.
The US and the international community have accused Russia of supporting opposition forces in southeastern Ukraine, accusations that have been denied by Moscow.
Russia has condemned NATO’s activities in the Black Sea and branded them a provocation that hinders the normalization of the situation in Ukraine.
Media Myths and Distortions
Syria will be an important subject of discussion at this week’s NATO Summit meeting in Wales. The US and NATO powers will evaluate whether to expand air strikes against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq & Syria) into Syria, whether to do it in cooperation with the Syrian government and whether to increase support to the “moderate” armed opposition. The US mainstream media and politicians have been beating the war drums with Republican Senator McCain calling for military escalation and Democratic Senator Feinstein criticising President Obama for being “too cautious”.
There has been little mention of the fact that it is one year since the highly publicized chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta outskirts of Damascus. The same elements who are pushing for “regime change” military action now were doing so one year ago. Since then, the case that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack has been effectively discredited. The diplomatically negotiated agreement to remove all Assad’s chemical weapons has been successfully implemented. One would think this would merit attention, but it has been widely ignored.
One good thing in the media this week is recognition that Libya is now in chaos. This is the country which was “liberated” by NATO bombing which led to the murder of President Ghadaffi and collapse of that government. Nine months ago a plurality of Libyans said they are worse off than before the regime change. It’s very likely that even more Libyans are unhappy with their externally imposed regime change today. Three years ago NATO members were congratulating themselves on the air war against Libya. Now they are hopefully more sober as it goes public that Libya is in chaos, the airport shut down, competing extremists fighting for dominance, with one faction enjoying themselves in the US Embassy swimming pool.
The Obama Administration is at another turning point where it may choose to escalate its aggression against Syria. Clearly Obama and team do not want to go solo. The dreams of a“New American Century” with unchallenged US dominance have been broken by reality in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. But the hounds of war and aggression are noisy and persistent.
As NATO begins to deliberate whether and how to escalate aggression against Syria, let’s review some recent and long standing myths and lies about the Syrian conflict.
Some articles and even the (current) Wikipedia entry for James Foley (journalist) claim that he was a prisoner of the Syrian military and that they turned him over to ISIS. This is in perfect keeping with the pervasive demonization of the Assad government. However it’s false. A serious investigation into the disappearance of Foley is in the May 2014 Vanity Fair. Foley was captured by Nusra Front (or allied rebels) in November 2012 and later transferred or sold to ISIS.
Both NY Times’ Anne Barnard and John McCain suggest or assert that the Syrian government has collaborated with ISIS. The “evidence” of this is that the Syrian Army did not actively attack ISIS in eastern Syria during the past year.
The reality is that Syrian Army needs to pick and choose its battles and priorities. They are weakened by over three years of intense conflict resulting in at least 65 THOUSAND Syrian army and militia deaths. For reference, the total US death count in Vietnam was 58 thousand and Syria today is one tenth the size of the US in the 1970’s. In the past year the Syrian military has focused on confronting armed opposition in Aleppo (the largest city), Homs, outer Damascus and the Lebanese border area. The Syrian military has gained ground in each of these areas along with implementing the national “reconciliation” policy.
In the past two months, ISIS has gone on the offensive in eastern Syria and is pressing towards Aleppo and central Syria with US equipment and weaponry captured in Iraq. The battles have taken a heavy toll on both ISIS and the Syrian military. According to rebel aligned Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), 346 ISIS fighters were killed in a four day assault on Tabqa Air Base near Raqqa. The fighting has been brutal with heavy losses on both sides.
Longtime Mideast journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, “A conspiracy theory, much favoured by the rest of the Syrian opposition and by Western diplomats, that Isis and Assad are in league, has been shown to be false.”
In contrast with the myth, ISIS has in fact been aided and abetted by US allies. This includes funds from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, ideology and recruitment by Saudi media, transportation and safe haven through Turkey.
It is usually claimed that the Syrian conflict is a civil war that started with peaceful protests in 2011. In reality the seeds of the conflict were planted much earlier. General Wesley Clark’s 2007 memoir described plans for “regime change” in Syria and other countries. Also in 2007 Seymour Hersh documented the US strategy of fomenting conflict in Syria (and Iran) by working with Sunni extremists:
“The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”
When mass protests began in Syria they included violent attacks and murders of police from the beginning. The situation was the same in other regions. Jesuit priest Father Frans Van Der Lugt was widely respected by Sunni Muslims and Christians in the Old City of Homs. He described the start of the protests thus:
“From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”
The conflict in Syria has been primarily instigated and continued by some of the world’s wealthiest and powerful governments. They make no secret and call themselves, with Orwellian chutzpah, the “Friends of Syria”. Their division of labor including who pays the salaries of the rebel mercenaries, who supplies communication equipment, who does training and who supplies weapons. Thus the conflict in Syria is primarily a war of aggression using domestic and foreign mercenaries.
It is often suggested the “moderate opposition” is popular, democratic and secular.
President Obama has recently proposed giving $500 million to the “moderate opposition”.
Patrick Cockburn sums up the reality in the newly released book “The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising”:
“It is here that self-deception reigns, because the Syrian military opposition is dominated by ISIS and by Jabhat Al Nusra, the official Al Queda representative, in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.”
This siuation is not new. A NY Times article in summer 2012 discussed the hidden presence of Al Queda within the “Free Syrian Army”. When he read this, James Foley sent out a tweet linking to the article and pondering whether the photographed black flag was necessarily Al Queda. He did not recognize the flag and wondered whether it was “some misc jihadi group”. Ironically that was the unique flag of ISIS before it was widely recognized. The “misc jihadi” group is the one that would later murder him.
Foley’s last article documented the overall unpopularity of the rebels in Aleppo:
“Aleppo, a city of about 3 million people, was once the financial heart of Syria. As it continues to deteriorate, many civilians here are losing patience with the increasingly violent and unrecognizable opposition — one that is hampered by infighting and a lack of structure, and deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups.”
Finally there is the myth that the Free Syrian Army and other “moderate opposition” groups were not supported. In reality, huge quantities of weapons and ammunition have flowed which is exactly what has allowed the terrorist organizations to continue the mayhem and bloodshed. Starting in November 2012 three thousand TONS of weapons and ammunition were flown from Zagreb to Turkey and then transferred to the Syrian rebels. In addition there were huge shipments from Benghazi Libya and more shipments paid by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
DO USA AND NATO REALLY WANT TO STOP ISIS?
One week after the Syrian Presidential election where 73% of the electorate turned out, ISIS made its advance through western Iraq to Mosul and other cities. There were virtually no battles. Iraqi military leadership simply departed and in the confusion troops fled or disbanded. Was this a military collapse or was it planned, with key Iraqi figures either bribed or otherwise in alliance with ISIS? Whichever is the truth,we can see the consequences and who has benefited: the campaign for greater autonomy in the oil rich Kurdish region has advanced; the split between Shia and Sunni has been exacerbated; and one of the world’s greatest overnight military arms transfers took place with ISIS effortlessly taking control of vehicles, humvees, tanks, lethal mortar launchers, high grade military equipment and tons of ammunition.
Did US military officers, who spent years and billions of dollars “training” the Iraqi military, have advance notice or knowledge of this seeming collusion between ISIS and Iraqi military officers? Did wealthy enemies of Syria simply bribe the Iraqi officers? Was it a “collapse” or is there much more behind this? How can a few hundred jihadi militants traveling in new Toyota pickup truck convoys surprise and overtake military checkpoints and bases without a fight unless there was collusion at the highest levels?
Actions reveal more than words. If the US and NATO really are worried about ISIS they can and will implement measures such as the following:
* shut down the Jihadi Highway through Turkey.
* shut down safe haven and supply routes of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Turkey
* provide useful information from surveillance flights to the Syrian army which is doing the main on-the-ground fighting
* demand and check that Saudi Arabia and Qatar stop broadcasting TV programs featuring hate speech which serve to recruit jihadis to join ISIS.
* demand and check that Saudi Arabia and Qatar implement measures to stop funding for ISIS through their banks and other financial operations.
Will the US and NATO take practical steps to counter ISIS or will they escalate their aggression against Syria, violating Syrian air space and looking for a pretext to impose a “no fly zone” as done in the disastrous aggressions against Iraq and Libya?
Will the US and NATO start a bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria which will ignite MORE support for the group in the Arab world?
Will they violate Syrian air space as a stepping stone to US bombing of Syrian army positions?
Or will the US and NATO resist the hounds of war and finally put aside the campaign of regime change against a secular, socialist inclined government that is supported by a big majority of its people?
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at email@example.com