RAMALLAH – Israeli special forces disguised themselves as Palestinians and “kidnapped” two Palestinian students at the entrance of Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank district of Ramallah on Thursday afternoon, according to a statement released by the university.
The two students were identified as Tawfiq Abu Arqub, a coordinator for the Hamas-affiliated Islamic student bloc at the university, and Basel Falaneh, the secretary of specialities committee of the student council. They were studying computer science and business, respectively.
Birzeit University released a statement after the incident, saying that the two students were detained at the western gate of the university by “a number of [Israeli] soldiers.” Locals also told Ma’an that the students were forced into a vehicle “at gunpoint,” while also pointing guns at other students in the area.
The head of the university’s security, Muhammad Rimawi, stated that Israeli forces had “intercepted” a car that Abu Arqub and Falaneh were riding in, according to the statement, when “a number of undercover occupying forces took the students out of the car and kidnapped them.”
“This is neither new nor unprecedented given the ongoing colonial aggression against the people and institutions of Palestine,” the statement said.
The statement called the incident an “outrageous act of violence,” and part of a larger Israeli campaign resulting in the “rapid arrests” of students.
“This violation of our students’ right to learn is a part of a systematic attack on the right of education and freedom of expression,” the statement added.
The university’s Dean of Student Affairs Muhammad al-Ahmad also said in the statement that Israel’s “repressive measures” against all Palestinians and specifically students “shall only strengthen international efforts in support of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.”
“The University condemns these outrageous acts in the strongest possible terms and calls upon all international and human rights organizations to speak this truth loudly in the face of these violations immediately and without reserve and to stand in solidarity with our struggle,” the statement concluded.
Birzeit University, ranked the top university in Palestine and among the highest-ranking universities in the Arab world, has been the focus of an Israeli military crackdown in recent months, which increased after the Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc won student elections at Birzeit last year for the second consecutive year.
In December, more than 20 Israeli military vehicles raided the campus before dawn, forced campus security guards to stand against walls, and proceeded to raid several buildings, including the university’s administration building, the student council’s headquarters, Kamal Nasir Hall, and the Faculty of Science.
Another incident occurred in July, when at least 11 Palestinian youths were injured after Israeli undercover forces and soldiers opened live fire on the campus amid clashes sparked by an Israeli raid to detain a former member of the Islamic bloc.
At the start of 2016, Israeli military forces also raided Birzeit, destroying and confiscating university equipment. It was reported at the time that Israeli forces had detained more than 80 students between Oct. 2015 and the start of 2016.
Rights groups have widely condemned the concerted detention of Islamic bloc members at the university since their initial victory in 2015.
The Hamas movement is deemed illegal by the Israeli government — along with the majority of Palestinian political factions and movements — making students involved with the Islamic bloc vulnerable to raids and arbitrary detentions. Members have also been targeted by Palestinian security forces.
Speaking to me for my report last month on the killing by police of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan during the demolition of his home in Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld made three allegations against Abu al-Qiyan that he said proved he was a terrorist. All of them have now been shown to be entirely unfounded.
A fourth claim, made against Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List and the most senior politician among Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens, has also proved to be untrue.
The Israeli police appear to have been caught out as serial liars. Rosenfeld himself may have not known that he was peddling lies. He may have been simply reading from a script. But others surely knew. Not only did they wilfully mislead journalists, but they dangerously incited against Israel’s large Palestinian minority.
(This would be far from the first time. Only recently, the police, as well as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Palestinian citizens of waging an “arson intifada” against Israel in November, when hundreds of fires broke out due to exceptional weather conditions. All of the dozens of Palestinians arrested over the fires were subsequently released, but no apology or retraction has been issued.)
First, Rosenfeld told me Abu al-Qiyan had carried out a deliberate “car-ramming terror attack” on police, which killed one officer. But a police aerial video of the incident shows that police opened fire on the car while Abu al-Qiyan was driving slowly and cautiously to leave his home before the demolition crew began work.
Further, leaks of an autopsy report show that Abu al-Qiyan was shot twice, in the torso and the knee, strongly suggesting that he lost control of the car as he tried to navigate carefully down a steep dirt track. If anyone is responsible for the death of the police officer, Erez Levy, it is his colleagues who opened fire without provocation.
Of equal concern should be the fact that Abu al-Qiyan was left for up to half an hour to bleed to death, while police denied an ambulance access to his village.
Second, Rosenfeld told me that Abu al-Qiyan’s terrorist intent was discernible because, even though the incident occurred before dawn, he had turned off his headlights to avoid detection. But a new video shows his car lights were on, just as one would have expected.
Third, Rosenfeld told me police had definitive proof that Abu al-Qiyan was a supporter of ISIS, and that the evidence would soon be divulged. But two weeks later Israel’s domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have provided no evidence of such a link. All his family deny that he supported ISIS, or even that he held strong political views.
And fourth, Rosenfeld denied Knesset member Ayman Odeh’s claim that police fired a potentially lethal sponge-tipped bullet at his head. Rosenfeld said instead that the Knesset member’s injuries had been caused by stones thrown by the inhabitants of Umm al-Hiran opposing the dozen or so demolitions police were carrying out. Another police spokesperson told the Israeli Maariv newspaper that the police did not even have sponge-tipped bullets in their armoury.
There were multiple problems with that account. Witnesses say there was no stone-throwing at the time Odeh was injured. And the Knesset member is photographed (above) holding the bullet in Umm al-Hiran, after he was shot. There is also a picture (below) of a huge bruise across his back, where he was shot a second time. It is hard to imagine how that injury was caused apart from by an impact with some form of rubber bullet.
And, whatever the police claim, there are well-documented instances of Israeli police using sponge-tipped bullets before, especially in East Jerusalem, but also in the Negev. The shocking thing in this case is that they used these bullets against a Palestinian Knesset member.
Interestingly, when challenged by another journalist, Mairav Zonszein, Rosenfeld denied that he had said Odeh was hit by stones, only that: “During the incident stones were thrown.” Well, my notes from our conversation show him clearly stating that Odeh’s head injury was caused by a stone.
It is past time for the police and the government ministers who for two weeks have incited against Abu al-Qiyan, against the inhabitants of Umm al-Hiran and more generally against Israel’s Palestinian citizens to issue an apology for their serial lies and distortions.
It is also essential that the government set up an independent, judicial-led inquiry to assess what really happened in Umm al-Hiran on the morning of January 18.
In the most dramatic expression of insider opposition to a sitting administration’s policies in generations, over 1,000 U.S. State Department employees signed on to a memo protesting President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries setting foot on U.S. soil. Another recent high point in dissent among the State Department’s 18,000 worldwide employees occurred in June of last year, when 51 diplomats called for U.S. air strikes against the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad.
Neither outburst of dissent was directed against the U.S. wars and economic sanctions that have killed and displaced millions of people in the affected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Rather, the diplomatic “rebellion” of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her “Big Tent” full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria, while the memo currently making the rounds of State Department employees claims to uphold “core American and constitutional values,” preserve “good will towards Americans” and prevent “potential damage to the U.S. economy from the loss of revenue from foreign travelers and students.”
In neither memo is there a word of support for world peace, nor a hint of respect for the national sovereignty of other peoples — which is probably appropriate, since these are not, and never have been, “core American and constitutional values.”
Ironically, the State Department “dissent channel” was established during one of those rare moments in U.S. history when “peace” was popular: 1971, when a defeated U.S. war machine was very reluctantly winding down support for its puppet regime in South Vietnam. Back then, lots of Americans, including denizens of the U.S. government, wanted to take credit for the “peace” that was on the verge of being won by the Vietnamese, at a cost of at least four million Southeast Asian dead. But, those days are long gone. Since 2001, war has been normalized in the U.S. — especially war against Muslims, which now ranks at the top of actual “core American values.” Indeed, so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche. The two premiere, officially-sanctioned hatreds are, of course, inter-related, particularly since the Kremlin stands in the way of a U.S. blitzkrieg in Syria, wrecking Washington’s decades-long strategy to deploy Islamic jihadists as foot soldiers of U.S. empire.
The United States has always been a project of empire-building. George Washington called it a “nascent empire,” Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from France in pursuit of an “extensive empire,” and the real Alexander Hamilton, contrary to the Broadway version, considered the U.S. to be the “most interesting empire in the world.” The colonial outpost of two million white settlers (and half a million African slaves) severed ties with Britain in order to forge its own, limitless dominion, to rival the other white European empires of the world. Today, the U.S. is the Mother of All (Neo)Colonialists, under whose armored skirts are gathered all the aged, shriveled, junior imperialists of the previous era.
In order to reconcile the massive contradiction between America’s predatory nature and its mythical self-image, however, the mega-hyper-empire must masquerade as its opposite: a benevolent, “exceptional” and “indispensible” bulwark against global barbarism. Barbarians must, therefore, be invented and nurtured, as did the U.S. and the Saudis in 1980s Afghanistan with their creation of the world’s first international jihadist network, for subsequent deployment against the secular “barbarian” states of Libya and Syria.
In modern American bureaucratese, worrisome barbarian states are referred to as “countries or areas of concern” — the language used to designate the seven nations targeted under the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 signed by President Obama. President Donald Trump used the existing legislation as the basis for his executive order banning travelers from those states, while specifically naming only Syria. Thus, the current abomination is a perfect example of the continuity of U.S. imperial policy in the region, and emphatically not something new under the sun (a sun that, as with old Britannia, never sets on U.S. empire).
The empire preserves itself, and strives relentlessly to expand, through force of arms and coercive economic sanctions backed up by the threat of annihilation. It kills people by the millions, while allowing a tiny fraction of its victims to seek sanctuary within U.S. borders, based on their individual value to the empire.
Donald Trump’s racist executive order directly affects about 20,000 people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. President Obama killed an estimated 50,000 Libyans in 2011, although the U.S. officially does not admit it snuffed out the life of a single civilian. The First Black President is responsible for each of the half-million Syrians that have died since he launched his jihadist-based war against that country, the same year. Total casualties inflicted on the populations of the seven targeted nations since the U.S. backed Iraq in its 1980s war against Iran number at least four million — a bigger holocaust than the U.S. inflicted on Southeast Asia, two generations ago — when the U.S. State Department first established its “dissent channel.”
But, where is the peace movement? Instead of demanding a halt to the carnage that creates tidal waves of refugees, self-styled “progressives” join in the macabre ritual of demonizing the “countries of concern” that have been targeted for attack, a process that U.S. history has color-coded with racism and Islamophobia. These imperial citizens then congratulate themselves on being the world’s one and only “exceptional” people, because they deign to accept the presence of a tiny portion of the populations the U.S. has mauled.
The rest of humanity, however, sees the real face of America — and there will be a reckoning.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
We have witnessed big payoffs to the Pentagon in the form of the ability to sell arms to the Saudis – at least to $200 billion estimated over two decades – to American arms makers, Gareth Porter, investigative journalist, told RT.
US House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the conflict in Yemen on CNN, after a Yemeni refugee in one of the programs told the tragic story of her family.
Pelosi said that girl’s family is suffering because the US president “is reckless and his administration is incompetent.”
However, Pelosi failed to acknowledge the Obama administration’s own contribution to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen due to arms contracts and other forms of cooperation with Riyadh.
RT: Why did US Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi focus on Trump’s travel ban and not the real reasons for the suffering of the girl’s family?
Gareth Porter: Well, Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the House, the minority leader in the House of Representatives. She is going to support the partisan position on this question of policy toward Yemen, which means that she’s going to be unwilling to acknowledge the responsibility of the Obama administration for the war that has afflicted the population of Yemen, and is now a humanitarian catastrophe, as far as I know, the worst in the world, or at least in that part of the Middle East.
It seems to be much more serious than the crisis in Syria in terms of the actual danger to millions of people; in terms of their access to food. Therefore, we have a situation where there is a great deal of famine already or, at least close to famine-like conditions in Yemen, because of the bombing carried out by the US ally, Saudi Arabia.
RT: In December, just a month before Obama left office, his administration decided to limit military support to Saudi Arabia on concern over civilian casualties. What do you make of the timing of that decision?
GP: Well, I think the point about that decision by the Obama administration is that it was far too little, far too late. It was merely a reduction in US support for the war that is direct support by the US personnel taking part in the assistance to the Saudis in Riyadh. It did not end the really crucial aspects of the Obama administration’s assistance to the Saudis and their allies, which was primarily to provide the refueling for the planes that have carried out the air attacks, which have so completely destroyed the society in large parts of Yemen – in more than half of Yemen. This is the crucial issue, which the Obama administration has never been willing to deal with in terms of its complicity with the war crimes of the Saudi government and its allies.
In addition to that, after months of this bombing which Amnesty International regards as filled with war crimes, because of the deliberate targeting of cities that were regarded as supportive of the Houthis, the US then renewed the agreement to provide bombs to the Saudi government for carrying out this war. So it was in effect a sort of public support for the Saudi war. The US still remains completely complicit in this war…
RT: Critics are branding the US approach to Yemen, one of ‘cautious approval,’ on the one hand, keep supplying the Saudis with arms, on the other staying silent on the country’s growing humanitarian catastrophe. What’s your take on that approach?
GP: Well, my take is that what is happening here – the Obama administration has been essentially tied to the Saudi interests in Yemen, as they have been in Syria to a great extent of the past by the degree to which the permanent government in the US – the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA – all have very, very close relations with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia. Arrangements which have provided big payoffs to the Pentagon and these other agencies in the form of the ability to sell arms to the Saudis – at least to $200 billion estimated over two decades – to American arms makers, and the contracts with the Saudis to provide intelligence services by the CIA and NSA, which are very lucrative for those agencies.
So these war powers in the US are very unwilling to have any US policy that would criticize, much less take away, support for the Saudi war so that these arrangements can continue. I am very much afraid that the Trump administration will be subject to the same logic, the same political forces that have kept the Obama administration from taking any responsibility for what is going on in Yemen.
The escalation in eastern Ukraine is again presented in the British media as Russia’s attempt to wage a proxy hybrid war against Kiev’s pro-Western leadership.
For fear of an eventual improvement in Russia-US relations, they pray for the sanctions against Russia to stay unless the Minsk Agreements are implemented as well as a punishment for ‘Russia’s annexation of Crimea.’
Let me set the record straight on that.
The coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 backed by the West tore up the constitutional space in Ukraine. The legitimate president of the country was overthrown. It was marked by a severe lack of democracy and violence that posed a direct threat to the well-being of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea. Citizens of Crimea, which was an autonomy at the time, faced the choice of becoming an oppressed minority or severing their ties with the hostile regime to secure a future for themselves and their children. Legitimate local authorities made the decision to hold a referendum.
The independence of Crimea was proclaimed and an appeal to enter the Russian Federation was made based on the indisputable results of the popular vote. Standards of international law were fully observed as the right of nations to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter was exercised freely by the Crimeans.
Crimea was recognized as an independent and sovereign state by Russia, and on March 18, 2014 in Moscow the two countries signed a Treaty of Unification, under which the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became two new regions – subjects of the Russian Federation.
Let us take a look at the outcome. While entire regions of Ukraine are engulfed in a brutal war, and the population is being fed with shameless nationalist propaganda, the Russian Crimea is enjoying peace, stability and steady growth. What could be a better proof that the decisions made two years ago were the only right ones? We are convinced that many Ukrainians would prefer to live like the residents of Crimea live now – under conditions of stable economic development and social security. That is despite the attempts of the Ukrainian government to disrupt the life of the people there by cutting the peninsula off from essential supplies, trying to organize water, energy and food blockades. Does it mean people for sovereignty, rather than sovereignty for the people?
Unfortunately, there has been little progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements mainly due to Kiev’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under them to promote national accord and reconciliation. The recent escalation is clearly an attempt to divert public attention from the poor reform record and request for additional funds from their Western sponsors.
For the political solution to be achieved in Ukraine, the Minsk Agreements should be fully implemented, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line. However, the Ukrainian armed forces haven’t stopped shelling Donetsk and Lugansk, including the use of weapons that are supposed to have been withdrawn. This leads to civilian casualties and the destruction of property. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported many times the concentration of Ukrainian forces along the contact line.
According to the Minsk Agreements, signed two years ago, on the first day of the withdrawal of artillery Kiev had to engage in dialog, and start consulting with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives on the conditions for elections to be held on the basis of Ukrainian law and under OSCE oversight.
A month after the signing of the Minsk Agreements Kiev was required to enact a special status law adopting a resolution designating the territory that this law was supposed to cover. This hasn’t been done. A law was passed, the territories marked, but the law said that it didn’t apply to Donetsk and Lugansk!
The Minsk Agreements clearly say elections should be held in accordance with the OSCE criteria, one of which is to ensure that no one will be subjected to intimidation, harassment, etc. The statement by the Kiev authorities on “elections first, then amnesty” constitute a serious distortion of the sequence and logic of what was agreed. In accordance with the OSCE elections criteria, the amnesty should be granted before the elections.
It is crucial to understand at long last that the only way to settle the Ukrainian crisis is by implementing the Minsk Agreements, which represent a recipe for a political solution well in line with European values. What is required of Kiev is to treat its citizens as partners and abandon the Orwellian “anti-terrorists operation.” One cannot deal with its own citizens with a gun to their head.
And this intransigence should cease for the sake of comprehensive reforms in Ukraine, the lack of which is the key source of the present crisis. The declarations by British officials that sanctions against Russia can only be lifted after we fulfill our obligations according to Minsk treaty is a crude substitution of concept and a prolongation of anti-Russian politics of London.
Russia, together with France and Germany, is a guarantor of the Minsk accords, not part of it. The obligations written there are for Kiev and Donbass, in their quality as sides of the treaty and participants of the conflict, to fulfill.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
Norway has summoned Russia’s ambassador to explain why two of its legislators were denied entry visas. Though the officials were placed on “counter-sanctions” lists and denied entry long ago, Norway has somehow found the rejections “incomprehensible.”
An official note containing the same objections preceded the ambassador’s summoning.
“The Foreign Ministry today summoned the Russian ambassador to repeat the protests,” the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende condemned Russia’s denial of the visas in strong terms. The rejected legislators are Bård Vegar Solhjell, the leader of Norway’s Socialist Left party, and Trine Skei Grande, the leader of the country’s Liberal Party.
“These are two distinguished, top-level Norwegian officials, excellent representatives of Norway,” Brende told the reporters, saying “it’s incomprehensible that they not be allowed to enter Russia.”
Although the minister acknowledged that Russia has the right to determine who can enter the country, saying that it’s “obviously up to every country to decide who can enter,” he slammed the denial as “biased, unreasonable and inconceivable.”
The Russian embassy in Oslo has confirmed that the visa requests were rejected as a part of a “mirror response” to Norway adopting the same sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russian citizens, as well as policies discriminating against Russian citizens who want to visit Spitsbergen island.
The list of officials from the EU and other countries who have been banned from entering Russia was provided to Brussels well ahead of time, with advice to inform all those affected, a Russian embassy spokesman stressed. Norway’s FM himself has admitted that the denials were something to be “expected” and that Norway’s reaction to the visa rejections thus appears quite surprising.
Coincidently, the outrage over Russia’s “hostile actions” came just hours after the country’s Police Security Service (PST) determined that Russia poses a “major threat” to Norway, along with Islamism.
Norway joined the EU’s sanctions against Russia and Russian citizens back in 2014 in response to what it called “Russia’s violations of human rights in Ukraine.” The situation escalated in April of 2015 when Russia’s Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin visited Norway’s Island of Spitsbergen while on a trip to open the ‘North Pole-2015’ station. Norwegian authorities were riled by the visit, as Rogozin was on Europe’s anti-Russia sanction list.
Norway then adopted a measure authorizing the immediate deportation of sanctioned Russian citizens from the archipelago. Though Russia’s Foreign Ministry has protested the regulation, calling it discriminatory and in violation of an agreement on international cooperation on Spitsbergen, it was made permanent last September.
The prospects for improvement of Russia-US relations become a matter of grave concern for European politicians. With Donald Trump’s «America First» policy, Europe may be left on its own. The calls for lifting the sanctions against Russia are getting louder – loud enough to make this issue become a part of EU’s shaping external strategy.
Italy’s former Prime Minister and European Commission ex-President Romano Prodi called on Europe to scrap immediately the anti-Russian sanctions, rather than wait for US president Donald Trump to do it first. His opinion on the sanctions is very illustrative. According to the patriarch of European politics, «The fact that it is necessary to lift the sanctions with Russia immediately. I am deeply convinced of this. You can sacrifice themselves for the sake of reaching a consensus, but when neither of which Solidarity has no question, there is no point in continuing to fight. One wise Calabrian proverb says, who pretend to be sheep, the wolf will eat that. First you need to play the card of not allowing American to occupy a privileged position in its relations with Russia».
Confusion reigns in Germany. Trump attacks Berlin despite the fact that Germany has always been loyal to Washington. It was the first to impose sanctions on Russia, even though it was contrary to its own immediate interests. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned of a «drastic radicalization» in American politics and said Berlin stood ready to fill the void left by an isolationist Washington. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), believes that «by choosing Donald Trump, the old world of the 20th century is over». «The order of the 21st century and the way the world of tomorrow will look is not settled; it is completely open […] I know we have to adjust to troubled times, to some unpredictability and new uncertainties», Mr. Steinmeier wrote in his piece published by Bild on January 23.
Other Europeans see things in the same light. «Hostile inauguration speech. We can’t sit around &hope for US support & cooperation. Europe must take its destiny & security in its own hands», Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, wrote on Twitter in his comments on Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 23, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election Francois Fillon said, «European Union sanctions on Russia are pointless, warning Russia and the United States under Donald Trump could forge links that exclude the EU». He warned against US President Donald Trump talking with Russia at Europe’s expense. «It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads, which is not inconceivable», the presidential hopeful stressed.
As one can see, European political heavyweights emphasize that Europe needs drastic changes in its relationships with the US and Russia. The US may belittle the EU by using the sanctions as a bargaining chip to make what President Trump calls «good deals». First Washington made the EU introduce the sanctions detrimental to its economy. Then the US would «allow» the EU to lift the restrictive measures as fresh winds started to blow in Washington! Thus, the US benefited from making Europe impose the sanctions and now it will reap the full advantage derived from making Brussels lift them! From point of view of geopolitical interests, in both cases the US will gain to make Europe lose.
This scenario is quite feasible. To prevent it from happening, the EU must move really fast to be one step ahead of Trump. By restoring normal relationship with Russia, Brussels will gain as a geopolitical actor. As a result, it will have a much more advantageous position to start from when it comes to shaping its new relationship of new configuration with Washington.
It would be a right thing to do at the time the «establishment» forces are under attack from all sides by the right and the left. The points of criticism include immigration policies, the integration process going too fast to make countries lose national identity and anti-Russian sanctions that have resulted in economic damage without exerting any influence whatsoever on Russia’s foreign policy. This is the time when Europe is at crossroads facing the prospects of most drastic changes since WWII. This is also the time when the «big brother» is intent to leave it fend for itself.
Mr. Trump has never promised anything to Europeans and he is adamant in his desire to change the existing order of things. The incoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are going to undermine the position of ruling elites. Looks like Romano Prodi hit the nail right on the head – there is no time to lose. The time to normalize the relations with Moscow is now.
Less than two weeks into office, President Trump faces one of the first big tests of his non-confrontational policy toward Russia. As new fighting erupts in Eastern Ukraine, the Kiev regime and its U.S. supporters are predictably demanding a showdown with Vladimir Putin.
Initial evidence suggests, however, that the latest flare-up in this nearly three-year-old conflict was precipitated by Kiev, possibly in the hope of forcing just such a confrontation between Washington and Moscow. It’s looking more and more like a rerun of a disastrous stunt pulled by the government of Georgia in 2008, which triggered a clash with Russia with the expectation that the George W. Bush administration would come to its rescue and bring Georgia into the NATO alliance.
After months of relative quiet, the fighting in Ukraine erupted on Jan. 28 around the city of Avdiivka, a now-decrepit industrial center. Eight pro-government fighters and five separatists apparently died in the first two days of hostilities. Meanwhile, residents of the city are struggling to survive heavy shelling and sub-zero weather with no heating.
Perennial critics of Russia were quick to blame Moscow for the renewed bloodshed. “We call on Russia to stop the violence (and), honor the cease-fire,” declared a State Department official.
The Washington Post’s reliably neo-conservative editorial page suggested that Russia felt liberated to unleash rocket and artillery barrages after Putin spoke with Trump by phone, with the goal of wrecking a meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Russian onslaught “look(s) a lot like a test of whether the new president will yield to pressure from Moscow,” the Post declared, as if this were Czechoslovakia, 1938, all over again.
Poroshenko was quick to take advantage of the clash by asking, rhetorically, “Who would dare talk about lifting the sanctions in such circumstances?” Just last month, Austria’s foreign minister called for an easing of sanctions on Russia in return for “any positive development” in Ukraine. President Trump has been noncommittal about sanctions in the face of full-throated demands by congressional hawks in both parties to keep them in place.
Who’s to Blame?
The jury is still out on who provoked the latest violence, but Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, established by the U.S. government to broadcast propaganda during the height of the Cold War, reported Monday:
“Frustrated by the stalemate in this 33-month war of attrition, concerned that Western support is waning, and sensing that U.S. President Donald Trump could cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he tries to improve fraught relations with Moscow, Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength have gone on what many here are calling a ‘creeping offensive.’
“Observers say the Ukrainians appear to be trying to create new facts on the ground . . . In doing so, the pro-Kyiv troops have sparked bloody clashes with their enemy, which has reportedly made advances of its own — or tried to — in recent weeks.”
A senior member of Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine warned, “The direct result of forward moves is escalation in tension, which often turns to violence.” How right he was.
It’s hard to see what Putin gains from new fighting, at a time when Trump faces an army of skeptics at home for his go-easy-on-Russia strategy. Poroshenko has everything to gain, on the other hand, by pressing Americans and West Europeans to reaffirm their support for his government, which took power after a 2014 coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who was strongly supported in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
The Georgia Playbook
The situation is reminiscent of the August 2008 conflict between Russia and its neighbor on the Black Sea, Georgia. A bloody clash between the two countries’ armed forces in the tiny enclave of South Ossetia prompted a blast of militant rhetoric from American hawks.
Vice President Richard Cheney declared, “Russian aggression must not go unanswered.” Richard Holbrooke, who would become a senior adviser to the future President Obama, said, “Moscow’s behavior poses a direct challenge to European and international order.”
It may have been significant that the Georgian president’s paid U.S. lobbyist was also presidential candidate John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser. As one analyst commented at the time, “McCain’s swift and belligerent response to the Soviet actions in Georgia has bolstered his shaky standing with the right-wing of the Republican Party. . . . Since the crisis erupted, McCain has focused like a laser on Georgia, to great effect. According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released on August 19 he has gained four points on Obama since their last poll in mid-July and leads his rival by a two to one margin as the candidate best qualified to deal with Russia.”
Yet when the smoke settled, it turned out that Georgia, not Russia, had started the war by launching an artillery barrage against South Ossetia’s capital city. It was a ploy by Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to drag the West into supporting his campaign to take over the enclave.
The independent International Crisis Group had warned in 2007 that Georgia’s risky strategy of provoking “frequent security incidents could degenerate into greater violence.”
A year later, following the brief war with Russia, an ICG investigation reported authoritatively that it began with a “disastrous miscalculation by Georgian leadership,” who “launched a large-scale military offensive” into the Russian-occupied enclave, killing dozens of civilians and causing severe damage to South Ossetia’s capital from artillery barrages.
The report also criticized “Russia’s disproportionate counter-attack,” which it deemed a response to “the decade-long eastward expansion of the NATO alliance” and other grievances.
Putting blame aside, the ICG report observed that “The Russia-Georgia conflict has transformed the contemporary geopolitical world, with large consequences for peace and security in Europe and beyond.” Indeed, it marked one of the greatest setbacks in post-Cold War relations between Moscow and the West until the 2014 Ukraine crisis.
If the 2017 Ukraine crisis gets out of hand, the consequences for peace and security may be just as great or greater. It will be informative to see whether President Trump and his national security team get the straight facts before capitulating to the interventionists who want to see U.S.-Russian relations remain strained and volatile.
DONETSK – A referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO would mean Kiev’s ultimate renunciation of Donbass as the region is against joining the alliance, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Thursday.
In a recent interview with German daily Berliner Morgenpost, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he intended to hold a referendum on the country’s accession to NATO.
“An attempt to hold a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO means Kiev is ultimately surrendering Donbass. First, because Donbass will not be able to participate in the referendum… Second, we have repeatedly said that one of the most important demands of Donbass is that Donbass calls for friendly and allied relations with Russia and, therefore, against NATO,” Zakharchenko told Sputnik.
In December 2014, Ukraine canceled its non-aligned status, confirming its intention to join NATO. Poroshenko said a referendum on NATO membership would be held by 2020, after all NATO requirements have been met.