The scathing attack on Russian foreign policies in the Global Times newspaper on Sunday has no precedents. It goes way beyond the occasional sparring in a spirit of ‘glasnost’. Indeed, China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination (as it is officially described) is not at all like what it appears. (Read my article in Asia Times Russia-China entente – Lofty rhetoric, shifty discourse.)
The GT article marks a big departure from past Chinese criticism. A note of outright condemnation is appearing. The fundamentals of Russian foreign policies and diplomacy have been called into question.
There are pointed allegations that Russia undermine China’s core interests and seeks to extract “strategic room” out of China’s tensions with the US and Japan.
Russia is presented here as a mirror image of the US – harbouring hegemonic ambitions and imposing its own version of ‘colour revolutions’ in a drive to dominate Eurasia, Eurasian Economic Union and the SCO.
The article makes a hard-hitting reference to the tortuous history of the relations between the two countries to hark back to the vast Chinese territories that are still in Russian possession.
Of course, from the Indian perspective, the article makes a stunning allegation that Russia eyes India as a counterweight to China in terms of a containment strategy:
- Russia is also aiming at its own containment of China by using India, a key force in Russia’s eyes. Fostering another regional power to offset China’s growing influence is what both Russia and the US desire. India’s ambition to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was foiled by some countries including China, was backed by both Russia and the US.
Evidently, at a time when tensions are rising in China-India relations, Russia’s pro-Indian leaning rankles in the Chinese mind. What explains this level of rancorous indignation?
To my mind, the principal reason could be that Beijing is displeased with Moscow’s unhelpful stance apropos the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal’s recent award on the South China Sea.
We know that just hours before the award was announced at The Hague on July 12, Minister Plenipotentiary (holding ambassadorial rank) of the Chinese Embassy in Moscow Zhang Ziao had called on Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. The Russian readout merely said the two diplomats discussed “current bilateral and global issues”.
But it stands to reason that the Chinese diplomat conveyed Beijing’s expectations of Russian support apropos the forthcoming South China Sea award. However, for two full days, Moscow kept mum. Probably, the Chinese demarche went up all the way to the Kremlin for instructions.
At any rate, when the Russian reaction came, finally, it was not as a formal statement but instead in the Q&A following a press briefing on July 14 by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhavrova. The following excerpts are important:
- Question: On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rendered a judgment on the jurisdiction of certain islands in China’s economic zone. What do you think about the decision, and what is Russia’s attitude towards China’s policy in the South China Sea?
- Maria Zakharova: We would like to note the following in connection with the July 12 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concerning the well-known lawsuit filed by the Philippines. It is our position that the states involved in territorial disputes in these seas should honour the principle of the non-use of force, and that they should continue to search for a diplomatic settlement based on international law, mainly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They should act in accordance with the spirit of ASEAN and PRC documents, specifically, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the guidelines for following the declaration that were coordinated in 2011.
- We support ASEAN and PRC efforts to draft a code of conduct in the South China Sea. I will remind you that Russia is not involved in territorial disputes in that region, and that it has no intention of getting involved. We consider it a matter of principle not to side with any party. We believe that the concerned parties should conduct negotiations in a format they define. We also believe attempts to interfere in a resolution of territorial issues in the South China Sea by external parties to be counter-productive. We support the role of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in ensuring the rule of law during activities in the world’s oceans. Moreover, it is important that the provisions of this universal international treaty be applied consistently and in a way that will not jeopardise the integrity of the legal system stipulated by the convention.
Clearly, the remarks not only fell far short of an articulation of support for China, but rather clinically distanced Moscow from identifying with Beijing’s position. Furthermore, it underscored thrice the centrality of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The China-Russia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination failed to pass the litmus test here. If the “forever” partnership expected the two big powers to be supportive of each other’s core interests, when the time came for Moscow to stand up and be counted as China’s friend, it scooted. The Chinese bitterness shows.
Beijing understands the Russian game plan to ingratiate itself into favour with the West. A possible rapprochement between the US and Russia, which the Kremlin is desperately seeking before President Barack Obama leaves office, creates uneasiness in the Chinese mind.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s comfort level on the South China Sea situation as such has significantly risen. The Chinese diplomacy has rather successfully weathered a potentially ugly situation stemming from the July 12 award. The summit meetings of the ASEM and ASEAN in successive weeks refrained from criticising China.
Most important, the US is tamping down tensions. National Security Advisor Susan Rice is currently in Beijing. Obama hopes for some substantial takeaway from his meeting with President Xi Jinping in September during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, which will be his last encounter with the Chinese leader.
Moscow may have miscalculated the geopolitical fallout of the July 12 award. The GT article is a stark reminder to the Russian side that its need of China is greater than the other way around. The article is here.
NATO says it is “ready to stay” in Afghanistan, reiterating a pledge on funding for local security forces.
“What we have seen is we are committed and we are ready to stay,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Saturday, highlighting the funding pledge through 2020.
Stoltenberg could not say, however, when NATO’s military engagement in Afghanistan might end.
“There’s no reason to speculate exactly on how long it will continue,” he said, adding that NATO member states would examine the situation again next year.
Under the leadership of the United States, the 28-nation Western military alliance invaded Afghanistan in 2001, starting a war that has killed thousands and cost tens of billions of dollars. The military engagement was meant to obliterate the Taliban, but the militant group has managed to gain more footholds across the country over the past years, and local security forces still struggle to contain the group and other militants, including al-Qaeda and the Takfiri Daesh terrorists.
Stoltenberg said NATO will maintain troops in Afghanistan through 2017 under its train and advise Resolute Support Mission. He did not provide numbers but said the overall NATO force in Afghanistan would be “around the same” as now. Resolute Support currently has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Washington, the main provider of troops and funding to NATO in Afghanistan, has also backed down on its previous pledges to reduce the number of troops in the country, arguing that Kabul has been quite slow in reforming its military, which the United States claims is gripped by corruption and human rights issues.
US President Barack Obama had previously vowed to slash troop numbers from the current 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of this year. However, he announced on July 6 that the process will draw down and the US would keep 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan.
The United States proactively gets engaged in regimes change attempts throughout the world, says a top foreign policy advisor to Republican presumed nominee Donald Trump on a visit to Russia.
Addressing Russian students at Moscow’s New Economic School, Carter Page accused Washington of taking “proactive steps to encourage regime change overseas.”
“This may understandably advance a certain level of insecurity,” Page said, adding, the post-Soviet world had also suffered from of the West’s double policies.
He also declined to say if he was visiting any officials of the Russian government.
In an interview with CNN last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will “work with any president that the American people will vote for.”
“I know that there are complex economic and political processes in the United States. At the moment, the world needs a country as strong as the US is. And we do need the US, too,” Putin said.
Putin also praised Trump for being “bright” as well as for proposing to “restore full-fledged Russian-American relations.”
Relations between Washington and Moscow are in tatters largely due to the Ukraine crisis. The US and its allies accuse Moscow of sending troops into eastern Ukraine in support of the pro-Russian forces. Moscow has long denied involvement in Ukraine’s crisis.
In an interview with Carter in March, Bloomberg described him as “a globe-trotting American investment banker who’s built a career on deals with Russia .”
MADRID — Spain’s left-wing Podemos party threatens the country’s unity by supporting an independence referendum to be held in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, Jose Ramon Garcia-Hernandez, the head of international relations of Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP), told Sputnik on Saturday.
Unidos Podemos, an electoral alliance between Podemos and several other left-wing parties, has backed allowing Catalonia to hold a binding independence referendum, a move which has garnered significant support for the party in the region.
“The main opponent in these elections [Podemos] puts at risk the unity of Spain… Those who want to separate Catalonia from Spain should know that they are not going to achieve this because they are going against the majority of the Catalans and the Spanish,” Garcia-Hernandez said.
All public authorities, especially the government, have a duty to protect national unity, he added, stressing that the PP will uphold Spain’s laws and prevent secession.
Spain is due to hold a snap general election on Sunday, with the PP and Podemos running alongside the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) after failing to form a coalition government. In last year’s election, the PP won 123 seats in the lower house of parliament, 64 less than in the previous election. The PSOE won 90, and Podemos came third, securing 69 seats. At least 176 seats are required for a parliamentary majority, necessary to form a government.
Catalonia held a non-binding referendum on independence from Spain in 2014. Over 80 percent voted in favor of the autonomous community becoming an independent state.
The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union raises the necessity to hold a referendum on EU membership in France, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a French member of the European Parliament from the Europe of Nations and Freedom group, told Sputnik on Friday.
“It raises the necessity to make also a referendum in France,” Schaffhauser said in the wake of the Brexit vote.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom held a referendum on its EU membership, with Prime Minister David Cameron calling on the UK nationals to vote to remain. Earlier on Friday, it was announced that 51.9 percent of voters supported Brexit.
“It is a big opportunity to rebuild Europe on new basis and this basis would be Europe of nations, Europe of freedom and Europe of cooperation. For me it is not the end of Europe, it is an end of institutions [that] always want to have more power on top,” the lawmaker added.
Earlier, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front party, known for its eurosceptic rhetoric, reiterated her demands to hold a referendum on the country’s EU membership after UK nationals voted to leave the bloc.
The British decision came at a time when anti-EU sentiment is on the rise. According to a survey issued by the Pew Research Center earlier in June, 47 percent of respondents in 10 European states have an “unfavorable view” of the European Union.
Military observers from Uruguay are ready to go to Colombia to monitor the newly-achieved ceasefire between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, Uruguay’s Deputy Defense Ministry Jorge Menendez told Sputnik.
The government of Colombia announced on Wednesday that a deal had been reached on a ceasefire with FARC.
“This is a political mission, there is a display of quotas, unarmed personnel who will carry out tasks of observation and verification of the ceasefire,” Menendez said.
The Colombian government and FARC have been engaged in peace talks since November 2012 and have reached a number of important agreements including on landmine removal, land reform, transitional justice and an end to illegal drug trafficking.
FARC was formed in 1964 as the military wing of Colombia’s Communist Party.
Any accord reached by the negotiators in Cuba will need to be confirmed by a popular consultation.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are set to sign a final peace agreement on July 20th, which could put an end to more than 50 years of conflict that has affected more than six million people.
“I think that by July 20 we will have been able to close negotiations in Havana and from there a new era for the country will come,” Colombian President Jose Manuel Santos stated after a Cabinet meeting Monday.
The government has been in talks in Cuba with the FARC since late 2012. They were preceded by two years of secret talks.
Thus far, the two sides have reached accords on more than half a dozen topics including agrarian reform, political participation of former rebels, curbing production and trafficking of illicit substances, and the rights of victims and transitional justice.
Despite failing to reach a self-imposed deadline for signing a deal in March, Colombia’s president met on Monday with lawmakers and public officials to discuss the creation of regional and local peace councils that would oversee the post-conflict era.
“This peace is for all Colombians, and all Colombians should participate in its consolidation and construction,” Santos told the media on Monday
The Santos administration has said that an end to the conflict could add two percentage points to annual GDP growth and triple the amount of foreign direct investment into Colombia’s economy.
The final peace accord, which must be confirmed by a popular vote is waiting approval from the country’s constitutional court. On Monday, Santos called on the country’s highest court to approve the public vote.
“Hopefully the Constitutional Court will approve the plebiscite soon and from there we will have another very important challenge,” the president said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the revival of controversial plans to redevelop a central Istanbul park that sparked major anti-government protests back in 2013.
“A project that we need to address in a courageous manner is (that of) Gezi park in Taksim. We will build this historic structure,” said Erdogan during a Saturday speech in Istanbul.
The plans consist of rebuilding an Ottoman-era barrack and other buildings on land currently occupied by Gezi park, which is one of the few remaining green spaces in Istanbul. The barracks was originally built in 1789 and was torn down in the 1940.
At least eight people were killed and thousands more were injured in the demonstrations which followed the announcement of the redevelopment plans.
Following the wave of protests, Turkish authorities halted the plans. But, last year, they changed their decision following a request by the city’s municipality.
“If we want to preserve our history we must rebuild this historic structure, we will rebuild it,” Erdogan added.
“One of the issues that we have to be brave [about] is Gezi park in Taksim,” Erdogan added. “We will construct that historical building there,” he said.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced the end of its combat operations in Yemen, marking a departure from the Saudi-led coalition that has been waging war on the impoverished country.
“Our standpoint is clear: war is over for our troops. We are monitoring political arrangements, empowering Yemenis in liberated areas,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, wrote on his official Twitter account late on Wednesday, quoting earlier remarks by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.
The UAE had been suffering heavy casualties in Yemen, where Ansarullah fighters and allied military units have been fighting back against the Saudi-led invaders.
On Monday, an Emirati military helicopter crashed near the al-Buraiqeh coast of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, killing its two pilots.
On March 14, two Emirati pilots died when their Mirage fighter jet crashed due to a technical fault while conducting military operations for the Saudi-led military coalition in the same Yemeni district.
A senior Emirati military commander and three other Saudi-backed foreign mercenaries had been killed in an attack by Yemeni forces in the Dhubab district of the southwestern province of Ta’izz two months earlier.
Last September, the UAE confirmed that at least 52 of its soldiers were killed when Ansarullah fighters and allied fighters from Popular Committees fired a barrage of missiles at Saudi-led foreign troops in the central Ma’rib Province. At least 70 soldiers were also injured in the missile attack.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Jordanian military forces and advisers will be replacing UAE troops fighting in the Saudi war on Yemen.
Yemen’s Khabar news agency, citing informed sources, reported that the decision had been made following a visit by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud to Jordan in mid-April.
Mohammad, who is also the Saudi defense minister, met King Abdullah in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba and signed a package of agreements, including on military cooperation.
The Saudi crown prince also traveled to the UAE in an effort to mend fences after reports of significant friction between the two allies over the war on Yemen.
A Saudi decision earlier this year to dismiss a former general with close ties to the UAE angered Emirati authorities.
In February, Saudi Arabia sacked Khaled Bahah and appointed Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar to lead the fight against Yemen’s Houthis. Ahmar had been based in Saudi Arabia since Ansarullah fighters took over Sana’a in 2014.
Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26, 2015, in a bid to bring former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi — who is a staunch ally of Riyadh — back to power and defeat the Ansarullah movement.
More than 9,400 people have been killed and at least 16,000 others injured since the onset of the aggression.
The Saudi strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
A Canadian court has awarded $13 million in non-diplomatic assets seized from Iran to the families of Americans who died in several attacks globally, which had allegedly been sponsored by Tehran between 1983 to 2002.
The judgment by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, obtained by AFP on Friday, found Tehran responsible for financing and training Hamas and Hezbollah operatives, who carried out eight bombings or hostage-takings in Buenos Aires, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia over a period spanning nearly 20 years.
“Terrorism is one of the world’s greatest threats,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Glenn Hainey said in his decision. “The broad issue before the court is whether Iran is entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts for its support of terrorism.”
The ruling for the $13 million payout does not affect Iran’s diplomatic property in Canada but does touch non-diplomatic properties and a list of frozen bank accounts. Tehran did not immediately comment on the court judgment.
The suit was heard under the 2012 Justice for Victims of Terror Act, which allows the families’ victims to collect damages from state sponsors of terror groups. In Canada, Iran is designated a sponsor of terrorism.
The judgment on June 10 mirrors a recent American court ruling against Tehran that was also won by families of the terrorist attack victims in the United States in Spring. Iran has promised to battle the decision in international courts.
Maduro presented three proposals to advance the mediation process this week (Prensa Presidencial).
Caracas – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three proposals for UNASUR-mediated talks between his government and the country’s right-wing opposition Tuesday.
“The first [proposal] is the creation of a commission for truth, justice, and reparations for the victims to compensate for all of the harm caused by the coups, guarimbas from 1999 to 2016,” the socialist leader explained.
Over the past six months, the Maduro government has pushed the idea of a truth and justice commission as an alternative to the opposition-controlled parliament’s Amnesty Law, which sought to exonerate individuals convicted of a vast range of felonies and misdemeanors over the past seventeen years, provided that they were committed in the context of political protests.
The South American president also proposed the convening of a meeting between representatives of Venezuela’s five branches of government in order to resolve political disputes and restore the normal functioning of government under the constitution.
Since taking office in January, the opposition-majority National Assembly has been at loggerheads with the executive, the Supreme Court, and the National Electoral Council (CNE) over clashing interpretations of the division of powers outlined in the nation’s constitution.
Lastly, Maduro called for the signing of an “agreement for peace and nonviolence” in order to avoid the violent escalation of the country’s political conflict.
In recent weeks, the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, has relaunched violent anti-government protests that have seen demonstrators attack police and damage public property.
The head of state’s proposals follow the first round of UNASUR-mediated indirect dialogue between the government and the opposition held in Punta Cana late last month.
Though no agreement was reached, the meeting was welcomed as a key first step by Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, Leonel Fernandez, and Martin Torrijos– former presidents of Spain, Dominican Republic, and Panama– who agreed to act as mediators between the two sides.
The MUD, for its part, has outlined four preconditions for talks with the government, including the activation of the recall process, the release of so-called “political prisoners”, a solution to the “humanitarian crisis”, and “respect” for legislation passed by the National Assembly.
Speaking on Wednesday, Miranda Governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles lashed out Maduro’s proposals, exclaiming, “For there to be dialogue, there must be respect.”
“[Maduro] speaks of signing a non-violence agreement, but who are the ones who confront [protests] and prevent them from reaching the CNE?,” he added, referring to the Venezuelan government’s enforcement of a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting protests in the vicinity of CNE offices at the behest of electoral personnel concerned for their safety.
On May 19, an unauthorized opposition march towards the heavily pro-government heart of Caracas saw protesters attack and wound seven police officers and vandalize government student housing.
The Maduro government, meanwhile, has received backing from the leftist regional bloc, the ALBA, which issued a statement on Wednesday, applauding the opening of UNASUR-mediated talks with the opposition and calling for “absolute respect for Venezuelan sovereignty”.
The MUD has yet to officially respond to the Venezuelan president’s proposals for dialogue.
Iranian Foreign Ministry has issued a response to the travel visa requests of three US republican lawmakers who had wanted to travel to Iran to monitor Tehran’s compliance with last year’s historic nuclear agreement.
“In sum, we consider your visa request to have been a publicity stunt and not an appropriate request to visit a sovereign country; and it has, and will continue to be, treated in that spirit,” said a letter published by the office of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday.
In February, three US lawmakers, Mike Pompeo, Lee Zeldin, and Frank LoBiondo, requested to visit Iran in order to inspect its nuclear sites. All three were vigorous opponents of the nuclear deal.
“Despite what you seem to presume, members of the US Congress do not get to dictate the policies of other countries. This clearly applies to Iranian visa policies. Bear in mind that as members of the US Congress you are not a global authority.”
The letter noted that according to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “is the sole body competent for monitoring” the implementation of the agreement’s nuclear provisions.
“In the modern era, visits to sites or parliamentary or other delegations to monitor elections are made upon invitations and through bilateral agreements between sovereign states or based on reciprocal arrangements, and not upon unilateral demands by self-arrogating individuals or parliamentarians,” the letter read.
“From the time when the manufactured ‘nuclear crisis’ has been settled through the JCPOA, tens of thousands of tourists, academics, investors, students and businesspeople from around the world — including many Americans — have obtained visas and traveled to Iran without any delay or complication.
“But they have been able to do so by making requests consistent with the relevant regulations of the host country and in the appropriate respectful manner and not in the completely inappropriate way you have demanded to visit Iran and interfere in what is of no relevance to your official functions. We doubt that any self-respecting country would grant a visa under such circumstances,” read another part of the letter.
After Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia – plus Germany started implementing the JCPOA on January 16, all nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran by the European Union, the Security Council, and the US were lifted. Iran, in return, has put some limitations on its nuclear activities. The nuclear agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 following nearly a decade of on-and-off intensive talks.