On the heels of Amnesty International’s admittedly and entirely fabricated report regarding Syria’s Saydnaya prison, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published its own baseless report on Syria – this one regarding alleged chlorine bomb attacks in Aleppo during the city’s liberation late last year.
In a post on HRW’s website titled, “Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo,” it claims:
Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city, Human Rights Watch said today.
However, when qualifying HRW’s accusations, it admits:
Through phone and in-person interviews with witnesses and analysis of video footage, photographs, and posts on social media, Human Rights Watch documented government helicopters dropping chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016. The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200.
Watching the videos and viewing the photographs reveals that none of them actually link any of the alleged “chlorine attacks” to Syrian forces, or even to chlorine itself.
The body of evidence presented by HRW also reveals that the interviews they conducted with alleged “witnesses” included almost exclusively opposition forces. Among them were the US-UK funded White Helmets – referred to disingenuously as “Syria Civil Defense” in HRW’s report – who served as designated terrorist organization Jabhat Al Nusra auxiliaries, often found on the battlefield shoulder-to-shoulder with armed militants.
Not only are these clearly compromised sources of information based on their admitted political alignments, but also because of their respective, systematic fabrications throughout the Syrian conflict. It is telling of HRW’s systematic bias that it would base an entire report on compromised sources drawn from the opposition, but not even a single report based on government claims. United Arab Emirate-based Al Nusra propaganda platform Orient News was also cited, as were other notorious anti-government propaganda networks including the Aleppo Media Center. In reality, a true rights advocacy organization would only report what is physical evidence verified. Human Rights Watch has deliberately avoided doing so not only in Syria, but amid virtually every conflict it involves itself in.
From conflating the number of civilians “trapped” in eastern Aleppo, to attempts to downplay or dismiss the role designated terrorist organizations played in the occupation of Aleppo, the groups and individuals cited by Human Rights Watch have practiced deliberate deceit throughout the battle for Aleppo, and the Syrian conflict at large.
For Human Rights Watch – an allegedly world-renowned rights advocacy organization – to cite such sources indicates that this latest report, like Amnesty International’s recently fabricated report, constitutes a politically-motivated attack hiding behind rights advocacy, not upholding it.
Considering the timing of Amnesty International, Human Rights, and also the Atlantic Council’s reports, rolled out in a multi-organizational campaign attacking the Syrian government, the individual deceit of each organization transforms into collective and coordinated impropriety.
A final consideration in the wake of Human Rights Watch’s latest, politically-motivated report is the fact that all actual evidence points to the opposition itself for being behind both the production and deployment of chlorine-based weapons.
TIME Magazine in an article titled, “Syria’s Civil War: The Mystery Behind a Deadly Chemical Attack,” would admit:
In August rebel forces took Sabbagh’s factory by force, as part of a sweep that also netted them an electricity station and a military airport about 30 km from Aleppo. Sabbagh, who has since fled Aleppo for Beirut, says his factory is now occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group with strong ties to al-Qaeda that has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. He knows this because his site manager has struck a deal with the rebels — they supply 200 L of fuel a day to keep the generator running so that the valves of his $25 million factory don’t freeze up. The factory isn’t operational anymore, but this way at least, says Sabbagh, it might be one day in the future. In the meantime, he has no idea what has happened, if anything, to the 400 or so steel barrels of chlorine gas he had stored in the compound. The yellow tanks, which hold one ton of gas each, are used for purifying municipal water supplies. “No one can know for certain, but if it turns out chlorine gas was used in the attack, then the first possibility is that it was mine. There is no other factory in Syria that can make this gas, and now it is under opposition control,” he says.
Military experts since the advent of modern chemical warfare have noted its limited utility during combat. It has very temporary tactical advantages when used on a very large scale – a scale much larger than any of the alleged attacks cited by Human Rights Watch. Strategically, a military force with superior conventional means would have no logical use for chemical weapons.
Likewise, chemical weapons would not turn the tide in the battle of Aleppo for the occupying terrorists. However, the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and the use of the West’s powerful propaganda arms to assign blame to the Syrian government did promise a very significant political and possibly strategic advantage. It was accusations of “weapons of mass destruction” that served as a pretext for war with Iraq in 2003 – a pretext the US attempted to recreate versus Syria in 2013.
With these latest, weak, and baseless accusations presented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Atlantic Council, we are witnessing a redux of 2013 propaganda aimed at undermining the Syrian government and expanding the West’s pretext for more direct involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Reports surfacing in the British media of a Russian plot to kill Montenegro’s former prime minister Milo Djukanovic should be seen for the cynical ploy they are. To give just the smallest bit of defense to these British publications – yes, it is true Djukanovic is making these allegations. Is there any substance or proof to these allegations? No. The UK media has shown it is as politicized as its American mainstream counterparts like CNN by publishing such fake news.
Good reason to doubt these baseless charges starts from the fact that they come from Djukanovic, who has a stupendous reputation for corruption and is trying to move forward desperately with NATO accession for Montenegro which has stalled in the U.S. Senate for about two months. At this point if he were to say the sky is blue, it would be reason to disbelieve him and look for an ulterior motive.
Djukanovic transparently is throwing this red meat on the table in the context of hysteria that is going on in Washington concerning allegations of Moscow’s hacking the American election (“the Russians did it!”) and the open attack by the “deep state,” by elements of the intelligence community with their leaks, and by the mainstream media that just claimed the scalp of general Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser. Besides criminally seeking to overthrow the constitutionally elected government – as they have imposed “regime change” on other countries – they want to do anything they can to block any rapprochement from the Trump administration with Moscow.
Djukanovic has very artfully inserted himself into this narrative. His message is simple: you can’t let the Russians win. Nothing else matters. He is trying to use “the Russians are coming” meme as a way to jumpstart Montenegro’s stalled NATO bid. Let’s remember the debate in Washington isn’t about letting Montenegro into NATO because having it as an ally makes American more secure. Montenegro obviously does nothing for our defense. The question is whether the NATO door will remain open, particularly for Georgia and Ukraine.
It seems no one cares to ask why America should be allied with a nation that doesn’t particularly want to be allied with us. According to opinion polls, it is far from clear that most Montenegrins want to be in NATO and aligned to us in the first place. Most recent polls indicate a slight plurality in the “against” camp despite relentless government propaganda and the braying of Soros-controlled media. A recent survey indicated that some 84% of Montenegrins want a vote on the matter. Even a solid majority of NATO supporters favor a referendum. Djukanovic won’t hold a referendum because he knows he would lose it.
Djukanovic’s ploy is well timed. It both feeds and feeds off of the anti-Russian frenzy, which is the basis of what former Congressman Denis Kucinich has called an attempted coup to bring down the Trump administration. Calls are openly heard for “patriots” in the intelligence services to overthrow Trump for the “good of the country.”
It is uncertain whether Djukanovic will successfully ride the wave of Russophobia to get Montenegro into NATO. What is certain is that America is on the edge of turning into a banana republic. Trump has very little time to strike back, hard. One way for him to show who’s boss is to turn thumbs down on Djukanovic and his trickery.
Opponents of the Trump administration have generally accepted as fact the common theme across mainstream media that aides to Donald Trump were involved in some kind of illicit communications with the Russian government that has compromised the independence of the administration from Russian influence.
But close analysis of the entire series of leaks reveals something else that is equally sinister in its implications: an unprecedented campaign by Obama administration intelligence officials, relying on innuendo rather than evidence, to exert pressure on Trump to abandon any idea of ending the New Cold War and to boost the campaign to impeach Trump.
A brazen and unprecedented intervention in domestic U.S. politics by the intelligence community established the basic premise of the cascade of leaks about alleged Trump aides’ shady dealing with Russia. Led by CIA Director John Brennan, the CIA, FBI and NSA issued a 25-page assessment on Jan. 6 asserting for the first time that Russia had sought to help Trump win the election.
Brennan had circulated a CIA memo concluding that Russia had favored Trump and had told CIA staff that he had met separately with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey and that they had agreed on the “scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.”
In the end, however, Clapper refused to associate himself with the document and the NSA, which agreed to do so, was only willing to express “moderate confidence” in the judgment that the Kremlin had sought to help Trump in the election. In intelligence community parlance, that meant that the NSA considered the idea the Kremlin was working to elect Trump was merely plausible, not actually supported by reliable evidence.
In fact, the intelligence community had not even obtained evidence that Russia was behind the publication by Wikileaks of the e-mails Democratic National Committee, much less that it had done so with the intention of electing Trump. Clapper had testified before Congress in mid-November and again in December that the intelligence community did not know who had provided the e-mails to WikiLeaks and when they were provided.
The claim – by Brennan with the support of Comey – that Russia had “aspired” to help Trump’s election prospects was not a normal intelligence community assessment but an extraordinary exercise of power by Brennan, Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
Brennan and his allies were not merely providing a professional assessment of the election, as was revealed by their embrace of the the dubious dossier compiled by a private intelligence firm hired by one of Trump’s Republican opponents and later by the Clinton campaign for the specific purpose of finding evidence of illicit links between Trump and the Putin regime.
When the three intelligence agencies gave the classified version of their report to senior administration officials in January they appended a two-page summary of the juiciest bits from that dossier – including claims that Russian intelligence had compromising information about Trump’s personal behavior while visiting Russia. The dossier was sent, along with the assessment that Russia was seeking to help Trump get elected, to senior administration officials as well as selected Congressional leaders.
Among the claims in the private intelligence dossier that was summarized for policymakers was the allegation of a deal between the Trump campaign and the Putin government involving full Trump knowledge of the Russian election help and a Trump pledge – months before the election – to sideline the Ukraine issue once in office. The allegation – devoid of any verifiable information – came entirely from an unidentified “Russian emigre” claiming to be a Trump insider, without any evidence provided of the source’s actual relationship to the Trump camp or of his credibility as a source.
After the story of the two-page summary leaked to the press, Clapper publicly expressed “profound dismay” about the leak and said the intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable,” nor did it rely on it any way for our conclusions.”
One would expect that acknowledgment to be followed by an admission that he should not have circulated it outside the intelligence community at all. But instead Clapper then justified having passed on the summary as providing policymakers with “the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”
By that time, U.S. intelligence agencies had been in possession of the material in the dossier for several months. It was their job to verify the information before bringing it to the attention of policymakers.
A former U.S. intelligence official with decades of experience dealing with the CIA as well other intelligence agencies, who insisted on anonymity because he still has dealings with U.S. government agencies, told this writer that he had never heard of the intelligence agencies making public unverified information on a U.S. citizen.
“The CIA has never played such a open political role,” he said.
The CIA has often tilted its intelligence assessment related to a potential adversary in the direction desired by the White House or the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but this is the first time that such a slanted report impinges not only on domestic politics but is directed at the President himself.
The egregious triple abuse of the power in publishing a highly partisan opinion on Russia and Trump’s election, appending raw and unverified private allegations impugning Trump’s loyalty and then leaking that fact to the media begs the question of motive. Brennan, who initiated the whole effort, was clearly determined to warn Trump not to reverse the policy toward Russia to which the CIA and other national security organizations were firmly committed.
A few days after the leak of the two-page summary, Brennan publicly warned Trump about his policy toward Russia. In an interview on Fox News, he said, “I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions that it’s taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”
Graham Fuller, who was a CIA operations officer for 20 years and was also National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East for four years in the Reagan administration, observed in an e-mail, that Brennan, Clapper and Comey “might legitimately fear Trump as a loose cannon on the national scene,” but they are also “dismayed at any prospect that the official narrative against Russia could start falling apart under Trump, and want to maintain the image of constant and dangerous Russian intervention into affairs of state.”
Flynn in the Bull’s Eye
As Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn presented an easy target for a campaign to portray the Trump team as being in Putin’s pocket. He had already drawn heavy criticism not only by attending a Moscow event celebrating the Russian television RT in 2016 but sitting next to Putin and accepting a fee for speaking at the event. More importantly, however, Flynn had argued that the United States and Russia could and should cooperate in their common interest of defeating Islamic State militants.
That idea was anathema to the Pentagon and the CIA. Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had attacked Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating a Syrian ceasefire that included a provision for coordination of efforts against Islamic State. The official investigation of the U.S. attack on Syrian forces on Sept. 17 turned up evidence that CENTCOM had deliberately targeted the Syrian military sites with the intention of sabotaging the ceasefire agreement.
The campaign to bring down Flynn began with a leak from a “senior U.S. government official” to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about the now-famous phone conversation between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on Dec. 29. In his column on the leak, Ignatius avoided making any explicit claim about the conversation. Instead, he asked “What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”
And referring to the Logan Act, the 1799 law forbidding a private citizen from communicating with a foreign government to influence a “dispute” with the United States, Ignatius asked, “Was its spirit violated?”
The implications of the coy revelation of the Flynn conversation with Kislyak were far-reaching. Any interception of a communication by the NSA or the FBI has always been considered one of the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. intelligence universe of secrets. And officers have long been under orders to protect the name of any American involved in any such intercepted communication at all costs.
But the senior official who leaked the story of Flynn-Kislyak conversation to Ignatius – obviously for a domestic political purpose – did not feel bound by any such rule. That leak was the first move in a concerted campaign of using such leaks to suggest that Flynn had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions with Kislyak in an effort to undermine Obama administration policy.
The revelation brought a series of articles about denials by the Trump transition team, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, that Flynn had, in fact, discussed sanctions with Kislyak and continued suspicions that Trump’s aides were covering up the truth. But the day after Trump was inaugurated, the Post itself reported that the FBI had begun in late December go back over all communications between Flynn and Russian officials and “had not found evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government….”
Two weeks later, however, the Post reversed its coverage of the issue, publishing a story citing “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls,” as saying that Flynn had “discussed sanctions” with Kislyak.
The story said Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak was “interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.”
The Post did not refer to its own previous reporting of the FBI’s unambiguous view contradicting that claim, which suggested strongly that the FBI was trying to head off a plan by Brennan and Clapper to target Flynn. But it did include a crucial caveat on the phrase “discussed sanctions” that few readers would have noticed. It revealed that the phrase was actually an “interpretation” of the language that Flynn had used. In other words, what Flynn actually said was not necessarily a literal reference to sanctions at all.
Only a few days later, the Post reported a new development: Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on Jan. 24 – four days after Trump’s inauguration – and had denied that he discussed sanctions in the conversation. But prosecutors were not planning to charge Flynn with lying, according to several officials, in part because they believed he would be able to “parse the definition of the word ‘sanctions’.” That implied that the exchange was actually focused not on sanctions per se but on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
Just hours before his resignation on Feb. 13, Flynn claimed in an interview with the Daily Caller that he had indeed referred only to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
“It wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” Flynn said. “It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that.”
The Russian Blackmail Ploy
Even as the story of the Flynn’s alleged transgression in the conversation with the Russian Ambassador was becoming a political crisis for Donald Trump, yet another leaked story surfaced that appeared to reveal a shocking new level of the Trump administration’s weakness toward Russia.
The Post reported on Feb. 13 that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, had decided in late January – after discussions with Brennan, Clapper and FBI Director James Comey in the last days of the Obama administration – to inform the White House Counsel Donald McGahn in late January that Flynn had lied to other Trump administration officials – including Vice President Mike Pence – in denying that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak. The Post cited “current and former officials” as the sources.
That story, repeated and amplified by many other news media, led to Flynn’s downfall later that same day. But like all of the other related leaks, the story revealed more about the aims of the leakers than about links between Trump’s team and Russia.
The centerpiece of the new leak was that the former Obama administration officials named in the story had feared that “Flynn put himself in a compromising position” in regard to his account of the conversation with Kislyak to Trump members of the Trump transition.
Yates had told the White House that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because of the discrepancies between his conversation with the Ambassador and his story to Pence, according to the Post story.
But once again the impression created by the leak was very different from the reality behind it. The idea that Flynn had exposed himself to a potential Russian blackmail threat by failing to tell Pence exactly what had transpired in the conversation was fanciful in the extreme.
Even assuming that Flynn had flatly lied to Pence about what he had said in the meeting – which was evidently not the case – it would not have given the Russians something to hold over Flynn, first because it was already revealed publicly and second, because the Russian interest was to cooperate with the new administration.
The ex-Obama administration leakers were obviously citing that clumsy (and preposterous) argument as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of the new administration. The Post’s sources also claimed that “Pence had a right to know that he had been misled….” True or not, it was, of course, none of their business.
Pity for Pence
The professed concern of the Intelligence Community and Justice Department officials that Pence deserved the full story from Flynn was obviously based on political considerations, not some legal principle. Pence was a known supporter of the New Cold War with Russia, so the tender concern for Pence not being treated nicely coincided with a strategy of dividing the new administration along the lines of policy toward Russia.
All indications are that Trump and other insiders knew from the beginning exactly what Flynn had actually said in the conversation, but that Flynn had given Pence a flat denial about discussing sanctions without further details.
On Feb. 13, when Trump was still trying to save Flynn, the National Security Adviser apologized to Pence for “inadvertently” having failed to give him a complete account, including his reference to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. But that was not enough to save Flynn’s job.
The divide-and-conquer strategy, which led to Flynn’s ouster, was made effective because the leakers had already created a political atmosphere of great suspicion about Flynn and the Trump White House as having had illicit dealings with the Russians. The normally pugnacious Trump chose not to respond to the campaign of leaks with a detailed, concerted defense. Instead, he sacrificed Flynn before the end of the very day the Flynn “blackmail” story was published.
But Trump appears to have underestimated the ambitions of the leakers. The campaign against Flynn had been calculated in part to weaken the Trump administration and ensure that the new administration would not dare to reverse the hardline policy of constant pressure on Putin’s Russia.
Many in Washington’s political elite celebrated the fall of Flynn as a turning point in the struggle to maintain the existing policy orientation toward Russia. The day after Flynn was fired the Post’s national political correspondent, James Hohmann, wrote that the Flynn “imbroglio” would now make it “politically untenable for Trump to scale back sanctions to Moscow” because the “political blowback from hawkish Republicans in Congress would be too intense….”
But the ultimate target of the campaign was Trump himself. As neoconservative journalist Eli Lake put it, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”
Susan Hennessey, a well-connected former lawyer in the National Security Agency’s Office of General Counsel who writes the Lawfare blog at the Brookings Institution, agreed. “Trump may think Flynn is the sacrificial lamb,” she told The Guardian, “but the reality is that he is the first domino. To the extent the administration believes Flynn’s resignation will make the Russia story go away, they are mistaken.”
The Phony “Constant Contacts” Story
No sooner had Flynn’s firing been announced than the next phase of the campaign of leaks over Trump and Russia began. On Feb. 14, CNN and the New York Times published slight variants of the same apparently scandalous story of numerous contacts between multiple members of the Trump camp with the Russian at the very time the Russians were allegedly acting to influence the election.
There was little subtlety in how mainstream media outlets made their point. CNN’s headline was, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” The Times headline was even more sensational: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”
But the attentive reader would soon discover that the stories did not reflect those headlines. In the very first paragraph of the CNN story, those “senior Russian officials” became “Russians known to U.S. intelligence,” meaning that it included a wide range Russians who are not officials at all but known or suspected intelligence operatives in business and other sectors of society monitored by U.S. intelligence. A Trump associate dealing with such individuals would have no idea, of course, that they are working for Russian intelligence.
The Times story, on the other hand, referred to the Russians with whom Trump aides were said to be in contact last year as “senior Russian intelligence officials,” apparently glossing over a crucial distinction that sources had made to CNN between intelligence officials and Russians being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
But the Times story acknowledged that the Russian contacts also included government officials who were not intelligence officials and that the contacts had been made not only by Trump campaign officials but also associates of Trump who had done business in Russia. It further acknowledged it was “not unusual” for American business to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly in Russia and Ukraine, where “spy services are deeply embedded in society.”
Even more important, however, the Times story made it clear that the intelligence community was seeking evidence that Trump’s aides or associates were colluding with the Russians on the alleged Russian effort to influence the election, but that it had found no evidence of any such collusion. CNN failed to report that crucial element of the story.
The headlines and lead paragraphs of both stories, therefore, should have conveyed the real story: that the intelligence community had sought evidence of collusion by Trump aides with Russia but had not found it several months after reviewing the intercepted conversations and other intelligence.
Unwitting Allies of the War Complex?
Former CIA Director Brennan and other former Obama administration intelligence officials have used their power to lead a large part of the public to believe that Trump had conducted suspicious contacts with Russian officials without having the slightest evidence to support the contention that such contacts represent a serious threat to the integrity of the U.S. political process.
Many people who oppose Trump for other valid reasons have seized on the shaky Russian accusations because they represent the best possibility for ousting Trump from power. But ignoring the motives and the dishonesty behind the campaign of leaks has far-reaching political implications. Not only does it help to establish a precedent for U.S. intelligence agencies to intervene in domestic politics, as happens in authoritarian regimes all over the world, it also strengthens the hand of the military and intelligence bureaucracies who are determined to maintain the New Cold War with Russia.
Those war bureaucracies view the conflict with Russia as key to the continuation of higher levels of military spending and the more aggressive NATO policy in Europe that has already generated a gusher of arms sales that benefits the Pentagon and its self-dealing officials.
Progressives in the anti-Trump movement are in danger of becoming an unwitting ally of those military and intelligence bureaucracies despite the fundamental conflict between their economic and political interests and the desires of people who care about peace, social justice and the environment.
Palestinian lawyers call for investigation of police minister as survey shows soaring levels of anti-Arab speech on Hebrew social media
By Jonathan Cook • Middle Eastern Eye • February 25, 2017
Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens are facing a tidal wave of incitement and hate speech on social media, including from government ministers, community leaders have warned.
They say the increasingly hostile political climate in Israel is stoking violence from the police and street gangs, and has laid the ground for a recent raft of racist legislative proposals.
The alert comes as a group of Palestinian lawyers demand that Israel’s attorney general investigates Gilad Erdan, the internal security minister, for incitement to racism.
Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, highlighted statements from Erdan blaming Palestinian citizens for “arson terrorism” last November after forest fires swept the country, despite their having been no prosecutions.
“Israel has experienced arson terrorism and I won’t let anyone sweep this fact under the rug,” he wrote on Facebook in December. “Why does it seem unrealistic that Arabs would attempt to harm Jews?”
Adalah argued Erdan’s comments were part of a wider government strategy to portray Palestinian citizens, about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, as a “fifth column”.
Although other government ministers had incited, the group said, Erdan’s statements were especially harmful because of his role overseeing the police. Adalah said he was bolstering a police culture that already treated Palestinian citizens as an “enemy within”.
“Incitement from Erdan is dangerous because it reinforces and sanctions existing prejudices in the police,” Nadim Shehadeh, a lawyer with Adalah, told Middle East Eye. “As a result, the police are likely to have an even lighter finger on the trigger.”
Concern about the effects of incitement from leading politicians has been underscored by a survey published this month that found rocketing levels of online abuse from Israeli Jews against Palestinians.
7amleh, an organisation promoting social media rights for Palestinians, identified 675,000 posts in Hebrew last year expressing racism or hatred towards Palestinians – one every 46 seconds, and more than double the previous year’s figure.
“There are terrifying levels of hate speech online from Israeli Jews,” Nadim Nashef, 7amleh’s director, told MEE. “No one in Israel – politicians, the police, the courts and the social media companies – has shown any interest in doing something about it.
“But it’s worse than that. The politicians are fuelling the problem. It has become completely normal in Israel to incite against Palestinians. You find it everywhere. It is entirely mainstream.”
The research identified more than 50,000 Hebrew speakers as persistent offenders on social media, especially Facebook, said Nashef. Spikes in online abuse correlated with incitement from Israeli politicians and the media, he added.
Popular terms of abuse included threats to kill, rape, burn, expel, and assault Palestinians.
Both Adalah and 7amleh said incitement from Israeli Jews was rarely investigated or prosecuted. Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, on the other hand, had their accounts closed or were arrested and jailed over less serious online activity.
7amleh said its research showed that the brunt of online abuse was directed at leading Palestinian politicians in Israel.
The most common targets were Haneen Zoabi, one of only two Palestinian women in the parliament, and Ahmed Tibi, a former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, 7amleh said. Both Zoabi and Tibi have reported regular death threats.
According to the survey, they received more online abuse than the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas.
“When we are targeted rather than the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories, a clear message is sent to the [Jewish] public that we have no place in the parliament and those we represent have no right to be citizens,” Zoabi told MEE.
She said dozens of Palestinian citizens had died in unexplained circumstances at the hands of the police in the last 15 years.
Zoabi also pointed to the increasing reports of gangs chanting “Death to the Arabs!” in Israeli cities and Jerusalem, as well as a growing incidence of street assaults.
Polls have shown high levels of racial prejudice among Israeli Jews. A survey last year found 49 per cent would not live in the same building as a Palestinian citizen.
Another showed a similar number of 16 and 17-year-olds would deny Palestinian citizens the right to vote.
Adalah said constant incitement from government politicians had made possible the drafting of ever-more discriminatory and anti-democratic legislation.
Shehadeh noted that recent laws allowed the parliament to expel the minority’s legislators over their views, and hampered the work of human rights groups assisting Palestinians.
Zoabi agreed. “Every week we see bills being introduced, such as a ban on the mosque call to prayer, or moves to step up home demolitions in Palestinian communities. The political culture sanctions ever more violence through legislation.”
Nashef said a turning point in the levels of incitement could be traced to comments by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the last general election, in early 2015. Netanyahu posted a video on Facebook telling the Jewish public it was vital they voted because “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls”.
“When the prime minister talks like this, then everyone else understands that it is okay to do it too,” Nashef said.
7amleh’s survey showed a significant peak of online incitement and hate speech last November, as hundreds of fires broke out across Israel and the occupied territories, triggered by a prolonged drought and high winds.
Despite the exceptional weather conditions, Erdan led government ministers in accusing Palestinians, especially those in Israel, of being behind the fires.
Adalah cited Erdan’s Facebook post from early December. Dozens of Palestinian citizens were arrested by police, but none have been charged with “nationalist crimes” over the fires.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has continued to make similar accusations, stating last month: “That fact that we can’t prove it [that the fires were terrorism] doesn’t mean it’s not what happened.”
Nashef said: “These inciteful statements garner a lot of media attention and our research shows they have a powerful impact in shaping public attitudes. But few notice when they turn out to be based on lies or misinformation.”
Adalah also cited comments by Erdan justifying the fatal shooting of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan by police last month during a demolition operation in Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin community in Israel’s south.
A police video and post-mortem examination report indicated that Abu al-Qiyan lost control of his car after he was shot, and careered into a group of policemen, killing one of them.
According to Israeli media, a justice ministry report – due to published next month – has found no evidence that Abu al-Qiyan carried out an attack or belonged to an extremist organisation.
Nonetheless, said Shehadeh, Erdan and other government ministers repeatedly accused Abu al-Qiyan, without evidence, of being an Islamic State terrorist.
Erdan tweeted hours after the two deaths: “The terrorist sharply turned his wheel and quickly accelerated in order to run over a group of police officers.”
Netanyahu’s office similarly described the incident as a “car-ramming attack”. Implying that Abu al-Qiyan was part of global trend of Islamic terrorism, Netanyahu said Israel and the world were “fighting this murderous phenomenon”.
Adalah’s letter to the attorney general also pointed out that Erdan had repeatedly blamed the deaths in Umm al-Hiran on Palestinian legislators there to protest against the demolitions. Erdan singled out Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, the Palestinian coalition in the parliament.
In comments to the media, he said: “Ayman Odeh and the rest of the MKs from the Arab [sic] List who have come to enflame sentiments this morning: This blood is also on your hands. … You are a disgrace to the State of Israel.”
In Umm al-Hiran, Odeh was himself injured twice, including to the head, by sponge-tipped bullets fired at him by police.
Problem with Facebook
Nashef criticised Facebook, where most of the online hate speech was found, for contributing to the problem.
Last summer Facebook agreed to crack down on what Israel defines as incitement by Palestinians. Paradoxically, Erdan was the minister who met the tech companies.
According to reports, in the first half of 2016, a tenth of all content restrictions imposed by Facebook globally were at the Israeli government’s behest.
But Nashef said nothing was being done to deal with incitement and hate speech from the Jewish public.
“It is not reasonable that large numbers of Palestinians have their accounts shut down or are arrested and jailed for online hate speech, while Israeli Jews can engage in the same or worse activity and there are no consequences,” he said.
Neither the justice or police ministries were available for comment.
7amleh said the biggest peak in online abuse followed the arrest last March of army medic Elor Azaria. He was filmed executing a badly wounded Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif. This week he was sentenced to 18 months’ jail for manslaughter.
Several government ministers, including Netanyahu, expressed strong support for Azaria.
The survey showed another outburst of online abuse followed attacks last September by the culture minister, Miri Regev, against two Palestinian cultural icons.
She described the late national poet Mahmoud Darwish as the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies”, and accused a popular rapper, Tamer Nafar, of giving “legitimacy to terrorism”.
The “public” that allegedly “protested” against this billboard in Ann Arbor, as reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, were not the only folks watching DYR.
The SPLC has now included DYR on its Hate Map.
Dan McGowan responds:
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently criticized Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR) by including it on the so-called Hate Map, purportedly for the high crime of Holocaust denial.
Apparently if the SPLC disagrees with you, it will label you as a racist or a hatemonger. There is no discussion, no defense, and no chance of winning a defamation suit against it.
The SPLC is the cash cow of the civil rights movement. Last year it took in over $58 million, some of which was added to its bloated endowment of over $328 million held in questionable investments, some in off shore accounts.
Its two chief executives together received over $800,000. Of its nine top executives, none come from minorities.
The SPLC claims to reject hate, embrace diversity, and respect differences. But often the SPLC and the people who believe their fear mongering behave exactly the opposite. The SPLC campaigns to deny free speech and freedom of association to groups of Americans with whom they disagree, often doing so to pander to other groups for more contributions all in the name of promoting “tolerance.” For example, if the British historian David Irving plans a lecture in Syracuse, the SPLC will protest any venue he might select, leaflet cars at his hotel saying, “There is a Nazi staying here,” and photograph and shout at anyone who might try to attend.
SPLC slime is not reserved solely for skinheads and members of the KKK. Dr. Ben Carson got a dose for opposing same sex marriage. SPLC later apologized but the charge never completely goes away, leading Carson to say that fear of being on the SPLC’s list serves to shut people up.
The SPLC makes money out of fear mongering and promoting the idea that Americans are inundated with hateful people, particularly on the radical right. The favorite target is the KKK and white supremacists.
The Baltimore Sun characterizes SPLC operations this way: “Its business is fundraising, and its success at raking in the cash is based on its ability to sell gullible people on the idea that present-day America is awash in white racism and anti-Semitism, which it will ﬁght tooth-and-nail as the public interest law ﬁrm it purports to be.”1
It is understandable that the SPLC will run out of rocks under which to look for old KKK members and skinheads, but why criticize Deir Yassin Remembered, a small not-for-profit organization of Jews and non-Jews working to build a memorial for Palestinians murdered in 1948 on the west side of Jerusalem? DYR is certainly not the radical right. DYR practices and preaches tolerance; it has agreed to the advice of none other than the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem that its memorial show the Christian tenet of forgiveness. Its advisory board boasts diversity; it is composed of half men, half women, half Jews, half non-Jews. It has worked continuously since 1994 for Palestinian human rights, including equal rights of citizenship, with no compensation for any executive and with less than $5,000 of reserves.
The answer lies in the writings of some of the DYR members who have questioned the use of the Holocaust as both the sword and shield of Israel. The Holocaust has been used to justify the need for a Jewish state and its expropriation of Palestinian land; the Holocaust is used to monopolize victimhood and defend Israel from criticism of its brutal and unending occupation.
But it is more than that. The Holocaust has morphed from a historical event to a religion, which must not be contradicted for fear of being branded an apostate or a hater or a denier or an anti-Semite. Religious faith is self-validating, impervious to reason, and regards proposals to scientifically validate its claims as profane in all senses of the word.
So, anyone who is skeptical about the number “six million,” about mass extermination in gas chambers, or about Nazi orders for extermination is to be named and shamed and hated. For this topic, there can be no diversity of opinion and no respect for inquiry or debate.
Don’t tell us that the United States government claimed Hitler murdered over 20 million people until the late 1970s when that number was officially revised downwards and carved in stone at 11 million. Don’t tell us that Jewish historians today claim the 5 million number of non-Jewish victims is overstated. Don’t remind us that the lampshade and the soap-from-human-fat stories were simple gruel propaganda and have no historical significance. Don’t remind us that Elie Wiesel took his violin to Auschwitz and that none of his family was gassed. Don’t remind us that Elie chose to retreat with the Nazis rather than be liberated from Auschwitz as was the father of Anne Frank.
Fear mongering and sliming little organizations like DYR is fake news. It is ridiculous disinformation to keep SPLC campaign money coming in. It foments hate and bigotry and intolerance by the very hypocrites who claim the opposite.
- “The truth about ʻhate crimesʼ and the racial justice racket” by Ron Smith, Baltimore Sun, December 3, 2008.
Deir Yassin Remembered seeks progress on behalf of the over 100 Palestinian men, women, and children who were victims of the Deir Yassin Massacre. Read other articles by Deir Yassin Remembered, or visit Deir Yassin Remembered’s website.
Just as polls show Marine Le Pen of the Front National taking a decisive lead over her two main rivals, Francois Fillon of the Republicans, and Emmanuel Macron of the newly formed En Marche, the latter gets a high-profile reception in Downing Street with British prime minister Theresa May.
Fillon has no plans to make a similar visit to Britain, while Downing Street officially announced that it would not be receiving Le Pen, reported the Independent.
With only weeks to go to the first round of the French presidential elections in April, the British government’s hosting of Macron this week can be seen as an extraordinary endorsement of his candidacy.
One could express it even more strongly and say that Britain is evidently interfering in the French democratic process by elevating one candidate over another.
A spokesman for premier May said that Macron had requested the meeting at Downing Street and «we were able to accommodate».
A smiling Macron photographed on the doorsteps of Number 10 clearly showed him relishing the singular honor bestowed by the British prime minister.
One can imagine the media hullabaloo if Marine Le Pen were greeted in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin to then pointedly announce that her rival Macron would not be receiving a similar invitation. There would be howls of «Russian interference» in the French election.
Indeed, Russia is being accused of doing just that already on the basis of scant allegations. Emmanuel Macron has recently claimed that his campaign is being targeted by Russian hackers and «fake news». Macron’s campaign team is alleging – without providing any evidence – that its computers are being attacked by «Russian hackers».
The liberal pro-EU candidate is also claiming that «Kremlin-run news media» are mounting a fake news «influence campaign» to damage his credibility.
This follows the publication of a news article by the Sputnik outlet earlier this month which quoted French political rivals accusing Macron of being supported by global banking interests and a wealthy gay rights lobby.
Russian government-owned Sputnik has denied that it is trying to damage Macron’s candidacy, and that it was merely giving coverage to criticisms aired by French political rivals.
Based on such flimsy, partisan claims of political interference, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault earlier this week issued a warning to Russia to «stop meddling in the French presidential election».
Thus, a one-sided overblown claim by one of the presidential candidates is raised to a state level as if it is an established fact of Russian subversion of French sovereignty.
This narrative of Russian interference in foreign elections has evidently become contagious. Ever since American intelligence agencies, amplified by US media, began accusing Russia of hacking into the presidential elections to favor Donald Trump, the narrative has become a staple in other Western states.
Last week, German news outlet Deutsche Welle published this headline: «Is Moscow meddling in everything?» The article goes on to ask with insinuating tone: «Does Putin decide who wins elections in the West? Many believe that he cost Clinton the US presidency; now Macron is next France, and then Merkel will be in the line of fire».
The Russian government is legitimately entitled, as are other governments, to hold views on the outcome of foreign elections. After all, many European governments, including those of Germany and France, were adamantly opposed to Trump winning the US election, instead preferring his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. But they weren’t subjected to criticism that they were interfering in the American election.
Regarding France, Russian state interests might be best served by Marine Le Pen taking the presidency. She has expressed a desire to restore friendlier relations with Moscow and to jettison the NATO agenda of hostility towards Russia. Her anti-EU views would also help to undermine the Washington-led atlanticist axis which has driven enmity between Europe and Russia.
The Kremlin has been careful to not make any public statements on the outcome of the French election, nor of any other foreign election, maintaining that it does not interfere. Nevertheless, Moscow is entitled to have its own private assessment on what would serve its own national interests. There’s nothing untoward about that. It seems almost bizarre to have to explain that.
But such is the fever-pitch and hysteria about alleged Russian malfeasance that the slightest sign, such as a random news article airing critical comments as in the Macron example, is taken as «proof» of Kremlin interference.
This is in spite of the fact that no evidence is presented. German state intelligence, for instance, recently concluded that there was no evidence to support allegations that Russia was running a Trump-like influence campaign against Chancellor Merkel ahead of her country’s elections being held in September.
Perhaps the most egregious expression to date of the Russian interference narrative were claims made this week by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that the Kremlin had sponsored a coup attempt against the government of Montenegro last October.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov lambasted the evidence-free claims as «absurd». Lavrov said it «is just another one in a series of groundless assertions blaming our country for carrying out cyberattacks against the entire West, interfering in election campaigns in the bulk of Western countries as well as allegations pointing to the Trump administration’s ties with Russian secret services, among other things».
The height of absurdity is Britain this week hosting Emmanuel Macron at the Downing Street residence of Prime Minister Theresa May.
May’s intervention is a full-on endorsement of this one candidate at a crucial time in the French election which sees his main rival Marine Le Pen taking a decisive lead in the polls.
But where are the headlines denouncing «British interference» in French democracy?
Western media are too preoccupied digging up far-fetched stories claiming Russian interference based on the flimsiest speculation.
That double standard is clear evidence of the irrational Russophobia that is gripping Western governments and news media. Russophobia that has become a psychosis.
A grave danger from the Western mainstream media’s current hysteria about “fake news” is that the definition gets broadened from the few made-up stories that are demonstrably false – often fabricated by kids to get more clicks – to include reasonable disputes about the facts of a complex controversy.
This danger has grown worse because The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major Western news organizations have merged their outrage over “fake news” with the West’s propaganda campaign against Russia by claiming without evidence that the Russian government is somehow putting out false stories to undermine Western democracy.
However, when news organizations actually track down “fake news” outlets, they are usually run by some young entrepreneurs from outside Russia who saw made-up stories as a way to increase revenue by luring in more readers eager for “information” that supports their prejudices.
Yet, a front-page Times article on Tuesday, citing “fake news” as a threat to Europe, contains what arguably is “fake news” itself by claiming that many of the purported 2,500 stories “discredited” by the European Union’s East Stratcom operation have “links to Russia” although the Times doesn’t identify those links.
The article by Mark Scott and Melissa Eddy then goes on to blur these two separate concepts: “In a year when the French, Germans and Dutch will elect leaders, the European authorities are scrambling to counter a rising tide of fake news and anti-European Union propaganda aimed at destabilizing people’s trust in institutions.”
But it is this mushing together of “fake news” and what the Times describes as “anti-European Union propaganda” that is so insidious. The first relates to consciously fabricated stories; the second involves criticism of a political institution, the E.U., which is viewed by many Europeans as elitist, remote and disdainful of the needs, interests and attitudes of average citizens.
Whether you call such criticism “propaganda” or “dissent,” it is absurd to blame it all on Russia. When it comes to “destabilizing people’s trust in institutions,” the E.U. — especially with its inept handling of the Great Recession and its clumsy response to the Syrian refugee crisis — is doing a bang-up job on its own without Russian help.
Yet, rather than face up to legitimate concerns of citizens, the E.U. and U.S. governments have found a convenient scapegoat, Russia. To hammer home this point — to make it the new “groupthink” — E.U. and U.S. leaders have financed propaganda specialists to disparage political criticism by linking it to Russia.
Even worse, in the United States, the Times and other mainstream publications – reflecting the views of the political establishment – have editorialized to get giant technology companies, like Facebook and Google, to marginalize independent news sites that don’t accept the prevailing conventional wisdom.
There is an Orwellian quality to these schemes — a plan for a kind of Ministry of Truth enforced by algorithms to weed out deviant ideas — but almost no one whose voice is allowed in the mass media gets to make that observation. Even now, there is a chilling uniformity in the endless denunciations of Russia as the root of all evil.
Though the Times’ article treats the E.U.’s East Stratcom operatives as 11 beleaguered public servants sticking their fingers in the dike to protect the citizenry from a flood of Russian disinformation, “stratcom” actually is a euphemism for psychological operations, i.e., the strategic use of communications to influence the thinking of a target population.
In this case, the target populations are the European public and – to an ancillary degree – the American people who get to absorb the same propaganda from The New York Times. The real goal of stratcom is not to combat a few sleazy entrepreneurs generating consciously false stories for profit but to silence or “discredit” sources of information that question the E.U. and U.S. propaganda.
NATO has its own Stratcom command based in Latvia that also is assigned to swat down information that doesn’t conform to Western propaganda narratives. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy also pour tens of millions of dollars into media operations with similar goals as do major Western foundations, such as currency speculator George Soros’s Open Society. Last December, the U.S. Congress approved and President Obama signed legislation to create an additional $160 million bureaucracy to combat “Russian propaganda.”
In other words, the West’s stratcom and “psychological operations” are swimming in dough despite the Times’ representation that these “anti-disinformation” projects are unfairly outgunned by sinister forces daring to challenge what everyone-in-the-know knows to be true.
If these “stratcom” operations were around in 2002-2003, they would have been accusing the few people questioning the Iraq-has-WMD certainty of putting out “fake news” to benefit Saddam Hussein. Now, journalists and citizens who don’t buy the full-Monte demonization of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin are put into a similar category.
Instead of trusting in the free exchange of ideas, the new attitude at the Times, the Post and other Western news outlets is to short-circuit the process by smearing anyone who questions the official narratives as a “Putin apologist” or a “Moscow stooge.”
Beyond being anti-democratic, this anti-intellectual approach has prevented serious examination of the facts behind the West’s war or words against Russia. To shut down that debate, all you need to do is to say that any fact cited at a Russian news outlet must be false or “fake news.” Any Westerner who notes the same fact must be a “Putin puppet.”
Western “stratcom” doesn’t even want to allow Russian media to criticize politicians who are criticizing Russia. The Times article lamented that “Many false claims target politicians who present the biggest obstacles to Moscow’s goal of undermining the European Union.” The Times, however, doesn’t offer any examples of such “false claims.”
Instead, the Times writes that Russian news channels had “targeted the [French] presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who belongs to the party and is running on a pro-European Union platform.”
But what does that mean? Is it now an act of aggression when newscasts in one country criticize a leader of another country? If so, are the European news channels that have “targeted” U.S. President Donald Trump somehow deserving of U.S. government retaliation? Doesn’t the E.U. – and by extension The New York Times – accept the idea of political disagreement and debate?
This closed-mindedness is especially dangerous – indeed existentially risky – when applied to a confrontation between nuclear-armed powers. In such a case, the maximum amount of debate should be encouraged, instead of what amounts to blacklisting dissidents in the West who won’t toe the official propaganda lines.
Disturbingly, the leading forces in this suppression of skepticism are the most prestigious newspapers in the United States and Europe. Even after the disastrous experience with the Iraq War and the bogus WMD groupthink, Western news outlets that were party to that fiasco have virtually excluded well-reported articles and documentaries that question the U.S. and E.U. narratives of the New Cold War.
For instance, there has been almost no presentation in the mainstream Western media of an alternative – and I would argue more complete and accurate – narrative of the Ukraine conflict, taking into account the country’s complex history and deep ethnic divisions.
It is essentially forbidden to refer to the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych three years ago as a “coup” or a “putsch” or to cite evidence of a U.S.-backed “regime change,” such as an intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in which they discussed how to “glue” and how to “midwife” the installation of a new leadership in Kiev.
In the supposedly “free” West, you can only refer to the post-coup events in Crimea, in which the people of the largely ethnic Russia area voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, as a “Russian invasion.” No skepticism is allowed even though there were no images of Russian troops wading ashore on Crimea’s beaches or Russian tanks crashing across borders. The “invasion” supposedly happened even though no invasion was necessary because Russian troops were already in Crimea under the naval basing agreement at Sevastopol.
Amid the West’s current hysteria about “Russian propaganda,” U.S. and E.U. citizens are not even given the opportunity to watch well-reported documentaries about key moments in the New Cold War, including an eye-opening investigative report debunking the Western propaganda myth constructed around the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky or a well-produced historical account of the Ukraine crisis.
Western news outlets and governments even take pride in blocking such dissenting views and contrary information from reaching the American and European publics. Like East Stratcom — the E.U.’s Brussels-based 11-member team of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists — establishment institutions see themselves bravely battling “Russian disinformation.” They see it as their duty not to let their people hear this other side of the story.
If that is what the West’s institutions have come to — dismissing reasonable criticism and thoughtful dissent as “Russian disinformation” — is it any wonder that they are losing the confidence of their people?
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
President Trump rose from the ashes of Mike Flynn at his press conference last Thursday. In a bravura performance, defiant and funny at times, the President took on the corporate media en masse.
It is a performance that should not be missed. You can savor both video and transcript at your leisure here.
Trump: “Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system. The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
Sounds like what many “progressives” have been saying for a mighty long time, and it deserves resounding applause from them.
Trump: “And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word ‘tone.’ The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.”
And: “Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it. The public gets it, you know. Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN. They want to throw their placards at CNN. You know.”
The bias of the press against Trump is so obvious and heavy handed that no one can miss it. I asked one friend who is an avid and careful reader of the NYT whether he could name a single pro-Trump article over the last year. He could not. Does the press believe that the public are such fools that they cannot see this tone? This is but one more sign of the contempt that the clueless Elite have for the working stiff.
Russia and Putin
The most important point of the press conference was undoubtedly Trump’s refusal to back off one inch from his desire to “get along with Russia,” what some call New Détente or Détente 2.0. It is the most important, because tension between the two nuclear powers could well lead to war and nuclear exchange. For anti-warriors of every stripe Trump’s steadfastness was good news. The Flynn episode has not changed Trump’s resolve one iota.
Trump continued. Were he to denounce Russia and Putin, he instructed the press, it would be much easier for him politically. He would be hailed by the corporate press, the elitists of both Parties, the neocons, the Hillarycons and the entire foreign policy establishment, all of whom are itching for a fight, heedless that it might lead to a nuclear exchange. So Trump’s willingness to hold to this position is hardly opportunistic.
But he went farther. Trump let the press know that the atmosphere they are creating would make it difficult to negotiate with Putin, to defeat ISIS, or to bring an end to the crises in Ukraine or Syria nurtured by the US over the last six plus years. Why? Because he would have difficulty making concessions, giving as well as taking which any negotiation or deal demands. Any concession would trigger the charge that Trump is Putin’s puppet, the crazed mantra with which we are harangued daily and for which after all these many months there is not a shred of evidence. This is the very same point that Stephen F. Cohen, Emeritus Professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, often makes in his weekly discussions (Jan.25 episode especially) of U.S., Russia relations with John Batchelor on WABC.
Trump: “But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said ‘you know.’ He’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying ‘you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.’ OK? And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia — and by the way, China and Japan and everyone. If we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.” (Emphasis, jw).
And later, Trump: “But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.
If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other. (Emphasis, jw)… They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
The idea of “getting along” with other nations, even as we compete with them economically, is of course the way to peace and the very antithesis of the path the neocons and liberalcons from the Clintons to Bush to Obama have set us on these past thirty plus years of killing and destruction. And yet the “peace movement” expresses nothing but hatred for Trump and pushes for his impeachment. Some “peace” movement, that.
Back to l’affaire Flynn for a moment. Permit this writer to make a surmise, scarcely a ripple on the sea of surmises these days about the Deep State, Trump etc. Flynn did nothing illegal. Trump did not have to let him go, and it can easily be argued that Trump may have kept blood out of the water by sticking by Flynn and keeping him on. Flynn has been an asset. He is a champion of Détente 2.0 with Russia. He knows the national “intelligence” apparatus and where all its skeletons are closeted. He seems to know the deep story of the support that the Obama and Hillary forces gave to ISIS – certainly indirectly through US allies and probably also directly through the CIA, Mossad etc. But Flynn is also a man near crazed with an irrational bellicosity to Iran. That would have thrown a monkey wrench into Détente 2.0 since Russia and Iran have close ties especially in the fight against Sunni fundamentalist terrorism. So sooner or later Flynn had to go to preserve Détente 2.0. Did Trump take this opportunity to do so? And did Tillerson also crave this? It is a suspicion worth pondering. Trump has shown a cold-blooded capacity to say “you’re fired” when someone’s liabilities outweigh their assets. This writer suspects that Flynn’s time had come.
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.
Russia is being blamed for interfering in elections across the globe, from the US, Britain, Germany to Estonia and others. Now the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro has jumped on the bandwagon, with an even more reckless version of the ‘Russia-did-it’ trope.
This week Montenegro’s state prosecutor concluded Russian state agents were not only trying to subvert elections, but the alleged plot also involved the attempted assassination of the former prime minister, to prevent it becoming a member of NATO.
With suspiciously good timing, the far-fetched story was given dubious credibility by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. The day before the Montenegrin prosecutor made the announcement, the Telegraph published an article in which anonymous “Whitehall sources” issued the same claims of a Russian-sponsored coup attempt in Montenegro during the country’s parliamentary elections last October.
The fact the Telegraph is a well-worn conduit for British military intelligence disinformation is relevant.
Moscow lambasted the accusations as “absurd.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the claims were “irresponsible,” having been leveled without any supporting evidence.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted the Montenegro scenario of alleged Russian interference “is just another one in a series of groundless assertions blaming our country for carrying out cyberattacks against the entire West, interfering in election campaigns in the bulk of Western countries, as well as allegations pointing to the Trump administration’s ties with Russian secret services, among other things”.
“Not one iota of evidence has been brought forward about these groundless accusations,” added Lavrov.
The Montenegrin authorities are indeed just the latest to finger Russia as a convenient scapegoat to distract from what appears to be their own internal political problems.
The canard was perhaps given away when Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic commented this week: “In today’s world, such interference is not specific only for Montenegro.” The minister is clearly trying to wrap Montenegro up in the same cloth of victimhood claimed by others who are impugning Russian malfeasance.
More plausibly, the real story here is Montenegro’s controversial plans to join the US-led NATO military alliance. NATO’s civilian chief Jens Stoltenberg formally invited the country to become the 29th member of the Alliance last May.
However, that move which has been pushed by former premier Milo Djukanovic and his ruling party is widely opposed among Montenegro’s population of 620,000, with polls showing public opinion edging against membership. This public opposition partly stems from the recent history of NATO bombing former Yugoslavia and the subsequent break-up of the state which led to Montenegro’s independence in 2006.
To be sure, Russia is staunchly against Montenegro joining NATO, viewing it as another provocative eastward expansion of the military pact toward its borders. Moscow is supportive of Montenegrin political parties opposed to NATO membership but denies any underhand interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The supposed plot by Moscow to overthrow the Montenegrin government in last year’s parliamentary elections to scuttle plans to join NATO is much more likely to be a ruse by the authorities to drum up anti-Russian public sentiment – with the aim of promoting its pro-NATO cause.
What Russia is accused of hatching in Montenegro – an armed takeover of parliament and trying to assassinate the premier – is so outlandish it can hardly be taken seriously. But the far-fetched allegations are being swept along in the slipstream of a much bigger propaganda drive in the West to blame Russia for everything.
German news outlet Deutsche Welle published an article last week with the headline: “Is Moscow meddling in everything?” It goes on to ask with insinuating tone: “Does Putin decide who wins elections in the West? Many believe that he cost Clinton the US presidency; now Macron is next [in] France, and then Merkel will be in the line of fire.”
In the US, the Senate Intelligence Committee is stepping up its probe into allegations Russian cyber hackers helped Donald Trump win the presidential election on November 8. No evidence has ever been provided by US intelligence agencies to support these claims. But the allegations have taken on a life of their own, becoming coined as “fact” in the media and among Republican and Democratic politicians alike.
In Britain, parliamentarians have retrospectively cited the unproven Russian “influence campaign” for Trump to claim that Russian interference was a factor in why Britons voted unexpectedly in the referendum last June to leave the European Union.
According to American intelligence claims reported last month, Russia has interfered in the electoral process of several other European countries, including Austria, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Poland, as well as Ukraine.
This is in spite of the findings by German intelligence which concluded that there was no evidence that Russia hackers had targeted the country.
In the torrid climate of fake news and “fact-free” narratives, arguably the most egregious exemplar of this are the repeated claims of Russian interference in other nations’ elections. Western news media and governments have abdicated any modicum of responsible conduct to push this inflammatory narrative.
In recent days, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a warning to Russia after he accused Moscow of interfering in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections. France’s top diplomat apparently based his condemnation against Russia on partisan claims made by presidential contender Emmanuel Macron that his campaign was being targeted by Russia. Macron claims his team’s computers were being attacked by hackers. Again, no evidence was provided. He also pointed to an unfavorable article in Russian news outlet Sputnik as grounds for claiming the Kremlin was out to spoil his campaign.
As in the heyday of the Cold War, and its countless Red Scare stories to keep Western populations cowering in fear, Russia has again emerged as the ultimate scapegoat.
Western states are wobbling from a lack of authority perceived by the public in governing institutions. Decades of economic and social inequality and overseas illegal wars have eroded the legitimacy of established political parties and mechanisms of governance. Western countries are groaning from discontent toward elitist, effete rulers.
The rise of populist figures, including Donald Trump in the US and anti-EU, anti-NATO parties in Europe, is symptomatic of this historical movement of mass protest.
Rather than the establishment parties and institutions, including the mainstream media, accepting that there is a popular revolt underway against a corrupt system, the convenient “explanation” is to blame the decline on Russia. The old Western order is falling apart it seems, from its own internal decay and misrule. But unable to face the truth, the ruling parties and system are desperately looking for a culprit. Russia and its alleged fiendish designs to destroy the Western order is the convenient scapegoat.
The propaganda delirium of blaming Russia for everything has become so fevered that even Montenegro’s ruling clique is emboldened to come up with the preposterous claim that Moscow is trying to assassinate its leaders.
This bandwagon of blaming Russia is prone to its wheels coming off – so ridiculous is it. But there’s also a danger that the anti-Russia vehicle pushed too far could explode into a full-scale war between NATO powers and Russia.
© Sputnik/ Ramil Sitdikov
As the hysteria over the wholly fictional links between the Trump administration and Russia continues unabated, claims have been circulating about a supposed Russian plot to overthrow the government of Montenegro so as to prevent that country from joining NATO.
To say that the ‘evidence’ for this is thin would be an understatement. The best summary is in the Guardian :
Montenegrin police arrested a group of Serbian nationals on the eve of the 16 October vote and two Russian suspects are wanted over the alleged plot to seize parliament and assassinate former president and prime minister Milo Đukanović.
Montenegrin authorities had previously said the conspiracy was orchestrated by “Russian nationalists” but special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić went a step further on Sunday evening, suggesting that Russian authorities were involved.
“So far we have had evidence that Russian nationalist structures were behind [the plot], but now also that Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level,” Katnić told local media. “The organs of the Russian state must investigate which bodies are involved and open a criminal trial over these acts.”
A spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir, Putin, dismissed the allegations. “These (are) absurd accusations … We do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, including Montenegro,” Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
According to Katnić, a key witness, Aleksandar Sinđelić, a nationalist Serb, was invited to Moscow by Eduard Sismakov, a member of “Russian military structures”, to be cleared for the mission. Sismakov, using the alias Shirakov, “asked him to work first to prevent Montenegro from entering Nato. That is the sole motivation of these structures,” Katnić said. Montenegrin prosecutors suspect 25 people, mostly Serbs, of links to the alleged coup, and are searching for two Russians, including Sismakov, who is believed to be the main organiser.
In other words the entire weight of the claim of Russian involvement in the supposed coup rests on the supposed connection between the plotters and an individual identified as “Eduard Sismakov”. As to who Eduard Sismakov is, he has been identified by the BBC as a former deputy military attache to Poland.
It is just about conceivable that some fiery people in this small but proud Balkan Slav country with its tradition of friendship towards Russia might have come up with some crackbrained plan to overthrow the government in order to prevent it joining NATO. Given the long history of close contacts between Montenegro and Russia it is also just possible that they might have met with some people in Russia and got support from them. To construct from these facts a wild theory of a Russian plot to overthrow the government of Montenegro is however little short of absurd. Yet as leaks from the usual ‘anonymous officials’ to the Daily Telegraph show, the British government is trying to give credence to the whole affair.
It is barely conceivable that anyone in any senior position in Moscow would seriously contemplate the idea of a coup in Montenegro. Though the Russians would obviously prefer that Montenegro did not join NATO, the country is too small and too distant from Russia for this to be a serious issue for them. It beggars belief that anyone in authority in Moscow would take the totally reckless and irresponsible step of ordering a coup in a traditionally friendly country in order to prevent something which for Russia ultimately does not matter.
Moreover for the Russians to plan a coup in another country would be for them an extraordinary step to say the least. Whilst the US has a long history of organising or backing coups in foreign states going all the way back to the coup in Iran in 1953, the Russians have not played any role in any coup in Europe since the Czech coup of 1948. Nor have they engaged in much coup making elsewhere. The coup in Afghanistan in 1978 which they were once widely believed to have organised is now known to have caught them by surprise.
Given their traditional aversion to organising coups in other countries – and their lack of know-how in how to do it – it is scarcely conceivable that the Russians would attempt such a thing in Montenegro where the benefits are small and the risks are so obviously great.
In Montenegro itself the government’s plan to join NATO has come in for a great deal of criticism, and there are reports that the opposition to the government is claiming that the whole coup plot is a fiction fabricated by the government in order to discredit it.
I do not know whether that is true or not. However it is altogether more likely than the farfetched claims about Russian involvement in the plot which the Montenegro authorities are making.
Fleeing to Canada is no longer an option
Liberals are supposed to be antiwar, right? I went to college in the 1960s, when students nationwide were rising up in opposition to the Vietnam War. I was a Young Republican back then and supported the war through sheer ignorance and dislike of the sanctimoniousness of the protesters, some of whom were surely making their way to Canada to live in exile on daddy’s money while I was on a bus going to Fort Leonard Wood for basic combat training. I can’t even claim that I had some grudging respect for the antiwar crowd because I didn’t, but I did believe that at least some of them who were not being motivated by being personally afraid of getting hurt were actually sincere in their opposition to the awful things that were happening in Southeast Asia.
As I look around now, however, I see something quite different. The lefties I knew in college are now part of the Establishment and generally speaking are retired limousine liberals. And they now call themselves progressives, of course, because it sounds more educated and sends a better message, implying as it does that troglodytic conservatives are anti-progress. But they also have done a flip on the issue of war and peace. In its most recent incarnation some of this might be attributed to a desperate desire to relate to the Hillary Clinton campaign with its bellicosity towards Russia, Syria and Iran, but I suspect that the inclination to identify enemies goes much deeper than that, back as far as the Bill Clinton Administration with its sanctions on Iraq and the Balkan adventure, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the creation of a terror-narco state in the heart of Europe. And more recently we have seen the Obama meddling in Libya, Yemen and Syria in so called humanitarian interventions which have turned out to be largely fraudulent. Yes, under the Obama Dems it was “responsibility to protect time” (r2p) and all the world trembled as the drones were let loose.
Last Friday I started to read an op-ed in The Washington Post by David Ignatius that blew me away. It began “President Trump confronts complicated problems as the investigation widens into Russia’s attack on our political system.” It then proceeded to lay out the case for an “aggressive Russia” in the terms that have been repeated ad nauseam in the mainstream media. And it was, of course, lacking in any evidence, as if the opinions of coopted journalists and the highly politicized senior officials in the intelligence community should be regarded as sacrosanct. These are, not coincidentally, the same people who have reportedly recently been working together to undercut the White House by leaking and then reporting highly sensitive transcripts of phone calls with Russian officials.
Ignatius is well plugged into the national security community and inclined to be hawkish but he is also a typical Post politically correct progressive on most issues. So here was your typical liberal asserting something in a dangerous fashion that has not been demonstrated and might be completely untrue. Russia is attacking “our political system!” And The Post is not alone in accepting that Russia is trying to subvert and ultimately overthrow our republic. Reporting from The New York Times and on television news makes the same assumption whenever they discuss Russia, leading to what some critics have described as mounting American ‘hysteria’ relating to anything coming out of Moscow.
Rachel Maddow is another favorite of mine when it comes to talking real humanitarian feel good stuff out one side of her mouth while beating the drum for war from the other side. In a bravura performance on January 26th she roundly chastised Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Rachel, who freaked out completely when Donald Trump was elected, is now keen to demonstrate that Trump has been corrupted by Russia and is now controlled out of the Kremlin. She described Trump’s lord and master Putin as an “intense little man” who murders his opponents before going into the whole “Trump stole the election with the aid of Moscow” saga, supporting sanctions on Russia and multiple investigations to get to the bottom of “Putin’s attacks on our democracy.” Per Maddow, Russia is the heart of darkness and, by way of Trump, has succeeded in exercising control over key elements in the new administration.
Unfortunately, people in the media like Ignatius and Maddow are not alone. Their willingness to sell a specific political line that carries with it a risk of nuclear war as fact, even when they know it is not, has been part of the fear-mongering engaged in by Democratic Party loyalists and many others on the left. Their intention is to “get Trump” whatever it takes, which opens the door to some truly dangerous maneuvering that could have awful consequences if the drumbeat and military buildup against Russia continues, leading Putin to decide that his country is being threatened and backed into a corner. Moscow has indicated that it would not hesitate use nuclear weapons if it is being confronted militarily and facing defeat.
The current wave of Russophobia is much more dangerous than the random depiction of foreigners in negative terms that has long bedeviled a certain type of American know-nothing politics. Apart from the progressive antipathy towards Putin personally, there is a virulent strain of anti-Russian sentiment among some self-styled conservatives in congress, best exemplified by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Graham has recently said “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.”
It is my belief that many in the National Security State have convinced themselves that Russia is indeed a major threat against the United States and not because it is a nuclear armed power that can strike the U.S. That appreciation, should, if anything constitute a good reason to work hard to maintain cordial relations rather than not, but it is seemingly ignored by everyone but Donald Trump.
No, the new brand of Russophobia derives from the belief that Moscow is “interfering” in places like Syria and Ukraine. Plus, it is a friend of Iran. That perception derives from the consensus view among liberals and conservatives alike that the U.S. sphere of influence encompasses the entire globe as well as the particularly progressive conceit that Washington should serve to “protect” anyone threatened at any time by anyone else, which provides a convenient pretext for military interventions that are euphemistically described as “peace missions.”
There might be a certain cynicism in many who hate Russia as having a powerful enemy also keeps the cash flowing from the treasury into the pockets of the beneficiaries of the military industrial congressional complex, but my real fear is that, having been brainwashed for the past ten years, many government officials are actually sincere in their loathing of Moscow and all its works. Recent opinion polls suggest that that kind of thinking is popular among Americans, but it actually makes no sense. Though involvement by Moscow in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is undeniable, calling it a threat against U.S. vital interests is more than a bit of a stretch as Russia’s actual ability to make trouble is limited. It has exactly one overseas military facility, in Syria, while the U.S. has more than 800, and its economy and military budget are tiny compared to that of the United States. In fact, it is Washington that is most guilty of intervening globally and destabilizing entire regions, not Moscow, and when Donald Trump said in an interview that when it came to killing the U.S. was not so innocent it was a gross understatement.
Ironically, pursuing a reset with Russia is one of the things that Trump actually gets right but the new left won’t give him a break because they reflexively hate him for not embracing the usual progressive bromides that they believe are supposed to go with being antiwar. Other Moscow trashing comes from the John McCain camp which demonizes Russia because warmongers always need an enemy and McCain has never found a war he couldn’t support. It would be a tragedy for the United States if both the left and enough of the right were to join forces to limit Trump’s options on dealing with Moscow, thereby enabling an escalating conflict that could have tragic consequences for all parties.
As Democrats compete to become the new War Party – pushing for a dangerous confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia – some constituents are objecting, as Mike Madden did in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Dear Senator Klobuchar, I write with concern over statements you have made recently regarding Russia. These statements have been made both at home and abroad, and they involve two issues; the alleged Russian hack of the presidential election and Russia’s actions in the aftermath of the February 22, 2014 coup in Kiev.
U.S. intelligence services allege that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. The campaign is purported to include the production of fake news, cyber-trolling, and propaganda from Russian state-owned media. It is also alleged that Russia hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, subsequently providing the emails to WikiLeaks.
Despite calls from many quarters, the intelligence services have not provided the public with any proof. Instead, Americans are expected to blindly trust these services with a long history of failure. Additionally, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, have both been known to lie to the public and to Congress, Mr. Clapper doing so under oath.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange maintains the emails did not come from Russia (or any other state actor) and his organization has an unblemished record of revealing accurate information in the public interest that would otherwise remain hidden. While responsible journalists continue to use the word ‘alleged’ to describe the accusations, Republicans with an ax to grind against Russia, and Democrats wishing to distract from their own failings in the campaign, refer to them as fact. Indeed, on the ‘Amy in the News’ page of your own website, Jordain Carney of The Hill refers to the Russian meddling as “alleged”.
A congressional commission to investigate the alleged Russian hacking is not necessary. Even if all the allegations are true, they are altogether common occurrences, and they certainly don’t rise to the level of “an act of aggression”, “an existential threat to our way of life”, or “an attack on the American people” as various Democratic officials have characterized them. Republican Senator John McCain went full monty and called the alleged meddling “an act of war”.
Joining War Hawks
It is of concern that you would join Senator McCain and the equally belligerent Senator Lindsey Graham on a tour of Russian provocation through the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, and Montenegro. The announcement of your trip (December 28, 2016) on the ‘News Releases’ page of your website renewed the unproven claim of “Russian interference in our recent election”. It also claimed that the countries you were visiting were facing “Russian aggression” and that “Russia illegally annexed Crimea”.
It is unfortunate that these claims have become truisms by sheer repetition rather than careful examination of the facts. Russia has not invaded eastern Ukraine. There are no regular units of the Russian military in the breakaway provinces, nor has Russia launched any air strikes from its territory. It has sent weapons and other provisions to the Ukrainian forces seeking autonomy from Kiev, and there are most certainly Russian volunteers operating in Ukraine.
However regrettable, it must be remembered that the unrest was precipitated by the February 22, 2014 overthrow of the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych which, speaking of meddling, was assisted by U.S. State Department, other American government agencies, and one Senator John McCain. The subsequent military and paramilitary operations launched by the coup government against the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk were described by President Putin as “uncontrolled crime” spreading into the south and east of the country. In American parlance, both the interim coup government in Kiev and the current government of President Petro Poroshenko have engaged in “killing their own people”.
Ignoring the Details
If Russia’s actions are to be considered “aggression” or an “invasion”, one must find a whole new word to describe what the United States did to Iraq in 2003. If, like your colleague Senator McCain, you hold the annexation of Crimea to be illegal under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, I urge a closer look.
On February 21, 2014, an agreement brokered by the European Union was signed between President Yanukovych and the leaders of three major opposition parties. The agreement contained terms for a cessation of violence, immediate power sharing, and new elections. Smelling blood in the water, the opposition in Maidan Square did not withdraw from the streets or surrender their illegal weapons as agreed, but instead went on the offensive. Yanukovych, under threat to his life, fled Kiev along with many others in his Party of Regions.
Nor did the opposition party leaders honor the agreement. The next day, they moved to impeach Yanukovych, however they failed to meet several requirements of the Ukrainian Constitution. They failed to indict the president, conduct an investigation, and have that investigation certified by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Instead, they moved directly to a vote on impeachment and, even on that count, they failed to obtain the required three-fourths majority vote. So, even though the Budapest Memorandum did offer assurances of Ukrainian security and territorial integrity in exchange for surrender of Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its soil, the sovereign government of Ukraine had fallen in a violent unconstitutional putsch.
Yanukovych remained its legitimate president-in-exile and he, along with the prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, requested Russian intervention on the peninsula to provide security and protect the human rights of ethnic Russians threatened by the new coup government and neo-Nazi elements within it.
One can now see how real that threat was by looking to eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian military and neo-Nazi paramilitaries such as the Azov Battallion, have moved with force against the defenders of the Donbass region whose people seek autonomy from a government in Kiev that they do not recognize. Approximately 10,000 people have died in the Donbass War, whereas only six people were killed during the period of annexation (February 23-March19, 2014) in Crimea.
While the Donbass War drags on, Crimea remains stable today. The popular referendum conducted on March 16, 2014 lent legitimacy to the subsequent annexation. Official results claimed 82% turnout with 96% of voters favoring reunification with Russia. Independent polling conducted in the early weeks of March 2014 found 70-77% of all Crimeans favored reunification. Six years prior to the crisis in 2008, a poll found that 63% favored reunification. Even though many ethnic Ukranians and Tatars boycotted the election, rejoining Russia was clearly the will of the majority of Crimean people.
President Putin, characterizing the situation in Ukraine as a revolution, claimed that Russia had no agreements with the new state and therefore no obligations under the Budapest Memorandum. He also cited Chapter I: Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect for the principle of self-determination of peoples. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, which affirmed post-World War II borders, also allowed for the change of national boundaries by peaceful internal means.
The Kosovo Precedent
It is also useful to consider parallel occurrences in Kosovo. In 1998 ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops and paramilitaries led to a NATO intervention without U.N. authorization. There is little question that the move was illegal, but legitimacy was claimed due to the urgent humanitarian need. Ten years later, Kosovo would declare independence from Serbia and the disputed matter would end up before the International Court of Justice. In 2009 the United States provided the Court with a statement on Kosovo that read in part: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.”
The United States should accept the Russian annexation of Crimea both as a pragmatic matter, and one of principle. In 1990, during negotiations for the re-unification of Germany, the United States promised that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. That promise has now been broken three times and eleven new nations have been added to the alliance. Ukraine has also entered in partnership with NATO, and at various times, full membership has been discussed. Russia has consistently expressed its disapproval. According to your website, an objective of your trip was “to reinforce support for NATO”. If this weren’t provocative enough, your three-senator delegation went to a front-line military outpost in Shirokino, Ukraine to incite an escalation to the Donbass War. Senator Graham told the assembled soldiers “Your fight is our fight, 2017 will be the year of offense”. The leader of your delegation, Senator McCain, said “I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win”.
After the speeches were given, you are seen in a video of the New Year’s Eve event accepting what appears to be a gift from one of the uniformed soldiers. With all of the furor over former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation, and possible violation of the Logan Act, for discussing alleviation of sanctions with a Russian ambassador, this appears to be a far more serious offense. Not only did your delegation advocate for a foreign policy that was not aligned with that of acting President Obama, it was also contrary to President-elect Trump’s approach to the region. And the results of your advocacy have the potential to be far more deadly than the mere alleviation of sanctions.
Sincerely, Mike Madden St. Paul, Minnesota