The soldiers carried assault rifles in their luggage, but had no approval, Kurier reported.
A few days ago, a group of American soldiers caused a security alert at Vienna’s Schwechat airport. The men were stopped while trying to travel with army weapons to Ukraine without any necessary permits, the newspaper wrote.
The Austrian police had to intervene and remove the weapons. An investigation into the case was launched.
The nine US soldiers were on their way from Washington to Ukraine, where they were to be deployed.
“However, since there were problems with their connecting flight after a stopover in Schwechat, they had to rebook their flight and, therefore, leave the transit area,” Colonel Michael Bauer, Defense Ministry spokesman said.
M16 assault rifles and pistols were discovered in the luggage of the American soldiers at a security checkpoint. The incident caused huge shock, because the weapons were not declared and registered and, thus, carried illegally.
The soldiers had not obtained the required transit approval by Austria. In special cases, the stay or transit of foreign military forces may be officially allowed after completing the application procedure, but the US soldiers did not send any required requests.
The attempt by the American embassy to obtain the approval after the incident was rejected for legal reasons. Instead of going to Ukraine, the soldiers had to fly back home to Washington and were allowed to take the weapons with them, the newspaper reported.
MOSCOW — Pyongyang called on Washington to halt joint military exercises with Seoul so that a dialogue can be established, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Thursday.
“If the U.S., not the DPRK, stops such hostile acts as joint military maneuvers and makes a decision to go the other way, it will be possible to resume dialogue and settle many issues,” the spokesperson said, quoted by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
According to the foreign ministry, tensions on the Korean peninsula persist due to US hostility towards Pyongyang.
“The evil cycle of tension will persist and dialogue will not be held before the U.S. shows its much-touted sincere ‘will for dialogue’ by stopping the joint military maneuvers,” the spokesperson stated.
South Korea and the United States annually conduct joint military exercises, explaining that they are for defensive purposes only. North Korea describes the exercises as training rehearsals for a full-scale military invasion.
On Wednesday, the United States and the Republic of Korea initiated a joint military drill to increase logistical war preparedness.
North and South Koreas signed a ceasefire armistice during the 1950-1953 Korean War but have not negotiated or ratified a formal peace yet.
WHEN you’re in a hole, keep bombing. That’s the message from the Nato forces – meeting in Brussels tomorrow to give the green light to Turkey – who seem to know no other way out of the serial military debacles and catastrophes they have launched in the past decade and a half than to continue with them.
In the past few days the prospect of even greater war in the Middle East has come closer, as Turkey escalates its attacks on the Kurdish community, under the pretext of the war against ISIS.
The deal between the US and Turkey allows US use of an airbase close to its ISIS bombing targets in Syria while giving a green light to Turkey to bomb not just ISIS but the Kurds in the PKK.
To many observers, this is in fact the key point of Turkey’s mobilisation. It is determined to crush the Kurds and seems much more concerned with the PKK than with ISIS.
The bombings have ended the ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish state and threaten much greater conflict. Turkey is calling a meeting of its Nato allies to get endorsement for its military action and to try to create a buffer zone inside Syria, whose aim will be to further attack the Kurds.
In truth the Turkish state has aided the rise of ISIS and has repeatedly attacked the Kurds, even though they have been involved in fighting against ISIS.
Any Nato support for Turkey will further deepen the war in Syria, and will not deal with ISIS. The bombing which has already gone on for a year has not been effective in dealing with it, but has simply led to greater bloodshed and dislocation in Syria.
Bombing is not just on the Turkish government’s mind, however. Here in Britain, David Cameron has already tacitly agreed to British pilots bombing Syria under US command – in express contravention of the Commons vote two years ago. There is no military reason for British intervention, it is political, designed to show that Britain can be an effective junior partner to the US.
Now Cameron is campaigning for a further Commons vote to allow the bombing of ISIS in Syria. This is likely to be scheduled for mid September shortly after the results of the Labour leadership election.
The success so far of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership campaign makes a strong anti war voice a much greater possibility, and makes more likely the defeat of Cameron, given the widespread support for Jeremy and the substantial bloc of SNP MPs, alongside dissent within Tory ranks.
The anti war movement must do everything it can to defeat this move. Stop the War is asking all our groups and members to organise protests, petition and lobby MPs throughout the summer to make sure they are aware of the issues and ready to vote against war in September.
Bombing and intervention have only exacerbated the problems in the Middle East. They have arguably led to the increase in terrorism we are seeing today. ISIS grew as a result of the wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, aided by countries who now urge further war – especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
One of the main sources of ISIS support seems to be the destroyed state of Libya, locked in division and civil war, with rival factions claiming to be the government. Even Cameron isn’t stupid enough to call for more bombing there – after the damage he and his allies did in 2011, when more than 30,000 died. Instead he is intending to put in military ‘advisers’ there.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, the US and Britain are carrying out military manouevres in Ukraine this week, in a test of strength with Russia.
Next week is the 25th anniversary of the start of the first Gulf War. War has been pretty continuous since then, in the Middle East, in the former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan and Africa.
And every time they try to solve the problems which they created with their last interventions, they create more.
This image tweeted by Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has a lot of people upset. Is it supposed to be Barack Obama holding a gun to his own head?
What if it is? The picture is hardly threatening or aggressive in any way. After all, it’s not a picture of Khamenei holding a gun to Obama’s head.
And look at the text:
We welcome no war, nor do we initiate any war, but if any war happens, the one who will emerge loser will be the aggressive and criminal U.S.
That is not aggressive in the least. On the contrary, it rejects war. Who’s been threatening war against whom? The U.S. government (along with Israel) has been threatening war against Iran. Even after the nuclear agreement was signed, Secretary of War Ash Carter reiterated that war against Iran is still an option. So all Khamenei is saying is that if the U.S. government starts a war, it will lose. It will be as though Obama had pointed a gun at himself and pulled the trigger.
In the past, Iran’s pledges to retaliate if attacked have always been presented by the news media and politicians as though they were threats to initiate war. This is happening again.
When will the media and the hack politicians be straight with the public? Iran has threatened to attack no one, but the U.S. and Israeli governments, both with nuclear weapons, routinely threaten to attack Iran. Who is the criminal?
WASHINGTON — Restoring US relations with Russia should be among the top priorities for the newly elected president, US Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee told Sputnik.
“I would make it one of my top priorities to do everything possible to find common ground, areas where we can build on and reestablish relationships with Russia, make them better,” Chafee said in an interview.
The presidential candidate noted that there are areas where Russia and the United States still agree and cooperate, including on the Iran nuclear issue.
“I know we worked on the Iran deal together, but just keep building on that, areas where we both agree as countries, and then broaden those out, areas where we somewhat agree, and then tackle those areas where we have disagreements and work together,” Chafee said.
“There is just no room for escalation of military options in this world we live in today,” Chafee said when asked to comment on mutual accusations by Washington and Moscow of violating the INF Treaty.
Chafee noted that cooperation between the United States and Russia should be concentrated on more important issues rather than bashing Russia.
“There are many other challenges we should be tackling rather than the Russians in the West, a saber rattling,” he added.
The United States and Russia signed the INF Treaty in 1987, banning nuclear and conventional ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers (300-3,400 miles).
Last summer, Washington accused Moscow of not complying with the treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile. Russia dismissed the claims, stating that the United States had violated the deal earlier by placing missile defense launchers in Poland and Romania.
According to recent media reports, US authorities are considering the deployment of missiles to Europe to defend against supposed advantages gained by Russia’s alleged treaty violation, or the possibility of a more aggressive “counterforce” of ground-based strategic weapons or cruise missiles.
Chafee also underscored that Washington and Moscow should cooperate in resolving the Ukrainian crisis, and ensure the European markets continue to receive Russian energy.
“The immediate area that we [US, Russia] should be finding areas to resolve is, of course, Ukraine, and…with the sanctions, and how we can get the Ukrainian situation resolved, and get the European markets and the Russian energy working together,” Chafee said in an interview.
Chafee added that US-Russia cooperation is “in everybody’s best interest.”
Moscow should participate in international discussion on all world issues, the candidate continued.
“That strong country, energy-rich country, such as Russia, should be part of all our global discussions,” Chafee said in an interview.
The presidential candidate stressed that there are many areas where Russia and the West could cooperate, including the Iran nuclear program and space industry.
“This new spiral of the arms race was prompted by the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” Putin said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Monday.
On December 13, 2001, Washington withdrew from the treaty, which had been signed in 1972 between the US and the Soviet Union, on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile systems used in defending areas against ballistic missile-delivered nuclear weapons.
“This treaty was a cornerstone of the entire system of international security,” he said.
According to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a leading think-tank focusing on international security, Washington in 2014 spent USD 581 billion, the highest amount of military expenditure last year.
China, Saudi Arabia and Russia are the countries coming after the US with USD 129, 81 and 70 billion in military expenditure respectively, the British institute’s report said.
Putin also said that US officials should rethink their policies and stop “acting in a way ‘who-in-not-with-us-is-against-us.’”
“Undoubtedly, the United States is a great power. But it doesn’t mean that the current US authorities have any right to move around the world, seizing people and taking them to their prisons,” he added.
Elsewhere in the interview, the Russian president said that Moscow is ready to negotiate with the US and Europe on a host of issues including the situation in Ukraine.
“Russia takes no interest in seeking confrontation with other countries. But sometimes we simply have to defend our interests. And we will undoubtedly do it, but not in a confrontational manner but through finding compromises and mutually acceptable solutions,” he said.
The US and its European allies have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, accusing Moscow of being involved in the Ukrainian conflict that broke out last year. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusation and has imposed retaliatory sanctions against many Western countries.
‘UK Govt priorities were wrong over Libya’
The UK government spent 13 times more bombing Libya than securing peace in the years afterwards, it has been revealed.
The House of Commons library has released information which shows the UK government spent around £320 million in a bombing campaign against Libya, and just £25 million in re-building programmes following the conflict.
The revelations follows serious concerns raised by the SNP over the UK’s current involvement in Syria -which had been taken forward despite a vote against bombing Syria in the House of Commons two years ago.
Stephen Gethins MP said:
“These figures are eye-watering. The amount of money the UK government will spend bombing a country dwarves the re-building programme thirteen to one.
“The lessons of Libya, like Iraq, is that you cannot just bomb somewhere and move on. The figures are especially alarming given the UK government’s current involvement in Syria.
“The case for bombing in Syria has simply not been made – and the involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons.
“We urgently need honesty and transparency about the UK intentions in Syria- and a strong commitment to the country following the conflict.”
Commenting on UK intervention in Syria on the Marr show this morning, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said:
“Parliament has to be consulted and Parliament would have to be persuaded. And I’ve heard nothing yet from the Prime Minister that would persuade me that there’s an integrated strategy that would justify a bombing campaign.
“Spending £320m on a bombing campaign and £25m to help restore the country is one reason perhaps that we have a failed state in Libya.”
67.8% of respondents to a Google Consumer Survey said Israel should receive no compensation for the US finalizing a deal with Iran over its civilian nuclear program, which was begun at the behest of the US when Washington’s puppet, the Shah, one of the world’s worst human rights violators, ruled over Iran.
Obama is currently offering Israel increased aid to compensate for the agreement. Israel is the biggest recipient of US aid at over $3 billion per year, and Obama has increased aid to Israel after each of Israel’s major massacres in the Gaza refugee camp since Obama assumed power.
The major study of the issue of citizen impact on US government policy, conducted in 2014 by research teams out of Princeton and Northwestern universities, looked at nearly 2,000 policies and found that average-income US citizens have “near zero, statistically non-significant” impact on them, while the most affluent citizens essentially dictate policy. This dynamic has been illustrated by previous research, such as by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt.
Another issue to watch for: the “world’s most influential” think tank, the Washington-based Brookings Institute, has suggested (among other options), as a way for the US to gain dominance over Iran, making it appear that Iran has rejected a “great” deal, then using Israel to attack Iran. (Note the above poll asks if Israel should be given long-range bombers and “bunker-buster” explosives.)
The US and Israel have both continued to make threats of force, criminal acts under the UN charter adopted by both countries, against Iran since the agreement, and Obama’s anti-democratic offering of increased aid to Israel could possibly signal that the “leave it to Bibi” strategy is still being entertained, along with any number of other goals.
Author is a US-based researcher focusing on force dynamics, national and global. @_DirtyTruths
We should expect conflicts in which adversaries, because of cultural affinities different from our own, will resort to forms and levels of violence shocking to our sensibilities.
— Department of Defense, 1999, with thanks to William Blum
One quote has reverberated throughout the United States decades of decimations of the lands of others. Journalist Peter Arnett, reporting from Vietnam, in a piece published on 7 July 1968, quoted an American officer saying of the provincial capital Bến Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” He was referring to the decision to bomb and shell the town no matter what the cost of civilian lives, in order to rout the Vietcong.
The US led “coalitions” of recent years have, it seems, moved on from destroying towns, now entire sovereign nations are laid to waste to free, liberate, and democratize them. The cemeteries and ruins of much of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya are recent silent witness to this munificence, with Syria set to be the latest centre of the eye of the storm.
ISIS/ISIL/IS has replaced the Vietcong and the “town” is where ever the liberating bombs, missiles, drone strikes blast homes and humanity across the entire country and of course in neighbouring Iraq, bombed in the name of protection and salvation for 24 years — approaching a quarter of a century.
In context, prior to the illegal invasion of 2003, from 1993 onwards, wrote John Pilger (7 August 2000):
The Royal Air Force, together with the US, bombs Iraq almost every day. Since December 1998, the Ministry of Defence has admitted dropping 780 tonnes of bombs on a country with which Britain is not at war. During the same period, the United States has conducted 24,000 combat missions over southern Iraq alone, mostly in populated areas. In one five-month period, forty one per cent of casualties were civilians: farmers, fishermen, shepherds, their children and their sheep – the circumstances of their killing were documented by the United Nations Security Sector”, it was: “the longest such campaign since the Second World War.”
The Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain in a breathtaking lie, even by UK Minister’s standards told Parliament on 2 May 2000: “As I have told the House on many occasions, we are not conducting a bombing campaign against Iraq …”
On 6 July 2000, commentator Jonathan Power pointed out that: “the Pentagon says more than 280,000 sorties have been flown in the near decade since no-flight zones were imposed on Saddam in the north and south of the country.”
Turkey has now given permission for the US to use the country’s Incirlik air base “after months of negotiations”, according to the BBC. Since the US also used the base during the 1991 Iraq war and in 2001 at the start of the attack on Afghanistan, it has to be wondered what further horror is planned for Syria.
In the last forty eight hours Turkey has enjoined in bombing Syria and has also bombed northern Iraq. There are unconfirmed reports of Turkish troops in Aleppo.
In spite of the UK Parliament voting not to become militarily involved in Syria, it transpired this week that British Air Force pilots have anyway been bombarding Syria in defiance of Parliament. They simply swopped their uniforms and fighter jets for those of countries who were involved in the attacks.
Although the US has been terrorizing Iraq and Syria since 8 August 2014, they took until 15 of October to dream up another silly name for another mass slaughter and announced that “Operation Inherent Resolve” was: “officially designated as the name given to US military operations against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.” The name is intended: “to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the US and partner nations … to eliminate ISIL …” Heaven help the people of Syria and Iraq.
The US military is clearly not a superstitious body; 15 of October was not an auspicious day for Empire. On that day in 1793, Queen Marie Antoinette of France was condemned to death and executed the following day; Napoleon 1st began his exile on St Helena.
In 1863, following his defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, General Robert E Lee proffered his resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The population of Syria is just 22.85 million; it is being assaulted by the US, population 318.9 million, Turkey population 74.93 million, the UK with a population of 64.1 million, plus a few other less visible and enthusiastic members of the “coalition”: Jordan, Canada, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UAE stopped flying in December, reportedly after a dispute over the US not providing sufficient combat air rescue. By 6 February the US had mounted 946 air strikes in Syria, with Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia completing just 79. (News, websites.)
The number of weapons rained down on Syria between August 2014 and June 30th 2015 is staggering. According to the US Department of Defence:
December: Unaccounted for
The average cost, August 8 2014 to June 18 2015 is $9.2 million a day for the 315 killing days. To 22 June this year “Targets Damaged or Destroyed” in Syria and Iraq include 98 tanks, 325 trucks, 472 staging areas (these are illustrated with a tent, so presumably could be displaced families mistaken for “terrorists”) 2,045 buildings, 1,859 “fighting positions” (again, as Iraq, how many people gathered for a wedding, funeral, waiting for transport were designated “fighters” from the safety of 35,000 ft?) 154 oil infrastructures and “other targets” 2,702. Total 7,655.
The carnage is ongoing. The most recent are on 21 July with ten airstrikes on Syria and 15 on Iraq, on 24 July eight on Syria and 19 in Iraq, and 25 July, nine air strikes on Syria and 22 on Iraq with drones also being used. The “assessments” of that destroyed is tragic and sometimes farcical. In Iraq “an ISIS excavator” for example, could it not just be some soul mending a road? Two “ISIS bridges” near mortally damaged Fallujah — Iraq is divided by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — the great soaring engineering triumphs that are the country’s bridges are the arteries of the nation’s body. Now they are designated “ISIS bridges” and destroyed – again.
As Syria’s President Assad said today (26 July) in an address to the nation: “The West calls it ‘terrorism’ when it hits them, and ‘revolution, freedom, democracy and human rights’ when it hits us.’”
Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger’s Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.)
Last week, Retired General Wesley Clark, who was NATO commander during the US bombing of Serbia, proposed that “disloyal Americans” be sent to internment camps for the “duration of the conflict.” Discussing the recent military base shootings in Chattanooga, TN, in which five US service members were killed, Clark recalled the internment of American citizens during World War II who were merely suspected of having Nazi sympathies. He said: “back then we didn’t say ‘that was freedom of speech,’ we put him in a camp.”
He called for the government to identify people most likely to be radicalized so we can “cut this off at the beginning.” That sounds like “pre-crime”!
Gen. Clark ran for president in 2004 and it’s probably a good thing he didn’t win considering what seems to be his disregard for the Constitution. Unfortunately in the current presidential race Donald Trump even one-upped Clark, stating recently that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a traitor and should be treated like one, implying that the government should kill him.
These statements and others like them most likely reflect the frustration felt in Washington over a 15 year war on terror where there has been no victory and where we actually seem worse off than when we started. The real problem is they will argue and bicker over changing tactics but their interventionist strategy remains the same.
Retired Army Gen. Mike Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, told al-Jazeera this week that US drones create more terrorists than they kill. He said: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.”
Still Washington pursues the same strategy while expecting different results.
It is probably almost inevitable that the warhawks will turn their anger inward, toward Americans who are sick of the endless and costly wars. The US loss of the Vietnam war is still blamed by many on the protesters at home rather than on the foolishness of the war based on a lie in the first place.
Let’s hope these threats from Clark and Trump are not a trial balloon leading to a clampdown on our liberties. There are a few reasons we should be concerned. Last week the US House passed a bill that would allow the Secretary of State to unilaterally cancel an American citizen’s passport if he determines that person has “aided” or “abetted” a terrorist organization. And as of this writing, the Senate is debating a highway funding bill that would allow the Secretary of State to cancel the passport of any American who owes too much money to the IRS.
Canceling a passport means removing the right to travel, which is a kind of virtual internment camp. The person would find his movements restricted, either being prevented from leaving or entering the United States. Neither of these measures involves any due process or possibility of appeal, and the government’s evidence supporting the action can be kept secret.
We should demand an end to these foolish wars that even the experts admit are making matters worse. Of course we need a strong defense, but we should not provoke the hatred of others through drones, bombs, or pushing regime change overseas. And we must protect our civil liberties here at home from government elites who increasingly view us as the enemy.
… The war is not meant to be won – it is meant to be continuous.…” – George Orwell, 1984
David Kilcullen has a message for us over at the Guardian, and this is it:
We’re living in an era of persistent conflict…”
Which is sadly, true. You might think the next thing to be discussed on that topic would be – why? Why are we now living in an era of endless war? What forces are behind this development? Who, if anyone, is profiting from the same? But, no, David doesn’t think any of this is worthy of our attention. He simply wants us to understand that “perpetual conflict” is absolutely and inescapably the new reality.
… you can read it in the latest concept documents of half a dozen western militaries. But it doesn’t seem to have hit home, for the public or some policymakers, that the notion that this can all end, that we can get back to some pre-9/ 11 “normal,” is a fantasy.
Do we get that? Is it hitting home? Peace is now a “fantasy”. It’s official. And in case you are still harbouring some smidgen of doubt, Dave is going to say it again in different words:
This – this instability, this regional conflict surrounded by networked global violence, this convergence of war and crime, of domestic and international threats, this rise of a new aggressive totalitarian state from the rubble of the last war – is the new normal, and it’s not going to change for a very, very long time. There are no quick solutions: we need to settle in for the long haul.
That being the case, we have to figure out methods of dealing with persistent conflict.
I see no alternative to a larger, more intense, conventional war against Isis than the one currently being contemplated…
Do you see that children? That’s called “paradigm-creation.” The topic for discussion is evidently intended to be “how do we deal with persistent conflict?” The question of why the persistent conflict is happening, or who is funding these “aggressive new totalitarian states” is NOT part of the agenda, and is being excised from our collective conscious. All we need to know is:
Isis is an escalating threat that’s growing and worsening.
We do not need to worry our little heads about what this entity called “ISIS” actually is, how plausible the clownish stories of its super-villain powers are. Nor are we supposed to waste a single moment asking who is picking up its not inconsiderable tab. What matters is that Syria and Iraq are “problems” (never mind why or how) and that “greater western involvement would mitigate all these problems” (because that is what western involvement does – ask Libya). Most importantly, the US needs to get over its scruples and do more:
…US passivity and reluctance to target Assad (though his regime kills more people than Isis) makes many Syrians wary of joining the “moderate” rebels.
“US passivity and reluctance”? Really, Dave? What about the article in the Washington Times claiming the US state department lied about Syrian chemical attacks in order to fabricate a reason for attacking Assad? And what about this article at Global Research which alleges the US is actually targeting the Syrian government- not ISIS – with its current air strikes.
I’m left wondering – is Assad really any worse than the dreadful and medieval Saudis? He certainly seems to be pretty popular in Syria, where they apparently have a different take on things (but Dave doesn’t bother to tell us that). If we in the west have no problem with murderous tyrants, why do we have a problem with Assad? Is it because he isn’t our murderous tyrant?
Is the US really out there in Syria trying (but inexplicably failing) to defeat ISIS? Or is it happy to aid and abet ISIS in doing the dirty work it tried and failed to do itself? If Dave gets his way and we launch a “more intense conventional war” in Syria, will our soldiers’ lives and our taxes really be spent on defeating ISIS or is that just a shallow ruse to enable the US to finally go in and get Assad?
Is “perpetual conflict” really something we should all just accept as inevitable and leave it to people like Dave to sort out? Or is it something we should be resisting and interrogating at every level and at every opportunity?
Nah. Never mind. None of this matters. Let’s just keep it simple. The message is:
1. Persistent conflict is the new normal
2. There is no need to ask why.
Everyone got that?
What is exactly stopping a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine?
By this time, it should be obvious that the west does not want a conflict in Ukraine to be resolved any time soon. If that were the case, it would apply pressure to both parties of the conflict: the government in Kiev and the separatists in Donbas. Instead, the west applies pressure to the third party: the Russian government, admittedly the separatists’ best friend and supplier, but not the one that has direct stakes in the conflict at hand.
Let us recount those stakes. For Kiev: territorial integrity, full sovereignty over Donbas, and the right to determine its foreign policies independently from external influences (or so the government spokespersons in Kiev say).
For Donbas: linguistic and cultural autonomy, elements of a robust home rule, the right to preserve a privileged relationship with the Russian Federation, and amnesty to the local separatist leaders and militiamen.
Does Russia have stakes separate from any of these? Not that I know of. Putin keeps repeating the separatists’ demands: an amnesty, local autonomy; full implementation of the Minsk agreements. In spite of what we hear so often in the west, there are no separate demands presumably infringing on Ukraine’s sovereignty; Russia says nothing about whether Ukraine should or should not join the EU, should or should not claim Donbas as its own, should or should not be friendly with Russia itself. Yes, the Kremlin would be extremely disappointed were Ukraine to join NATO. Even so, the Kremlin has more than once assured the world it did not claim to have a veto over Ukraine’s foreign policy choices.
All the same, demanding that Russia seal the border and stop the influx of volunteers into the conflict zone is extremely unrealistic. Putin staked his reputation on support of Russia’s so-called compatriots in the near abroad; his abandoning those compatriots to the gallows would sink his presidency.
What is, then, the solution and is it even possible?
It seems the solution is possible, and it has been clearly defined in the Minsk agreements. The problem is, Kiev does not want to implement them, and therefore protracts the conflict.
Firstly, the promised amnesty to the separatists has never been announced. Ukraine’s pundits are musing over who should be pardoned and who should not. Those with blood on their hands should not be pardoned, seems to be the common wisdom. Not a word about the blood of civilians in Donbas killed in the process of carrying out Kiev’s so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation. With such an attitude, the choice facing the Donbas militia leaders seems to be simple: continue fighting or face imprisonment (or worse) at the hand of the Ukrainian authorities. Why are we surprised they keep fighting?
Secondly, the Minsk agreements called for extensive home rule provisions for Donbas, and for a requisite change in the Constitution of Ukraine.
None of this seems to be in the works. The latest proposal on changes to the Constitution of Ukraine, dated July 1, 2015, has nothing about a special status for the affected regions of Donbas beyond a fuzzy promise – in the law, not in the Constitution itself – that the ‘special modalities of local governance in separate regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasti will be determined by a separate law’. This is not what the Government of Ukraine promised its partners when talking about the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Thirdly, the Minsk Agreements call for the ‘linguistic self-definition’ of the affected regions or, in short, the right to continue using Russian as the language of daily communication and local governance. Official Kiev keeps quiet on the issue.
Finally, according to the Minsk agreements, Ukraine should support social and economic development of the affected regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In the meantime, since November 2014, no pensions have been paid to the retired Ukrainian citizens living in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Although Kiev has not begun implementing even the first basic point of the Minsk agreements (the ‘immediate and comprehensive cease-fire’ in Donbas), the west seems to be fully okay with that. Well, the separatists fire on Ukraine’s positions, the Ukrainian army should return fire, so goes the conventional explanation.
What if the Ukrainian army didn’t return fire? Would it risk losing an inch more territory? The answer is far from obvious, yet the the regular army continues using heavy artillery in densely populated civilian areas in Donbas (and killing unarmed civilians in the process). This fact alone should have moved Ukraine’s western sponsors to an obvious course of action: press the Ukrainian government to stop abusing human rights of its own citizens in eastern Ukraine.
It is almost exactly a year since Human Rights Watch, in an open communication to President Poroshenko, lamented the actions of the Ukrainian army and the pro-government militias, in particular the shelling of a hospital in Krasny Liman and air strikes in the villages of Luhanskaya and Kondrashevka.
In January and February 2015, government forces (and the separatists) used widely banned cluster munitions to attack rebels; earlier, the use of incendiary weapons in densely populated areas was documented. By July 2015, more than 6,500 people have died as a result of the conflict; close to 3,500 of them civilians. More than 16,000 have been wounded; close to 1.4 million people internally displaced. At least 660,000 Ukrainian refugees came to Russia.
The civil war in Ukraine has generated a humanitarian catastrophe that can only be resolved with the joint efforts of all parties concerned, the USA and the EU included. It goes without saying, Kiev should be prepared to sit together at the same table with separatist leaders and offer them some concessions before any deal can be reached.
Instead, Kiev promises an amnesty after the elections, and a law on the status of territories after Ukraine’s full control over its eastern borders is restored. To many an observer inside and outside, this must look like deceiving one’s opponent and negotiating in bad faith. Yet western powers stand firm in their resolve to lay all the blame for the failure of the Minsk agreement at Russia’s feet.
Last month, at the G-7 meeting in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, western powers agreed to keep sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk agreements are implemented in full. The Canadian government went further than the rest of the G-7 nations, having decided not only to keep, but to expand the sanctions with the blacklisting of Gazprom, its oil subsidiary Gazprom Neft, Russia’s state-owned Transneft and a major oil producer Surgutneftegaz. In addition, Canada decided to sanction a conservative nationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin and Eurasian Youth Union, a non-governmental organization known for its pro-Putin views.
All of this looks more than somewhat one-sided given a recent revelation that Canada’s embassy in Kiev was used as a base for anti-government protesters to re-group and re-cuperate during the Maidan uprising that toppled former president Viktor Yanukovych.
As for Canada’s big brother, the United States, it has publicly admitted spending $5.1 billion to support democracy-building programs in Ukraine since 1992. While western champions of democracy have proudly claimed their right to interfere in internal affairs of a sovereign country for the sake of a regime change when it suited their interests, they do surprisingly little to stop continuing human rights abuses committed by Ukraine government troops and far-right militias in the pro-Russian Donbas.
If the Minsk agreements are ever to be implemented in full, there is no other way but for all sides to follow the agreed-upon commitments.
This includes, first and foremost, the immediate cessation of artillery barrages targeting Donbas cities and villages; further, the unequivocal and unconditional declaration of an amnesty for the Donbas fighters; and finally, a provision for Donbas autonomy enshrined into the Constitution of Ukraine before – not after – any local elections will be allowed to happen.
Only such a range of measures will ensure full withdrawal of Russian volunteers from Donbas, and Russian regular forces from the Russo-Ukrainian borderlands.
Only such a gambit will restore peace and a hope of prosperity to the whole of Ukraine. It is not Moscow, or Donetsk, or Luhansk that should make a first move. It is fully up to Kiev to choose between war and peace in Ukraine’s south east.