In Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, the philosopher delivered his summarization of the writings of Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas thusly, “Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”
American foreign policy is determined in much the same fashion. Valuable objects are desired. Noble justifications are manufactured. Trusting populations are deceived. War is made. Empires do their special pleading on a global scale. For instance, the U.S. and its allies know precisely how they want to portray the Ukrainian conflict to their deluded Western populations. They need only apply the false flags and fashion the nefarious motives—like so many brush strokes—to the canvas of geopolitics.
Both the government and their corporate media vassals know their conclusions in advance. They are simple: Russia is the aggressor; America is the defender of freedom; and NATO is a gallant security force that must counter Moscow’s bellicosity. As the chief pleader in the construction of this fable, the Obama administration has compiled a litany of lies about the conflict that it disseminates almost daily to its press flacks.
One lie is that Putin has a feverishly expansionist foreign policy. No evidence exists for this claim, repeated ad nauseum in the West. The annexation of Crimea hardly seems like an example of such a policy. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine. Russia was quite content with its long-term agreements with Kiev over the stationing of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. It was the Kiev putsch that forced its hand.
There are plenty of signals that Putin has sent a stream of conscripts across the border to battle alongside the besieged “rebel separatists” in the East of Ukraine. But is this a crime of imperialism, sending soldiers to defend communities of ethnic peers under attack? Seems a difficult argument to make.
Moreover, Moscow has long stated that it wouldn’t permit NATO bases on its border—a purely defensive stance. The West knows this, but that is precisely its plan. It also surely knew that by capsizing Kiev and installing a few Westernized technocrats, it would provoke Russia into taking Crimea rather than sacrifice its Black Sea outpost. This cynical baiting permitted Washington to frame its aggression as self-defense, and Moscow’s self-defense as aggression. For context, consider how the U.S. might react if China suddenly toppled Mexico City using local drug lords with the aim of stationing hypersonic glide missiles in Tijuana. For once, Washington’s contempt for diplomacy would be justified.
Another lie is that we know Russia was behind the downing of MH17. Obama repeated this outlandish claim in the pulpit of the United Nations, no less. No proof exists, but plenty of circumstantial evidence seriously undermines the charge—missing air traffic controller (ATC) transcripts, the absence of satellite evidence of Buk anti-aircraft missile launchers in rebel territory, shelling traces on cockpit material, and Ukrainian ATC worker tweets pointing the finger at Kiev, and so on. Yet within hours of the crash, Barack Obama had told the world that Russian-backed separatists were responsible, and that Moscow must be punished. Nobody owns the narrative better than the USA.
A third lie is that the toppling of Viktor Yanukovych was a democratic uprising. Interesting how these always seem to occur wherever America has “strategic interests” in peril. Only then does the fever for representative government seize upon the minds of the rabble. Setting fantasy aside, the most reasonable conclusion, judging not least by admissions from Victoria Nuland and Obama himself, is that the U.S. engineered a coup using fascist thugs in the vanguard, and false flag shootings to drive Yanukovych into hurried exile. Odd how it all occurred when Yanukovych, after prevaricating for a time, discarded his association agreement with the EU for a better Russian offer. (Note likewise how Syria erupted in violence immediately following Bashar al-Assad’s decision to reject a Western-backed Qatari pipeline deal in favor of an Iranian one. In both cases, the inciting incidents were examples of an imperial province defying the diktats of Rome.)
A fourth lie is that Western sanctions against Russia are merited, since they are based on Russian aggression. However, a State Department run by his rhetorical eminence, Secretary of State John Kerry, would never phrase it so bluntly. Instead, we were informed that Russia was being chastened for “violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and because it had worked to, “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.” One can just imagine the media flacks in speechless submission as this decree was sonorously recited from on high. None of this puffery removes the fact that the coup was a contemptuous move to bring NATO to the edges of Russia.
My, how the media lemmings fall in line with the official rhetoric. Dutiful to a fault, Western corporate media have performed their servile tasks with aplomb this month. A Thursday Times edition earlier in the month led with the headline, “U.S. and Europe working to end Ukraine fighting.” Saturday morning’s edition led with “U.S. faults Russia as combat spikes in East Ukraine.” A lead in the Economist put it rather more bluntly, “Putin’s war on the West.” Beneath the headline was a Photoshopped image of the Russian President, looking resolute, hand extended with puppet strings dangling from each digit. The op-ed pages of the Washington Post teemed with vitriol, continuing efforts to portray Obama as a latter-day Neville Chamberlain, arch appeaser of transparent tyrants. The “alarmingly passive” White House should be more concerned about how “to keep Vladimir Putin in line.”
This isn’t nuanced propaganda. It isn’t hedging or garden variety bias. It’s flat-out mendacity. Surely these publications have, as none of the rest of us does, the resources to know that the United States, trailed by its milquetoast EU lackeys, is trying to provoke a conflict between nuclear powers in eastern Ukraine. It either wants Russia to quit backing eastern rebels and permit NATO to establish bases on its border, or allow itself to be drawn into a resource-sapping proxy war. The end goal of the former is to divide Moscow from Europe. The goal of the latter is to vastly diminish the federation’s capacity to support its Shiite and Alawite allies in the Middle East, all of who stand in the way of Washington’s feverish dream of regional hegemony. Neither option holds much hope for residents of Donetsk, Luhansk and the surrounding oblasts, or provinces.
Yet the Times leads the Western world in disseminating, in every Starbuck’s in America, the folderol that our high-minded, hand-wringing, and munificent leaders are pursuing peace. This despite the unquenchable imperial ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will not cease his provocations until he has resurrected the former glory of the Soviet Union, circa the Stalin era. How soon before the term “Hun” starts circulating? We’ve already got warmongering Senators releasing fake photos and cantankerously arguing that Obama is weak in the face of a world-historical threat.
Howitzers for Peace
Despite hysterical claims that Obama is a dove and tremulous fears that Putin will roll unopposed across the European mainland, the U.S. Congress approved new sanctions on Russia just before Christmas. The Orwellian, “Ukraine Freedom and Support Act” was intended to make sure that Vladimir Putin, “pays for his assault on freedom and security in Europe,” according to co-author of the bill, Senator Larry Corker, the Republican who will soon chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But what are sanctions without a little lethal aid thrown in? The bill also provided $350 million in such aid to Kiev. That means “anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries, fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.”
Now President Obama, tired of the pretense of diplomacy, is said to be weighing a recommendation from the always-helpful Brookings Institute to speed some $3 billion more in military aid to Kiev, including missiles, drones and armored Humvees. Look at this stern-faced collection of the pale and pious, spines erect as they advocate more slaughter in East Ukraine, where the U.N. has condemn both sides of the conflict—Western-backed Ukrainian government and the Russian-supported Novorossiya Army in the East—of indiscriminate shelling, which no doubt accounts for the hundreds of civilian deaths in just the last few weeks. A million have already fled to Russia as shelling from their own nation’s army has destroyed power and medical infrastructure, one of the first steps toward the impoverishment of a region. Couple that physical distress with the economic stress being implemented through Kiev’s agreement with the European Union.
The U.S. has also promised energy aid to Kiev to counter—as the media generally puts it—Russian threats to cut gas supplies. It is rarely noted that Kiev has refused to pay or even schedule payments on its $2 billion past-due invoice on previous deliveries. This is no doubt a Western prescription or precondition of assistance.
Note the staggering disparities here. Kiev owes Russia $2 billion in back payments. Vice President Joe Biden promises $50 million in energy relief, none of which will make it to Moscow. Then the president weighs in with $350 million in military aid and contemplates a staggering $3 billion more. He also offers a piddling $7 million for humanitarian purposes alongside some 46 million in the same bill for border security and the like.
That’s some $3.35 billion to further destroy a fractured Ukrainian society and $57 million to help repair it. Forgive me for being obtuse, but how is this peacemaking? Yet Secretary of State Kerry, Senator John McCain and others in Congress have continuously cast the conflict in defensive terms, producing all manner of fabrication to support the conceit. In the next sound byte, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance wants to double its Response Force to some 30,000 troops. France’s Hollande has called for Ukrainian entry into NATO.
Peace Before the Thaw?
Amid all this belligerent posturing, cameras crisply flashed when Angela Merkel and Francoise Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko concluded a second Minsk ceasefire agreement last week, implemented Sunday. It was perhaps a last ditch effort by a temporizing EU to prevent a vicious proxy war, or possibly more insincere diplomatic posturing to provide cover for Western aggression. In any event, Washington was notably absent, but surely it loomed large over the meetings. The core points of the accord include a withdrawal of heavy weapons behind the nominal buffer zone; amnesty for prisoners; withdrawal of foreign militias and disarming of illegal groups; decentralization of areas controlled by Novorossiya Armed Forces, supposedly in the form of constitutional reform; but also Ukrainian control of the Russian border by year’s end. Despite the agreement, the battle for city of Debaltseve continued, with the rebels—or “terrorists” in Kiev parlance—finally emerging victorious yesterday and driving the Ukrainian Army into retreat.
Betting on peace isn’t a smart call in this circumstance. Already radical voices have flared up in Kiev and also in rebel circles declaring their contempt for the agreement. None of the contracting parties in Minsk seem to have control over these groups. Poroshenko himself said he agreed to the first Minsk agreement to let his troops regroup, and he has evidently refused the stipulation of constitutional reform this time around. Nor has Washington shown any serious interest in implementing a peace plan. In fact, the financial outlay by the White House suggests this is no token conflict, but part of a larger imperial strategy that many pundits claim doesn’t exist.
But it does. Look at Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s strategic master plan, laid out in his book The Grand Chessboard, among others. Then see how that plan found its apostles in the neoconservative movement, re-articulated in Paul Wolfowitz’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance for the Clinton administration, and later in the Bush administration’s madcap blueprint for reshaping the Middle East. As ever, the objective is full-spectrum dominance, an arcadia or nightmare, depending on which side of the imperial fence you find yourself.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will “launch a campaign of undercover attacks to destabilise the Baltic states on Nato’s eastern flank”, the Telegraph reports today – along with all other mainstream news media.
How do we know this? Because the UK’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said so. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia watch out – the Russian peril is fast coming your way.
“There are lots of worries”, Fallon told the newspaper. “I’m worried about Putin. There’s no effective control of the border, I’m worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO, the submarines and aircraft … They are modernising their conventional forces, they are modernising their nuclear forces and they are testing NATO, so we need to respond.”
Covert attack by Russia on the Baltic states is “a very real and present danger”, Fallon insisted. Now where did we hear that before? Ah yes. On 16th December 1998 President Bill Clinton said that that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein presented “a clear and present danger” to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere.
We all know where that led: the Iraq war followed a few years later. We also know that the claim was a monstrous untruth: Saddam had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. So why should we believe Fallon now? Where is his evidence? He has none. When you already know the truth, who needs evidence?
Fallon – and NATO – should keep their eyes on the ball
But while Fallon’s attention is focused on the imaginary threat to the Baltic states, there is another country that really could be ‘at risk’ – and not because of cyber-attack, invasion by ‘green men’ or a campaign of destabilisation emanating from the Kremlin.
No, the EU, the European Central Bank, the IMF and European finance ministers have already been doing all the destabilisation that’s needed – forcing Greece into a deep programme of austerity that has seen the economy shrink by 25% over five years, the closure of vital public services, mass unemployment and the forced sell-off of public assets.
And now the Greeks – and their newly elected Syriza government – have had enough. This week the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras flatly refused to renew the €240 billion ‘bailout’ package, which comes with all the austerity strings, and he today advanced proposals for a ‘six-month assistance package’ free of harsh conditions to give Greece time to renegotiate its debt.
The standoff continues, and will be decided tomorrow by EU finance ministers. It’s not looking good: Germany has already stated that the Greek proposal “does not meet the conditions”. But if the finance minsters don’t agree, then what?
You guessed it: Tsipras will turn to Russia. Earlier this month Tsipras and Putin agreed on a range of bilateral ties, including the construction of a pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas from the Turkish border across Greece to the other countries of southern Europe.
This follows the re-routing of the ‘South Stream’ pipeline, which had been due to cross Bulgaria but was effectively blocked by the EU’s retrospective application of energy market rules, under heavy pressure from the USA. Last November and December Putin negotiated the pipeline’s realignment across Turkey with Turkish President Erdogan – right up to the Greek border.
Following the agreement between Putin and Tsipras, which came complete with an invitation to Moscow on Victory over the Nazis day, 9th May, the pipeline link to the major countries of southern Europe is now complete, at least on paper. And once it’s built, Greece will effectively control – and profit from – that gas supply, and take a strategic position in Europe’s energy landscape.
But Greece is a NATO member!
Greece’s increasingly warm relationship with Russia is already causing concern among other EU and NATO countries. German Defense Minister Ursula von Der Leyen has said that Greece was “putting at risk its position in the NATO alliance with its approach to Russia.”
This provoked a fierce retort from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos who branded the attack as “unacceptable and extortionate” – noting that “Greece was always on the side of the Allies when they pushed back German occupation troops.”
“Statements that replace the EU and NATO’s institutional bodies are unacceptable as blackmailing”, he added. “They undermine the European institutions except if Germany’s aim is to dissolve the European Union and the NATO.”
So if Tsipras’s refinancing proposal is refused tomorrow will Greece quit NATO and the EU, to join the Eurasian Union? Not if Mr Putin gets his way: Greece is worth much more to Russia as an ally within the EU and NATO than outside – where it can veto more trade sanctions against Russia, block the TTIP and CETA trade deals with the USA and Canada, and oppose NATO’s increasing belligerence from within.
But we could see Greece simply renouncing its manifestly unpayable and unjust €320 billion national debt, and quitting the Eurozone straitjacket – while receiving an emergency liquidity package from Russia to support the launch of the New Drachma.
In fact, we could see a re-run of important elements of the Ukraine play of December 2013, when Russia offered a support package under which it would buy $15 billion in bonds from Ukraine, supporting its collapsing currency, and supply it with deeply discounted gas – £268 per cubic metre rather than the maarket price of $400.
A $15 billion purchase of New Drachma denominated Greek bonds would be a superb launch for Greece’s new currency, and would firmly cement Greece’s long term alliance with Russia, providing it with a valuable long term bridgehead into both the EU and NATO.
This move would also give inspiration and confidence to progressive political movements across Europe that take inspiration from Syriza’s fight for economic justice – in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, the UK and beyond – and bear the powerful message: there is an alternative.
And while NATO, the EU, the USA and their loyal servants, among them the UK’s Michael Fallon, deliberately whip up a fictitious threat in the Baltic, ignoring the real danger they face to the south, the masterly Mr Putin would once again make fools of them all.
Ukraine has agreed to increase the cost of gas to consumer by 280 percent, and 66 percent for heating, as part of the IMF terms for getting extra financial aid, says Valery Gontareva the head of the National Bank of Ukraine.
“From now on, in accordance with our joint program with the IMF, the tariffs will see rather a sharp increase of 280 percent for gas and about 66 percent for heat,” said Gontareva Wednesday during the 11th Dragon Capital investment conference in Kiev. She added that as a result inflation will be 25-26 percent by the end of 2015.
The tariff rises are part of the amendments to the 2015 budget the government has had to introduce in order to receive an $8.5 billion loan from the IMF by the end of the year.
The changes will also see Ukraine’s budget deficit growing to 4.1 percent of GDP and forecasts a 5.5 percent decline in the Ukrainian economy.
Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk had warned of future price rises for gas and heating, and stressed the IMF saved Ukraine from default, and now it’s time to make moves which should eventually result in Ukraine’s complete independence from Russian gas.
The tariff increase was among the subjects Ukraine and the IMF touched upon during negotiations in January. Deputy Chairman of the Ukraine parliament’s budget committee Viktor Krivenko said the IMF had requested a sevenfold increase in prices.
The head of IMF Christine Lagarde said on February 12 that the preliminary agreement reached between Kiev and Western creditors envisages increasing the aid package to $40 billion over the next four years.
The program will help Ukraine receive an additional $25 billion in financial aid, of which $17.5 billion will be provided to stabilize the financial situation in the country.
The latest IMF program will replace the $17 billion package agreed in April 2014. Ukraine has already received $4.5 billion under that agreement, thus the total IMF loans to Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis amount to $22 billion.
The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a Russia-drafted resolution to support the Minsk agreements, reached by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine last week.
The resolution was submitted to the UNSC by Russia on February 13, a day after the Minsk deal was agreed on. It is aimed at endorsing and executing the Minsk agreements. The document also expresses concern over the continuing violence in eastern Ukraine, and stresses the importance of resolving the conflict peacefully.
“After the unprecedented diplomatic efforts last week, Ukraine has a chance to turn a dramatic page in its history,” said Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, who expressed “gratitude” towards the other parties for endorsing the document.
Moscow would aid “in full” the realization of the agreement, he added.
The resolution calls for a “total ceasefire” and a “political solution” that respects the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
The plan, hammered out during 16-hour negotiations on February 12, stipulates the comprehensive ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline, an all-for-all prisoner exchange, and passage for humanitarian aid convoys.
In the medium turn, the Minsk peace plan calls for the withdrawal of any “foreign troops” and “mercenaries” from the conflict zone, general amnesty for the rebels and the OSCE using its drone fleet and monitors on the ground to ensure the implementation of agreements. It also provides for handing back of the border controls of the Ukrainian government, and lifting of the economic blockade that Kiev imposed on the eastern regions.
Eventually, the treaty proposes new elections in eastern Ukraine and a decentralization that would grant more power to the rebel regions.
Read more: The Minsk ceasefire deal, point by point
Reprieve | February 17, 2015
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has today confirmed its judgement that Poland actively assisted the CIA’s European “black site” programme, which saw detainees held and tortured in secret prisons across the Continent.
In July 2014, the ECHR had ruled that Poland “facilitated” the torture, secret detention and unlawful transfer of Abu Zubaydah, who is now held in Guantanamo Bay.
Mr Zubaydah was flown from a secret site in Thailand to another CIA prison in Stare Kiejkuty in northern Poland, where he was detained and tortured during 2002 and 2003. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) detailed in its recent report how Mr Zubaydah was subjected to torture numerous times by the CIA, before the Agency concluded that he was not a member of al Qaeda at all.
Today’s ruling by the ECHR confirms its 2014 judgement and rejects a request by Poland to refer it to its Grand Chamber for potential reconsideration.
The 2014 judgment described the evidence that Mr Zubaydah was detained in Poland as “coherent, clear and categorical,” and ruled that it was “inconceivable” that Poland was unaware of his mistreatment. It concluded that “Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring.”
Kat Craig, legal director at human rights charity Reprieve, said: “The Court’s decision today is a crucial step forward for justice and accountability over the European role in the US torture programme. Poland’s attempts to avoid responsibility were rightly refused – it’s now time for the Polish authorities to admit their complicity in renditions, take their investigations seriously, and come clean about how they allowed these abuses on Polish soil.”
The fate of Ukraine is now shifting from the military battlefield back to the arena that counts most: that of international finance. Kiev is broke, having depleted its foreign reserves on waging war that has destroyed its industrial export and coal mining capacity in the Donbass (especially vis-à-vis Russia, which normally has bought 38 percent of Ukraine’s exports). Deeply in debt (with €3 billion falling due on December 20 to Russia), Ukraine faces insolvency if the IMF and Europe do not release new loans next month to pay for new imports as well as Russian and foreign bondholders.
Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko announced on Friday that she hopes to see the money begin to flow in by early March. But Ukraine must meet conditions that seem almost impossible: It must implement an honest budget and start reforming its corrupt oligarchs (who dominate in the Rada and control the bureaucracy), implement more austerity, abolish its environmental protection, and make its industry “attractive” to foreign investors to buy Ukraine’s land, natural resources, monopolies and other assets, presumably at distress prices in view of the country’s recent devastation.
Looming over the IMF loan is the military situation. On January 28, Christine Lagarde said that the IMF would not release more money as long as Ukraine remains at war. Cessation of fighting was to begin Sunday morning. But Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh announced that his private army and that of the Azov Battalion will ignore the Minsk agreement and fight against Russian-speakers. He remains a major force within the Rada.
How much of Ukraine’s budget will be spent on arms? Germany and France made it clear that they oppose further U.S. military adventurism in Ukraine, and also oppose NATO membership. But will Germany follow through on its threat to impose sanctions on Kiev in order to stop a renewal of the fighting? For the United States bringing Ukraine into NATO would be the coup de grace blocking creation of a Eurasian powerhouse integrating the Russian, German and other continental European economies.
The Obama administration is upping the ante and going for broke, hoping that Europe has no alternative but to keep acquiescing. But the strategy is threatening to backfire. Instead of making Russia “lose Europe,” the United States may have overplayed its hand so badly that one can now think about the opposite prospect. The Ukraine adventure could turn out to be the first step in the United States losing Europe. It may end up splitting European economic interests away from NATO, if Russia can convince the world that the epoch of armed occupation of industrial nations is a thing of the past and hence no real military threat exists – except for Europe being caught in the middle of Cold War 2.0.
For the U.S. geopolitical strategy to succeed, it would be necessary for Europe, Ukraine and Russia to act against their own potential economic self-interest. How long can they be expected to acquiesce in this sacrifice? At what point will economic interests lead to a reconsideration of old geo-military alliances and personal political loyalties?
This is becoming urgent because this is the first time the EU has been faced with such war on its own borders (if we except Yugoslavia). Where is the advantage for Europe supporting one of the world’s most corrupt oligarchies north of the Equator?
America’s Ukrainian adventure by Hillary’s appointee Victoria Nuland (kept on and applauded by John Kerry), as well as by NATO, is forcing Europe to commit itself to the United States or pursue an independent line. George Soros (whose aggressive voice is emerging as the Democratic Party’s version of Sheldon Adelson) recently urged (in the newly neocon New York Review of Books) that the West give Ukraine $50 billion to re-arm, and to think of this as a down payment on military containment of Russia. The aim is the old Brzezinski strategy: to foreclose Russian economic integration with Europe. The assumption is that economic alliances are at least potentially military, so that any power center raises the threat of economic and hence political independence.
The Financial Times quickly jumped on board for Soros’s $50 billion subsidy. When President Obama promised that U.S. military aid would be only for “defensive arms,” Kiev clarified that it intended to defend Ukraine all the way to Siberia to create a “sanitary cordon.”
First Confrontation: Will the IMF Loan Agreement try to stiff Russia?
The IMF has been drawn into U.S. confrontation with Russia in its role as coordinating Kiev foreign debt refinancing. It has stated that private-sector creditors must take a haircut, given that Kiev can’t pay the money its oligarchs have either stolen or spent on war. But what of the €3 billion that Russia’s sovereign wealth fund loaned Ukraine, under London rules that prevent such haircuts? Russia has complained that Ukraine’s budget makes no provision for payment. Will the IMF accept this budget as qualifying for a bailout, treating Russia as an odious creditor? If so, what kind of legal precedent would this set for sovereign debt negotiations in years to come?
International debt settlement rules were thrown into a turmoil last year when U.S. Judge Griesa gave a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the pari passu clause with regard to Argentina’s sovereign debts. The clause states that all creditors must be treated equally. According to Griesa (uniquely), this means that if any creditor or vulture fund refuses to participate in a debt write-down, no such agreement can be reached and the sovereign government cannot pay any bondholders anywhere in the world, regardless of what foreign jurisdiction the bonds were issued under.
This bizarre interpretation of the “equal treatment” principle has never been strictly applied. Inter-governmental debts owed to the IMF, ECB and other international agencies have not been written down in keeping with private-sector debts. Russia’s loan was carefully framed in keeping with London rules. But U.S. diplomats have been openly – indeed, noisily and publicly – discussing how to “stiff” Russia. They even have thought about claiming that Russia’s Ukraine loans (to help it pay for gas to operate its factories and heat its homes) are an odious debt, or a form of foreign aid, or subject to anti-Russian sanctions. The aim is to make Russia “less equal,” transforming the concept of pari passu as it applies to sovereign debt.
Just as hedge funds jumped into the fray to complicate Argentina’s debt settlement, so speculators are trying to make a killing off Ukraine’s financial corpse, seeing this gray area opened up. The Financial Times reports that one American investor, Michael Hasenstab, has $7 billion of Ukraine debts, along with Templeton Global Bond Fund. New speculators may be buying Ukrainian debt at half its face value, hoping to collect in full if Russia is paid in full – or at least settle for a few points’ quick run-up.
The U.S.-sponsored confusion may tie up Russia’s financial claims in court for years, just as has been the case with Argentina’s debt. At stake is the IMF’s role as debt coordinator: Will it insist that Russia take the same haircut that it’s imposing on private hedge funds?
This financial conflict is becoming a new mode of warfare. Lending terms are falling subject to New Cold War geopolitics. This battlefield has been opened up by U.S. refusal in recent decades to endorse the creation of any international body empowered to judge the debt-paying capacity of countries. This makes every sovereign debt crisis a grab bag that the U.S. Treasury can step in to dominate. It endorses keeping countries in the U.S. diplomatic orbit afloat (although on a short leash), but not countries that maintain an independence from U.S. policies (e.g., Argentina and BRICS members).
Looking forward, this position threatens to fracture global finance into a U.S. currency sphere and a BRICS sphere. The U.S. has opposed creation of any international venue to adjudicate the debt-paying capacity of debtor nations. Other countries are pressing for such a venue in order to save their economies from the present anarchy. U.S. diplomats see anarchy as offering an opportunity to bring U.S. diplomacy to bear to reward friends and punish non-friends and “independents.” The resulting financial anarchy is becoming untenable in the wake of Argentina, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other sovereign debtors whose obligations are unpayably high.
The IMF’s One-Two Punch leading to privatization sell-offs to rent extractors
IMF loans are made mainly to enable governments to pay foreign bondholders and bankers, not spend on social programs or domestic economic recovery. Sovereign debtors must agree to IMF “conditionalities” in order to get enough credit to enable bondholders to take their money and run, avoiding haircuts and leaving “taxpayers” to bear the cost of capital flight and corruption.
The first conditionality is the guiding principle of neoliberal economics: that foreign debts can be paid by squeezing out a domestic budget surplus. The myth is that austerity programs and cuts in public spending will enable governments to pay foreign-currency debts – as if there is no “transfer problem.”
The reality is that austerity causes deeper economic shrinkage and widens the budget deficit. And no matter how much domestic revenue the government squeezes out of the economy, it can pay foreign debts only in two ways: by exporting more, or by selling its public domain to foreign investors. The latter option leads to privatizing public infrastructure, replacing subsidized basic services with rent-extraction and future capital flight. So the IMF’s “solution” to the debt problem has the effect of making it worse – requiring yet further privatization sell-offs.
This is why the IMF has been wrong in its economic forecasts for Ukraine year after year, just as its prescriptions have devastated Ireland and Greece, and Third World economies from the 1970s onward. Its destructive financial policy must be seen as deliberate, not an innocent forecasting error. But the penalty for following this junk economics must be paid by the indebted victim.
In the wake of austerity, the IMF throws its Number Two punch. The debtor economy must pay by selling off whatever assets the government can find that foreign investors want. For Ukraine, investors want its rich farmland. Monsanto has been leasing its land and would like to buy. But Ukraine has a law against alienating its farmland and agricultural land to foreigners. The IMF no doubt will insist on repeal of this law, along with Ukraine’s dismantling of public regulations against foreign investment.
International finance as war
The Ukraine-IMF debt negotiation shows why finance has become the preferred mode of geopolitical warfare. Its objectives are the same as war: appropriation of land, raw materials (Ukraine’s gas rights in the Black Sea) and infrastructure (for rent-extracting opportunities) as well as the purchase of banks.
The IMF has begun to look like an office situated in the Pentagon, renting a branch office on Wall Street from Democratic Party headquarters, with the rent paid by Soros. His funds are drawing up a list of assets that he and his colleagues would like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the government they control. The buyout payments for partnership with the oligarchs will not stay in Ukraine, but will be moved quickly to London, Switzerland and New York. The Ukrainian economy will lose the national patrimony with which it emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991, still deeply in debt (mainly to its own oligarchs operating out of offshore banking centers).
Where does this leave European relations with the United States and NATO?
The two futures
A generation ago the logical future for Ukraine and other post-Soviet states promised to be an integration into the German and other West European economies. This seemingly natural complementarity would see the West modernize Russian and other post-Soviet industry and agriculture (and construction as well) to create a self-sufficient and prosperous Eurasian regional power. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently voiced Russia’s hope at the Munich Security Conference for a common Eurasian Union with the European Union extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok. German and other European policy looked Eastward to invest its savings in the post-Soviet states.
This hope was anathema to U.S. neocons, who retain British Victorian geopolitics opposing the creation of any economic power center in Eurasia. That was Britain’s nightmare prior to World War I, and led it to pursue a diplomacy aimed at dividing and conquering continental Europe to prevent any dominant power or axis from emerging.
America started its Ukrainian strategy with the idea of splitting Russia off from Europe, and above all from Germany. The U.S. playbook is simple: Any economic power is potentially military; and any military power may enable other countries to pursue their own interests rather than subordinating their policy to U.S. political, economic and financial aims. Therefore, U.S. geostrategists view any foreign economic power as a potential military threat, to be countered before it can gain steam.
We can now see why the EU/IMF austerity plan that Yanukovich rejected made it clear why the United States sponsored last February’s coup in Kiev. The austerity that was called for, the removal of consumer subsidies and dismantling of public services would have led to an anti-West reaction turning Ukraine strongly back toward Russia. The Maidan coup sought to prevent this by making a war scar separating Western Ukraine from the East, leaving the country seemingly no choice but to turn West and lose its infrastructure to the privatizers and neo-rentiers.
But the U.S. plan may lead Europe to seek an economic bridge to Russia and the BRICS, away from the U.S. orbit. That is the diplomatic risk when a great power forces other nations to choose one side or the other.
The silence from Hillary
Having appointed Valery Nuland as a holdover from the Cheney administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the hawks by likening Putin to Hitler. Meanwhile, Soros’s $10 million on donations to the Democratic Party makes him one of its largest donors. The party thus seems set to throw down the gauntlet with Europe over the shape of future geopolitical diplomacy, pressing for a New Cold War.
Hillary’s silence suggests that she knows how unpopular her neocon policy is with voters – but how popular it is with her donors. The question is, will the Republicans agree to not avoid discussing this during the 2016 presidential campaign? If so, what alternative will voters have next year?
This prospect should send shivers down Europe’s back. There are reports that Putin told Merkel and Holland in Minsk last week that Western Europe has two choices. On the one hand, it and Russia can create a prosperous economic zone based on Russia’s raw materials and European technology. Or, Europe can back NATO’s expansion and draw Russia into war that will wipe it out.
German officials have discussed bringing sanctions against Ukraine, not Russia, if it renews the ethnic warfare in its evident attempt to draw Russia in. Could Obama’s neocon strategy backfire, and lose Europe? Will future American historians talk of who lost Europe rather than who lost Russia?
Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is now available in a new edition with two bonus chapters on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached via email@example.com
 Fin min hopes Ukraine will get new IMF aid in early March – Interfax, http://research.tdwaterhouse.ca/research/public/Markets/NewsArticle/1664-L5N0VN2DO-1
5:40AM ET on Friday Feb 13, 2015 by Thomson Reuters
 “The west needs to rescue the Ukrainian economy,” Financial Times editorial, February 12, 2015.
 Elaine Moore, “Contrarian US investor with $7bn of debt stands to lose most if Kiev imposes haircut,” Financial Times, February 12, 2015.
What a lot of theatrical activity during the last days — Angela Merkel’s hasty trip to Kiev and Minsk (carrying Hollande as hand luggage), and then the appearances at the Munich “Security Conference” … truly a heroic effort to save peace? That at least is what we are expected to think.
But how realistic is this idea? Is that possibly what she honestly wants?
Actually there are simple criteria to test her interest in peace — sober, technical criteria.
One can assume that all European governments, including Ms Merkel’s, are well informed about the real situation in the Donbass. In public they talk about the ‘evil separatists’, but they do know that the Ukrainian army shells the cities. They know the extent of destruction and they know who is responsible. Why? Because OSCE delivers this information daily to their desks. Publicly the OSCE acts as though it is not capable of calculating from the remains of a rocket stuck in the ground the direction from which it came. The reality is different. We can assume that all the atrocities committed by the Ukranian regime throughout the last months are well known. That includes the humanitarian situation in the Donbass.
That means, they know the consequences a closure of the Russian border would have under the present conditions — that it would not only cut off military supplies for the militias, but also any humanitarian support by Russia. They know that such a step would be impossible, and that any reasonable person could consider it only if the menace from the other side were to disappear. That it would require a completely different government in Kiev, also where it’s military power is concerned. Recently a retired Russian General said it explicitly in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Don’t you Europeans understand that? Closing the border would mean the physical extermination of a significant part of the Donbass population.”
Throughout all these months just one single phrase could be heard from Merkel and Steinmeier regarding the Minsk agreement. Nothing about the continued shelling of Donbass cities. Nothing about the difficulties regarding the exchange of POWs. Nothing about the blockade of humanitarian assistance through Kiev. Nothing about the use of forbidden weapons. Nothing about Kiev’s refusal to discuss a line of demarkation, nothing about non-withdrawal of heavy armaments. Just one single phrase was repeated over and over again: Russia must close its border to the Donbass.
Did anything change? Did the position towards the Kiev junta change? You can listen to Merkel’s speech at the ‘Security Conference’ – no, there has been no change. Not by a single inch did she criticize the rulers of Kiev, never mind coming closer to any mention of the realities. Instead she explicitly repeated the demand that the border be closed . She still demands that the Donbass become a Gaza Strip on speed.
But she is against arms deliveries to Kiev. Couldn’t that be considered some kind of peaceful intent?
Not at all. She gives some reasons why she doesn’t want to take that step. First: it doesn’t make sense. More weapons won’t enable the junta to win. That’s a point where — exceptionally — she is right. Second: she says quite clearly she would give preference to economic warfare. That’s an area where the German government is truly experienced and successful; several European neighbour countries can tell the tale. Anyone who wants to know a bit more about the effects of German economic warfare should watch the Greek documentary Agora (which was broadcast by the German channel WDR on 05.02). Third (and this is what she actually said): there isn’t sufficient control over public opinion. (One can try to imagine on his/her own what that means regarding our remaining democratic rights; months of uninterrupted propaganda don’t seem sufficient to Ms Merkel, she demands more).
The arguments she cites in calling for “peaceful” alternatives, seem to be purely decorative. The West, she says, won the Cold War through persistence and because it offered “more prosperity to those who made more of an effort”. Even Ms. Merkel should realize that those times are gone and the promises of prosperity have been museum ripe for some time already.
At this point we must consider the same probability as we faced regarding the conflict situation in the Donbass. Ms Merkel may tell a certain story. But she must know better. She knows about the gigantic black hole of fictional capital which has been thrown at one country after the other. She knows what was done to the people of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and so on, in order to save the German banks. She was one of the people that arranged it. So she also knows that the attractiveness of the West is somewhat limited, to put it diplomatically. So these sentences are pure propaganda. It’s a game which cannot be repeated.
But if the idea, that she and her US allies could reach their goals by ‘peaceful means’ via a remake of the Cold War, is a fiction, and yet there seems to be no moving away from the goal of Russia’s submission, where is the difference between them and the USA?
That is the one thing she didn’t spell out.
Now, let’s take a short diversion. Some believe this ‘Security Conference’ trip was caused by fear. Merkel and Hollande had suddenly realized that they would not escape unscathed in a real war against Russia. They would try now to save their own skins (and possibly even ours).
It wasn’t only the interview in the Süddeutsche. Sometimes one gets the impression that the Russian side tries to explain very slowly three times to intellectually challenged people of Berlin the effects of what they are actually doing at the moment. I would consider the interview with Fedorov in this context — a kind of tedious pedagogic effort. Could it be that Merkel saw this video and became deeply frightened, when she heard that in case of a Ukrainian attack against Russia “Washington and Berlin would be burned to ashes”?
Well, some decades ago someone, after meeting Merkel — at that time minister of enviromental issues — commented that she is not any more intelligent than her appearance suggests. But it would need someone incapable to count up to three not to understand that we are talking about a real and massive risk of a nuclear war. This risk has existed since the day of the coup in Kiev, and we have escaped it twice already — through the reunification of the Crimea with Russia, and through the uprising in the Donbass, which has up to now prevented an attack of the junta against the Crimea.
So even if this specific question more or less escaped public attention until today, and now suddenly becomes so acute that even Der Spiegel remembers it, the leading players in Germany must have realised this tiny problem right from the start. (And they should have been able to imagine what it might mean if creatures like members of the Right Sector gained access to nuclear weapons, which might have happened, had their access to the Crimea not been blocked so promptly).
So let’s go back to what Merkel didn’t spell out.
She said Washington’s idea to deliver weapons would be foolish playing around without any practical use. She hinted at the possibility that ‘diplomatic efforts’ (the phrase used repeatedly for the same blackmailing) might be doomed to fail. She should know that the possibilities for economic warfare have far greater limitations than is apparent.
So what is left? Sending troops?
In that connection her remark about ‘hybrid warfare’ and her opinion that better control of public opinion is needed suddenly makes sense. For the installation of sanctions, the small amount of freedom of thought remaining outside of corporate media was not a menace. But the intention to send the residents of this country personally to the front, to the war zone, that could cause greater resistance — the people might develop foolish ideas.
She wants to win time, in order to strangle any opposition, and then to act in whatever way she thinks is efficient. Which goes much further than the delivery of weapons. But for that she first needs a ceasefire… somehow.
For months, Merkel and Obama seem to have been following a good cop/bad cop scenario. It looks about the same considering the Cease fire/Weapons delivery alternatives. But what guarantee is there that the one acting as the good cop is actually the good guy?
Right, there is none.
For those who believe the German government is being forced into this position — any politician who has a bit of experience is capable of saying one thing and meaning the opposite. He/she understands the technique of pinning undesirable statements onto others; also, how to counter one coercion by another one that they might have set in scene themselves. At all these levels it is as if nothing had happened. They intend it like that. There is no reason at all to let them escape responsibility.
PPS. In the sense that Fedorov in this case may be something like a semi-official channel in the interview, the nasty attack that Elmar Brock made against Lavrov at the Munich conference might be considered a semi-official attack by Merkel. Brock is the political mouthpiece of Bertelsmann, Germany’s big media corporation, and Bertelsmann-owner Liz Mohn is Merkel’s close friend. No wonder that Lavrov nearly lost patience at that moment.
At the moment of writing, the ink on the second Minsk agreement has not yet dried.
On February 15, fighting is supposed to come to an end in Ukraine. What are the chances for success of this agreement and what’s in it for the EU and Russia?
Are we on the path to a new peace or to a new cold/hot war? That is the question that will be on the minds of many in the days to come.
There are too many uncertain factors to reliably predict what will happen. The EU and the US have different agendas, and one can even make a case that they have conflicting interests.
For Russia, a peaceful resolution to the conflict means ending the sanctions and facilitating closer economic cooperation with the EU.
But tighter economic relations with Russia, the natural hinterland of Europe, goes against the core of the transatlantic NATO alliance. This has been a nightmare scenario for the Washington elite since 1945.
Pointedly, neither the US nor the UK were involved in the Minsk negotiations, so for Washington all options are still on the table. Considering the warmongering majority in the US Congress, that is not a good omen for peace.
Then there is the matter of the government in Kiev. Hardly ever mentioned in the news, it is far from stable. Extremist militias who do not bother to hide their fascist ideologies have been integrated into the Ukrainian army.
Considering their behaviour on the battlefield so far, it is very doubtful that Kiev will be able to make them abide by the ceasefire conditions.
Besides the extremists in their own ranks, the Kiev government faces another problem – young Ukrainian men in the west are bitterly resisting military conscription. This is not to say that they sympathize with their compatriots in the east – they just do not want to die fighting them.
Furthermore, there is the inner political struggle for power.
While President Petro Poroshenko is more than willing to find a pragmatic solution to the conflict, his prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, however, is a fanatic Ukrainian nationalist, who is not a man of compromise.
He wants total victory and would be more then happy to replace his president.
Then there are the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, the so-called ‘pro-Russian separatists’.
Western media make it look like they are mere pawns in Putin’s hands, but that is hardly the case.
Nobody denies that Russia is giving them ample logistic support, but the leaders of the resistance are very unreliable. Will they accept the ceasefire? Hard to tell.
First step toward peace
Yet, despite all these challenges, history shows that worse situations have led to lasting peace.
The second Minsk agreement might just work. It is only a first step, and a peaceful long-term resolution of the conflict is still to be negotiated, but it is the only way out for the EU, Russia and Ukraine.
One of the reasons it might just work is precisely that the EU alone brokered it, or rather Germany and France, and not the US. That might seem contradictory given the different variables mentioned above, but it’s not. It all depends on who and what will prevail.
The real issues are still on the table – disarmament and federalization of the country. If the EU really wants it, Brussels has the financial leverage to force Kiev’s hand in accepting a new constitution granting the eastern regions meaningful autonomy.
The EU has experience with forging complex compromise solutions. After all, the EU itself is a permanent compromise.
What is really at stake is much more than just an end to an internal conflict stoked by outside forces. A resumption of violence carries with it the risk of an all out war between nuclear powers.
This is about a possible major war on European soil.
Hence, peace is the only option for Europe and Russia.
Personally, I consider one of the last paragraphs in the Minsk agreement, which focuses on control of the border, the most difficult one.
Kiev wants to regain full control of the border between the eastern provinces and Russia. This may at first appear to be a technicality, but it isn’t. Control of the border is highly symbolic, for all parties involved.
Kiev’s control of the border would impede Russia’s direct influence on the ground; for the rebels it would symbolize a partial surrender. The only party that stands to gain from this paragraph in the agreement is Kiev, which would have been delivered a highly symbolic victory.
A reasonable option would be to deploy UN troops on the border. Russia has proposed it, but apparently it was not on the negotiating table in Minsk.
While the Cold War has prevented Europe and Moscow from peaceful coexistence on their common continent, peace in Ukraine might just open up the whole Russian hinterland to the European economy.
At the end, it boils down to two options: The renewal of the old transatlantic pact with the ally overseas leading to a new Cold War (that could turn very nasty), or peace and coexistence with Russia.
“Russian aggression” – the bad faith mantra of dishonest brokers
Just as NATO allies Germany and France were undertaking a peace initiative with Russia and Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry turned up in Kiev at the same time, seeking to poison the talks before they started by spouting yet again the ritual U.S. accusation of “Russian aggression.” The incantation is meaningless without context. Its purpose is mesmerize a false consciousness. “Russian aggression” may or may not exist in the events of the past year, just like “Russian self-defense.” Reporting on the ground has been too unreliable to support any firm analysis, never mind the provocative “Russian aggression” the U.S. brandishes as a virtual call for war.
Western aggression, political and diplomatic more than military, is a cold reality and has been for two decades. The West, and especially the U.S., has yet to accept responsibility for 20 years of anti-Russian aggression, much less pull back from such perennial hostility. The Obama administration (parts of it at least, given the incoherence of the “administration”) has acted as if its pulling off an only-slightly-violent coup in Kiev in 2014 was a grand triumph. Worse, having grabbed a government on Russia’s borders, the Obama hawks carry on as if the only reasonable choice for Russia is to accept the success of this Western aggression.
Rarely is this context acknowledged in discussions of the natural fissures in Ukraine that feed sectarian civil war. Rather the issues are over-simplified – falsified – by the U.S. Secretary of State, consistent with a hidden agenda of provoking a military confrontation (at the very least) with Russia and eastern Ukrainians. That’s the subtext that makes sense of Kerry’s otherwise seeming blithering in Kiev on February 5:
We talked about the largest threat that Ukraine faces today, and that is Russia’s continued aggression in the east. There’s no other way to call it. We’re not seeking a conflict with Russia. No one is. … The president is reviewing all of his options. Among those options, obviously, is the possibility of providing defensive — defensive — assistance to Ukraine. And those discussions are going on. The president will make his decision, I am confident, soon.
Note the lie: “We’re not seeking a conflict with Russia. No one is.”
When Kerry said that, he was lying, he almost surely knew he was lying, and the question is whether his lie represents only the rogue war-faction in the U.S., or is part of a dicey good-cop/bad-cop routine out of Washington. The only way it’s true that “we’re not seeking a conflict” is that the U.S. is already engaged in conflict with Russia, decades-long and currently escalating. The lie of not seeking a conflict already engaged is used to mask the lie of “defensive weapons,” a military-diplomatic oxymoron of long standing. So the most obvious answer to the question of who wants war in Ukraine is elements of the U.S. government whose immediate challenge is to persuade its Kiev client that it’s a good idea to risk turning its country into more of a battlefield than it already is.
Kiev’s desire is more obscure, and likely divided. Having taken power in something of a slow-motion coup d’etat last spring, the government faced a restive-to-defiant population in eastern Ukraine. Rather than seeking to negotiate legitimate grievances with the eastern region, the Kiev government chose instead to escalate quickly, from political hostilities into civil war. When that didn’t work out militarily, when Kiev started losing what it started, it agreed on September 5 to terms of a ceasefire that it then failed to honor with consistency (as did the separatists). Now the Ukrainian president has been to Moscow for early peace talks, but only after he staked out a preposterous public position seeking to win with a losing negotiating hand what Kiev has already lost on the ground.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande in Kiev on February 5 (when Kerry was in town but not part of the meeting). In his public statement, Poroshenko referred self-servingly to September’s Minsk Agreement signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the break-away Ukrainian states that call themselves the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk. The only other Minsk signatory was the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), giving the agreement the tacit endorsement of Europe without any individual European nation signing on. The United States was not directly involved in the Minsk Agreement, but a week later expressed its support for finding a peaceful solution by sending American troops to take part in NATO military exercises in Ukraine’s western provinces.
Understood in its actual context, Poroshenko’s February 5 statement is ludicrously disingenuous:
The Minsk plan is very simple: immediate ceasefire; releasing all the hostages; closing the border, or renew the internationally recognized border on Ukrainian (side); withdrawal all of the foreign troops from the Ukrainian territory; launching very important process of the political regulation by the election on the municipal election, local election, under Ukrainian legislation in the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk.
All signatories must take Minsk accord seriously to avoid war
It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t urge compliance with the Minsk Agreement, even if that means different things to different people. Neither side in Ukraine has come close to significant compliance for any length of time. Poroshenko calls for the ceasefire, but omits the international monitoring called for in the agreement. He calls for closing the border with Russia, which is NOT part of the agreement. When he calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops, he omits mention of NATO. When he refers to elections, he omits Kiev’s failure to pass the legislation it promised, and he omits the elections that have already been held in the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk [see “Election Note” at the end of this article]. Poroshenko also omits amnesty for separatists, improving humanitarian conditions in the region, and the recovery program, all of which are part of the Minsk Agreement.
Nevertheless, Poroshenko went to Moscow with his German and French colleagues to take part in peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin there on February 6, at Russia’s initiative. When similar talks had been proposed for mid-January, Chancellor Merkel had been instrumental in making sure they didn’t happen. This time her public posture going in was appropriately statesmanlike:
It is a question of peace and preserving the European peace order. It is a question of free self-determination of the people as part of this European peace order. And we are doing what we believe to be our duty at this time, namely trying to do everything in our power to end the bloodshed.
Merkel’s reference to “free self-determination” is diplomatically murky and allows for a wide range of possible solutions for the self-proclaimed Republics in eastern Ukraine, and even hints at a resolution for Crimea. Her focus on peace serves all the parties’ best interest, seeking to avoid a war that would, inevitably, cause much more suffering for Europe than the United States.
U.S. policy seems designed to turn Ukraine into the “European Iraq”
Presumably none of the parties meeting in Moscow on February 6 wants to see Ukraine become “another Iraq,” even if Ukraine is already part way there. Where Iraq had been a coherent, modern state with cultural cohesion despite its dictatorship, Ukraine has a long history of quasi-chaos, internal squabbling, and corruption. Where it took an American invasion and occupation to reduce Iraq to a near-failed state, the U.S. sees an opportunity now to manipulate proxies into destroying Ukraine (and even Russia) for the next generation or so.
Germany, France, Russia, and especially Ukraine must be acutely tuned to the potential horrors they face. After meeting for four hours, the parties were generally low key and discreet in what they said about the substance discussed. This reality produced European coverage by the BBC and others characterized by cautious hopefulness. U.S. media more typically characterized uncertainty as failure, offering the talismans of magical thinking and instant gratification in place of accuracy or analysis.
Whatever they were, the four-way talks in Moscow were not a failure. All sides called them “constructive,” which is diplo-speak for: there’s still a chance for a settlement. The parties are continuing the negotiations with apparent openness to a range of solutions. Hollande called this process “one of the last chances” to settle eastern Ukraine peacefully. Poroshenko has expressed hope for an early agreement to an “unconditional ceasefire” and one step toward reducing tensions. An unconditional ceasefire is beyond what was agreed to at Minsk in September, but creates no barrier to implementing the agreement later. Moscow’s tactful obliqueness leaving room for the parties to maneuver was in sharp contrast to the bloviating cries for war coming mostly from U.S. Senators and the vice-president at the simultaneous regional security gathering in Munich.
The lesson of Munich for 2015: “War in our time”?
Meeting for the 51st year in Munich during February 6-8, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) provided a setting for mostly U.S. hawks to try to undermine the chances for peace in Ukraine. Founded in 1963, the Munich conference identifies itself as
… a key annual gathering for the international ‘strategic community’… an independent forum dedicated to promoting peaceful conflict resolution and international cooperation and dialogue in dealing with today’s and future security challenges.
What the Munich conference seems to be is something of a foreign policy free-for-all to which almost anyone from anywhere can come and pontificate regardless of whether they hold any actual decision-making authority. The American delegation, including a dozen war-minded congress members, seems not to have gotten the memo about “promoting peaceful conflict resolution,” like the British lapdog also barking loudly for war.
Like any good multinational circus, the Munich show offered a variety of clown acts and sideshows to distract from the U.S. rush to war. The Turks decided not to take part rather than share a panel with Israelis. Non-office-holder Arnold Schwarzeneggar stumped to action on climate change. Some European Union members ganged up on Greece (again), this time for opposing some sanctions on Russia, while support for Greece (and peace) came from Cyprus, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic – most of which are closer to the likely war zone than those brave distant states ready to start a fight. In the Munich streets, some 2,000 peaceful protestors demonstrated against NATO, otherwise known as an American sphere of influence (if not a Trojan horse).
Joe Biden toes the official line, smoothly riffing on official lies
Other members of the American delegation included Kiev coup supporters Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, and assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, none of whom showed any public willingness to look at the realities of the present or the past 20 years. Like a good apparatchik of the American war party, Biden’s address to the conference included a subtle version of the requisite “Russian aggression” trope, along with 45 minutes of neo-Cold-War boilerplate propaganda. In one of the more hilarious highlights of this taken-very-seriously by the media speech, Biden quoted himself from the same conference in 2009:
Six years ago at this podium, I said and I quote, ‘To paraphrase President Obama, it is time to press the reset button and reinvest in the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia.’
That’s what everybody remembers. But they don’t often repeat what I then said.
I said, ‘We will also not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. We will remain — it will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their decisions and choose their own alliances.’
I meant it when I said it then, and America means it as I repeat it now.
The “reset button” rhetoric did not include changing U.S. support for the relentless push for NATO to include countries on Russia’s border, a form of blatant – and mindless – political aggression. NATO, the European Union, Europe itself are all U.S. spheres of influence, no matter what the Biden-shills of the world may say. Even as he lied sanctimoniously about spheres of influence in 2009, his country was engaging in its half-century of punishing Cuba for not being a loyal and subservient of the American hemisphere of influence.
And when Biden claimed, “it will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their decisions and choose their own alliances,” an honest audience would have laughed as derisively at that as the same audience laughed at perceived absurdity from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his address to the Munich conference.
Having destabilized Ukraine, the U.S. blames Russia for piling on
Remember how the present Ukraine crisis came about? In the fall of 2013, Ukraine was weighing a political, economic choice between a European proposal requiring exclusivity (and implying future NATO membership) and a somewhat more open Russian proposal (with no military alliance component). In Ukraine, as politically divided as ever, the western population yearned for Europe, the eastern population was content with Russia. When the legitimate, democratically-elected Ukraine government rejected the European offer, protesters mostly from western Ukraine launched the months-long Euro-Maidan demonstrations in Kiev (presumably with the connivance of the U.S. and others). In time, including on the scene visits from Biden (whose son reportedly has significant economic interests in Ukraine) and Nuland (with her cookies for the mob), the Maidan evolved into the coup d’etat that produced the current Ukraine government.
So when Biden says “that sovereign states have the right to make their decisions and choose their own alliances,” he lying. He’s lying about Ukraine and he’s lying about U.S. behavior in the present and the recent past (and the not so recent past as well, to be sure).
Somewhat measured language from the White House
On February 5, as the flurry of events in Kiev, Moscow, and Munich was beginning, the White House expressed some awareness that military escalation might only make matters worse in Ukraine. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, in part:
… the United States has been saying for some time that it’s a diplomatic negotiation that is required to bring this conflict in Ukraine to an end, that this is not something that’s going to be solved or resolved militarily, but rather through diplomatic negotiations. So we certainly are encouraging and supportive of ongoing efforts to try to find a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Ukraine…. [But] we need serious engagement from the Russians and the separatists, the likes of which we’ve not seen before….
… the President is going to make a decision [on weapons to Ukraine] that he believes is in the broader national security interests of the United States…. But certainly the President takes very seriously the views of our allies and is going to consult very closely as we evaluate any needed strategic changes ahead…. [But] this conflict was not going to rise to the level of a military confrontation between the United States and Russia. The President has been very clear about that. So there are things that we are going to continue to avoid.
But one of the concerns that we have about providing military assistance is it does contain the possibility of actually expanding bloodshed, and that’s actually what we’re trying to avoid. The whole reason that we are trying to encourage both sides to sit down and hammer out a diplomatic agreement is to end the bloodshed and end the escalating conflict in that country.
The press secretary made no effort to offer a balanced analysis of the Minsk Agreement, blaming the separatist Republics and Russia for virtually all the problems. He did allow that Ukraine had not lived up to all its commitments under the agreement.
Who actually speaks for the United States?
The same day the White House offered this view, NATO ministers in Brussels adopted a plan to ring Russia’s European perimeter with a network of command centers and rapid reaction forces. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, this plan is NATO’s biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War. He added that the first six multinational command and control units would be established immediately in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. Estonia and Latvia border on Russia. Poland and Romania border on Ukraine.
The Secretary of State is carrying on as if he believes that this might be his legacy moment. He’s acting as if he’s thinking: Hillary Clinton led the charge on Libya and made magnificent regional chaos there, so why shouldn’t I be able to top that, and make a mess of Ukraine, and possibly create global chaos?
But what if “Russian aggression” is real? As matters stand now, U.S. policy aggression for two decades has served as a self-fulfilling prophecy that creates “aggression” in response. What would happen if the U.S. especially, and the West in general, sent a clear signal that western aggression was over? How long would it take for Russia (or China) to trust that as reality? And would that persuade the Russians to relax what we now call their aggression? (We don’t hear much about “Chinese aggression” these days, but chances are that Kerry or Biden or someone already has that speech written.)
The course the U.S. has been on since 1990 has no good ending, unless one assumes that the Russians (or the Chinese) will fold under pressure. That seems unlikely. Nor does the result seem worth the risk. But also unlikely is a U.S. course change as long as we remain enamored of our own exceptional face in the magic mirror that keeps telling us we’re indispensable and can do no wrong. In Ukraine, today, probably the most dispensable nation is the U.S.
As this is written February 9, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have met at the White House and offered vague public assurances that diplomatic efforts will continue to try to settle Ukraine issues peacefully. It’s not reassuring that Obama’s companions in his meeting with Merkel were committed aggressors: Biden, Kerry, and national security advisor Susan Rice. We don’t know if this President is strong enough to be in control of his administration as it speaks with conflicting voices. What we know pretty surely is that this is a moment when President Obama could actually earn his Nobel Peace Prize by calling off “American aggression.”
Or he could just follow the lead of the mindless, bi-partisan weapons-gaggle in Congress and elsewhere. The president could do the bidding of all those shrill demagogues who cry for escalating bloodshed, those grandstanding testosterone puffs who will never accept responsibility for the death and dismemberment they advocate. In that event, the President would once again ignore his own earlier wisdom when he once said: “Don’t do stupid stuff.”
Election Note [see above]: The Donetsk and Luhansk elections held November 2 were supported by Russia and rejected as illegitimate by Ukraine, as well as spokespersons for the European Union, Germany and others in the west. The election results mostly confirmed the local authority already in place, including the chief executive and parliamentary majorities in both Republics, which were popularly approved in referendums in May. An OSCE spokesperson called the November elections a violation of the spirit and letter of the Minsk Agreement, which seemed to contemplate such elections taking place on December 7, under Ukrainian law. Ukraine had excluded Donetsk and Luhansk from its presidential election in May and its parliamentary election in October. The last apparently legitimate presidential election held in Ukraine chose Viktor Yanukovych president in February 2010. Yanukovych, whose support reached 90% of the vote in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk, was forced from office in February 2014 by the coup that emerged from the Maidan protest. Ukraine has almost 34 million voters in all, of which more than 5 million are (or were) in Luhansk and Donetsk. Another 1.8 million voters in Crimea have not taken part in the 2014 elections outside Crimea.
The leader of France’s rightwing Front National (FN), Marine Le Pen, has called Brussels “American lackeys” over the EU’s Ukraine policy. She further accused Washington of attempting to start a “war in Europe” and expand NATO towards Russia’s borders.
“European capitals do not have the wisdom to refuse to be dependent on US positions on Ukraine,” Le Pen told French journalists on Sunday.
“Regarding Ukraine, we behave like American lackeys,” she said, before warning that “the aim of the Americans is to start a war in Europe to push NATO to the Russian border.”
She went on to accuse European leaders of turning a blind eye to the Ukrainian government’s “bombing of civilians,” adding that both those in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine believed the country should be federalized.
Le Pen has regularly criticized the EU for its policy on Ukraine and its alleged lack of independence from Washington.
In September, she told Le Monde that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is “all the European Union’s fault,” saying Brussels had “blackmailed the country to choose between Europe and Russia.”
In June, she similarly told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze that there were “no independent states left in Europe,” saying many of their foreign policy mistakes in recent times had been made “under Washington’s influence.”
Her words echoed statements by former French Prime minister Francois Fillon, who told the public broadcaster France 5 on Sunday that the United States was attempting to “unleash a war in Europe, which would end in catastrophe.” He added that once a war broke out, the US would attempt to distance itself from it.
“Total war caused [by the] Ukrainian conflict is absolutely unacceptable. And really there is no reason for it,” he said.
Fillon accused the US of suffering from “blindness” and an oversimplified approach to reality, which saw them constantly attempting to “solve all problems by force.”
He further said Washington was always attempting to force others to join its camp, a mistaken approach given that a country like Ukraine has ties to both Europe and Russia.
“The Americans have made one mistake after another and today they have simply been discredited,” said Fillon.
He added that attempting to punish Russia with sanctions was like trying to intimidate a bear with a pin prick. He further commended recent efforts by French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to open a dialogue with Moscow.
“The West is trying to imagine today Russia as a threat to the whole world, while deliberately forgetting that Russia is a large and truly a great country, not to mention a nuclear power,” he said.
“Humiliating Russia is simply unacceptable.”
Also on Saturday, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that Europe was part of “a common civilization with Russia,” saying they needed to avoid conflict on the continent.
“The interests of the Americans with the Russians are not the interests of Europe and Russia,” he said, adding that “we do not want the revival of a Cold War between Europe and Russia.”
Spain has warned that the European Union has lost billions of euros as a result of the sanctions the bloc has imposed against Russia over Moscow’s alleged role in Ukraine’s crisis.
“Sanctions have had a heavy cost for us all,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said in Brussels on Monday.
Spain’s top diplomat added that “the EU has so far lost 21 billion euros ($23.7 billion). In Spain we have been badly hit in terms of agriculture and tourism.”
The figure represented the first account of the monetary loss caused to the EU due to the tough economic sanctions it has been progressively imposing on Russia since July 2014.
On Sunday, nearly 200 farmers went on strike in Spain and abandoned their products in the middle of a road in Catalonia to protest against Western-imposed sanctions against Russia. The farmers dumped their citrus fruits on the road to express their anger at the European Union for its ban on fruit exports to Russia.
The Western powers have been accusing Moscow of playing a role in the deadly crisis in eastern Ukraine, which erupted when Kiev launched military operations in April last year to silence pro-Russia protests. The Kremlin denies the accusation.
Russia has, in return, imposed a full year-long ban of European Union, US, Australian, Canadian, and Norwegian food exports to the country.
Amid fear on the part of some EU members for their trade ties with Moscow, the bloc has agreed to postpone new sanctions against Russia to give time to see if a four-way Ukraine peace summit on February 11 makes progress.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “The principle of the sanctions will be kept, but their implementation will depend on the situation on the ground.”
He was referring to a January 29 decision by the foreign ministers of the 28-nation union to add 19 people, including five Russians, to a list of those facing travel bans and asset freezes after an upsurge in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“We will assess the situation again next Monday,” said the French top diplomat.
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