France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has slammed a move by three French lawmakers to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I want to condemn this initiative with the greatest strength,” Valls said on Thursday.
“For parliamentarians to go without warning to meet a butcher…. I think it was a moral failing,” he said.
A French Parliamentary delegation headed by French Senator Jean-Pierre Vial, Chairman of the Syrian-French friendship Committee, met with Assad on Wednesday.
“We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well,” Jacques Myard, an MP from the opposition Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party, also said.
The French lawmaker described the trip as “a personal mission to see what is going on, to hear [and] listen.”
According to the Syrian state television, the two sides had discussed “the state of Syrian-French relations, as well as the developments in the Arab world and Europe, especially with regard to terrorism.”
During the meeting, Assad said fighting terrorism demands real political will and belief in the fact that the outcome will be in the interest of all people while the dangers will threaten all countries.
“If this issue could be tackled based on this principle, surely we will soon witness tangible positive results,” added the president.
France cut diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012 and supports the militants in Syria, who seek the removal of Assad from power.
The US and its allies, including France, have been throwing their weight behind Takfiri ISIL militants, currently wreaking havoc on Syria and Iraq, in past years.
Reports say US military instructors trained the militants at a secret base in Jordan in 2012. According to reports, some 1,000 French nationals from a wide range of backgrounds are estimated to have left the European country to join the Takfiri militants in Iraq and Syria. Some 400 of them are thought to be currently operating on the ground, while almost 50 were killed.
France’s highest court prevented the extradition of an Argentine alleged torturer, Mario Sandoval, Wednesday.
According to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), a lower court ruled that Sandoval should be extradited to Argentina to face charges of crimes against humanity, deprivation of liberty and acts of torture causing death. France’s supreme court, the Cour de Cassation, overturned that ruling but also ruled that the case should be re-examined.
Sandoval was a federal police officer during Argentina’s so-called “dirty war” where the military dictatorship targeted leftist activists, disappearing and killing as many as 30,000 people. He moved to France after the fall of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship and obtained French citizenship in 1997. He is accused of having committed over 600 human rights violations.
According to Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, Sandoval also gave classes to his colleagues on the “anti-subversive fight” that included methods of torture during interrogations.
The extradition request was based on the case of Hernan Abriata, an architecture student and political activist who was kidnapped from his home in 1976. Sandoval is alleged to have taken him to a clandestine prison in 1976, where an estimated 5,000 people were taken and disappeared.
The Argentine government’s lawyer expressed disappointment at the court’s ruling, which according to Sandoval’s lawyer was based on a technicality.
“This is a bad decision, but we can still salvage it somehow,” said Sophie Thonon-Wesfreid, representing Argentina’s government.
In France, once courts rule for an extradition, it must be further approved by governmental decree.
Though Israeli “journalist” Zvika Klein’s Paris “walk on the wild side” through allegedly Muslim Paris neighborhoods aroused indignation in Israeli and western media, the story aroused skepticism in French media. The French publication Les Inrocks published an investigative piece and interview with Klein which undermined many of the claims and assumptions on which his video was based. Thanks to reader Deir Yassin for bringing the article to my attention.
As I noted in an earlier post, Klein claims he walked through Paris for “ten hours,” yet the entire video is 1:36. Almost half of the video shows him walking with no interaction with anyone (let alone being insulted). So there is less than one minute of negative interaction with Parisian Muslims.
At one point, Klein claims a woman spat at him. Yet you cannot see what he claims on the video itself. He admits in his NRG article that he also was accompanied by a “security guard” because of “tense conditions” in the city. One wonders if Klein half expected or hoped that he would be attacked by an Islamist in order to get a really good story.
In an interview with Les Inrocks, Klein claims to have walked through the 23rd Arrondissement. There are only 20 in Paris. He also claims he walked through Barbes in the Parisian suburbs when it’s in the city center. He claimed he was constantly harassed in Saracelles, but one-third of this neighborhood is itself Jewish. Apparently, Jewish residents have figured out a way to live with their Muslim neighbors.
As you read him, Klein’s fear and racist assumptions about Paris’ Muslims becomes ever clearer:
At times, it feels like wandering around Ramallah. Most of the women wore veils and hijabs and the men had distinctively Muslim faces. Arabic was heard everywhere… I would be lying if I didn’t say I was frightened.
Klein’s own video puts the lie to his claims about the dress of women he passed. In only one short section are the heads of women covered at all and no women wear hijabs in all the video footage he displays. In fact, the hijab is legally prohibited in France.
A French reader who walks in Paris daily says the last time she saw anyone wearing a hijab was months ago. As for “distinctively Muslim faces” you can see many such faces in Israel, and they are the faces of Mizrahi Jews, not Muslims. She lives in the 19th Arrondissement, a popular new neighborhood where Orthodox Jews have flocked since they were driven out of the Marais by gentrification. She sees scores of kippot each day on the streets and in the Metro. Apparently these French Jews don’t face the problems Klein found.
The Les Inrocks article also displays a tweet Klein published during Operation Protective Edge in which he quotes Meir Habib, a member of the French legislature who represents overseas French voters in Israel. Habib is also the former Likud Party spokesperson in France.
French MP Meyer Habib to http://www.nrg.co.il : “Unfortunatley, I don’t think there is a future for Jews in France”.
Read the interview Klein published with Habib in NRG. None of the quotations he included in the article have Habib saying what he claimed in the tweet. At no time does he say there is no future for Jews in France. And even if he did, Habib is little more than a Likud appointee dutifully representing the views of his master, the Israeli prime minister, who’s called publicly for all Jews to leave not just France, but all of Europe. I asked Klein to explain the discrepancy, but he hasn’t responded.
Klein’s foray into the heart of the Paris’ Muslim beast is an extension of the Robert Spencer fake “No-Go” claims about UK cities like Birmingham. The truth is that there are no No-Go neighborhoods in any European city where Jews may not walk without being in fear of their lives. If you create a provocation and act suspiciously as Klein did taking a cameraman and security guard with him into such a neighborhood, then of course you will arouse suspicion. And why wouldn’t you?
The French publication also researched Klein’s background, job history, and previous social media activity. Earlier in his career, he served in the IDF spokesman’s unit responsible for outreach to the Orthodox community. After that, he did similar work for Bnai Akiva, the Orthodox Zionist youth organization. You’ll remember that the world leader of B’nai Akiva, Rabbi Noam Perel, urged the IDF to avenge the kidnap-murder of three Israeli youth by collecting the foreskins of 300 Palestinians, just as David had offered 200 Philistines foreskins as a bride price to King Saul for his daughter. That should tell you quite a bit about Klein’s own views of “Arabs.”
Consider also this distinguished part of Klein’s journalistic oeuvre: a profile of an American motorcycle gang, Defenders of Liberty, which boasts on its Facebook page that it will demonstrate in Washington in favor of Bibi Netanyahu’s speech.
On a related subject, the leader of a distinguished French Jewish organization fighting anti-Semitism has roundly condemned Netanyahu’s pandering to French Jews. This is a translation by Walid of an article in Le Figaro :
In an interview of Alain Jakubowicz, the President of the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism by Le Figaro, he said Jews in France have a future there since they have a past and that he has asked Netanyahu to stop encouraging French Jews to return to Israel. Jakubowicz said that it was to be expected for Israeli leaders to do it but that Netanyahu’s repeated calls to do so are devastating. There is a way that this should be asked but the way Netanyahu is doing it is menacing and cataclysmic. Netanyahu conveys to French Jews that they are second class citizens that their country can no longer protect.
Jakubowicz went on to say that Netanyahu is re-asserting that Jews have dual loyalties and that they aren’t really French, which feeds anti-Semitism. He also said that the reunification of all the world’s Jews in Israel to create a village worthy of Asterix would be a disaster for the world and for the Jews. It is often thought there is an exodus of French Jews, which is an exaggeration. In fact, thousands have chosen to go to Israel and elsewhere; some of these had problems living their Judaism according to the Torah in neighbourhoods of a secular society, but this is not an exodus and it shouldn’t become one. There is a difference between what happened with Merah (Toulouse) and Charlie Hebdo; this must be deconstructed to show that it’s a matter of French citizens.
Zvika Klein might’ve done better to publish an interview and profile of Jakubowicz than gallivant around Paris needlessly provoking a harsh Muslim response.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
 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.
The eastern Ukrainian militias have stopped all military action in accordance with the Minsk peace deal. They will suppress any provocations that may be organized by Kiev forces, said Aleksandr Zakharchenko, head of Donetsk People’s Republic.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered troops to cease fire at Sunday midnight local time (22:00 GMT) in line with the Thursday Minsk agreement. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page that “all National Guard and Interior Ministry units will halt fire at midnight.”
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry spokesman of Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, has ordered that all eastern Ukrainian militia units halt fighting “on the entire line of contact,” RIA Novosti reports. A similar statement has come out of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, saying that local militia are to stop all combat actions at midnight.
Earlier, leaders of the restive Ukrainian republics said their regions have ratified the peace deal.
The militias will stop all military action outside the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zakharchenko said. However, he said that the self-defense forces will reply to any provocative actions by the Kiev troops, including assaults and precision fire.
The DPR leader also said that rebels won’t release a large group of Ukrainian troops, who have been entrapped near the village of Debaltsevo since early February.
“Their every attempt to break out will be suppressed,” Zakharchenko is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.
The rebels’ leader reminded that “there wasn’t a word mentioning Debaltsevo in the agreements” signed in Minsk on February 12, which means that “Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people trapped in the Debaltsevo ‘cauldron’.”
Earlier, Basurin said that the Ukrainian troops near Debaltsevo won’t be shelled, but won’t be released as well, with surrender being the only option.
Zakharchenko has put his signature under a decree, which foresees the beginning of the ceasefire at 01:00 AM local time on Sunday – midnight for Kiev and 2200 GMT.
The DPR head also said that the Donetsk People’s Republic won’t grant control over its border with Russia to Ukrainian border guards: “Today an order will be issued to create the border guard service. Not a single Ukrainian soldier will enter our territory.”
Poroshenko warns of martial law
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has once again warned that if the Minsk agreements fail, “martial law will be implemented not only in Donetsk and Lugansk, but in the whole country”.
Moscow has expressed hopes Kiev and the rebels, as well as all the sides, which supported the Minsk peace deal, including France and Germany, “will do everything for the signed agreements to be scrupulously implemented,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“Ukraine’s official representatives… as well as those of several Western countries, the US in particular, have essentially expressed solidarity with the opinion of radical nationalists in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and have began distorting the contents of the Minsk agreements,” the ministry said.
On Saturday, Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the phone, with the three heads of state stressing that all sides must fulfill the obligations they’ve taken according to Minsk agreements, first of all, those concerning the ceasefire.
The Ukrainian president also had a telephone conversation with US president Barack Obama, during which the two leaders “agreed on the further coordination of efforts in the event of an escalation” in Ukraine’s southeast.
Poroshenko and Obama “discussed the situation in Donbass and expressed concerns about the situation in Debaltsevo,” according to the Ukrainian president’s website.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, John Kerry, also discussed the situation in southeastern Ukraine on the phone, and stressed “the importance of strict implementation of the ceasefire regime by the conflicting sides.”
Lavrov also emphasized that the Minsk peace deal “also includes obligations by Kiev to remove the financial and economic blockade of the [Ukrainian] southeast; to provide an amnesty; to stage a constitutional reform by the end of the year and adopt legislation on the special status of Donbass,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on its Facebook page.
The contact group, which includes representatives from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, held video consultations on Saturday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said.
According to the OSCE, all parties agreed to take necessary measures to establish the agreed truce and de-escalation of the conflict, including in the areas of Debaltsevo and Mariupol.
The contact group will continue holding consultations on a regular basis to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a statement from the watchdog added.
The Minsk agreement provides for a security zone separating the Kiev forces and the rebels, a ceasefire beginning on Sunday and a heavy weapons pullout to be completed in 14 days. The deal was signed by the contact group, which includes the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, a representative of the OSCE, Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma, and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine,
A separate declaration supporting the deal was agreed upon by the so-called “Normandy Four” leaders – French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who also gathered in Belarusian capital.
In accordance with the deal, on Saturday the eastern Ukrainian republics also proposed amendments to the constitution. One of the key demands is to grant certain regions the right to define and form the structure of local governments themselves, Denis Pushilin, DPR representative at the Minsk talks, said.
The rebels also want the official status for the Russian language and other minority languages, spoken in Ukraine’s central regions, he said. Another proposed amendment foresees the decentralization of fiscal and tax systems, “up to the possibility of creating in free economic zones and other special economic regimes on certain territories,” Pushilin is cited by TASS news agency.
While the Minsk deal is hoped to secure an end to the bloody and devastating internal conflict that has taken the lives of over 5,300 people in the UN’s estimates since last April, shelling in Donetsk was reported throughout the whole of Saturday.
An agreement has been brokered in Minsk to stop hostilities in Ukraine from Sunday. The deal was reached after marathon talks between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, and signed by the Ukrainian rebels.
“I believe we agreed on a big deal. We agreed to a ceasefire starting at 00:00 on February 15,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the media after the talks were finished.
“The main thing achieved is that from Saturday into Sunday there should be declared – without any conditions at all – a general ceasefire,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told journalists in a separate statement.
A compromise decision was taken over the disengagement line, which was the biggest stumbling block in the negotiation. According to the document, Kiev’s troops would pull back heavy weapons from the current frontline. The rebels would pull back from the line as it existed in September, when the previous ceasefire agreement was signed.
The security zone separating the warring parties must be at least 50km wide for artillery over 100mm caliber, 70km for regular multiple rocket launchers and 100km for heavier weapons with a longer range, such as Tochka-U ballistic missiles, the document states.
The weapons pullout must start on Sunday and be completed in no longer than 14 days. The OSCE is charged with implementing the ceasefire on the ground and will use its drone fleet and monitors to verify that both parties are sticking to the deal.
The ceasefire deal provides for withdrawal of all “foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries” from Ukraine under an OSCE monitoring. “Illegal armed groups” would be disarmed, but local authorities in the future would be allowed to have legal militia units.
The agreement involves exchange of all prisoners, which is to be completed within 19 days. A general amnesty for the rebels would be declared by Kiev.
The national government’s control over the borders between Donetsk and Lugansk Regions would be fully restored a day after municipal elections, which would be held in the regions as part of a profound constitutional reform.
The agreement requires a political reform in Ukraine to ensure decentralization and a special status for its rebel provinces. It requires Ukraine to adopt legislation which would provide permanent privileges to the Lugansk and Donetsk Regions, currently self-declared republics, by the end of 2015.
The legislation would include the right for language self-determination and trans-border ties with Russia, as well as the authority of the local governments to appoint local prosecutors and judges, the document states.
Humanitarian and economic issues are also mentioned in the deal. Kiev would restore economic ties and social payments, which it cut in rebel-held areas, the document says. An international monitoring mechanism may be established for these payments.
During the transition period an internationally-monitored mechanism for humanitarian aid to the regions affected by the war would be implemented, the document sates.
Direct talks needed
Putin said that Kiev’s unwillingness to hold direct talks with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics was among the reasons it took so much time to reach an agreement.
“They may be unrecognized, but we have to deal with real life here, and if everyone wants to agree and have sustainable relations, direct contacts are needed,” Putin said.
He added that the ‘Normandy Four’ expect the parties involved in the conflict to show restraint even in the days before the ceasefire takes effect.
The terms of the ceasefire are spelled out in a document signed by members of the so-called contact group, which includes representatives from the rebel forces, Kiev, Moscow and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, Putin said.
The members of the ‘Normandy Four’ – Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande – supported a joint declaration describing the results of their work.
The declaration was not meant to be signed by the leaders, Germany FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
If broken, no new memorandum possible
Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who signed the Minsk document, said it required additional consultation and warned that “if these terms are broken, there will be no new meetings or memoranda.”
He added that he and Igor Plotnitsky, the head of Lugansk People’s Republic, agreed to sign the document “due to guarantees from the president of Russia, chancellor of Germany and president of France,” with the hope that it would allow their people to “achieve peaceful development.”
The new Minsk accord gives hope for de-escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, although it would require a major effort to build trust between the parties involved. The previous deal collapsed as neither Kiev nor the rebels implemented it fully, which means the threat of renewed hostilities in Ukraine continue to loom.
After decades of impunity, those responsible for the wave of political violence that swept Latin America under the dictatorships of 1970s and 1980s will be tried in court this week in Rome, Italy.
Thirty-three people have been formally charged for their links to the operation, which left 50,000 people dead, 30,000 disappeared, and 400,000 jailed.
Among those killed were 23 Italian citizens, which is why Italy’s justice system is now ruling on the case, opened in 1999.
Operation Condor was a coordinated political assassination and persecution plan drafted in the 1970s by South American military dictatorships, with the help of foreign governments. It sought to eliminate any resistance or political rivals, mostly targeting left-wing groups.
The military chiefs of participating countries were provided with a command center by the United States, located in Panama, through which they could communicate and share intelligence on their victims. Declassified U.S. documents show the government knew about the operation but still continued to back the military dictatorships.
Evidence suggests that the beginning of the operation coincided with a visit made by Manuel Contreras – then Chile’s intelligence chief – to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Several researchers believe that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was involved in the assassination scheme.
French intelligence agents were also part of the operation and helped the South American military chiefs to implement many of the counterinsurgency tactics that France had used against the Algerian resistance.
The Italian court is not expecting the former military chiefs and politicians to attend the hearing, although it has given them the possibility to do so through a video conference.
Among the people charged are 11 former military junta members from Chile, 16 from Uruguay, four from Peru, and one from Bolivia.
Former Bolivian President Luis Garcia Meza has also been accused by the Attorney Giancarlo Capaldo, however he has not been charged given that he has not yet responded to the formal notification against him.
The trial will take place inside Rebbibia prison and will be presided over by Judge Evelina Canale and Judge Paolo Colella.
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.”
World leaders gathered in Germany to discuss international security on Saturday, with the meeting somewhat descending into ‘Russia-bashing’. But the West showed itself to be more divided than ever on Ukraine, with the EU and US drifting further apart.
The Americans led the harsh anti-Russian rhetoric at the conference, and once again, they did not exclude the possibility of lethal arms deliveries to Ukraine in the future.
Speaking to reporters, NATO’s top commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said that although no troops would be sent to Ukraine, providing Kiev with lethal weapons and equipment was on the cards.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Conservative politician and former foreign secretary Malcom Rifkind, and US senator Lindsey Graham notably took a pronounced anti-Russian stance, blaming the Kremlin for the violence in Ukraine.
Moscow hit back, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressing in his Munich speech that it is the US and its European allies who have played the key destabilizing role in Ukraine, from helping to overthrow the democratically elected government to failing to condemn the new Kiev government for shelling the civilian population in the east with cluster bombs.
“Through every step, as the crisis has developed, our American colleagues and the EU under their influence have tried to escalate the situation,” Lavrov said, adding that the West has always been urging world governments to enter into dialogue with opposition groups or figures, even when it came to extremist groups such as the Taliban. However, in Ukraine it has bluntly been supporting every one of Kiev’s actions.
Lavrov then spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry, warning him that Washington’s plans to supply Kiev with military equipment might have “unpredictable consequences”, including “disrupting the efforts to resolve the crisis in southeastern Ukraine,” according to a Facebook statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. He stressed that Russia and the US agree that the only basis for any solution is a comprehensive national dialogue on constitutional reform in Ukraine.
Russia will not sacrifice its national interest, but is ready to “engage constructively” with the US, Lavrov stressed.
At the press conference, the Russian top diplomat was pelted with questions implying that Moscow is responsible for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“It felt like orchestrated hate fest. Obviously these people live in a surreal world. The US try to change the balance of forces in eastern Europe and the EU join the band wagon,” Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of the Chronicles magazine told RT, adding that “whenever a major power wants to change the status-quo, the result is a crisis.”
Despite the recent efforts to try and to stop the violence and find a peaceful way out of the Ukrainian conflict, with French and German leaders having taken an initiative to discuss a peace plan with Russia’s President Putin and Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, the actions of the West are still “profoundly self-righteous,” critics say.
“What I saw today in the press conference is a total unwillingness from the European, Western side to even take into consideration the arguments of the other side…the questions they pose are so selective, so predetermined by their self-righteousness – that is not the way you try to get peace,” former security consultant at the OSCE Lode Vanoost told RT, adding that the West is hypocritical to a level “so profound that [its behavior] is not a serious way to try to get peace.”
However, despite the overwhelmingly anti-Russian rhetoric coming from the West, there are increasingly numbers of politicians who are softening their stance.
Following the Friday meeting of President Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Moscow, which was said to be “constructive,” the French leader revealed that the discussion included the creation of a larger demilitarized zone between the Kiev and militia-controlled territories. He also called for “quite strong” autonomy for Ukraine’s eastern regions.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday that Paris does not want a new Cold War, considering that Russia and France having a long history of common interests and values. The former state leader also said that it was Crimea that had chosen to join Russia and it “cannot be blamed” for its choice. Previously, former Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, said that Crimea has “always” been a part of Russia.
While the European leaders have largely been united in their support for the Kiev government, only a few have agreed with the United States on supplying weapons to Ukraine. Instead, the German leader stressed that the crisis “cannot be resolved militarily” and that sending more arms can only worsen the conflict.
The issue of military aid to Ukraine is now considered to be the main subject causing the divide in the West, with many in Europe realizing that the potential threat of an escalating conflict on its territory exists.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 51st Munich Security Conference on February 7, 2015. (RIA Novosti/Flickr MFA Russia)
Political analysts agree that hidden from the public eye, “there is definitely a big divide between the US and the EU on the whole issue of Ukraine,” Vanoost told RT. “It’s very difficult to know how the game will finish, because it’s not an open game, it’s behind the scenes,” Bruno Drweski, an analyst specializing in eastern Europe, said.
Sanctions against Russia have economically hit the EU itself, but have not affected the US. The conflict is also happening on the European continent, not in America, with the EU generally not eager to further escalate it.
“First of all, the European Union is directly involved if the conflict escalates – which is not the case for the United States. Secondly, in the EU they are realistic enough to know that the government in Kiev is very unstable, that they don’t even have full control of all parts of their own military,” Vanoost explained, while speaking about the Western split in regard of the Ukrainian crisis.
However, toning down rhetoric puts some in the firing line, too.
After Merkel said that Europe wants security alongside with Russia, rather against it, and reiterated Berlin’s stance that the Ukrainian conflict must be resolved peacefully, US senator Graham lashed out at the German leader for her refusal to send arms to Ukraine.
“She can’t see how arming people who are willing to fight and die for their freedom makes things better,” the US politician said, adding that the West cannot “turn [its] back on the struggling democracy.”
In an effort to silence voices against harsher anti-Russian measures, US Vice President Joe Biden has labeled those questioning sanctions against Moscow “inappropriate and annoying,” Der Spiegel reported, quoting the participants of the Brussels meeting. The US official called on European countries to show unity when it comes to sanctions against Russia. Biden even reportedly added that critics of the policy should be aware that they also benefited from the current low price of oil.
“The Americans want to run this show, and they have no interest in stopping the crisis in Ukraine because it is really driving a wedge between the Europeans and Russia. And to their [the US’] mind, it is only pushing Europe ever so firmly back into the NATO fold,” Trifkovic told RT.
Meanwhile, Lavrov said Moscow is ready to guarantee agreements between the warring sides if a peaceful solution to the crisis is found, which would satisfy both Kiev and the eastern Ukrainian regions.
Quoting the “aggression” against the federal republic of Yugoslavia, the current crisis has been named “an ongoing assault against the Russian Federation” by the former deputy head of OSCE, Willy Wimmer. Calling for a hastier end to the conflict, which “is the best for all of us,” the ex official of the European security and cooperation organization said that “it’s better to have Polish apples in Russian stores than US tanks at the Russian border.”
Capitalizing on the recent Charlie Hebdo killings in France, many European nationalists have been exploiting the tragedy to bolster sentiment towards their cause.
While the cause of European nationalists is as legitimate as any other nationalist cause, and their misgivings about mass immigration merits reflection, the way in which many of them have gone about promoting their agenda by taking advantage of what appears to be a ‘let it happen’ if not a full blown false flag provocation in Paris last month warrants criticism.
Marine Le Pen, the incumbent leader of France’s ‘National Front’ political party, seized the opportunity to rally the French public behind her anti-Muslim platform. In the wake of the Paris shootings, Le Pen offered the militant language of neoconservatism in a New York Times column, stressing that France is being besieged by “Islamic fundamentalists” who need to be dealt with. Le Pen, like many rightist political leaders in Europe, has in recent years sought to ingratiate herself with the Jewish-Zionist community, hoping to curry favor with the power brokers of that persuasion who can help her into power.
What often goes unsaid in the rhetoric of European nationalists is the fundamental backwardness and duplicity of Western foreign policy. Like its counterparts in Britain and America, France has meted out plenty of violence upon other countries without just cause, but then cries foul when the chickens come home to roost. Canadian journalist Eric Margolis observed that France presently has troops conducting military operations in about a dozen countries, many of which have Muslim majorities, namely “Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, East Africa, Abu Dhabi, Iraq, Afghanistan (from where French troops have been withdrawing, as well as covert operations in Syria, Lebanon and Somalia.” Not to mention France’s leading role in the 2011 war against Libya and its unreserved support of the terrorist state of Israel.
Violence is for the most part counter-productive and shouldn’t be the first option of those seeking retribution for mistreatment, but it can still be said that if France wants to continue to pursue imperial escapades throughout the Muslim world, then it should not be surprised when some of that violence reaches their shores as well. As the mathematician Isaac Newton discovered, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Why shouldn’t that principle apply to the West’s foreign policy?
Anti-Muslim British ‘patriots’ constantly invoke the 2013 murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier, by two disgruntled British Muslim men in London. “Look how violent Muslims are,” lowbrow English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) activists shout in the streets. While the slaying of Rigby was certainly heinous and deplorable, it was predictable blowback for London’s lunatic neoconservative foreign policy. One of Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebolajo, made it clear that he acted in revenge for what he sees as anti-Muslim aggression on the part of the British government, most notably the invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan alongside the Americans. Rigby’s attackers did not go after civilians, but rather targeted a soldier who represents the British military which has greatly contributed to the deaths of several million Muslims in the Middle East since 2001. Religious fanaticism was a negligible factor in the Rigby killing, but if the sub-par intellects of the EDL and BNP are to be believed religious ideology and a desire to enforce ‘Sharia Law’ in Britain was the sole motivation.
Ditto with Charlie Hebdo and other alleged acts of ‘Muslim’ violence in the West. Even if we were to accept the questionable ‘official stories’ of these events, instead of addressing the underlying causes of Muslim discontent, plastic ‘patriots’ promulgate the neocon folly of ‘they hate us for our freedoms and way of life,’ a rancid myth which doesn’t compute considering the flagrant lack of freedom in much of the West where there are surveillance cameras and cops on every street corner as well as laws on the books that relegate certain political and historical opinions outside the parameters of ‘acceptable’ discourse.
For many unsophisticated ‘patriots’ in Britain, France, America and elsewhere, state-sponsored acts of violence by ‘their side’ is defensible, even admirable, whereas violence in the opposite direction that pales in comparison to the former, and which is often committed in reprisal for perceived wrongs, is contemptible.
They can’t have it both ways.
Copyright 2015 Brandon Martinez
February 5, 2015
A Muslim couple in France has had their five children abducted by the state over unproven allegations that they are radicals who planned to take the entire family to fight in Syria.
Nearly a dozen police and social service workers entered the couple’s house, on an allegedly false pretext, as the family was packing to move to Tunisia, where the father was born.
Twitter @ http://twitter.com/PressTV
LiveLeak @ http://www.liveleak.com/c/PressTV
Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/PRESSTV