The Russian Foreign Ministry has criticized western leaders after none appeared to condemn the shelling of a mobile Russian hospital by militants in Syria. Two Russian medics were killed after around a dozen of shells hit the facility in Aleppo.
“On December 5, a Russian military medic died as a mortar shell fired by militants directly hit the reception ward of a Russian mobile military hospital set up in Aleppo. Two medical specialists were also severely injured and one of them later died,” the ministry said.
“However, no words of condemnation can be heard from western capitals,” it added, criticizing western governments for their “politicized approach” to the assessment of the situation in Syria.
“We call on our partners to abandon the politicized approach and finally join the counter-terrorist efforts in Syria as well as the search for a political solution to the Syrian crisis” instead of waging a smear campaign in the media, the ministry said in its statement.
It then went on to criticize Paris and London, saying they are waging a “propaganda campaign” – in particular over the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Our ‘concerned’ French and British colleagues cannot but know that such aid is already rendered to the Aleppo residents … by the Russian side through the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria and the Russian Emergencies Ministry,” the foreign ministry said.
It also slammed western governments for their repeated calls to stop the government operation in Eastern Aleppo, which “increasingly resembles the last desperate attempt to shield and save the terrorists and extremists supervised by [the West], who are on the losing side in the Aleppo [battle].”
The ministry said again that armed groups that the West attempts to support “use civilians as human shields, [and] shell and mine civilian infrastructure and humanitarian corridors.”
About 11 shells landed on the territory of the Russian hospital leading to its total destruction, Vladimir Savchenko, the head of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria told journalists earlier on Monday.
The Russian Defense Ministry urged for the international community to condemn the attack and said that the incident would be investigated and all responsible would be held to account.
The ministry also said that it attributes blame for the hospital shelling to “terrorists and their patrons in the US, the UK and France.”
“It is beyond doubt that the shelling was conducted by the ‘opposition’ militants. Moscow understands who gave the Syrian militants the coordinates of the Russian hospital right at the moment when it started working,” the Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov said.
The US State Department, which is usually quick to comment on reports of attacks on medical facilities in Syria, found it difficult to confirm and therefore specifically condemn the shelling of the Russian hospital.
“I’ve seen the reports we’ve not been able to confirm; it’s difficult to do obviously, given the fighting and given our lack of access to what’s happening on the ground,” spokesperson Mark Toner told RT’s Gayane Chichakyan. “But to answer your question – of course we condemn any attack on a hospital or healthcare facility.”
RT has requested comment on the shelling of the Russian hospital from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and Amnesty International.
In response to a request from RT, Amnesty International said it is trying to check whether it is “able to comment on this.”
“But usually if we have not documented and been able to verify details for ourselves it can be tricky for us to provide a comment on specific attacks,” the emailed response reads.
“Repeated attacks on healthcare and other civilian infrastructure throughout Aleppo” indicated that “all sides to the conflict in Syria are failing in their duties to respect and protect healthcare workers, patients and hospitals, and to distinguish between them and military objectives,” the Red Cross told RT in a comment following the shelling of the hospital.
“Healthcare infrastructure, medical personnel and the sick and wounded are protected under international humanitarian law (IHL). They must not be attacked,” the Red Cross stressed, adding that “when hospitals come under fire, countless numbers of people are deprived of life-saving healthcare.”
The idea of conducting a referendum on exiting the European Union has become more popular in EU countries, including Italy, Poland and Spain ever since the Brexit vote, while large numbers of people in other states of the bloc would support holding such a referendum, IFop pollster revealed in a survey for Sputnik.
According to the poll, the number of people who would support such a referendum has increased by 7 percent in Italy since July and now stands at 53 percent. The number of supporters of a vote on EU membership has also increased in Spain and Poland by 5 percent, to 39 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
The Brexit-style referendum is also popular in other European countries. Almost half, or 47 percent, of French nationals polled backed such an idea. The number of supporters of holding a referendum on exiting the European Union in Germany stands at 43 percent. The survey was carried out by France’s IFop pollster on October 22-26. As many as 5,019 people took part in the poll. The maximum sample error stands at 3.1 percent.
On June 23, the United Kingdom voted on referendum to leave the European Union. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the country would trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017, thus kick-starting withdrawal negotiations.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France and the United Nations have not yet offered humanitarian relief to 90,000 Aleppo citizens, liberated from militants two days ago, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman said Wednesday.
“Two days after over 90,000 Aleppo residents were freed from terrorists, no offer of humanitarian assistance came from the office of UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, the British and French Foreign Ministries or the US State Department,” the ministry’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
Konashenkov reminded about the previous US, UK, UN and French demands to provide humanitarian access to eastern Aleppo when it was held by the militants.
“Apparently, the [humanitarian] assistance was destined for certain other people living in the eastern parts of Aleppo,” Konashenkov said highlighting the absence of the above-mentioned sides’ interest in providing civilians with humanitarian aid after all the necessary conditions for the aid delivery had been created.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the Syrian government forces had cleared almost half of eastern Aleppo from militant strongholds, liberating tens of thousands local residents.
Fifteen European countries, headed by Germany, have issued a statement pushing for the reopening of “a new structured dialogue” with Russia aimed at preventing a possible arms race in Europe, according to the German foreign minister.
The countries, all belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have expressed their deep concern over the current situation in Europe and support the relaunch of a conventional arms treaty with Russia, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Friday.
“Europe’s security is in danger. As difficult as ties to Russia may currently be, we need more dialogue, not less,” Steinmeier said.
The ongoing conflict in the Eastern Ukraine and the fact that Crimea joined Russia in 2014, a move most often dubbed as “annexation” by western officials, have put the question of war in Europe back on the table, Steinmeier continued. Fragile trust between Russia and European countries has suffered a significant setback and a “new armament spiral” is hanging over the continent, the foreign minister warned.
The statement contains strong anti-Russian rhetoric, blaming Moscow for violating arms deals as far back as 1990.
“The Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which led to the destruction of tens of thousands of heavy weapon systems in Europe in the years following 1990, is no longer being implemented by the Russian Federation,” the statement said.
Russia put its participation in the treaty on hold in 2007 and then fully walked out of it last year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the suspension of the treaty following a US decision to locate missile defense facilitates in the neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland. On top of that, President Putin noted that some of the NATO members did not join or ratify the treaty and there was no point in Russia abiding by the agreement.
Later Putin signed a decree suspending the treaty due to “extraordinary circumstances … which affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures,” having notified NATO and its members of the decision.
Since then NATO has taken no steps to upgrade the treaty, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in September, 2016, adding that Moscow is ready for dialogue on the subject. However, it is not planning to be the one to initiate it.
The statement names a number of other documents that need to be overviewed, including the OSCE’s Vienna document, stipulating the exchange of information on military movements, and the Open Skies treaty, enabling the monitoring of other countries’ ground forces. The documents are either neglected or in need of modernization.
The countries that spoke in favor of Steinmeier’s initiative include France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Portugal.
The group of the European foreign ministers is planning to meet again on the sidelines of a OSCE meeting in Hamburg on December, 8-9.
After the shock of Brexit and then election of Donald Trump to the White House, anything now seems possible in the political world. Six months hence, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National (FN), will be within reach of the presidency.
It’s a possibility that Le Pen is not alone in trumpeting, following Britain’s surprise vote to leave the European Union and Trump’s equally surprising US victory earlier this month. Last week, incumbent French Prime Minister Manuel Valls acknowledged that the FN leader could be elected the French republic’s new president when the country goes to the polls during April-May next year.
The 48-year-old Le Pen, a trained lawyer, is hoping that her bid for Élysée Palace will tap into the zeitgeist of what she calls a “popular uprising against ruling elites”.
Her chances of becoming head of state in the EU’s second largest member after Germany has just received a further boost from the expected nomination of Francois Fillon as presidential candidate of the center-right Les Republicains party. Fillon is way ahead of his party rival Alain Juppé in the nomination process, which concludes this coming weekend.
While Fillon has adopted Le Pen’s agenda of tougher immigration controls, there is a gulf of difference on economic issues, as well as on France’s relation to the EU bloc.
Fillon, a prime minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012), is an economic neoliberal hawk. He proudly claims the late British premier Margaret Thatcher as one of his ideological mentors. Fillon is promising to slash public service jobs and budgets, while also gutting French labor laws to remove statutory caps on maximum working hours and to increase the retirement age.
It is hard to conceive of a more politically tone-deaf candidate for the presidency. This year France has seen months of massive public protests against the very hardline austerity measures that Fillon is advocating.
So, while his tough rhetoric on clamping down on immigration and his socially conservative opposition to gay marriage might appeal to some citizens on the political right, Marine Le Pen appears to be more in tune with concerns of the broader electorate. Those concerns are motivated by economic insecurity and loss of democratic accountability in an era of seemingly implacable financial globalization.
The rise of FN in France and other eurosceptic political parties across Europe is not simply due to xenophobia and racial tensions over immigration. It is arguably much more about counteracting the excesses of a global oligarchy, which the EU and established political parties have come to embody.
Whereas Le Pen wants to follow Britain in quitting the EU altogether to reassert national control over the economy, Fillon has no such ambitions. He is a candidate for globalization and austerity, the very program that has become a totemic hate symbol driving the populist mood for revolt.
The FN has come a long way from its origins when it was considered a bete noire of French and European politics owing to perceived fascist and racist tendencies. Founded in 1993 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine, the party would never receive mainstream media coverage. Now it does.
Marine Le Pen cleans house
When she took over the FN leadership in 2011, Le Pen embarked on a “detoxication” of the party, cleaning up its image as an anti-Semitic, racist fringe movement. This has led to an acrimonious split with her father, who has been banished to obscurity as “honorary president” over his repeated remarks about the Nazi Holocaust being a mere “historical footnote”.
Under Marine, the FN has also adopted a more leftwing economic agenda, such as protecting employment rights, increasing the minimum wage and vowing to fight corporate capitalism by spurning neoliberal international trade deals.
This is perhaps where she promises to rally French voters when they go to the first and second rounds of the presidential election on April 23 and May 7.
The incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande and his prime minister Manuel Valls have become toxic for French workers and traditional leftwing voters. Since his election in 2012, Hollande’s popularity has plummeted to record single-digit lows. The Socialist party leadership is vilified as “betraying” ordinary citizens by accommodating finance capital and embracing neoliberal austerity.
So abject has the Socialist party become in the eyes of the electorate, it is inconceivable that it will be able muster a viable candidate for the presidential election.
That in effect makes the ballot a face-off between Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon, whose supporters may be betting on his anti-immigrant rhetoric to decisively capture the rightwing vote. The 62-year-old also has more than three decades of parliamentary experience, which might be viewed as giving him appeal for more centrist voters.
But such calculations are badly amiss in gauging the popular mood in France and elsewhere. The popular discontent with conventional politics goes beyond rightwing concerns over excessive immigration and “multi-culturalism”. It is about challenging the status quo of perceived economic oppression that politicians like Francois Fillon represent.
In this assessment, Le Pen stands to reap votes from a much broader constituency of French citizens, straddling both the traditional left and right, but all united under the banner of demanding democratic control over basic economic matters.
If the FN sweeps to power by May of next year, the European political landscape will be shattered. An outwardly anti-EU French presidency would herald the collapse of the 28-member bloc as we know it.
That will have radical implications for US, European and Russian relations. No longer shackled by pro-Washington Atlanticism, France and Europe would begin to realign with more balanced and mutual relations with Moscow. Given Donald Trump’s more pragmatic friendly intentions towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, the whole geopolitical outlook next year could be upended – and upended for the greater global good. The current US-led hostility towards Russia abandoned and flash-points in Ukraine and Syria defused.
Center-right presidential hopeful Francois Fillon has a more reasonable view of Russia compared with the slavish Socialist party leadership under Hollande and Valls. Last week, he called for a international coalition involving Russia as a partner in the global fight against terrorism.
However, Le Pen is again seen to be more in tune with the electorate on that issue. She has berated Washington and European leaders for demonizing Russia, wants to jettison self-defeating punitive sanctions against Moscow, and she openly aligns with Vladimir Putin on foreign policy objectives, including his support for Syria against illegally armed insurgents who also pose grave security threats to France and the rest of Europe.
Whether Le Pen can deliver on policies to ameliorate French society and the economy is a moot point. But the improved shake-up of France and Europe’s foreign relations with the US and Russia is something that one feels many French voters will be willing to take a chance on.
Brexit, Trump, Le Pen could prove to be three moments in a year of major upheaval. As with any change, there are always risks for downsides. But given the rottenness of conventional politics in the West, the possibility of change is welcome.
And a Le Pen political earthquake might be the final shock to bring a rotten edifice crashing down.
The Oxford Dictionaries have named ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year. ‘Fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ politics have been blamed for both the Brexit vote in the UK and the victory of Donald Trump in America.
It seems the uneducated plebs are falling for ’fake news’ they read in ’new media’ and the lies of dreadful rabble-rousing populist politicians who are relying on people’s emotions, instead of ’objective facts,’ to get votes. It’s all terribly worrying and poses a dire threat to Western civilization as we know it.
Well, forgive me for laughing out loud. For this establishment ‘fake news’/’post-truth politics’ concern is the funniest thing I’ve come across in politics since Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the very grand Chancellor of the University of Oxford, repeatedly called distinguished Sheldonian guest Mikhail Gorbachev, “Mr. Brezhnev.”
Why is it so hilarious? Because the people and the outlets warning of the dangers of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’ have been the biggest peddlers of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’ out there. It’s like receiving lectures on the immorality of bootlegging from Al Capone or being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Without a doubt the best, or rather the worst example of ‘fake news’ in the last 25 years or so, was the neocon lie that Iraq had WMDs in 2002/3. That wasn’t peddled by ‘obscure bloggers’ and ‘new media,’ but by mainstream Western politicians, from ‘mainstream’ political parties, establishment-approved ‘experts’ on the BBC/ITV/CNN, etc., and Op-ed columnists in ‘serious’ and ‘respectable’ media outlets.
There was absolutely no evidence that Saddam possessed WMDs. The story was complete and utter BS. Yet this fake news dominated the headlines for months in 2002/3 and led to an illegal invasion in which many people lost their lives. Unlike today’s manufactured ‘fake news’ hysteria the Iraq war was no joke. An entire country was destroyed.
And guess what? Those who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs line’ are now coming on television to express their concern over ‘fake news’!
John Hilley notes “The BBC even had Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s spin doctor), in the studio defending the term ‘post-truth’ as a way of exposing the ‘dangers’ of ‘fake news.'”
Campbell stated: “It’s acknowledging that politics, which has always been rough, has moved to a different phase where politicians who lie now appear to get rewarded for it.” (BBC2 Jeremy Vine Show, 16/11/2016).
What might Orwell have said about Campbell, master spinner and Blairite warmonger, sitting inside the BBC being rewarded for his thoughts on ‘post-truth and ‘fake news?’ Hilley asks.
Once again, I’m sure old George is spinning in his grave in Sutton Courtenay.
Then there’s that serial warmonger Bernard-Henri Levy. The Sunday Telegraph today told us in its headlines: ‘Leading French philosopher: Marine Le Pen may win election as people have lost interest in whether politicians tell the truth.’
Oh, the irony!
Because if the French people really have ‘lost interest in whether politicians tell the truth,’ Henri-Levy and his fellow liberal interventionist ‘regime changers’ have got a lot to do with it.
Think back to the war against Libya, which the ‘leading French philosopher’ lobbied hard for. To sell the war to the Western public, we were told that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit a ‘Srebrenica-style’ massacre in Benghazi. Media Lens noted the claims that were made at the time.
But again it was a load of ‘rollocks.’ Five years after Libya, like Iraq before it, had been destroyed by Western ‘interventionists,’ a report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons declared: “the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.”
It wasn’t the only claim made about Libya by Western politicians that was ‘not supported by the available evidence.’ In February 2011, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that he had seen ‘information’ which suggested that Gaddafi was on his way to Venezuela. An unnamed ‘diplomat’ said that this was ‘credible information.’ But it wasn’t. It was the same old fake news that we get every time the Western elites are trying to achieve ‘regime change.’
In April 2011 we heard that the devilish Gaddafi (who had not, after all, fled to Caracas), was supplying his troops with Viagra “to encourage mass rape.”
“Gaddafi’s security forces and other groups in the region are trying to divide the people by using violence against women and rape as tools of war, and the United States condemns this in the strongest possible terms,” declared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose supporters are now complaining about ‘post-truth politics.
Again, no evidence was put forward for the Viagra/mass rape claim and, surprise, surprise, none was ever found.
A clear pattern can be discerned. To get public support for its illegal regime change wars, the Western establishment energetically promotes a number of ‘fake news’ stories. These stories are usually reported unquestioningly in ‘respectable’ outlets and are regularly cited by neocon/liberal interventionist commentators as a reason for taking action against the target state. ‘Anonymous’ sources feature heavily in these stories, which like MI6’s ‘Operation Mass Appeal’ are often planted by the security services.
Meanwhile, people’s emotions are shamelessly played upon by the ‘something must be done’ brigade of ‘liberal’ laptop bombardiers, the same crowd, note well, who accuse ‘populist’ politicians of ignoring ‘objective facts’ and playing on people’s emotions.
The fake news continues while the regime change operation is ongoing. After its over, we’re all meant to forget about the false stories we were fed and focus on the next ’New Hitler’ who needs to be dealt with. In 2011, it was the despicable Gaddafi, now it’s the despicable Assad and the despicable Putin who we’re told: “have to be stopped.”
The term ‘post-truth’ politics implies there was a time when politics was truthful. I doubt if that ever was the case, but certainly in the last 25 years, thanks to the influence of neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’, the lies have been off the scale. Remember the Niger uranium forgeries? And Saddam’s horrific ‘People Shredder‘?
And before the Iraq war, we had the ‘humanitarian’ NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, where again fake news dominated. US Defense Secretary William Cohen claimed “about 100,000 military-aged” Kosovan Albanians were missing… “they may have been murdered.”
As John Pilger reminded us, “Kosovo, the site of a genocide that never was, is now a violent “free market” in drugs and prostitution.”
It wasn’t the only lurid claim that was made to sell the war. But again the ‘genocide’ and hundreds of thousands killed stories were false, as a UN court itself ruled in 2001.
Fake news also featured heavily in the neocon campaign to get Iran sanctioned for an entirely unproven nuclear weapons program. It’s dominated the coverage of recent events in Ukraine, with Russia’s non-existent ‘invasion of Ukraine’ routinely referred to as a fact. The conflict in Syria too has been marked by ‘fake news,’ and theories being reported as if they’re 100 percent proven. How many times have you read that “Assad gassed his own people” at Ghouta in 2013, even though we still don’t know for sure who carried out the attack?
If it’s ‘official enemies’ we’re talking about ‘fact-checking’ and citing sources isn’t all that important for those who pounce on a mere typo if it’s an anti-war writer who’s making a claim.
Now, the same people who have disseminated fake news for so long and who are still, even after Iraq and Libya, embedded in the West’s political and media establishments, are lashing out because they no longer control the narrative as they used to. The public is getting their news from a much wider variety of sources and voting for ‘populist,’ i.e., non-neocon/liberal interventionist-anointed candidates/parties at elections.
Instead of admitting that it’s their ’fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’ which has caused people to switch off from establishment media and to stop voting for status quo candidates, the endless war lobby has the effrontery to accuse others of the things they have been guilty of.
Concern over ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’ from the West’s endless war propagandists?
It’s hard to think of a better example of what psychologists call ‘projection.’
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The results of the two presidential elections held on Sunday in Bulgaria and Moldova underscore the winds of change blowing over the western edges of Eurasia. To an extent they can be called the early signs of the ‘Trump effect’. In both elections, ‘pro-Russian’ candidates won convincingly. (here and here)
In both cases, the contestation essentially boiled down to whether Bulgaria and Moldova would be better off casting their lot with the European Union or whether they need to realign with Russia. The answer is clear.
The open-ended quest for EU membership no longer holds attraction for Moldova, whereas, Bulgaria appears to be disheartened with its EU membership. On the other hand, Russia is real and it is next-door. The election results yesterday constitute a blow to the EU’s prestige. Indeed, Moscow’s influence is spreading in Eastern Europe.
This is also a swing to the Left in political terms. There is much discontent with ‘reforms’, rampant corruption, etc. in both countries. The Russophile sentiment is very substantial, and there is eagerness to boost trade with Russia to overcome economic difficulties. Also, the local partisans of the West and EU stand discredited in both countries.
In Moldova, only around 30% of population find EU attractive, while 44% would support their country joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. Curiously, 66% of Moldovans trust Vladimir Putin; in comparison, only 22% place trust in Barack Obama’s words.
Against the backdrop of the election victory of Donald Trump in the US, how these trends are going to play out will be interesting to watch. Bulgaria’s president-elect Rumen Radev has called for an end to the EU sanctions against Russia. He argues that Sofia should be pragmatic in its approach to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. (This is notwithstanding Bulgaria’s long history of divided loyalties between Russia and Europe.)
The Obama administration in its lame duck phase will endeavour to pressure the EU to extend the sanctions against Russia for yet another 6-month period beyond December. But will Trump follow Obama’s footfalls when the issue crops up again toward the middle of next year? He is unlikely to show Obama’s messianic zeal to ‘contain’ Russia. That is how the EU consensus on sanctions against Russia can break down because many countries in Europe resent the American pressure and prefer to restore trade and economic ties with Russia.
Interestingly, Trump may get resonance in Old Europe as well. The Labour leader in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn made a stunning call in the weekend for Western leaders to ‘demilitarize’ the border between Eastern Europe and Russia or risk a New Cold War. He said the West didn’t have to pile up forces on Russia’s border. Corbyn told the BBC:
I have many, many criticisms of Putin, of the human rights abuses in Russia, of the militarisation of society. But I do think there has to be a process that we try –demilitarise the border between what are now the NATO states and Russia, so that we drive apart those forces and keep them further apart in order to bring about some kind of accommodation. We can’t descend into a new Cold War.
Corbyn also made a thoughtful suggestion that that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes Russia, could replace NATO as a forum for solving issues in the region.
Indeed, some churning has already begun regarding European security even before Trump takes over in the Oval Office. By the way, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday that American statements about possible deployment of a U.S. global missile shield’s radar in the Czech Republic are pure fiction.
He said, “A radar in the Czech territory would mean further escalation in relations with Russia. We need to use the window opening after Donald Trump’s election to have the United States and Russia sit down at one table.” Sobotka pointed out that Eastern Europe’s main security problem today is about putting an end to the war in Syria.
“The United States has considerable influence on the situation in Syria, Russia has considerable influence. So, it is necessary to use this,” he said, adding that Donald Trump can establish more efficient cooperation with Russia on Syria.
However, the fact of the matter is that neither has Trump taken his position yet on NATO nor is it going to be easy for him to seek a separation for America from the western alliance. Simply put, Europe is not ready for a post-NATO future. There is palpable fear in many quarters (both in the US and in Europe) that if the US were to withdraw from Europe, Russia would advance and exercise more assertive behaviour in Eastern Europe.
In an article in the weekend, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg made an impassioned appeal to Trump that now is not the time for the US to abandon NATO. He pointedly invoked the threat perceptions from “a more assertive” Russia. Read the opinion piece here.
The bottom line is that European opinion stands divided. Britain, France and Hungary refused to attend a contentious EU ministerial meeting last night in Brussels, backed by Germany, to align the bloc’s approach to Trump’s election. The rift within the EU on the US vote stands exposed. The irrepressible British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has publicly chided EU politicians to end their ‘whinge-o-rama’ over Trump. (Daily Mail )
Interestingly, the first politician from abroad whom Trump met after the election has been Nigel Farage, the populist Brexit campaigner.
Political pundits in the US, who saw their election predictions turned on their heads, are now scrambling for an insightful explanation of how Hillary Clinton could have failed to win. Well, there’s one big reason. The anti-establishment protests that marked the whole trajectory of the US election came to a head on Nov. 8. The American people had not only lost their faith in the powers-that-be – which try to equate their own needs with the interests of the broader nation – but they had also stopped trusting the dominant media outlets that are so intertwined with that system. Trump was not only battling his political opponents, he was also opposed by many from his own party who defected to Clinton’s side. He faced resistance from the mainstream media, including an estimated 50 of the leading American newspapers and magazines, as well as virtually all of the major television channels. It is difficult to imagine how Trump managed to break through the «consensus» that was aimed against him. It appears that some instinctive, universal sympathy was roused toward someone who, like the Paul Bunyan of American folk tales, was willing to single-handedly take on the world. The fact that the traditional media was able to exert so little influence is evidence that they are losing ground to the Internet and other more cutting-edge ways of communicating. It seems that Trump was also better able than others to harness this technological revolution.
It is possible that one of the new president’s first steps in his revolution will be to begin a housecleaning of the American media landscape. In his «100 Day Action Plan» for his new administration, Trump has already announced that he will do battle with anyone who is «trying to stifle the voice of the American people». He has singled out AT&T’s desire to purchase Time Warner, which owns CNN and many other media assets, as an example of how big capital is taking over the channels that influence public opinion. Trump stated that as president he would not approve this deal, «because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few». Amazon, which owns the Washington Post and thus avoids a high tax bill, is a similar case in point. Yet another example – the television channel NBC, in which Comcast has acquired a majority stake, also «concentrates too much power in its hands». The list goes on. Trump feels that we now have one superstructure that manipulates the thoughts and behaviors of voters, thereby contaminating their minds. Deals like these «destroy democracy» and the Trump administration has vowed to try to break them up.
The publications that could be affected by these reorganizations are close to panicking. Their prestige is declining, as are their stock prices. The Washington Post, for example, is behaving very oddly right now. It published an article claiming that the blame for all the filth and professional sleaziness that has filled the pages of American newspapers, including its own, can be placed on… Russia.
The New York Times has not yet reached this conclusion and remains absolutely dumbfounded, claiming that what was once an «implausible fantasy» is now a fait accompli that has «placed the United States on a precipice». You can, however, agree with that publication’s conclusion that during the election Trump used the «judo move of turning the weight of a complacent establishment against it».
Television channels reorganize quickly. They are not yet singing Trump’s praises, but are putting many of their previous assessments on hold. It is easier for them to simply broadcast pictures of events while refraining from comment. Political analysts who don’t have the backing of powerful organizations and corporations are in a more difficult position – they need to respond instantly. Yesterday they considered Trump anathema, but today the number of his «long-time» supporters is growing rapidly, and one topic predominates among them. If the new president wants his policies to work, he needs to get advice from these «indispensables», otherwise he will fail. There are quite a large number of those who want to lend Trump their own broad shoulders and minds – the very same that have already pushed the US into so many misadventures. To what extent these «eternal gurus» will manage to latch onto Trump – and how much success he will have bringing fresh blood into his administration – will largely depend on whether the newly-elected master of the White House sticks to the script he has promised. The most militant of them – neocons such as William Kristol – are already glancing toward the future vice-president Mike Pence, hoping to make him an agent of their influence over Trump.
Outside the US, the prize for the most ridiculous reaction to Trump’s win should probably be awarded to French President François Hollande. He was completely unprepared for Clinton’s defeat, and what he said was not only incongruous with French gallantry but also common sense. «The American people have just expressed their opinion… They chose Donald Trump to be the president of the United States», Hollande reluctantly admitted, adding with a sigh, «and I therefore congratulate him, as is natural between two democratic heads of state». Meaning that he personally would have never done so on his own. «This election opens up a period of uncertainty», added Hollande, «I must be very clear about that». Although probably after such a «warm greeting» it will be difficult for him to count on having a relationship with Trump. But it’s possible he won’t have much time left for that anyway.
The former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is favored to win the upcoming French presidential elections in April and May 2017, is pretty much already celebrating his own victory and is not concealing his joy at Trump’s election. Sarkozy emphasizes that the outcome of the US election signifies a «rejection of a monolithic mindset» on trade and immigration issues. With leaders like Donald Trump in the US and Vladimir Putin in Russia, France should also have a strong leader at the helm – there is no longer «any place for helplessness and weakness».
In Berlin Angela Merkel is of course too rational to give way to emotions like Hollande’s and merely responded to Trump’s victory in keeping with diplomatic protocol. However, she was clearly feeling some unease about her future political destiny. The changes in Washington could have a negative impact on the prospects for the CDU party that she leads during the Bundestag elections in the fall of 2017. Plus, Merkel has been copying Clinton’s unsuccessful tactical approach. For example, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported her sudden announcement that the Germans were «having to deal with Internet attacks by Russian hackers and with news from the Russian media that provide false information». She claims that «this could influence next year’s German elections». It is unlikely that such a plan of attack, which didn’t work out for Clinton, can help Merkel in any way.
It is not unusual to opine that Trump’s victory is being welcomed, first and foremost, by the world’s alt-right. That’s an oversimplification. Although there are many Trump opponents in the US who are unhappy with his conciliatory words about Russia and his preference for non-interference in the affairs of others, it’s more the case that there are some who are known as traditionalists who have specific hopes for him. In some sense the Trump phenomenon is a conservative revolution at the hands of the US and global «mainstream» who are pushing back against the aggressive hold over them by those in the minority. Statistics show that the majority of the US population favor Trump, while only a minority supported Clinton. And democracy is after all a political form of governance in which power belongs to the majority. Soon we shall see how Trump is going to act on this issue.
Israel has just emerged from its three-week high holidays, a period that in recent years has been marked by extremist religious Jews making provocative visits to Al Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Many go to pray, in violation of Israel’s international obligations. Most of them belong to groups that seek to replace the mosque with a Jewish temple. They now enjoy increasing parliamentary support, some of it from within prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.
A rash of such visits last autumn outraged Palestinians and triggered a wave of so-called lone-wolf attacks on Israelis. The attacks have recently abated.
Taking advantage of the renewed quiet, Israel allowed a record number of ultra-nationalists to visit the mosque, figures released last week showed. Parties of Israeli soldiers are also entering the site.
The police, whose recently appointed commander is himself from the extremist settler community, have recommended that restrictions be ended on visits by Jewish legislators who demand Israel’s sovereignty over the mosque.
For Palestinians, Israel’s treatment of this supremely important Islamic holy site symbolises their powerlessness, oppression and routine humiliation. Conversely, a sense of impunity has left Israel greedy for even more control over the Palestinians.
The gaping power imbalance was movingly detailed last month at a special hearing of the UN security council. Hagai El-Ad, head of B’tselem, which monitors the occupation, termed Israel’s abuses as “invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence” against Palestinians exercised from “cradle to grave”.
He appealed to the international community to end its five decades of inaction. “We need your help. … The occupation must end. The UN Security Council must act. And the time is now,” he said.
Israeli politicians were incensed. Mr El-Ad had broken one of Israel’s cardinal rules: you do not wash the country’s dirty linen abroad. Most Israelis consider the occupation and Palestinian suffering as an internal matter, to be decided by them alone.
Mr Netanyahu accused B’tselem’s director of conspiring with outsiders to subject Israel to “international coercion”.
With the US limply defending Mr El-Ad’s freedom of speech, Mr Netanyahu found a proxy to relaunch the attack. David Bitan, chair of his party, demanded that Mr El-Ad be stripped of his citizenship and proposed legislation to ban calls in global forums for sanctions against Israel. Unsurprisingly, Mr El-Ad has faced a flood of death threats.
Meanwhile, another UN forum has been considering Israel’s occupation. Its educational, scientific and cultural body, Unesco, passed a resolution last month condemning Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian holy sites, especially Al Aqsa.
Again, Israelis were enraged at this brief disturbance of their well-oiled machinery of oppression. The abuses documented by Unesco were overshadowed by Israeli protests that its own narrative was not the focus.
While Israel exercises ever more physical power over Palestinians, its moral credit is running out with foreign audiences, who have come to understand that the occupation is neither benign nor temporary. The rise of social media has accelerated that awakening, which in turn has bolstered grassroots reactions such as the boycott (BDS) movement.
Aware of the dangers, Israel has been aggressively targeting all forms of popular activism. Facebook and YouTube are under relentless pressure to censor sites critical of Israel.
Western governments – which joined the chorus of “Je suis Charlie” after ISIL’s lethal attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine last year – have cracked down on the boycott movement. Paradoxically, France has led the way by banning such activism, echoing Israeli claims that it constitutes “incitement”.
And left-wing social movements emerging in Europe face loud accusations that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to an attack on all Jews. Notably, a British parliamentary committee last month characterised as anti-semitic parts of the opposition Labour party under its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a champion of Palestinian rights.
In these ways, European governments have been trying to hold in check popular anger at a belligerent and unrepentant Israel.
Illustrating that caution, Uneso was forced last week to vote a second time on its resolution, this time removing the word “occupation” and, against normal practice, giving equal status to the occupier’s names for the sites under threat from its occupation.
Even with the resolution neutered, Unesco’s usual consensus could not be reached. The resolution passed by a wafer-thin majority, with European and other governments abstaining.
Israel and its enablers have successfully engineered a hollowing out of official discourse about Israel to blunt even the mildest criticism. Gradually, western powers are adopting Mr Netanyahu’s doubly illogical premises: that criticising the occupation is anti-Israel, and criticising Israel is anti-semitic.
Incrementally, western leaders are conceding that any criticism of Mr Netanyahu’s policies – even as he tries to ensure that the occupation becomes permanent – is off-limits. Mr El-Ad called for courage from the western powers that dominate the security council. But the signs are his words have fallen on deaf ears.
In an historic move the United Nations First Committee voted Thursday to convene a conference next March to negotiate a new treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons. The vote is a huge step forward in the campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons launched several years ago by nonnuclear weapons states and civil society from across the globe.
Dismayed by the failure of the nuclear weapons states to honor their obligation under Article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty which requires them to pursue good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals, and moved by the growing danger of nuclear war, more than 120 nations gathered in Oslo in March of 2013 to review the latest scientific data about the catastrophic consequences that will result from the use of nuclear weapons. The conference shifted the focus of international discussion about nuclear war from abstract consideration of nuclear strategy to an evaluation of the medical data about what will actually happen if these weapons are used. It was boycotted by all of the major nuclear powers, the US, Russia, UK, China and France, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, or P5.
Further meetings in Nayarit, Mexico and Vienna followed in 2014 and culminated in a pledge by the Austrian government to “close the gap” in international law that does not yet specifically outlaw the possession of these weapons. More than 140 countries ultimately associated themselves with the pledge which was fiercely opposed by the United States and the other nuclear weapons states, and in the fall of 2015 the UN General Assembly voted to establish an Open Ended Working Group which met in Geneva earlier this year and recommended the negotiations approved Thursday.
The United States, which led the opposition had hoped to limit the “Yes” vote to less than one hundred, but failed badly. The final vote was 123 For, 38 Against and 16 Abstentions. The “No” votes came from the nuclear weapons states, and US allies in NATO, plus Japan, South Korea and Australia which have treaty ties to the US and consider themselves to be under the protection of the “US nuclear umbrella”.
But four nuclear weapons states broke ranks, with China, India and Pakistan abstaining, and North Korea voting in favor of the treaty negotiations. In addition, the Netherlands defied intense pressure from the rest of NATO and abstained, as did Finland, which is not a member of NATO but has close ties with the alliance.
Japan which voted with the US against the treaty has indicated that it will, nonetheless, participate in the negotiations when they begin in March.
The US and the other nuclear weapons states will probably try to block final approval of the treaty conference by the General Assembly later this fall, but, following Thursday’s vote, it appears overwhelmingly likely that negotiations will begin in March, and that they will involve a significant majority of UN member states, even if the [major] nuclear states continue their boycott.
The successful completion of a new treaty will not of itself eliminate nuclear weapons. But it will put powerful new pressure on the nuclear weapons states who clearly do not want to uphold their obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty even as they insist that the nonnuclear weapons states meet theirs.
We have come perilously close to nuclear war on multiple occasions during the last 70 years, and we have been incredibly lucky. US nuclear policy cannot continue to be the hope that we will remain lucky in the future. We need to join and lead the growing movement to abolish nuclear weapons and work to bring the other nuclear weapons states into a binding agreement that sets out the detailed time line for eliminating these weapons and the detailed verification and enforcement mechanisms to make sure they are eliminated.
This will not be an easy task, but we really have no choice. If we don’t get rid of these weapons, someday, perhaps sooner rather than later, they will be used and they will destroy human civilization. The decision is ours.
Ira Helfand, MD, is past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility
On October 21, on the initiative of the UK, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) met to discuss the recent situation in Aleppo. The discussions demonstrated a huge divergence of opinions and views on the realities in Aleppo and the Syrian crisis as a whole.
HRC has been reviewing the Syrian file for more than four years now, but regrettably its assessments are becoming a far cry from reality due to the efforts of certain states, including those who call themselves the “Friends of Syria”, to politicize the matter. The current session has been a case study in this.
Instead of supporting the fight against international terrorism, the initiators of the HRC special session, as a matter of fact, tried to let the terrorists off the hook, save them from defeat and allow them to regroup and continue to commit atrocities in Syria. There is no other explanation for the fact that a HRC draft resolution didn’t demand the terrorists and militants cease hostilities, obstructing humanitarian access, using civilians as human shields, and stop preventing residents and medical workers from leaving the city via established humanitarian corridors.
Moreover, these countries tried to blame Russia for most of the developments in East Aleppo, while failing to pressure the rebels to abide by the ceasefire and respect humanitarian efforts. In fact, the whole situation in East Aleppo is held hostage to the terrorists designs.
Against this backdrop, the crimes committed by the US-led coalition are being silenced, despite their devastating strikes on civilians and Syrian army units. They are also systematically destroying the economic infrastructure in the Syrian Government-controlled areas (perhaps to make Syria depend on financial assistance for post-conflict reconstruction?). Now, it seems that ISIL fighters are being deliberately squeezed from Iraq’s Mosul into Syria.
Even more perplexing was the voting on Russia’s amendments to the HRC draft resolution. UK, France, Belgium and several other Western and Gulf countries flatly refused to admit the existence of foreign assistance to terrorists in Syria, to recognize the need to separate the jihadists from the moderate opposition (which is the subject matter being discussed by experts in Geneva as a follow-up to the recent multilateral talks in Lausanne) and to support the efforts of UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to remove the jihadists from eastern Aleppo. Such a stance suggests that the public rhetoric of those governments on the need to fight international terrorism in Syria does not reflect their true intentions and goals.
Our Western partners should understand that using HRC for attaining their own political goals is counterproductive and discredits this vital human rights agency and the doctrine of human rights as a whole. We hope that they will eventually see reason, stop supporting the jihadists and start fighting against them, facilitate the separation of terrorists from the moderate opposition, help oust Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies from Aleppo, stop supplying terrorists with arms and recruits, and promote the continuation of inter-Syrian talks to eventually settle the conflict in Syria. It has to be understood that if al-Nusra leads the opposition on the battlefield, it will call the tune at the talks on the side of the opposition. We must not allow them dictate to Syria and the world.
On its part, Russia will continue working towards a political settlement in Syria through talks between Damascus and the opposition based on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and compliance with UN Security Council resolutions.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko