Ankara’s refusal to allow Russia to conduct an observation flight over Turkish territory under the Open Skies Treaty confirms Moscow’s concerns that Ankara is supporting the Daesh, which is prohibited in numerous countries including the United States and Russia, on the Turkish-Syrian border, a high-ranking source in the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Russian inspectors planned to conduct the observation flight on board an An-30B plane over Turkish territory on February 1-5, but they were refused permission to do so after they arrived in Turkey and announced the flight route.
“This case is of course outrageous because the Open Skies Treaty today is practically one of many mechanisms that continue to operate in the European space and this treaty is valid and allows for acquiring valid information on steps being taken or not being taken by one or another state,” the source told RIA Novosti.
He reminded that in 2015 the West actively accused Russia of illegal activity on the Ukrainian border and NATO member countries requested observation flights over Russian territory, the results of which fully reversed the rumors.
“This once again confirms those concerns that the Russian side has voiced several times on using the Turkish-Syrian border to support Daesh militants,” the source said.
© Vladimir Fedorenko / Sputnik
The head of a political research center has sent a letter to the State Duma chairman urging him to postpone parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia until Western nations stop their attempts at regime change through economic pressure.
“I am asking you as the chairman of the State Duma – who has the right to come up with legislative initiatives – to look into the possibility to urgently amend the Constitution with acts that would protect Russia from regime change instigated from abroad and the subsequent breakup [that would result from this],” chairman of the board at the Institute for Political Infrastructure Analysis, Yevgeny Tunik, wrote in his letter to Sergey Naryshkin.
The exact measure suggested by the analyst is a law that would automatically prolong the powers of Russian president and parliament in the event that the authorities decide to introduce a state of emergency or martial law. The new term for legislators and the head of state would last for six months from the moment of the cancellation of the emergency measures. Tunik emphasized that such a step would not violate citizens’ political rights as elections would not be canceled, only postponed.
Tunik also elaborated in his letter that over the past two years Russia has experienced unprecedented pressure from Western nations, primarily from the United States. He warned that the economic crisis and price hike could cause social unrest and protests that, in turn, could bring to power “hostile, pro-Western or even extremist forces.” Canceling all elections for the period of economic crisis would prevent a situation when citizens are asked to make serious choices under pressure from circumstances that could provoke irrational decisions.
“We all can witness the results of 2015 elections in Ukraine that were held in conditions of an undeclared emergency situation,” the analyst noted.
While the State Duma speaker has not commented on the letter, the head of the lower house Committee for Constitutional Law, Vladimir Pligin MP (United Russia), said that he did not consider the initiative as viable.
“All the latest efforts of the state power institutions and society in general are directed at preserving the constitutional norms in the Russian Federation. I think that there is no reason to change them at the current moment,” the lawmaker told RIA Novosti.
According to a “sensational” article by the Telegraph, the US director of National Intelligence was recently instructed by Congress to “conduct a major review into Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the last decade.” This disclosure – a classic “controlled leak” – is intended to warn disobedient yet popular political entities across Europe to scale back their ambitions to rebalance the roles and weight of their nation states within the European Union. Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Lega Nord, and France’s Front National are explicitly included in the US “warning list,” while other unnamed “parties” in Austria, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands are being advised that they are “under a US security probe.” Even the new British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is suspected of flirting with the Russians. So, according to the sponsor of the Telegraph’s story, any European politician who dares to question NATO’s eastward expansion, the policy of anti-Russian sanctions, or the current European stance on the Ukrainian conflict is essentially a witting or unwitting tool of “Russia’s hybrid warfare.”
Well, that would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. In fact, any impartial observer would pose some simple questions: Why the hell do US intelligence agencies care about challenges to Europe’s internal security? Aren’t they the same agents who finance, recruit, and control countless political organizations, individuals, and media outlets on the European continent? Why are they so brazenly revealing their dominion over Europe?
A politically correct challenger would argue that the United States saved Europe from the “Communist threat” after the end of WWII, facilitated its speedy economic recovery, and is still safeguarding the continent under its nuclear umbrella. Perhaps. But a review of the historical background should not begin with the Marshall Plan. First of all, that was launched in April 1948. Since the Nazis capitulated in May 1945, a misinformed reader might deduce that the United States had been drafting a massive investment program for Europe for as long as three years, and … he would be wrong. At the Second “Octagon” Quebec Conference in September 1944, President Roosevelt and US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. submitted to the British PM Winston Churchill their Post-Surrender Program for Germany. That strictly confidential document envisaged the partition and complete deindustrialization of the German state. According to the plan, Germany was to be divided into two independent states. Its epicenters of mining and industry, including the Saar Protectorate, the Ruhr Valley, and Upper Silesia were to be internationalized or annexed by France and Poland. Following are a few excerpts:
- The [US] military forces upon entry into [German] industrial areas shall destroy all plants and equipment which cannot be removed immediately.
- No longer than 6 months after the cessation of hostilities, all industrial plants and equipment not destroyed by military action shall either be completely dismantled and removed from the area or completely destroyed.
- All people within the area should be made to understand that this area will not again be allowed to become an industrial area. Accordingly, all people and their families within the area having special skills or technical training should be encouraged to migrate permanently from the area and should be as widely dispersed as possible.
- All German radio stations and newspapers, magazines, weeklies, etc. shall be discontinued until adequate controls are established and an appropriate program formulated.
That was the original postwar recovery program for Germany, known as the Morgenthau Plan. The notorious Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 (JCS 1067) addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Occupation Forces in Germany, which was officially issued in April 1945, was fully in line with that document.
Partition of Germany according to Morgenthau Plan, 1944
The Morgenthau Plan very quickly proved to be a strategic mistake. The United States underestimated the ideological and cultural impact the Soviets would have on European societies. Left to their own judgment, American strategists failed to understand the attraction that a socialist system held for the majority of the population of the liberated nations. A vast spectrum of pro-socialist and pro-communist politicians began winning democratic elections and gaining political influence not only in Eastern Europe, but also in Greece, Italy, France, and other European states (Palmiro Togliatti and Maurice Thorez are just a few who could be named here). Thus Washington came to understand that its forced de-industrialization of Europe could result in Soviet-style reindustrialization and eventual Russian dominance of the continent… Therefore the US had to promptly replace the Morgenthau Plan with one named after Secretary of State George Marshall… Over the course of four years it provided Europe with $12 billion USD in credits, donations, leases, etc., for the purpose of buying … American machinery and other goods. Although the plan undoubtedly revived the economies of Europe, its biggest positive effect was on … the US economy itself! Simultaneously a wave of political repression was launched throughout Europe, most notably in Germany.
The media has largely forgotten about a Soviet initiative, proposed in 1950, to withdraw from the GDR and to reunify a neutral, non-aligned, demilitarized Germany within one year of the conclusion of a peace treaty. As a matter of fact, the resolution adopted at the Prague meeting of the foreign ministers of the Soviet Bloc on Oct. 21, 1950 proposed the establishment of an all-German Constituent Council, with equal representation from East and West Germany to prepare for the formation of an “all-German, sovereign, democratic, and peace-loving provisional government.” Needless to say, the US government and West German administration in Bohn strongly opposed the initiative. While a plebiscite on the issue “Are you against the remilitarization of Germany and in favor of the conclusion of a Peace Treaty in 1951?” was announced in both halves of the divided state, that referendum was held and officially acknowledged only in East Germany (with 96% voting “yes”). The authorities in US-controlled West Germany failed to respond in a truly democratic manner. They refused to recognize the preliminary results of the referendum that had been held since February 1951 (of the 6.2 million federal citizens who had taken part by June 1951, 94.4% also voted “yes”) and introduced the draconian cautious Criminal Law Amendment Act (the 1951 Blitzgesetz) on July 11. According to that legislation, anyone guilty of importing prohibited literature, criticizing the government, or having unreported contacts with representatives of the GDR, etc. was to be prosecuted for “state treason,” which was punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. Consequently, between 1951 and 1968, 200,000 charges were brought against 500,000 members of the Communist Party and other left-wing groups in Germany under this law. Ten thousand people were sent to prison, and most of those who were “cleared” of charges never resumed their political activities. Additional legal amendments in 1953 actually abolished the right to freely hold gatherings and demonstrations, and in 1956 the Communist Party of Germany was banned. [More details can be found in Daniel Burkholz’s 2012 documentary Verboten – Verfolgt – Vergessen (Forbidden-Followed-Forgotten. Half a Million Public Enemies), which is surprisingly unavailable on YouTube].
The political repression that occurred in Germany from the 1950s to the 1980s, compared to similar events in other European countries during the same period, is a very taboo topic. Operation Gladio in Italy, the crimes of the regime of the Black Colonels in Greece, and the controversial assassinations of realistic European politicians who openly advocated for historical compromise with the Soviet bloc – such as Italian PM Aldo Moro (1978) and Swedish PM Olof Palme (1986) – all received far more media attention. The revelations made by a former correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Udo Ulfkotte, in his book Gekaufte Journalisten (“Purchased Journalists”) about the mechanism of media control in Germany (remember the Morgenthau Plan?) represent only the tip of the iceberg. The almost complete lack of reaction seen in Berlin after Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the blanket electronic espionage routinely conducted against German leaders by the NSA means that in reality, Germany has acknowledged its loss of sovereignty over its own country and thus has nothing to lose.
So, after taking all these facts into account and rereading the article in the Telegraph, are you still so sure that the United States is truly the guardian of Europe’s sovereignty? Is it not more likely that by using the alleged “Russian threat” to control and harass the political establishment and civil society in Europe, Washington is making headway toward a simple and primitive goal – that of merely keeping its sheep within the fold?
Antonov An-30 © Wikipedia
Turkey has set “a dangerous precedent” by denying an observation flight over its territories bordering Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, vowing a “relevant reaction” to Ankara’s violation of its obligations under the international Open Skies Treaty.
The Treaty on Open Skies which came into force in 2002 allows unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its 34 signatories, which includes Turkey. However the Russian An-30B plane was banned from conducting its surveillance flight over Turkish territory which was scheduled for February 1-5, without any prior warning.
“After the arrival of the Russian mission to Turkey and the announcement of the desired itinerary, the Turkish military officials refused to allow the inspection flight citing an order from the Turkish Foreign Ministry,” the head of the ministry’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, Sergey Ryzhkov, said in a statement.
This is the first time that Turkey has refused a Russian observation flight over its territory. Since 2006 under the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia conducted approximately two observation flights a year. Turkey has flown over Russian airspace approximately four times a year.
But as tensions between Turkey and Russia intensified following the downing of the Russian jet in November, Ankara has refused the implementation of the treaty.
“The itinerary included the observation of areas adjacent to the Turkish border with Syria, as well as airfields that host NATO warplanes,” Ryzhkov pointed out. A previous statement, issued on February 1, specified that a Russian oversight flight would be conducted along an agreed route. Furthermore, Turkish monitors on board would have the opportunity to control the use of surveillance equipment.
Tensions deteriorated further last week, when neither Ankara nor its NATO allies offered any proof after accusing Russia’s Su-34 bomber of violating Turkish airspace. Moscow sees the latest development as a violation of the treaty and has warned that “relevant action” will occur in response.
“As a result of violations of the requirements of the Treaty and unconstructive actions on the part of Turkey, a dangerous precedent was created of an uncontrolled military activity of an Open Skies Treaty member state,” Ryzhkov said. “We are not going to leave without proper attention and relevant reaction violations of the Open Skies Treaty on the part of the Turkish Republic.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the upper house’s international affairs committee, said that the Turkish violation of the treaty further complicates Russian-Turkish relations.
“This is unfortunate and does not contribute to the exit from this crisis, in which Russian-Turkish relations are currently in. This is a clear violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies,” he told TASS.
In a separate development the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday that another group of Russian inspectors would visit Turkish army ranges and get briefed by the Turkish military command, as part of the framework of the 2011 Vienna document aimed at building confidence and security.
On Jan. 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held an important year-in-review press conference before an audience of about 150 journalists, including the BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg and many other well-known representatives of mainstream Western media. The purpose of this annual event is to look back at issues faced by his Ministry over the past year and to give his appraisal of results achieved.
Lavrov’s opening remarks were concise, lasting perhaps 15 minutes, and the remaining two hours were turned over to the floor for questions. As the microphone was passed to journalists from many different countries, the discussion covered a great variety of subjects, including the likelihood of a new “re-set” with the United States, the negotiations over re-convening the Syrian peace talks in Geneva, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on the findings of a U.K. public inquest into the Litvinenko murder, the possibilities for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Georgia, and prospects for resolving conflicting claims over the Southern Kurile islands so as to conclude a peace treaty with Japan.
To the best of my knowledge, not a single report of the event has yet appeared on major online American, French, British and German newspaper portals or television channels. This was not for lack of substance or newsworthy sound bites, including Lavrov’s headline comment that he agreed with Western leaders who said there would be “no business as usual” between Russia and the West.
As part of his opening comments, Lavrov said, “Our Western colleagues sometimes declare with passion that there can no longer be ‘business as usual with Russia.’ I am convinced that this is so and here we agree: there will be no more ‘business as usual’ when they tried to bind us with agreements which take into account above all the interests of either the European Union or the United States and they wanted to persuade us that this will do no harm to our interests. That history is over and done with. A new stage of history is dawning which can develop only on the basis of equal rights and all other principles of international law.”
Regarding a similar news blackout that followed another major Russian press briefing, the sharp-tongued Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented, what are all these accredited Western reporters doing in Moscow if nothing gets published abroad? Do they have some other occupation?
In keeping with custom, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted the entire video recording of Lavrov’s press conference on youtube.com and posted transcripts in Russian and English on the www.mid.ru site. The Russian version takes up 26 tightly spaced printed pages. This is what I have used, since I prefer to go to the source and do my own translations when I have the option. The English version probably takes 40 pages, given the normal expansion from Russian to English in the translation process.
What I noted first in the television broadcast on Russia’s Pervy Kanal and then in the transcript was both how well prepared Lavrov was to deal with a plethora of issues and how he gave detailed answers that went on for many minutes without making reference to any notes.
Secondly, it was obvious he spoke more “freely,” using fewer diplomatic euphemisms than I have ever seen before. I conclude that he was given a nod by his boss, President Vladimir Putin, not to hold back, to speak with perfect clarity. Given his experience as one of the longest-serving foreign ministers among the major powers and his innate intellect, Lavrov delivered what sounds at times like dictation for essays in proper written Russian.
For these reasons, I have decided to divide my treatment of the press conference into two parts. One will be Lavrov in his own words. And the other will be my conclusions about the international environment in the coming year given Russia’s basic positions, particularly the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union and how the next U.S. administration can best prepare for relations with Russia, assuming there is no dramatic change in the thinking of American elites.
Sergey Lavrov in His Own Words
From the press briefing, I have extracted several big chunks of text that characterize the overarching views on international relations of Lavrov and the Kremlin, applying their Realpolitik prism and focused primarily on U.S.-Russian relations. This is essential if we are not to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
In questions and answers dealing with all countries but one, we hear about separate issues in various locations around the world holding interest mainly for discrete national audiences with their private concerns. With respect to one country, the U.S., Russia’s bilateral relations transcend the minister’s in-basket of contingencies.
Indeed, the whole Russian foreign policy really is about relations with the U.S. as expressed in the first two of the three passages in quotation marks below. The third passage, on sanctions, would seem to be more about relations with the E.U. I selected it because the issue of lifting sanctions will surely be a key foreign policy issue facing Russia in the first six months of this year, and behind it all looms the U.S. position on the question.
Question: Is a “re-set” possible in this final year of Barack Obama’s administration?
Lavrov: “The question should not be addressed to us. Our inter-state ties sank very low despite the excellent personal relations between former U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Putin. When U.S. President Barack Obama came to the White House and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a ‘re-set,’ this reflected the fact that Americans themselves finally saw the abnormality of the situation wherein Russia and the USA were not cooperating to solve those problems which could not be decided without them…
“We gave a rather constructive response to the ‘re-set.’ We said that we appreciate the decision of the new Administration to correct the errors of its predecessors. We achieved quite a lot: the New START Treaty, the entry of Russia into the WTO, an array of new agreements on various conflict situations. But somehow this quickly began to drop back to zero. Now everyone, including our American colleagues, is telling us: ‘Just fulfill the Minsk accords on Ukraine and immediately everything will return to normal. We will immediately cancel the sanctions and tempting prospects of cooperation will open up between Russia and the United States over much more pleasant issues, not just in the management of crises; right away a constructive partnership program will take shape.’
“We are open for cooperation with everyone on an equal, mutually advantageous basis. We, of course, do not want anyone to build their policy based on the assumption that Russia and not Ukraine must fulfill the Minsk accords. It is written there who must fulfill them. I hope that this is well known to the USA. At least, my latest contacts with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the contacts of Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland with Assistant to the Russian President Surkov indicate that the USA can sort out the essence of the Minsk accords. Grosso modo, everyone understands everything. …
“I have just mentioned that people have begun to promise a new ‘re-set.’ If we fulfill the Minsk accords, then immediately everything will become fine, with splendid and tempting prospects.
“But the cooling off of relations with the Administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and the end of the period associated with ‘re-set’ began long before the Ukraine. Let’s remember how this occurred. First, when we finally got the consent of our Western partners to terms of our joining the WTO which were acceptable to Russia, the Americans understood that it was not in their interests to keep the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Otherwise they would be deprived of those privileges and advantages which are linked to our participation in the WTO. They began to prepare for the removal of this amendment.
“But Americans would not be Americans if they simply abolished it and said ‘Enough, let’s now cooperate normally.’ They dreamed up the ‘Magnitsky Act,’ although I am certain that what happened to Magnitsky was not set up. I very much hope that the truth will become known to everyone. It is disgusting how a provocation and speculation were built up around the death of a man. Nonetheless, this was done and you know who lobbied for this ‘Magnitsky Act,’ which immediately replaced the Jackson-Vanik amendment.”
[The Magnitsky Act was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2012 with the goal of punishing Russian officials believed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison in 2009 amid accusations and counter-accusations of fraud.]
“This all began when there was still no Ukraine [crisis], although they now try to lay the blame on violations of OSCE principles. Everything that is going on between the West and Russia is explained by the fact that Russia did not fulfill its obligations, did not respect the world order which was put together in Europe after the Helsinki Act [of 1975], etc. These are all attempts to justify and find an excuse for continuing the policy of containment. But this policy never ended.
“After the ‘Magnitsky Act’ [in 2012], there was the completely inappropriate, overblown reaction to what happened to Edward Snowden, who found himself in Russia against our wishes [in 2013]. We did not know about this. He did not have a passport – his document was canceled while he was in flight. He could not go anywhere from Russia because of decisions taken in Washington. We could not help but give him the possibility to remain in Russia so as to stay safe, knowing which articles of the law they were threatening him with. The Americans made no secret about this. This was done simply as an elementary protection of a person’s right to life.
“U.S. President Barack Obama then canceled his visit to Russia. They made a huge scandal. Dozens of telephone calls came in from the FBI, from the CIA, the State Department. There were direct contacts with the President. They told us that if we do not give up Snowden, then relations will be broken off. The USA canceled the visit. It did not take place but U.S. President Obama came for the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, where we, by the way, did something useful – we reached agreement on the principles of the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.
“Ukraine was just a pretext. The Ukrainian crisis is linked not so much with justified concern over an alleged violation by Russia of the Helsinki principles (although everything began with Kosovo, with the  bombing of Yugoslavia, etc). This was an expression of irritation that the coup d’etat did not lead to the results that were expected by those who supported it.
“I will tell you honestly that we don’t hold a grudge. We have no such traditions in relations between states. We understand that life is tougher than any ideal, romantic scheme like ‘re-set’ or similar. We also understand that this is a world in which there are harsh clashes of interests that come down to us from the age of the West’s total domination and it is in the midst of a long transition period to a more durable system in which there will not be one or even two dominant poles – there will be several. The transition period is long and painful. Old habits die slowly. We all understand this.
“We understand that the USA is interested in having fewer competitors even with regards to those comparable to it in size, influence, military power, economy. We see this in the relations between the USA and China, in how the USA works with the European Union, trying to create a ring around it via the Transatlantic Partnership, and to the east of Russia, to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership which will not include Russia and China. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about this in detail when he analyzed the processes at work in the world economy and politics. We understand all of this.
“Surely every age brings with it new tendencies, frames of mind in one or another of the elites, especially in major countries which see in their own fashion the ways to fight for their interests. It would be very bad and ruinous for all of us if these processes moved outside the framework of generally accepted norms of international law.
“Then, simply put, everything would be topsy-turvy, and we would be drawn into a world of anarchy and chaos – something like what is going on in the Near East, perhaps without bloodshed. Each would act as he reckons necessary and nothing good would come out of this. It is very important to observe some kind of general rules of play.
“To answer your question, I would like for the USA to have a ‘re-set’ with the whole world, so that the ‘re-set’ was general, so that we could gather together and reconfirm our commitment to the UN Charter, to the principles embodied in it, including non-interference in internal affairs, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of peoples to self-determination, the right of peoples to choose their own future without interference from outside.”
Question: At the Munich Security Conference in 2007 President Putin said to the West “you need us more than we need you.” Is that still Russia’s position?
Lavrov: “Ideally we both need one another to face the challenges and threats. But, the reality is different. The West comes to us much more often for help than we come to the West.”
(Lavrov said that in response to Western sanctions, Russia was striving to be self-sufficient and promoting import substitution, but not trying to cut itself off from the world and ready for cooperation based on equality.)
“We must do everything to ensure we do not depend on the whim of one or another group of countries, above all from our Western partners” – as happened when the West took offense at Russia for supporting ethnic Russians in Ukraine who did not recognize the 2014 coup d’etat.
“I have cited Dmitry Yarosh [leader of the radical nationalists, the Right Sector] that they wanted to destroy Russian speakers in Ukraine or deprive them of their rights. We want to insure ourselves against such situations. …
“I note that it’s not we who are running to our European colleagues and saying ‘Let’s do something to remove the sanctions.’ Not at all. We are focused on not depending on such zigzags in Western policy, not depending on Europe’s saluting the USA. But in our bilateral contacts our European colleagues, when they come to us or meet us in international forums, say: ‘Let’s think of something. Help us carry out the Minsk accords, otherwise these sanctions will do a lot of damage. We want to turn the page.’
“It turns out that in this situation we are needed more by them than they are needed by us. Including for fulfillment of the Minsk accords. … Yes, we have influence in Donbass [the ethnic Russian section of eastern Ukraine] and we support them. Surely, without our help and humanitarian deliveries Donbass would be in a pitiful state. But one also has to exert influence in Kiev. We need the West to influence the Kiev authorities, but so far this is not happening.
“Or look at the question of the Iranian nuclear program. At the decisive stages of these negotiations we were literally bombarded with requests when it was necessary to solve the questions of exporting enriched uranium in exchange for natural uranium, which was the key condition for achieving agreements; when it was necessary to resolve the question about who will convert the enrichment sites at Fordu into research for production of medical isotopes, etc.
“They came with requests to us, requests which carry a significant financial burden, or at least which do not bring any material benefit. But we fulfilled our part of the work. Now everyone is calling us and our Chinese colleagues about the North Korean problem: ‘help us do something to make North Korea observe its obligations.’ Or take the case of Syria….
“I can’t think of any requests we made to our Western colleagues recently. We don’t believe it is proper to make requests. After you sign agreements following negotiations, you now have to execute obligations, not to make requests for favors.”
Question: Will the sanctions end early?
Lavrov: “I’d say that among a large number of our partners there is the awareness that they cannot go on this way any longer, that this is harmful to them. Our justification for speaking about some possible positive changes comes down to the following: our Western partners more and more often begin to understand that they have fallen into a trap of their own making when they said that they will lift the sanctions after Russia fulfills the Minsk accords. They have now understood that, very likely, this was a ‘slip of the tongue.’
“But in Kiev this was heard very often and was interpreted as an indulgence allowing them not to carry out the Minsk accords. Their failure to perform not only means that Kiev does not have to undertake any actions and fulfill its obligations. It also means that the West will have to keep the sanctions in place against Russia. It was necessary to prove all of this to some gentlemen who are in Kiev fanning radical attitudes. …
“The West understands the hopelessness of the present situation, when everyone pretends that Russia must fulfill the Minsk accords but Ukraine can do nothing – not change its constitution, not give a special status to the Donbass, not put through an amnesty, not organize elections in consultation with Donbass. Everyone understands that no one will resolve these things for Ukraine.
“Everyone understands that this is abnormal, something pathological which emerged in turning the Ukrainian crisis, which arose as a result of an absolutely illegal, anti-constitutional coup d’etat, into a measuring stick for all relations between Russia and the West. This is absolutely abnormal, an unhealthy situation, artificially fanned from countries that are far removed from Europe. Europe no longer wants to be held hostage to this situation. For me, this is obvious.”
In presenting these three long excerpts from Lavrov’s Jan. 26 press conference, my intention was to give readers a feel for Lavrov’s method of argumentation and his somber tone in what was delivered without notes and in response to questions from journalists in the audience.
In his prepared opening remarks, Lavrov had already set out some of the key points in the overall approach to international affairs from Russia’s analytical tool of realism and national interest. The number one issue facing Russia and the world from his perspective is to arrive at a new system of managing international affairs. Russia’s relations with the West are part and parcel of this broader challenge.
This wished-for new system would be one built on full equality of relations between states, respect for their interests and non-interference in internal affairs. Lavrov was repeating Vladimir Putin’s call upon nations to re-dedicate themselves to the principles of the United Nations Charter that Putin issued in New York in September 2015 at the 70th anniversary gathering of the General Assembly. The new system of global governance will come about as a result of reforms to the basic international institutions whereby political and economic power is reallocated in ways that reflect changes in relative economic and military power of nations from the days when these institutions were established.
By itself, there is nothing particular new in this vision. It has been in the public domain for years and guided calls for readjusting the voting powers within the International Monetary Fund. The novel element, which will be shocking to many in Washington, was Sergey Lavrov’s clear and repeated identification of the United States as the power frustrating the renewal of world governance by stubbornly defending its hegemonic control of institutions and seeking to consolidate still further its control over its allies in Europe and Asia at the expense of their national interests and in furtherance of its own interests.
Hence, Lavrov’s mention of the TPP and TIPP projects. Hence, his repeated mention of forces from afar, meaning the U.S., that have imposed European sanctions on Russia against the wishes of separate E.U. member states.
At one point, in responding to a journalist from Japan, Lavrov completely abandoned veiled language. He said Russia favored in principle giving a permanent seat on the UN Security Council to Japan, but would do so only when it was clear Japan will contribute its own national views to deliberations, broadening the perspectives on the table, and not merely provide the United States with an additional voting member under its control.
It is interesting that Lavrov explicitly denied that Russia feels “offended,” or as I have written using an alternative translation, “holds a grudge” over how it has been treated by the United States in the downward spiral of relations from the high point of the 2009 “re-set” to today’s nadir.
The context for this remark is the ever-present denunciations in mainstream Western media of Vladimir Putin’s speeches on foreign affairs. Putin’s observations on how things went awry since the end of the Cold War are regularly categorized as “diatribes” and “revisionist,” by which is meant aggressive, threatening and possibly irrational.
Lavrov said Russia acknowledges it is a tough world out there and competition is harsh. That is the true sense of his headline remark that there can be no return to “business as usual” or the idealistic notions underlying the “re-set” even when the current sanctions against Russia are lifted.
Russia is nonetheless open for business on equal and mutually advantageous terms where and when possible. In this regard, Lavrov is in complete agreement with American experts like Angela Stent at Georgetown University who advise the incoming U.S. administration in 2017 against planning some new “re-set.” They come to that common conclusion from diametrically opposed premises over who is responsible for the new reality.
Lavrov speaks of our being in a long and painful transition period from a world dominated by the West, which in turn is dominated by one power, the United States, to a multipolar world with a number of key participants in global governance. But that does not exclude amelioration and he appears to share the view now spreading in Western media, that U.S. and European sanctions will be lifted in the near future.
One recent example of this expectation that generates euphoria in Western business circles appeared in Bloomberg online the day before Lavrov’s news conference: “Russian Entente Nears as Allies Hint at End of Ukraine Sanctions.”
The important message, which Sergey Lavrov delivered on Jan. 26, is that Russia has not and will not mend its ways. He told us Russia did not beg for relief from sanctions and is not trading its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria in return for relief over Ukraine.
We may be sure that the United States and the European Union will present the lifting of sanctions as a trade-off. But the reality will be a retreat from a policy that is unsustainable because it harms Western interests far more than Russian interests. This was the sense of Lavrov’s insistence that the West needs Russia more than Russia needs the West.
The present, ongoing economic harm to European farmers and other select sectors of the economy from Russia’s tit-for-tat embargo is obvious. The harm to U.S. interests is more subtle.
It was recently highlighted in an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine by a research fellow of the Cato Institute entitled “Not-So Smart Sanctions.” There we read that the Washington establishment is finally worried over the creation by Russia and China of alternative global financial institutions to those based in Washington.
The BRICS Bank, the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank, the introduction of bank clearing centers competing with SWIFT: all are intended to end, once and for all, America’s possibilities for inflicting crippling economic pain on those falling into its latest list of enemies as was done to punish the Kremlin over annexation of Crimea and intervention in Donbass.
Lavrov spoke repeatedly about defending “national interests” as the guiding principle of foreign relations. In this connection, the shadow of Hans Morgenthau, a founder and major theorist of America’s Realist School, may be said to have shared the podium with him. But Lavrov and the Russians have taken to a new level the principles set out in Politics Among Nations, Morgenthau’s famous textbook which generations of American college students once studied in their Government 101 courses.
Lavrov’s Russia is calling upon nations to shed their chains, to stop pushing their national interests to one side while listening to instructions from Washington. Nations should compete and jostle for influence in a free market of ideas and influences, while playing by generally recognized rules.
If the rules are followed, the international environment will not collapse into chaos notwithstanding sharp contradictions between nations.
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to email@example.com. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
According to an ICC statement, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court has authorized an investigation for the crimes within the ICC jurisdiction, allegedly committed in and around South Ossetia between July 1 and October 10, 2008.
Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized an investigation for the crimes within the ICC jurisdiction, allegedly committed in and around South Ossetia between July 1 and October 10, 2008, according to an ICC statement issued on Wednesday.
“On 13 October 2015, the ICC Prosecutor submitted her “Request for authorization of an investigation pursuant to article 15″ of the Rome Statute, asking for authorization from Pre-Trial Chamber I to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Georgia, for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in and around South Ossetia in 2008,” the statement says.
According to the ICC, the Chamber received the representations by or on behalf of 6,335 victims on this matter.
“After examining the request and the supporting material, the Chamber concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction have been committed…in the context of an international armed conflict between 1 July and 10 October 2008,” the document says.
The ICC considers murder, forcible transfer of population and persecution to be crimes against humanity, while attacks against the civilian population, willful killing, intentionally directing attacks against peacekeepers, destruction of property and pillaging are considered war crimes.
In 2008, Georgia launched a military offensive against the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which escalated into a five-day war with Russia. Both regions declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s. Their statehood was recognized by Russia following the 2008 conflict.
Svezhie Novosti | January 26, 2016
Ukrainian authorities have stated that more than 8,000 military service personnel have been declared on the wanted list. It is reported that the soldiers went over to the side of Russia at the time of the so-called Crimean spring. This was stated by the Military Prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoly Matios. The former Ukrainian servicemen are now wanted, and criminal proceedings have been instituted.
According to Matios, all soldiers declared wanted served in the Ukrainian military units that were located on the peninsula of Crimea, and after Crimea went to Russia, did not return to Ukrainian territory.
The number of Ukrainian soldiers, who betrayed their Ukrainian oath and did not leave the territory of Crimea after the unification with Russia, is huge, more than 8,000 people. All of them are now on the wanted list. Measures against them have already been adopted; if in the near future they cross the Ukrainian border, they will be turned over to the courts.
The British government, whose foreign policy is overtly hostile to their Russian counterpart, declared last week that their investigation into the killing of a former Russian intelligence agent in London nearly a decade ago concluded there is a “strong probability” the Russian FSB security agency was responsible for poisoning Alexander Litivenko with plutonium. They further declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” of the act. The British investigation, which was likely politically motivated, seemingly raised more questions than it answered. But American corporate media were quick to use the accusations against Putin to demonize him, casting him as a pariah brazenly flaunting his disregard for international conventions.
The Washington Post (1/23/16) editorial board wrote that “Robert Owen, a retired British judge, has carefully and comprehensively documented what can only be called an assassination… Mr. Owen found (Andrei) Lugovoi was acting ‘under the direction’ of the FSB in an operation to kill Mr. Litivenko – one that was ‘probably approved’ by the director of the FSB and by Mr. Putin.”
Actually, Owen did not find that former KGB operative Lugovoi was acting under the direction of the FSB to kill Litivenko. He found there was a “strong probability” this was the case. This means that even in Owens’s view, there is not near certainty, which would meet the legal standard of reasonable doubt that would preclude a guilty judgement. There is even more doubt that even if it were the case the FSB ordered the murder, they did so on Putin’s orders.
The New York Times editorial board (1/21/16) finds the investigation’s results “shocking.” For the Times, this confirms a pattern of Putin’s rogue behavior. They claim Putin’s “deserved reputation as an autocrat willing to flirt with lawlessness in his global ventures has taken on a startling new aspect.”
Both of the prestigious and influential American newspapers argue that the British findings impugn Putin’s respectability in international affairs. The Times says:
Mr. Putin has built a sordid record on justice and human rights, which naturally reinforces suspicion that he could easily have been involved in the murder. At the very least, the London inquiry, however much it is denied at the Kremlin, should serve as a caution to the Russian leader to repair his reputation for notorious intrigues abroad.
The more hawkish Post says: “This raises a serious question for President Obama and other world leaders whose governments do not traffic in contract murder. Should they continue to meet with Mr. Putin as if he is just another head of state?”
Putin’s alleged “sordid record on justice and human rights,” which is taken for granted without providing any examples, is seen as bolstering the case for his guilt in the case of the poisoning death of Litivenko. This, in turn, adds to his “notorious” reputation as a violator of human rights.
The Post draws a line between the lawless Putin and the respectable Western heads of state, such as Obama. Though they frame their call to treat Putin as an outcast as a question, it is clearly intended as a rhetorical question.
It is curious that The Post draws a contrast between Putin and Obama, whose government is supposedly above such criminality. The newspaper does not mention the U.S. government’s drone assassination program, which as of last year had killed nearly 2,500 people in at least three countries outside of declared military battlefields. Estimates have shown that at least 90 percent of those killed were not intended targets. None of those killed have been charged with any crimes. And at least two – Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdul Rahman – were Americans.
Obama himself is personally responsible for those killed by missiles launched from unmanned aircraft over the skies of sovereign countries. Several news reports have indicated that Obama is presented in meetings each week by military and national security officials with a list of potential targets for assassination. Obama must personally approve each target, at which point they are added to the state-sanctioned “kill list.”
The British government has also assumed for itself the power to assassinate its own citizens outside a declared battlefield. Last fall, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the deaths of two British citizens in Syria, who were subsequently disposed of in a lethal drone strike.
The Washington Post editorial board (3/24/12) claimed that Obama was justified in carrying out lethal drone strokes that kill American citizens “to protect the country against attack.” Their lone criticism was that “an extra level of review of some sort is warranted.”
After it was revealed that an American hostage was inadvertently killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, The Post (5/1/15) said that the issue of whether the American government continues to conduct drone strikes should not be up for debate. “(T)here is little question that drones are the least costly means of eliminating militants whose first aim is to kill Americans,” they wrote.
While they tacitly accept the legal rationale for Obama’s assassination program, the New York Times editorial board at least demonstrated some skepticism. In “A Thin Rationale for Drone Killings” (6/23/14), they called the memo “a slapdash pastiche of legal theories – some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law – that was clearly tailored to the desired result.” They say that “the rationale provides little confidence that the lethal action was taken with real care.”
Yet they do not chastise Obama for his “intrigues abroad” nor do they condemn this as an example of his “sordid record on justice and human rights,” language they used for Putin. The idea that relying on what are transparently inadequate legal justifications for killing an American citizen without due process would merit prosecution is clearly beyond the limits of discussion for the Times.
Recently Faheem Qureshi, a victim of the first drone strike ordered by Obama in 2009 (three days after his induction as President), who lost multiple family members and his own eye, told The Guardian that Obama’s actions in his native lands are “an act of tyranny. If there is a list of tyrants in the world, to me, Obama will be put on that list by his drone program.”
Surely both The New York Times and Washington Post disagree with Qureshi, because they believe the U.S. government is inherently benevolent and its motives are beyond reproach. But based on their editorials about the British investigation of the Litivenko poisoning, if Putin was responsible and was described by Qureshi in the same way, they would wholeheartedly agree.
The U.S. government and its allies in NATO, like Great Britain, have a clear agenda in vilifying Russia and its President. The US-NATO alliance supported the government that came to power in Ukraine in 2014 through a coup. After provinces in Eastern Ukraine – the vast majority of whose population is ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking – refused to recognize the NATO-backed coup government in Kiev, the Russian government supported them.
It should be easy to see how, from Russia’s perspective, the Ukranian conflict can be understood as an extension of NATO encroachment towards Russia’s borders that has continued unabated since James Baker told Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 NATO would move “not an inch east.”
“We’re in a new Cold War,” Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian studies and politics, told Salon. “The epicenter is not in Berlin this time but in Ukraine, on Russia’s borders, within its own civilization: That’s dangerous. Over the 40-year history of the old Cold War, rules of behavior and recognition of red lines, in addition to the red hotline, were worked out. Now there are no rules.”
Additionally, Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011 throughout that country’s civil war, and more recently its direct military intervention in the conflict that has turned the tide against US-backed rebels, has strongly rankled Washington.
The language used by top government officials to describe Russia has been astoundingly combative. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the man in charge of the entire US military, claimed Russia is responsible for aggression and is “endangering world order.”
The U.S. government’s hyping of the Russian “threat” has been used to justify massive spending on the U.S. space program and other military expenditures, such as the $1 trillion to upgrade nuclear weapons,
One could even argue that the narrative of an aggressive and belligerent Russia is the principal justification for the continued existence of the NATO itself, two and a half decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The alliance allows the US military to be stationed in hundreds of bases throughout Europe under the guise of a purely defensive organization.
The U.S.’s most prominent media organizations should demonstrate the strongest skepticism towards the policies and actions of their own government. At the very least, they should hold their own country’s leaders to the same standards as they do others. But time and again, the media choose to act as a mouthpiece to echo and amplify Washington’s propaganda. They do the government’s bidding, creating an enemy and rallying the public towards a confrontation they would otherwise have no interest in, while allowing the government to avoid accountability for its own misdeeds.
Moscow and Washington are close to reaching a compromise on the participants of the Syria peace talks set to start next week. Two separate Syrian opposition delegations are expected to be invited to the negotiations in Geneva, according to media reports.
United Nations-sponsored negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition have already been postponed over disagreements between the US and Russia, which could not reach agreement on which opposition groups should be represented. The talks are being arranged to try to bring an end to Syria’s five-year civil war.
Washington supports the participation of the Saudi-backed Islamist militia Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) – something Moscow has strongly objected to. Russia insists that political figures it deems more moderate, such as Qadri Jamil, a former Syrian deputy prime minister, and Saleh Muslim, co-head of the Syrian Kurdish group PYD, should join the negotiations, Kommersant daily reported Saturday.
A compromise has allegedly now been reached, however, with Moscow agreeing to the presence of Jaysh al-Islam at the talks. In return, Washington will not object to a separate Syrian opposition delegation being invited, Bloomberg reports, citing three Western and UN diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The ‘main’ opposition delegation was rubber-stamped in the Saudi capital Riyadh in December, and represents opposition groups sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the West.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, is now likely to send invitations to two opposition groups – one proposed by Washington, another recommended by Moscow.
“We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so, those talks can get going,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Saturday in Riyadh, where he has been seeking a deal on the Syria talks.
De Mistura is expected to elaborate on the latest details of the peace process at a press-briefing in Geneva on Monday, his spokeswoman Jessy Chahine said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova made no comments in a press conference on Friday regarding which opposition groups will attend the talks in Geneva.
The nations assisting the Syria peace talks have reached an agreement to form a transitional government in Syria by mid-2016, with an aim to hold elections in 2017. According to Russian and Western diplomats, Moscow has managed to shutter Washington’s previously indispensable prerequisite that Bashar Assad must leave his presidential post before the transition process can start.
Moscow has always insisted that it is up to the Syrian people to decide whether President Assad should stay or go, and the participation of the acting president in the next elections remains on the table.
At the moment there are two anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coalitions operating in Syria – one headed by the US, the other by Russia.
The Russian military’s air operation against IS in Syria began four months ago, and has significantly disrupted terrorist communications and supply routes. Islamic State’s illegal trafficking of stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil has been crippled to such an extent that the terrorists have been forced to compensate the shortfall in profits by increasing taxes, cutting salaries to militants and attempting to take drug production in Afghanistan under its control.
The Syrian Army loyal to President Assad is also conducting an offensive on terrorist positions, and has liberated a number of settlements. The spearhead of the assault is directed against the borders with Turkey and Jordan, in order to cut terrorist supply routes and prevent reinforcements from abroad from infiltrating Syria.
The father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die in the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry cited in claiming precise knowledge of where the suspected anti-aircraft missile was fired.
One of the mysteries of the MH-17 case has become why the United States – after asserting that it possessed information implicating ethnic Russian rebels and the Russian government – has failed to make the data public or apparently even share it with Dutch investigators who are leading the inquiry into how the plane was shot down and who was responsible.
Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Malaysia.
In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman, Quinn’s father, noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”
Yet, where the missile launch occurred has remained a mystery in the MH-17 investigation. Last October, when the Dutch Safety Board issued its final report on the crash, it could only place the launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area in eastern Ukraine, covering territory then controlled by both Ukrainian and rebel forces. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile).
Meanwhile, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.
In the days immediately after the shoot-down, Kerry and other senior U.S. officials pointed the finger of blame at ethnic Russian rebels who were resisting a military offensive by the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. The Russian government was faulted for supposedly giving the rebels a powerful Buk anti-aircraft system capable of downing a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet.
But – in more than 18 months since the tragedy – the U.S. government has never made public its alleged evidence, while Russia has denied supplying the rebels a Buk system and the rebels have asserted that they did not possess functioning Buk missiles.
An Anguished Father
Thomas Schansman, who lives in The Netherlands, wrote to Kerry, noting that “celebrating Christmas and New Year without my son Quinn Schansman, was difficult for my family and myself” and then pressing the Secretary of State to release U.S. information about the case.
“It is my understanding, that neither the Dutch government nor the Dutch Safety Board [DSB] have officially received the radar information from the US that you referred to. It is not included in the [DSB] report and it is not in the public domain,” Schansman wrote.
“On behalf of the bereaved parents and to assist in the pursuit of justice, I would like to request that the United States provides the DSB with the radar data you referred to at the press conference and all other available and relevant information (like satellite data and infrared satellite data) that is in your government’s possession.
“I would be most grateful if the United States either directly or through NATO would publicly hand over to the Dutch Safety Board radar and satellite data of the minutes before and after the crash. … This would enable the DSB to reopen the investigation and include a chapter with this information, which is essential for a successful criminal prosecution. I count on the support of the government of the United States to find and prosecute those responsible for my son and your citizen’s death.”
Kerry has yet to reply although a U.S. consular official, Pamela J. Hack, sent Schansman a letter dated Jan. 14, expressing condolences for his son’s death and saying “We expect that you will receive a separate response … from Washington.”
A Rush to Judgment
In the days after the shoot-down, Kerry took the lead in accusing the ethnic Russian rebels (and implicitly their supporters in Moscow) of shooting down MH-17. Just three days after the tragedy, Kerry made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to leave little doubt that the rebels and Russians were at fault.
After mentioning information gleaned from “social media,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”
Two days later, on July 22, 2014, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a “Government Assessment,” also citing “social media” seeming to implicate the rebels. Then, this white paper listed military equipment allegedly supplied by Russia to the rebels. But the list did not include a Buk missile battery or other high-powered anti-aircraft missiles.
The DNI also had U.S. intelligence analysts brief a few select mainstream reporters, but the analysts conveyed much less conviction than their superiors may have wished, indicating that there was still great uncertainty about who was responsible.
The Los Angeles Times article said: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [the designation for a Russian-made anti-aircraft Buk missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”
The analysts’ uncertainty meshed somewhat with what I had been told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts shortly after the shoot-down about what they had seen in high-resolution satellite photos, which they said showed what looked like Ukrainian military personnel manning the battery believed to have fired the missile.
The source who spoke to me several times after receiving additional briefings about advances in the investigation said that as the U.S. analysts gained more insights into the MH-17 shoot-down from technical and other sources, they came to believe the attack was carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military with ties to a hard-line Ukrainian oligarch. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]
Creating a Pariah
But, officially, the U.S. government never retracted or refined its initial claims. It simply went silent, leaving in place the widespread belief that the ethnic Russian rebels were responsible for the atrocity and that the Russian government had been highly irresponsible in supplying a powerful Buk system to the rebels.
That Western conventional wisdom convinced the European Union to join the U.S. government in imposing economic sanctions on Russia and treating President Vladimir Putin as an international pariah.
As the U.S. government clammed up and hid the evidence that it claimed to possess, it became clear that U.S. intelligence agencies lacked evidence to support Kerry’s initial rush to judgment blaming the rebels and the Russians.
Despite intensive overhead surveillance of eastern Ukraine in summer 2014, U.S. and other Western intelligence services could find no proof that Russia had ever given a Buk system to the rebels or introduced one into the area. Satellite intelligence – reviewed both before and after the shoot-down – only detected Ukrainian miltary Buk missile systems in the conflict zone.
One could infer this finding from the fact that the DNI on July 22, 2014, did not allege that Buks were among the weapons systems that Russia had provided. If Russian-supplied Buks had been spotted – and the batteries of four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks are hard to miss – their presence surely would have been noted.
But one doesn’t need to infer this lack of evidence. It was spelled out in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report from last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). Dutch intelligence, which as part of NATO would have access to sensitive overhead surveillance and other relevant data, reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine – capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet – belonged to the Ukrainian government.
MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”
But the intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capacity, having only short-range anti-aircraft missiles and a few inoperable Buk missiles that had been captured from a Ukrainian military base. “During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational,” MIVD said. “Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”
In other words, it is fair to say – based on the affirmative comments from the Dutch MIVD and the omissions from the U.S. “Government Assessment” – that the Western powers had no evidence that the ethnic Russian rebels or their Russian allies had operational Buk missiles in eastern Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government did have several batteries of such missiles.
It also would have made sense that Ukraine would be moving additional anti-aircraft systems close to the border because of a feared Russian invasion as the Ukrainian military pressed its “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russians fighters, who were resisting the U.S.-backed coup of Feb. 22, 2014, which had ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base was in the east.
According to the Dutch Safety Board report, a Ukrainian warplane had been shot down by a suspected air-to-air missile (presumably from a Russian fighter) on July 16, 2014, meaning that Ukrainian defenses were probably on high alert. The Russian military also claimed that Ukraine had activated a radar system that is used to guide Buk missiles.
I was told by the intelligence source that U.S. analysts looked seriously at the possibility that the intended target was President Putin’s official plane returning from a state visit to South America. His aircraft and MH-17 had similar red-white-and-blue markings, but Putin took a more northerly route and arrived safely in Moscow.
Other possible scenarios were that a poorly trained and undisciplined Ukrainian squad mistook MH-17 for a Russian plane that had penetrated Ukrainian airspace or that the attack was willful provocation designed to be blamed on the Russians.
Whoever the culprits and whatever their motive, one point that should not have remained in doubt was where the missile launch occurred. Kerry said repeatedly in the days after the tragedy that U.S. intelligence had detected the launch and knew where it came from.
So, why did the Dutch Safety Board have to scratch its head about the missile coming from somewhere in a 320-square-kilometer area, with the Russian manufacturer placing the launch site about 20 kilometers further west? With the firing location a key point in dispute, why would the U.S. government withhold from a NATO ally (and investigators into a major airline disaster) the launch point for the missile?
Presumably, if the Obama administration had solid evidence showing that the launch came from rebel territory, which was Kerry’s insinuation, U.S. officials would have been only too happy to provide the data. That data also could be the only precise radar evidence available. Ukraine claimed that its principal radar systems were down at the time of the attack, and the Russians — while they asserted that their radar screens showed another plane closing on MH-17 — did not save the raw data.
Thomas Schansman noted in his letter to Kerry: “the DSB [Dutch Safety Board] stated that it did not receive the (raw) primary radar data from any State. …. The UN Security Council Resolution 2166 explicit[ly] requested Member States to provide any requested assistance and cooperate fully with the investigation. The (raw) primary radar data is crucial for determining cause, and for identifying and prosecuting those responsible for this heinous act.”
Despite the strange evidentiary gaps and the U.S. failure to present the proof that it claims to possess, the West’s “conventional wisdom” remains that either the ethnic Russian rebels or the Russians themselves shot down MH-17 and have sought to cover up their guilt. Some of this certainty comes from the simpleminded game of repeating that Buk missiles are “Russian-made,” which is true but irrelevant to the issue of who fired the missiles, since the Ukrainian military possesses Russian-made Buks.
Despite the lack of U.S. cooperation in the investigation – and the failure of Western intelligence to detect Russians or ethnic Russian rebels with a Buk battery in eastern Ukraine – the Dutch criminal prosecutors who are working closely with the Ukrainian government say they are taking seriously allegations by bloggers at a British Web site called Bellingcat who have identified Russian soldiers assigned to a Buk missile battery as prime suspects in the shoot-down.
So, the possibility remains that this Dutch-led investigation – in coordination with the Ukrainian government – will indict some Russian soldiers even as the U.S. government withholds its data that could resolve such key questions as where the fateful missile was fired.
An indictment of Russian soldiers would make for more useful anti-Putin propaganda and would be sure to produce another chorus of denunciations against Moscow from the mainstream Western media. But such a development might do little to resolve the mystery of who really shot down MH-17, killing Quinn Schansman and 297 other people aboard MH-17.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Why is there still the word “probably” in the report of the UK public inquiry into the death of former Russian FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko? Was the inquiry really public? Are we seeing an increased strain in UK-Russia relations? RT asked experts.
The UK has conducted a public inquiry into the death of the former Russian FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko. According to the report, Vladimir Putin and his administration ‘probably’ had motive to murder Litvinenko. British judge Robert Owen, who was leading the inquiry, claimed the poisoning of Litvinenko by former KGB members Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun was a part of the operation of the Federal Security Service (FSB.) Litvinenko died in a London hospital from polonium poisoning in 2006.
“This man was killed, was murdered in London almost 10 years ago. This latest report was set up in July 2014 – interestingly, just a couple of weeks after the MH17 disaster. So it was set up in this particular climate, this anti-Russia climate, and it has gone on now for 18 months. And what have they come up with – they’ve come up with a verdict that ‘probably’ this was the work of the Kremlin. “Probably” – is not evidence,” Journalist and broadcaster Neil Clark told RT.
“What is lacking – is any hard evidence, this is just conjecture; this is just a theory put forward; one of the theories is that the Kremlin was behind this. But there are other theories too to explain why this man may have been murdered,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the context of this. The fact was this man died in 2006, and we’ve got an inquiry set up in 2014 in the very month when the West was taking very anti-Russian line.”
“… If to look at the bigger picture, in 2006 relations between Britain and Russia were improving. So what logic would there have been in the Kremlin ordering this murder in a very public place in London? It doesn’t really make sense, does it? If you think about it from the Russian point of view, this man is a minor figure; he wasn’t as if he was going to stand for president and pose a real threat to Putin. The risk would have been very high and that is what makes me skeptical of the fact that the Kremlin was behind this, and there are other theories to explain this man’s murder,” Clark added.
Litvinenko Inquiry: ‘story confounded by misleading information from beginning’
The UK report on the causes of Litvinenko’s death doesn’t have any supportive evidence, and is partly based on statements fabricated by figures like Berezovsky, said William Dunkerley, author of “The Phony Murder.”
RT: Is the public inquiry really that public? And how different is it from a regular trial?
William Dunkerley: First of all it is not a trail at all, this isn’t a judicial procedure, it is a public inquiry. The term ‘public inquiry’ is actually a misnomer, because the rules in the UK allow a public inquiry to be conducted behind closed doors.
RT: The coroner’s inquest into Litvinenko’s death was suspended in July 2014 to start a public inquiry shortly after. What can you say about this timing?
WD: The timing is interesting, the coroner’s inquest sort of came to an end when the Home Secretary told the coroner to stop conducting an illicit criminal investigation. The coroner is supposed to concentrate on judging the cause of death. Sir Robert [Owen] was not doing that, he wasn’t doing his job. The Home Secretary finally reined him in, told them to concentrate on his statutory duties and asked him to not go off on a witch-hunt for Russian culpability in the case.
Then, things changed when Prime Minister [David] Cameron got involved. He put the whole issue back on the table, and turned [Sir Robert] Owen, now chairman of the public inquiry, loose on his search for Russian state culpability. And this coincidentally happened on the day that the EU announced additional sanctions against Russia, in a sort of part of the sanctions frenzy that the public inquiry was opened.
RT: It’s been almost a decade since he died, why is the UK launching an investigation now?
WD: The story was really confounded by misleading information right from the beginning. One of Putin’s political adversaries Boris Berezovsky, who was a fugitive oligarch hanging out or hiding out in London, made a lot of fabricated statements about the Litvinenko case, that incriminated the Russian state and in particular President Putin.
RT: Isn’t the fact that that the inquiry was held behind the closed doors make the investigation more complicated?
WD: Yes, it is a complication in the investigation that the public inquiry was able to hold hearings behind closed doors. Most of the media reports gave the impression that the public inquiries going to add transparency to the case, but actually the opposite was true.
RT: Are we seeing the increase of strain in UK-Russia relations?
WD: Well, the UK- Russia relations have sort of been up and down throughout the course of this whole thing. At one point the Berezovsky people, Mrs. Litvinenko and others were critical of the UK for not coming to a conclusion about this that would agree with their version of the case. They said that the UK was avoiding doing that, because it didn’t want to offend Russia, in order to preserve relations between the two countries. Now some people theorize that since the UK- Russia relationship is so bad that it doesn’t matter if there is offence given by the report from the public inquiry…
…. People are conditioned to believe in the story that has been going on in the news. It is not based on facts and there have not been supportive evidence, but people have been exposed to this story for a long, long time now. The truth that I’ve found in my research is counterintuitive to people who have been following all of the Western news reports.
Martin McCauley, former senior lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London on latest Litvinenko inquiry: “ All they can do, as they said, “we have a prima facie case which proves that Lugovoy and Kovtun were acting as part of the FSB,” which goes right up to Nikolai Patrushev. But prima facie only means on the face of it. Therefore, the case is not proven. In other words it is a probability, and in an English court it wouldn’t stand up, because you couldn’t convict Lugovoy and Kovtun on the evidence, which has been presented in the report… They didn’t cross-examine or interview Lugovoy or Kovtun…”
The American and British governments are launching yet another media campaign to demonize Russia, with tall claims that the Kremlin is infiltrating European political parties and news media. The dastardly Russian aim, we are told, is to destroy the European Union.
We’ve already seen versions of this scare tactic with regard to Ukraine and “Putin the new Hitler”. But what this yawn-inducing exercise illustrates is that the old former spell over the Western public held by their rulers no longer works. The opiate of Western propaganda has expired.
Never mind Russia. The EU has no-one else to blame for its present stresses and strains but itself, owing to its craven subservience to Washington’s reckless policies.
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Washington and its trusty sidekick in London are desperately seeking to turn back the clock to the “good old days” when they could control their public through scare stories.
Recall those hoary old bogeyman themes of “Reds under the bed”, the “Red menace”, “Evil Empire”, and so on, when the Western authorities mobilized their populations out of fear and trepidation that “the Russians are coming”.
Looking back now, it seems amazing how this Western brainwashing managed to get away with such scare tactics. And to a large degree it worked back then. It allowed the US and its NATO allies to build up a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons that could annihilate the planet many times over; it permitted the US in particular to militarily interfere in dozens of countries all over the world, subvert their governments and implant brutal dictatorships — all on the pretext of defending the “free world” against “evil Russians.”
Last week, we got a reprise of the Cold War brainwashing formula. Britain’s Daily Telegraph, a notorious purveyor of psychological warfare, ran a report which cast Russia and President Vladimir Putin as a malign specter trying to break up European unity by “funding political parties” and “Moscow-backed destabilization”.
The newspaper, mockingly known as the “Torygraph” because of its deep links with Britain’s rightwing political establishment, quoted anonymous British government officials as saying:
“It really is a new Cold War out there. Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues.”
It was also reported in the same article that the American Congress has ordered James Clapper, the US National Intelligence Director, to “conduct a major review into Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the last decade.”
European political parties suspected of alleged Russian manipulation include Britain’s Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn, France’s National Front led by Marine Le Pen, as well as others in Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Austria and Greece, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Not one scrap of evidence was presented to substantiate the story of alleged Russian conspiracy to destabilize European politics. Typical of old Western Cold War propaganda dressed up as “news” the accusations leveled against the Russian government relied on innuendo, prejudice and demonization. Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin are “malign” because, well, er, we say they are “malign”.
What’s really going on here is that the European Union is indeed straining at the seams because massive numbers of ordinary citizens have become so disillusioned with the undemocratic monstrosity. That disaffection with the EU applies to voters of both rightwing and leftwing parties.
Economic policies of unrelenting austerity, rising unemployment and poverty, and draconian cutbacks in public services — while banks, corporate profits and a rich minority keep getting richer and richer — has alienated vast swathes of the EU’s 500 million population.
The EU’s political leadership, whether called Conservative, Liberal, Socialist or whatever, has shown itself to be impotent to create more democratic policies and meet the needs of the public. In the eyes of many Europeans, the established political parties are all the same, all slavishly following a form of capitalist welfare for the already super-rich.
A big part of the problem is that the EU has shown no independence from Washington. The European governments under the harness of the American-led NATO military alliance have blindly joined the US in its disastrous, illegal wars for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Those wars have in turn rebounded to bequeath Europe with its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Compounding the hardship is the totally unnecessary and futile standoff between Russia and Europe over the Ukraine crisis. European farmers, businesses and workforces are suffering on account of Washington and Brussels’ policy to have destabilized Ukraine in order to isolate Russia for some geopolitical agenda. On this score, the European governments are especially execrable, since it should be clear that Washington wants to isolate Russia for its own self-interest of displacing Russia as a major energy supplier to the continent. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
Given all these strands of trouble it is no wonder that European citizens are discontent with their so-called political leadership. The popular contempt for Brussels has grown to record levels, and rightly so.
Europe’s pathetically servile deference to Washington’s economic and foreign policies is manifesting in forms of protest and dissent towards the entire EU project. The rise of Poland’s rightwing, nationalist ruling party is another sign of the times.
But rather than facing the music for the widespread discontent across Europe, what Washington and its pro-Atlanticist allies like Britain are trying to do is make Russia the scapegoat.
The irony is that Washington and London are seeking to blame the woes and growing disunity in Europe on Russia. When it is Washington and London who are the main reasons for why Europe appears to be coming apart at the seams.
To that end, the US and Britain are re-launching the old Cold War epithets to demonize Russia as a way to distract from their own malign and destructive influence on the rest of Europe.
Decades ago the anti-Russian vilification may have worked on the public. Especially when Western news organizations and their CIA, MI6-infiltrated “journalists” enjoyed an effective monopoly over public opinion. Those days are over. The Western public are no longer under the sway of scary stories like little children. There are many alternative information sources out there for them to avail of in order to obtain a more accurate picture.And that accurate picture of European problems does not fit with alleged Russian malfeasance. Rather, the malfeasance is plentifully ascribed to Washington and its lackey European governments.
The attempted rewind of the “red scare” by Washington and London can be easily dismissed for sure. But the interesting thing is that it betrays a deep sign of how these two actors have run out of propaganda ideas with which to distract increasingly restless and angry Western populations.
The people want real solutions to mounting social and economic problems, not stupid scare stories that expired decades ago. The more that the Western public is insulted by such nonsense the more contempt they have for their rulers. The Western capitalist powers, bankrupt and impotent, are at a dead-end. Bring it on.