Just when we thought the great national embarrassment of a UN Ambassador Samantha Power was over, we are suddenly faced with a new US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who almost makes Ms. Power look like a giant in world affairs and diplomacy.
Addressing the UN Security Council Open Debate on Conflicts in Europe today, Ambassador Haley managed to get nearly every single point spectacularly wrong while mixing in the most banal of platitudes to further deaden the delivery.
It can be tempting to take Europe’s peace and security for granted. Europe is a continent of strong, stable democracies. And Europe is a continent of flourishing economies that benefit from close cooperation.
But Europe faces serious challenges – most acutely, Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine and infringe upon Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
How exactly is Russia attempting to destabilize Ukraine? It was Russia, after all, and not the US, which called together the opposing sides two years ago to hammer out the “Minsk II” ceasefire and reconciliation agreement. Was not that in fact a stabilizing move rather than a destabilizing move?
More than three years ago, the Ukrainian people took to the streets to speak out against political oppression and corruption. These protesters demanded freedom, democracy, and respect for the rule of law, and they succeeded in creating a new Ukraine.
That is not all what happened. It was the “protestors” who started the killing. They targeted police officers to provoke a response and thus add fuel to the simmering flame of months long protests in 2014. Russian propaganda, you say? Not at all. The killers went on television to brag about it!
Here is the story of one of the cop killers, Ivan Bubenchik, as reported in Foreign Policy magazine (hardly a pro-Russia outlet) and told on camera to Ukraine’s Hromadske TV station:
To create a word of mouth effect, you have to shoot two or three [police] commanders I only picked two. And after that, there was no need to kill anyone else, so I aimed at the legs.
Does Nikki Haley support killing police officers?
Another report — this time in the BBC — told the same story. It was Nikki Haley’s peaceful protestors who started the violence by shooting at police:
The protest leaders, some of whom now hold positions of power in the new Ukraine, insist full responsibility for the shootings lies with the security forces, acting on behalf of the previous government.
But one year on, some witnesses are beginning to paint a different picture.
‘I was shooting downwards at their feet,’ says a man we will call Sergei, who tells me he took up position in the Kiev Conservatory, a music academy on the south-west corner of the square.
‘Of course, I could have hit them in the arm or anywhere. But I didn’t shoot to kill.’
Sergei says he had been a regular protester on the Maidan for more than a month, and that his shots at police on the square and on the roof of an underground shopping mall, caused them to retreat.
Does Nikki Haley believe shooting police officers is justified as long as you’re demanding “respect for the rule of law”?
In fact, the overthrow of the government in Ukraine was not at all set in motion by the Ukrainian people. It was planned in Washington and executed in the streets of Kiev, where US policymakers openly urged an overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government.
It is established fact that US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was on the streets of Kiev with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt meeting with the protesters, encouraging them, and handing out food. Later she was caught in a phone call with the US Ambassador plotting in detail the overthrow of the government and how to replace it with Washington’s picks.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was also on the streets of Kiev during the early stages of the coup. He was actively supporting the overthrow of Ukraine’s legal government. Said McCain:
We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe…
Later on CNN, McCain admitted his role in the coup, stating:
What we’re trying to do is try to bring about a peaceful transition here…
How would Senator McCain react were a Russian member of parliament appear in the midst of a Washington, D.C. riot urging “a peaceful transition here”?
Trump’s Ambassador to the UN continued:
But Russia has tried to prevent the change that the Ukrainian people demanded. Russia occupied Crimea and attempted to annex this piece of Ukrainian territory – an act the United States does not recognize.
That is also demonstrably false. Russia did not “occupy” Crimea because the Russian military was already in Crimea! Russia had leased the naval base in Crimea from the Ukrainian government until 2042. The troops were already there. Russia did not attempt to annex Crimea, but rather a referendum was held in which, according to the BBC, 90 percent of the residents voted to rejoin Russia (of which they had been a part since the 18th century).
Surely this is fake news! Why would Crimeans vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia? In fact Russians make up more than 65 percent of the population of Crimea and when the US-backed coup brought to power a vehemently anti-Russian government in Kiev was it really so surprising that the people would look for the exit signs?
Russia then armed, financed, and organized separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, leading to a devastating and senseless conflict that has cost more than 10,000 lives.
Again untrue. The rebellion in eastern Ukraine was fueled by the US-backed coup in Kiev. Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian-speaking and in some parts of the region 96 percent voted for the president ousted with US support. As one might expect, unrest follows when one’s president is overthrown with assistance from an outside power. And it was the US who did the arming, financing, and organizing the unelected coup forces who took power in Kiev.
The scenes of destruction from the town of Avdiivka in recent weeks show the consequences of Russia’s ongoing interference in Ukraine.
Avdiivka fell under attack after the Kiev forces advanced into the no-man’s land separating the opposing sides. Ukrainian deputy defense minister Pavlovaky admitted that “meter by meter, step by step, whenever possible our boys have been advancing.”
You get the point. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has no clue what is happening in eastern Ukraine and so has just dusted off the dusty old talking points of the Obama Administration.
While on the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump sharply (and correctly) criticized the Obama Administration’s militaristic foreign policy. At the time Trump said:
…unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.
He continued by calling for new people and new approaches to foreign policy:
My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war. We have to look to new people.
Well, Mr. President, I am sorry to have to inform you of this, but when it comes to Ambassador Nikki Haley, you may technically have “new people” in positions but you most certainly do not have new ideas. You have failed former ambassador Samantha Power’s stale, regurgitated talking points. Enough!
As Democrats compete to become the new War Party – pushing for a dangerous confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia – some constituents are objecting, as Mike Madden did in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Dear Senator Klobuchar, I write with concern over statements you have made recently regarding Russia. These statements have been made both at home and abroad, and they involve two issues; the alleged Russian hack of the presidential election and Russia’s actions in the aftermath of the February 22, 2014 coup in Kiev.
U.S. intelligence services allege that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. The campaign is purported to include the production of fake news, cyber-trolling, and propaganda from Russian state-owned media. It is also alleged that Russia hacked the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, subsequently providing the emails to WikiLeaks.
Despite calls from many quarters, the intelligence services have not provided the public with any proof. Instead, Americans are expected to blindly trust these services with a long history of failure. Additionally, the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, have both been known to lie to the public and to Congress, Mr. Clapper doing so under oath.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange maintains the emails did not come from Russia (or any other state actor) and his organization has an unblemished record of revealing accurate information in the public interest that would otherwise remain hidden. While responsible journalists continue to use the word ‘alleged’ to describe the accusations, Republicans with an ax to grind against Russia, and Democrats wishing to distract from their own failings in the campaign, refer to them as fact. Indeed, on the ‘Amy in the News’ page of your own website, Jordain Carney of The Hill refers to the Russian meddling as “alleged”.
A congressional commission to investigate the alleged Russian hacking is not necessary. Even if all the allegations are true, they are altogether common occurrences, and they certainly don’t rise to the level of “an act of aggression”, “an existential threat to our way of life”, or “an attack on the American people” as various Democratic officials have characterized them. Republican Senator John McCain went full monty and called the alleged meddling “an act of war”.
Joining War Hawks
It is of concern that you would join Senator McCain and the equally belligerent Senator Lindsey Graham on a tour of Russian provocation through the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, and Montenegro. The announcement of your trip (December 28, 2016) on the ‘News Releases’ page of your website renewed the unproven claim of “Russian interference in our recent election”. It also claimed that the countries you were visiting were facing “Russian aggression” and that “Russia illegally annexed Crimea”.
It is unfortunate that these claims have become truisms by sheer repetition rather than careful examination of the facts. Russia has not invaded eastern Ukraine. There are no regular units of the Russian military in the breakaway provinces, nor has Russia launched any air strikes from its territory. It has sent weapons and other provisions to the Ukrainian forces seeking autonomy from Kiev, and there are most certainly Russian volunteers operating in Ukraine.
However regrettable, it must be remembered that the unrest was precipitated by the February 22, 2014 overthrow of the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych which, speaking of meddling, was assisted by U.S. State Department, other American government agencies, and one Senator John McCain. The subsequent military and paramilitary operations launched by the coup government against the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk were described by President Putin as “uncontrolled crime” spreading into the south and east of the country. In American parlance, both the interim coup government in Kiev and the current government of President Petro Poroshenko have engaged in “killing their own people”.
Ignoring the Details
If Russia’s actions are to be considered “aggression” or an “invasion”, one must find a whole new word to describe what the United States did to Iraq in 2003. If, like your colleague Senator McCain, you hold the annexation of Crimea to be illegal under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, I urge a closer look.
On February 21, 2014, an agreement brokered by the European Union was signed between President Yanukovych and the leaders of three major opposition parties. The agreement contained terms for a cessation of violence, immediate power sharing, and new elections. Smelling blood in the water, the opposition in Maidan Square did not withdraw from the streets or surrender their illegal weapons as agreed, but instead went on the offensive. Yanukovych, under threat to his life, fled Kiev along with many others in his Party of Regions.
Nor did the opposition party leaders honor the agreement. The next day, they moved to impeach Yanukovych, however they failed to meet several requirements of the Ukrainian Constitution. They failed to indict the president, conduct an investigation, and have that investigation certified by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Instead, they moved directly to a vote on impeachment and, even on that count, they failed to obtain the required three-fourths majority vote. So, even though the Budapest Memorandum did offer assurances of Ukrainian security and territorial integrity in exchange for surrender of Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its soil, the sovereign government of Ukraine had fallen in a violent unconstitutional putsch.
Yanukovych remained its legitimate president-in-exile and he, along with the prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, requested Russian intervention on the peninsula to provide security and protect the human rights of ethnic Russians threatened by the new coup government and neo-Nazi elements within it.
One can now see how real that threat was by looking to eastern Ukraine where the Ukrainian military and neo-Nazi paramilitaries such as the Azov Battallion, have moved with force against the defenders of the Donbass region whose people seek autonomy from a government in Kiev that they do not recognize. Approximately 10,000 people have died in the Donbass War, whereas only six people were killed during the period of annexation (February 23-March19, 2014) in Crimea.
While the Donbass War drags on, Crimea remains stable today. The popular referendum conducted on March 16, 2014 lent legitimacy to the subsequent annexation. Official results claimed 82% turnout with 96% of voters favoring reunification with Russia. Independent polling conducted in the early weeks of March 2014 found 70-77% of all Crimeans favored reunification. Six years prior to the crisis in 2008, a poll found that 63% favored reunification. Even though many ethnic Ukranians and Tatars boycotted the election, rejoining Russia was clearly the will of the majority of Crimean people.
President Putin, characterizing the situation in Ukraine as a revolution, claimed that Russia had no agreements with the new state and therefore no obligations under the Budapest Memorandum. He also cited Chapter I: Article 1 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for respect for the principle of self-determination of peoples. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, which affirmed post-World War II borders, also allowed for the change of national boundaries by peaceful internal means.
The Kosovo Precedent
It is also useful to consider parallel occurrences in Kosovo. In 1998 ethnic cleansing by Serbian troops and paramilitaries led to a NATO intervention without U.N. authorization. There is little question that the move was illegal, but legitimacy was claimed due to the urgent humanitarian need. Ten years later, Kosovo would declare independence from Serbia and the disputed matter would end up before the International Court of Justice. In 2009 the United States provided the Court with a statement on Kosovo that read in part: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.”
The United States should accept the Russian annexation of Crimea both as a pragmatic matter, and one of principle. In 1990, during negotiations for the re-unification of Germany, the United States promised that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. That promise has now been broken three times and eleven new nations have been added to the alliance. Ukraine has also entered in partnership with NATO, and at various times, full membership has been discussed. Russia has consistently expressed its disapproval. According to your website, an objective of your trip was “to reinforce support for NATO”. If this weren’t provocative enough, your three-senator delegation went to a front-line military outpost in Shirokino, Ukraine to incite an escalation to the Donbass War. Senator Graham told the assembled soldiers “Your fight is our fight, 2017 will be the year of offense”. The leader of your delegation, Senator McCain, said “I am convinced you will win and we will do everything we can to provide you with what you need to win”.
After the speeches were given, you are seen in a video of the New Year’s Eve event accepting what appears to be a gift from one of the uniformed soldiers. With all of the furor over former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation, and possible violation of the Logan Act, for discussing alleviation of sanctions with a Russian ambassador, this appears to be a far more serious offense. Not only did your delegation advocate for a foreign policy that was not aligned with that of acting President Obama, it was also contrary to President-elect Trump’s approach to the region. And the results of your advocacy have the potential to be far more deadly than the mere alleviation of sanctions.
Sincerely, Mike Madden St. Paul, Minnesota
There are currently three major flash points in the world, where a false step could rapidly lead to escalation and a major war from which human civilization would be the main loser. Those flashpoints are the Middle East, the South China Sea and Ukraine/Crimea. In each of them Australia has made major missteps, invariably at the request of the Americans, and where Australia’s national interest is either non-existent or the opposite of the actions that have been taken.
The recent upsurge in fighting in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, collectively referred to as Donbass, where Ukrainian forces have vastly increased the artillery barrage of civilian areas has sharpened the likelihood of a more serious war breaking out. In these circumstances the responsibility of the media to accurately report what is happening and why is high. Yet, as is so often the case, we are treated to a non-stop barrage of misinformation and outright propaganda.
The reincorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation in March 2014 is invariably portrayed as the result of an “invasion” and “annexation” and that peace can only be restored with Crimea’s return to Ukraine.
This is not only a rewriting of history; it also ignores the crucial historical background of that region of the world and how that is relevant to the present day. A brief history is in order, if only because it is not something that the mainstream media will ever state, as wedded as they are to a narrative whose sole purpose is the demonization of Russia and of President Putin.
Ukraine itself has only had its modern borders since 1945. Prior to that time part had come under the sway of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and another part had been incorporated into Tsarist Russia in 1667. Following the peasant revolt of 1768/69 there was a partitioning between the Austrian empire and the Russian empire. It has therefore to a greater or lesser extent been a part of the Russian empire for more than 300 years. To give that some perspective, it is a longer period than either the United States or Australia has been a nation state.
Following the Ukrainian War of Independence from 1917-1921 it was absorbed into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics where it remained until the break up of the USSR in 1991.
Crimea has had a similarly chequered history. Prior to the Crimean War 1853-56 when Australian troops fought with the British and the Turks against Russia, Crimea had been part of the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great defeated the Ottomans in 1783 and thereafter Crimea was part of Russia. That war was fought on Crimean soil. Prior to the Ottomans, Crimea had for the previous 2000 years been variously parts of the Greek, Roman, Mongol and other empires. Then as now it occupied a strategic position on the Black Sea. The Crimean War had as a primary target the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Which is further evidence that nothing really changes.
After the Russian Revolution Crimea became an autonomous Republic within the USSR and stayed there until 1954. In that year, following a resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR it was transferred to Ukraine.
There are various theories as to why the transfer was made, one popular version being that it was a symbolic gesture marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming part of the Tsardom of Russia. The actual reasons do not matter so much as two other factors that were operative.
The first was that as an integral part of the USSR it did not make a great deal of political difference as to which State Crimea was nominally attached. The second factor was that neither the Russian people nor the Crimeans were consulted about the decision.
There things remained until February 2014 when a coup was mounted against the lawful government of Ukraine. The Australian media refuse to acknowledge that it was a coup, and that the coup was organized and paid for ($5 billion dollars) by the Americans, as the chief organizer, then Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland freely acknowledged to a congressional committee.
The Crimeans, as indeed also the residents of the Donbass region, were extremely unhappy with the takeover in Kiev of a frankly fascist government. The people of eastern Ukraine, including Crimea, are overwhelmingly ethnic Russian, speak the Russian language as their first language, intermarry with Russians across the border, and culturally identify with Russia.
A referendum was hastily organized and held on 16 March 2014. The result was that there was an 83% turnout, and 96.77% of those who voted were in favour of being readmitted to the Russian Federation. That result was condemned by the US and Australia, among other nations. The main objections stated were that the vote was held after Russian troops had “invaded” Crimea, and that the Crimeans had no right to hold such a referendum.
In one form or another those objections have been repeated by the western media ever since. An added claim is that the “annexation” of Crimea is further evidence of “Russian aggression” in general and that of Mr Putin in particular.
The facts are rather different. First, let us look at the “invasion” claim. There were already 25,000 Russian troops in Crimea. They were there pursuant to a treaty with the Ukrainian government, mainly associated with the very important Russian naval base at Sevastopol. It will be recalled that that naval base was a major target of the British and allied forces in the Crimean War more than 150 years earlier.
There was absolutely no evidence that the presence of Russian troops prevented the free exercise of the vote by Crimeans in the referendum, except indirectly in that their presence certainly deterred Ukraine from military intervention.
Independent polls conducted after the referendum, for example by the German Gfk polling organisation showed that 82% of those polled supported the referendum result and only 4% opposed it. Other, including American, polling organisations, obtained similar results.
The second major claim is that the referendum was “unlawful” and as such not recognised by the western powers. This is a classic example of western hypocrisy. Western governments are perfectly willing to accept independence referenda when it suits their geopolitical purposes to do so. There are a number of recent examples.
In April 1993 Eritrea held a referendum to establish its independence from Ethiopia. Only Eritreans were able to vote. It passed overwhelmingly. There was no objection from the US or Australia.
On 17 February 2008 Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. There was no referendum. Not only did the US not object, they bombed Serbia to encourage the government to accept the result. Australia protested neither the declaration of independence nor the illegal bombing.
The International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 23 July 2010. The Court noted that previous declarations of independence being declared invalid had to be seen in their specific context. Importantly, the Court noted as a general principle that there was an absence of a general prohibition against unilateral declarations of independence under international law.
The important factual difference in Crimea’s case is the long history of the peninsula as a part of Russia; its ethnic and linguistic ties to Russia; and that there was a referendum with the overwhelming majority of citizens voting to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia.
In September 2014 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum of whether or not they would remain a part of the United Kingdom or become a separate sovereign nation. In that case the referendum was narrowly lost although a mooted second referendum following the Brexit vote in the UK may well have a different result.
Again, neither the US nor Australia claimed that the Scots were not entitled to have a referendum, nor that they would refuse to recognise the result.
The final point to be made in this context is that in 1970 the United Nations General Assembly passed by acclamation (i.e. without dissent from either Australia or the United States) a Declaration on Principles of International Law .
In the section of the Resolution regarding “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was the following passage:
By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.
What the Crimeans have done is no more nor less than they are entitled to in accordance with this Declaration. It is Australia, the United States and others that condemn Crimea and the Russians who are in breach of their legal and moral obligations.
A further illustration of western hypocrisy over Crimea and the Donbass is the total silence over the ongoing military assault against the civilian population of Donbass. The Minsk 2 Accords, initiated by France and Germany, and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine, contained a number of provisions designed to recognise the legitimate aspirations of the people of Donbass.
The Minsk 2 Accord provided, inter alia, for a ceasefire; a pullback of Ukrainian troops; for the Ukrainian Rada to pass specific laws relating to the governance of Donbass; and to amend the Ukrainian constitution to incorporate decentralization as a key component.
All of these provisions have been ignored and violated. Instead of condemning the Ukrainian violations and failure to carry out its obligations, the US and its allies have continued to blame Russia. Immediately after the US election, Senators McCain and Graham travelled to Kiev and urged Ukraine to keep fighting, promising American support.
There is no evidence that they did so with the support of then President –elect Trump and their authority to do so is unclear. The immediate result of the US Senator’s visit was an upsurge in the bombardment of villages and towns in the Donbass region.
There is an equally stunning silence from the Australian authorities. They seem incapable of understanding history, incapable of recognizing the efforts made by the Russians to create an economic arrangement that would benefit Ukraine through open association with both the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union; and of recognizing the grave potential for war posed by the reckless expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders.
Instead of recognizing the historical and geopolitical realities, including that Ukraine is now a failed state ruled by neo-fascists, they continue to parrot the tired cliché that the Russians are to blame.
Upon such fatal ignorance are wars often started.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law.
News media organizations in NATO member countries have no qualms about repeating unfounded, reckless claims of an imminent invasion of Europe by the Russian military, even threatening to ignite World War Three.
Yet when it comes to Russian media presenting valid alternative perspectives on a range of international issues, the Western alliance chokes up with accusations of Russian “fake news.”
“NATO says it sees a sharp rise in fake Russian news since the seizure of Crimea,” reported Reuters recently, ignorant of the fact that its own headline was itself purveying fake news.
Such ignorance is rampant among Western media and symptomatic of massive group-think demonizing Russia.
For a start, Russia did not seize Crimea, as is routinely stated in Western media as if fact. The people of the Crimean Peninsula voted in a legally constituted referendum in March 2014 to join Russia’s jurisdiction. But Reuters in the above headline uses the words “seizure of Crimea” without any qualification as if the historic referendum to join Russia was airbrushed out of history.
This is just one example of the daily distortion about Russian relations that is perpetrated in the Western media. If any side is guilty of peddling fake news, it is the Western news media of the NATO military alliance. And on an industrial scale.
For instance, earlier this month, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour conducted an interview with Marine Le Pen, the French leader of the Front National. Amanpour was aghast when Le Pen expressed the view that Russia did not annex Crimea and that the Maidan protests in Kiev in February 2014 were a coup d’état against an elected government. Amanpour’s shocked demeanor was understandable because she has on countless occasions asserted the opposite, as well as claiming Russia has “invaded Ukraine.” In each case, it can be argued the CNN celebrity journalist is wrong in her assertions about Russia-Ukraine relations, which means that she and her cable news employer are guilty of habitually churning out fake news.
Another instance of casual fake news presented as professional journalism was the BBC program GMT presented by Stephen Sackur on 3 February. Sackur, like Amanpour, is another celebrity journalist with preening self-importance. His program was reporting on the surge in violence in eastern Ukraine. Specifically, the report aired by the BBC implicated pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk region for shelling the town of Avdeevka. The insinuation was that Russia was stoking the violence. But only days before, the BBC broadcast video footage showing tanks belonging to the Kiev regime’s military taking up positions near homes in Avdeevka – in violation of the Minsk ceasefire.
Furthermore, the BBC’s Sackur then ran an interview with Kiev’s former prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in which he was permitted to spout claims purporting as facts without ever being challenged. Those claims included: “Russian aggression in Ukraine” and “Russia shot down the Malaysian MH17 civilian airliner in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine.”
Again, the point here is just how casually, and routinely Western mainstream media commit acts of fake news, which are presented as if fact by their “star journalists.”
Whatever Russian news media are accused of regarding fake news it is incomparable to the massive, systematic scale of fabrications and distortions churned out by the news media in NATO member countries.
NATO claims that it has listed over 30 “myths” the Russian news media have published. Unhelpfully, the NATO list does not provide links to original Russian news articles where the alleged myths are said to have been published. But a cursory reading of the list quickly shows that the so-called myths are nothing more “offensive” than Russian counter-arguments or what may be deemed as counter-perspective. Is NATO saying that to have a different point of view is somehow illegitimate?
For example, NATO counts Russian “fake news” to include claims that:
NATO tried to “drag” Ukraine into its membership;
NATO provoked the Maidan protests;
NATO is trying to encircle Russia;
NATO’s operation in Afghanistan was a failure;
NATO’s operation in Libya was illegitimate;
These points and more besides are not falsifications or baseless propaganda. They are serious contentions that can be substantiated with documented facts and legal argument as well as maps of proliferating NATO military bases on Russia’s borders.
Indeed, such perspectives completely confound the stereotype views that are promulgated on a daily basis by the Western media. But that in no way qualifies the contrarian Russian view as “fake.” Moreover, one can say that such views presented by Russian media are vital to proper public interest and understanding.
It is an astounding reflection of Western hubris and indoctrination that NATO members’ news media have published the following news stories which are patently false or turn reality on its head.
For instance, Russian and Syrian forces were allegedly committing wholesale slaughter of civilians in the city of Aleppo. For weeks the Western news media were screaming about the alleged massacre, only for the Syrian city to be eventually liberated from Western-backed illegally armed militants, including proscribed terrorist groups. No such civilian massacre occurred, and Western media have not bothered since to visit Aleppo to report on the return to normal civilian life thanks to the liberation by Russian and Syrian forces.
Another instance of rampant fake news carried in Western media is that Russian hackers subverted the US presidential election to get Donald Trump into the White House. No proof of these tendentious claims has ever been presented.
Yet the same claims are now being aired over alleged Russian interference in European elections – even though German state intelligence recently reported there was no evidence of interference.
Let’s put the issue into perspective. Over the past year, British news media have published story after story claiming Russia was about to invade Europe and start World War III.
The Daily Express ran three such stories in June, July, and September.
It wasn’t just throw away tabloids that indulged in such reckless scaremongering. The supposedly more serious Independent ran at least two stories in May and September citing top military officials claiming that nuclear war could break out in 48 hours with Russia because of the latter’s “secret” invasion plans.
In November, the Guardian and other British news outlets, including the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, BBC, and Sky, echoed the view of MI5 chief Sir Ian Parker that “Russia is a growing threat to the UK.”
If British media reports were to be believed, then Europe and the whole northern hemisphere should have gone up in nuclear smoke several months ago.
Dealing in false news by NATO members’ media, as exemplified above, is not just wildly erroneous and unethical. It is illustrative of an orchestrated propaganda campaign to demonize Russia and recklessly create an atmosphere for global war.
In this context, to accuse Russian news media of “fake news” is a flagrant inversion of reality.
That NATO chiefs, Western governments, and the dutiful news media can get away with making such accusations is a disturbing sign of collective indoctrination. The irony of Western self-declared “free and independent” politicians and media behaving like an army of robots marching to war while accusing Russia of fake news is too much for words.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered snap drills to be held by the Aerospace Forces and other branches to evaluate its preparedness against potential aggression. The exercise started on February 7.
Some Western media have accused Moscow of preparing to start an aggression. In reality, the action is taken in response to NATO and Ukraine’s provocative activities in the Black Sea. 16 warships, a submarine and 10 warplanes along with some 2,800 troops from Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Canada, and the US are taking part in exercise ‘Sea Shield 2017’ scheduled to run between February 1 and 11 in the proximity of Russian borders.
HMS Diamond of the UK Royal Navy is sent to participate in the event. It’s a rather symbolic move. This is the first time since the Cold War that a British naval vessel entered the waters of the Black Sea. According to British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, this is the way that the British government confirms its support of Ukraine – a hostile act towards Russia. After the NATO exercise, the ship will visit Odessa to hold bilateral drills with Ukraine. The destroyer has 60 Special Boat Service and Royal Marine commandos on board. It’s logical to expect amphibious landing to be part of the exercise.
According to the Daily Mail, HMS Diamond will lead a NATO task force and help protect 650 British troops who are involved in secret exercises in Ukraine. There is ground to believe that something is cooking up.
NATO defense ministers will meet February 15-16 in Brussels to discuss a package of measures aimed at bolstering military presence in the Black Sea. The proposals on two basic elements for the maritime component – a strengthened training framework and a coordination body for the Black Sea that reports to the specialized NATO command – are expected to be submitted for consideration.
The organization plans to build NATO’s Black Sea presence on land around a Romanian-led multinational framework brigade in the process of formation. Nations who have pledged to contribute include Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United States. The unit is intended to facilitate the deployment of reinforcements. Georgia and Ukraine will be fully involved in the plans.
Romania calls for a regular trilateral format of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea, along with Turkey and Bulgaria, with the eventual participation of non-littoral NATO members.
The UK, Canada and Poland will send aircraft to be based in the Romanian southeastern Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are also expected to come forward with a plan to increase naval and air patrols. Romania and Bulgaria will host aircraft designed to carry out surveillance missions.
Last September, US and Bulgarian aircraft launched joint regular patrols in the Black Sea. The patrolling mission greatly increases the risk of an accident, especially with the Russian S-400 long range systems stationed in Crimea. Russian aircraft deployed in the Northern Caucasus and Rostov region are capable of controlling the whole Black Sea. President Putin has already warned NATO about the consequences such policy would lead to.
There has been a surge in airspace violations and instances where aircraft are scrambled to intercept foreign jets amid a sharp rise in tensions in the region. For instance, Sea Shield-2017 exercise started with an incident. Ukraine accused Russia of firing at its An-26 cargo aircraft on a training flight. The plane flew provocatively low over an oil rig. A security guard gave flash signals from a signal pistol to prevent the plane from crashing into the drilling tower.
Non-Black Sea NATO members cannot stay in the Black Sea more than 21 days, according to the Montreux Convention. NATO has three members with Black Sea ports in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as two more aspiring members in Ukraine and Georgia.
Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Georgian navies have limited capabilities. It brings to the fore the possibility of major NATO sea powers handing over some of their own warships to them. The ships could be reflagged to beef up permanent naval capabilities in the theater. US warships frequent the Black Sea to provide NATO with long-range first strike capability.
Romania hosts a ballistic missile defense (BMD) site believed to be capable of launching long-range surface-to-surface cruise missiles in what constitutes a violation of INF Treaty. Aegis Ashore uses the naval Mk-41 launching system capable of firing such weapons. Located near Caracal in south central Romania, Aegis Ashore is part of the second phase of the so-called «European Phased Adaptive Approach» (EPAA) to an overall NATO missile defense architecture.
Bulgaria also plays a prominent role in NATO’s plans to bolster the bloc’s military presence in the region. This year, Novo Selo, a US military base in Bulgaria, is expected to host more American and NATO troops. The first of three six-month rotations of about 150 US Marines, part of the Black Sea Rotational Force, is due at Novo Selo in September. US Army soldiers come to Bulgaria for training on a rotational basis. Under the 2006 defense cooperation agreement, the United States has access to three Bulgarian military bases.
The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo; the base can hold as many as 5,000 during joint-nation exercises with NATO allies. The facility’s construction is almost finished; the plans are on the way to upgrade the training ranges this year. The upgrade includes adding a helicopter landing zone and an air operations building. The base is expected to host US heavy tanks. A NATO maintenance support area is to be built in Sliven or Plovdiv.
For the US, the Black Sea is a remote region where it has no interest. It’s different for Bulgaria as 80 percent of Bulgarian exports and imports transit the Black Sea and tourism contributes heavily to the country’s economy, increased maritime militarization could have a widespread negative economic impact in case of accidents or clashes.
Nothing justifies the whipping up of tensions by NATO in the Black Sea region. Too provocative and too dangerous. An incident may spark a fire. The INCSEA agreement appears to be dead as the events in the Baltic Sea demonstrate.
While the Islamic State poses a threat to the very existence of NATO members, the alliance is engaged in provocations to intimidate Russia – its natural ally in the fight against the common enemy. Does it meet the interests of the alliance members? It would stand NATO defense chiefs in good stead if they asked themselves this question at the February 15-16 meeting.
A group of prominent US senators is leading a bipartisan effort to push through the so-called Russia Review Act, which would allow the Senate to veto any attempt of newcomer President Donald Trump to loosen sanctions on Moscow.
The group, which currently consists of six senators, is growing, according to a report by CNN, which sees the initiative as Congress’ latest warning to Trump signifying that it will not tolerate unilateral moves by the executive branch to reconcile with Moscow, especially the lifting of sanctions.
The group led by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) also includes Marco Rubio (R-Florida), John McCain (R-Arizona), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
On Wednesday, they are planning to introduce legislation that would subject any decision the president takes concerning Russia to a 120 day-review, during which Congress could put any move to lift sanctions to a vote, according to a copy of the draft shown to CNN.
If Trump was to order the lifting of sanctions without Russia pulling out of Crimea, the Florida senator believes there’s strong enough opposition among legislators to veto the move. The US still considers Crimea to be part of Ukraine.
“I think if there was a real threat of lifting sanctions minus the respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and meeting those conditions, my sense is that we would have the votes to pass that in the Senate and we would be able to pass it with a veto-proof majority,” Rubio told the news network.
Meanwhile, another bill is being formulated by another group of a dozen senators who wish to impose an additional set of comprehensive sanctions on Moscow, on top of those already in place. They justify the move citing Crimea’s decision to reunite with Russia in a referendum following an armed coup in Kiev (referred to as “annexation” by Washington), as well as unproven allegations that Russia carried out cyber-attacks to influence the US election.
No date has been set for a vote on that bill.
Both acts would require a supermajority of 67 Senate votes, which sponsor Ben Cardin of Maryland believes is achievable.
The news comes before the dust has even settled on Trump’s interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox, during which the host tried to coax the president into making a harsh comments about Vladimir Putin, even going so far as to call the Russian president a “killer.” Trump refused to take the bait, however, causing quite a stir in anti-Russian circles on Capitol Hill.
Reports about the new bill come as tensions between Moscow and Kiev have increased over the issue of holding elections in the Donbass region. Moscow believes elections should go ahead, provided that free and fair electoral procedures are observed and the safety of all candidates is ensured, while Kiev insists that no elections can be held until it has establishing full control over the rebel regions and their borders with Russia. Moreover, ultranationalist and neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine have been putting pressure on the Kiev government, threatening to oust Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko if elections in the breakaway regions take place.
Though the White House has not yet published on its website a readout of US President Trump’s telephone conversation on Saturday with Ukrainian President Poroshenko, it is clear that it did not contain the strong support for Ukraine Poroshenko must have been looking for.
The conversation took place against the backdrop of intense fighting between the Ukrainian military and the eastern Ukrainian militia around the town of Avdeevka in eastern Ukraine.
The White House is reporting that Trump said to Poroshenko the following
We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border
This comment contains no criticism of Russia, it does not accuse Russia of initiating the fighting, and it makes no reference to “Russian aggression”. Nor does it make any strong statement of support for Ukraine.
This has been the consistent pattern of Donald Trump’s statements to European leaders since he became US President.
Donald Trump has now met with British Prime Theresa May and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, and he has had telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
If the White House readouts of these these conversations are to be believed, in not one of them has he said anything about Russia committing aggression in Ukraine. His most substantive discussion of Ukraine with any European leader was his one with German Chancellor Merkel. Here is the White House’s summary of the conversation
President Trump and Chancellor Merkel today held an extensive telephone conversation covering a range of issues, including NATO, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, relations with Russia, and the Ukraine crisis. Both leaders affirmed the importance of close German-American cooperation to our countries’ security and prosperity and expressed their desire to deepen already close German-American relations in the coming years.
Not only does this summary separate the issue of the “Ukraine crisis” from the question of “relations with Russia” – an idea that totally overturns the Western foreign policy orthodoxy of the last three years – but it lumps the “Ukraine crisis” – supposedly (according to Western leaders) the biggest crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War – with those of the Middle East and North Africa, whilst mentioning it last in a way that seems to give it the least priority.
Contrary to what many are saying, I do not see any significant difference between Trump and other US officials on this issue.
In the hours following President Trump’s conversation with Poroshenko, Vice President Pence – often regarded as an anti-Russia hawk – appeared on ABC News’ “This Week”. Here is how Bloomberg sums up what he said
We’re watching,” Pence said on ABC. “And very troubled by the increased hostilities over the past week in eastern Ukraine.”
Pence noted that Trump spoke about Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 28. He said the question of whether sanctions on Russia remain in place if it continues to violate the cease-fire in Ukraine will depend on Russia’s actions and the opportunity to work together on matters such as defeating Islamic State.
“It just simply all depends on whether or not we see the kind of changes in posture by Russia and the opportunity perhaps to work on common interests
(bold italics added)
Again this is scarcely a resounding denunciation of Russia – such as might once have been expected from Obama administration officials – and it even appears to link the possibility of lifting the sanctions to Russia’s cooperation in fighting the Islamic State.
What of the statement made by US ambassador Nikki Haley to the UN Security Council, which is being widely reported as contradicting Donald Trump’s position, and which is supposed to have contained a stern denunciation of Russia?
In my opinion this interpretation is wrong, and to show why I herewith provide Nikki Haley’s full statement, which I shall then analyse
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, Under-Secretary-General O’Brien, and Ambassador Apakan for your useful and comprehensive briefings today.
This is my first appearance in this chamber as the Permanent Representative of the United States. It is an immense honor for me to sit behind the United States placard and to follow in the footsteps of so many giants of American diplomacy. It is humbling to be part of a body whose responsibility is nothing less than maintaining international peace and security. I look forward to working closely with each of you on this Council. The United States is determined to push for action. There is no time to waste.
I consider it unfortunate that the occasion of my first appearance here is one in which I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia. It is unfortunate because it is a replay of far too many instances over many years in which United States Representatives have needed to do that. It should not have to be that way. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.
The sudden increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine has trapped thousands of civilians and destroyed vital infrastructure. And the crisis is spreading, endangering many thousands more. This escalation of violence must stop.
The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention. Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.
Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine. The basic principle of this United Nations is that states should live side by side in peace.
There is a clear path to restoring peace in eastern Ukraine: full and immediate implementation of the Minsk agreements, which the United States continues to support. For the people in eastern Ukraine, the stakes are high. With each passing day, more people are at risk of freezing to death, or dying from a mortar blast.
The United States calls on Russia and the combined Russian-separatist forces to fulfill their commitments in the Minsk agreements and fully restore and respect the ceasefire. The Minsk agreements require the disengagement of forces and withdrawal of heavy weapons from both sides of the contact line. This is the formula for a sustainable ceasefire. Pulling back forces and taking heavy weapons out of this area will save lives. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission must also be granted full, unfettered access. The presence of OSCE monitors can help calm tensions.
Cooperation on this issue is possible. Earlier this week, both Russia and Ukraine supported this Council’s unanimous call to return to a ceasefire. It was the first time in years that this Council was able to come together on Ukraine. The parties on the ground should heed this signal and hold their fire. The United States expects that those who can influence the groups that are fighting – in particular, Russia – will do everything possible to support an end to this escalation of violence. Thank you.
(bold italics added)
This is a very different statement from the one which might have expected from someone like Samantha Power.
It says that the US wants better relations with Russia. It does not say that Russia or the eastern Ukrainian militia started the latest fighting. It calls for full implementation of the Minsk Accords, which (as everyone knows) Ukraine is not implementing. Lastly it calls for heavy weapons to be removed from “both sides of the contact line”, when everyone knows it was Ukraine’s decision to violate this provision by moving heavy weapons into the buffer zone (which includes Avdeevka) which caused the latest fighting.
As for the criticisms of Russia, not only do these have a ritual quality – with Haley simply repeating what is still official US policy – but she actually says she regrets having to do it. Moreover it is difficult to avoid reading Haley’s comment about her having to do it being “unfortunate because it is a replay of far too many instances over many years in which United States Representatives have needed to do that” as being anything other than a veiled reference to Samantha Power, with the clear implication being that Haley wants to be different from her.
Lest anyone think that I am alone in reading Haley’s statement in this way, I should say that no less a person than Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, who was physically present in the Security Council chamber when Haley read her statement, is of the same view.
Immediately following the UN Security Council meeting on Thursday where Haley read out her statement, Churkin said that he had noted “a tangible change of tone”, and said that he found Haley “friendly enough, with the allowances for the circumstances and the subject.”
Churkin and Haley then met on the following day. Interestingly, it was Haley who went to see Churkin, not the other way round. The report of the meeting provided by the Russian news agency TASS reads as follows
Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin has held the first meeting with his newly-appointed US counterpart Nikki Haley. As the Russian missions’ spokesman Fyodor Strzhizhovsky said, Churkin and Haley agreed to maintain close cooperation in accordance with Moscow’s and Washington’s intentions. “The Russian envoy received Nikki Haley at his residence. Both sides expressed the intention to cooperate tightly within the United Nations in accordance with their respective capitals’ intentions,” he said.
(bold italics added)
The talk about “close” and “tight” cooperation “within the United Nations” suggests discussion about jointly sponsored Resolutions aimed at defeating Jihadi terrorism and ISIS, which is quite clearly the new administration’s priority.
Of course this is all very tentative. The difficulties in the way of a detente between the US and Russia are so great they may prove insurmountable. The opponents of such a detente are legion, and they have not gone away. Besides it is far from clear upon what terms Trump wants such a detente, and whether they are terms the Russians feel able to concede to him.
However it is wrong to say that on this subject the new administration is not speaking with one voice. On the contrary all its senior officials – including of course most importantly President Trump himself – are saying they want a detente with Russia, and all the administration’s statements – including Trump’s in his telephone call with Poroshenko, and Haley’s in her statement to the UN Security Council – suggest the new administration wants to put the Ukrainian crisis behind it so that it can concentrate on the fight against Jihadi terrorism and ISIS, for which it obviously feels it needs Russia’s help.
When British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon was asked to deliver a speech on ‘Russian resurgence’, he seized the opportunity to accuse Moscow of “annexing” Crimea, shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, and “testing” NATO. Russia calls the claims baseless.
Fallon’s speech at St. Andrews University on Thursday began kindly enough, speaking about the UK’s “renewed interest in Russian scientific and artistic achievement.”
However, the talk quickly changed course, with Fallon changing the focus to Russia’s so-called “military resurgence.”
Referring to the reunification of Crimea and Russia following a referendum in 2014, Fallon claimed the situation actually amounted to Russia illegally annexing the territory.
“Russia did not allow Ukraine to decide its own destiny like any other sovereign country,” he said. “Instead, under the guise of ambiguous and deniable instruments it annexed Crimea.”
Fallon’s anti-Russia rhetoric didn’t stop there. He went on to cite an inquiry by the Dutch-led Joint-investigative Team (JIT) which claims the MH17 tragedy was caused by a “Russian-provided missile.” He said that despite the finding, Moscow continues to deny its role in the tragedy.
Fallon failed to mention, however, that there are numerous issues surrounding that report, including the fact that the Dutch apparently couldn’t read raw radar data provided by Russia, yet failed to ask Moscow for help to decode it.
The discrepancies surrounding the inquiry have led to Major General Aleksandr Tazekhulakhov, the former deputy head of the Russian Army Air Defense, to accuse the Netherlands of trying to keep Moscow out of the investigation, likely in “yet another attempt to put the blame on Russia for something…”
The next phase of Fallon’s speech transitioned from Ukraine to Syria, in which he accused Russia of targeting the Syrian opposition in Aleppo “with little regard for innocent lives,” claiming that 80 percent of its strikes targeted non-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets.
However, Fallon seemed to conveniently forget that the US-led coalition in Syria – which includes the UK – just last month admitted to “unintentionally” killing at least 188 civilians in Syria and Iraq since 2014.
And while Fallon accused Russia of targeting civilians in Aleppo, he failed to mention a hospital set up by Russia in the city, despite the facility being hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month.
“The WHO, same as the Syrian people – we’re very grateful to the Russians, the EMERCOM [Agency for Support and Coordination of Russian Participation in International Humanitarian Operations] gave a hospital to be used in the Jibreen [refugee] camp. The hospital provided by the Russian people has provided several hundred consultations and has been given by the Russian people to the Syrian people for the use by the central health authorities in Aleppo,” the WHO’s Elizabeth Hoff told RT.
Any typical bashing of Russia by the UK wouldn’t be complete without claims that Moscow is trying to “test” NATO, and Fallon didn’t disappoint.
“Russia is clearly testing NATO and the West,” Fallon said, accusing Moscow of “seeking to expand its sphere of influence, destabilize countries, and weaken the alliance.”
“It is undermining national security for many allies and the international rules-based system,” he continued.
Fallon was apparently in no mood to present a balanced argument during his speech, failing to mention NATO’s build-up of troops near Russia’s borders, or Moscow’s concern that NATO is compromising its national security.
The speech also included a healthy dose of the usual Western rhetoric, including allegations that Russia influenced the US presidential election by hacking into Democratic National Committee (DNC).
There was a touch of irony towards the end of Fallon’s speech, in which he said “we need to understand Russia better,” but then went on to accuse it of “reckless military activity” and “misinformation.”
“Russia could again become the partner the West always wished for…” he concluded.
However, based on Fallon’s speech, it seems Russia will only be a ‘partner’ to the UK and the West if it panders to their every wish.
Moscow responded to Fallon’s speech on Friday, calling his statements “baseless.”
“We express regret for this hostile stance of the minister. We are sure that such allegations are baseless,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, as quoted by Reuters.
It’s not encouraging based on Nikki Haley’s Thursday UN Security Council remarks – sounding like neocon Samantha Power never left.
Her maiden voyage appearance as US envoy outrageously “condemn(ed) Russian actions” in Ukraine – ignoring flagrant Kiev aggression, including willful shelling of Donetsk civilian areas.
“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention,” Haley ranted.
“Until Russia and the separatists (sic) it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.”
Shocking stuff! Haley speaks for Trump. Her disgraceful misrepresentation of hard facts didn’t go down well in Moscow.
Russia’s lower house State Duma International Affairs Committee chairman Alexey Pushkov blasted her, saying “(i)t looks like the new US representative at the UN came with remarks…written by (Samantha) Power.”
“How can Russia be blamed when (Ukrainian forces) are firing at Donbass?” Moscow’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin condemned Kiev’s escalation, saying its regime “desperately, frantically” needs money so it provoked conflict to “swindle (it from) the European Union, certain European countries and from the United States and from international financial institutions by pretending to be the victims of aggression.”
He accused Kiev of trying to use the armed clashes that it provoked as a pretext for a complete rejection of the February 12, 2015” Minsk II agreement.
He called for deescalation “to prevent disaster and to return the situation to the political track (so) the situation in (Donbass won’t) develop (into a) worse-case scenario.”
Kiev’s UN ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko turned truth on its head blaming “the Russian army and Russian-backed separatists (sic)” of starting the latest escalation.
Militantly anti-Russia European Council president Donald Tusk issued a statement, saying “we are reminded again of the continued challenge from Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine.”
In her remarks, Haley continued her anti-Russia rant, saying “Eastern Ukraine… is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions.”
“The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Fact: Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to return to Russia, wanting no part of Kiev’s putschist regime. Putin accommodated them. The Republic of Crimea is Russia’s Southern Federal District. That won’t change!
Fact: Haley’s remarks suggest improving Russia/US ties won’t come easily at best, perhaps wishful thinking at worst.
Fact: Donbass freedom fighters decisively smashed Kiev’s earlier aggression, while its forces resort to shelling alone so far this time around.
They can’t win militarily. Aggression was launched for political and economic reasons. The regime wrecked the country. It’s a financial deadbeat, in default on its debt, unable to function without foreign aid.
Conditions are deplorable. Waging war on Donbass distracts attention from state-inflicted misery. How long it can work is uncertain.
In 2004 and 2014, US-instigated color revolutions replaced sitting governments with illegitimate pro-Western puppet regimes.
Will another uprising follow, this time internally generated, replacing US-installed putschists with leadership looking east, not west? It’s unlikely soon, maybe longer-term.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.
The escalation in eastern Ukraine is again presented in the British media as Russia’s attempt to wage a proxy hybrid war against Kiev’s pro-Western leadership.
For fear of an eventual improvement in Russia-US relations, they pray for the sanctions against Russia to stay unless the Minsk Agreements are implemented as well as a punishment for ‘Russia’s annexation of Crimea.’
Let me set the record straight on that.
The coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 backed by the West tore up the constitutional space in Ukraine. The legitimate president of the country was overthrown. It was marked by a severe lack of democracy and violence that posed a direct threat to the well-being of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea. Citizens of Crimea, which was an autonomy at the time, faced the choice of becoming an oppressed minority or severing their ties with the hostile regime to secure a future for themselves and their children. Legitimate local authorities made the decision to hold a referendum.
The independence of Crimea was proclaimed and an appeal to enter the Russian Federation was made based on the indisputable results of the popular vote. Standards of international law were fully observed as the right of nations to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter was exercised freely by the Crimeans.
Crimea was recognized as an independent and sovereign state by Russia, and on March 18, 2014 in Moscow the two countries signed a Treaty of Unification, under which the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became two new regions – subjects of the Russian Federation.
Let us take a look at the outcome. While entire regions of Ukraine are engulfed in a brutal war, and the population is being fed with shameless nationalist propaganda, the Russian Crimea is enjoying peace, stability and steady growth. What could be a better proof that the decisions made two years ago were the only right ones? We are convinced that many Ukrainians would prefer to live like the residents of Crimea live now – under conditions of stable economic development and social security. That is despite the attempts of the Ukrainian government to disrupt the life of the people there by cutting the peninsula off from essential supplies, trying to organize water, energy and food blockades. Does it mean people for sovereignty, rather than sovereignty for the people?
Unfortunately, there has been little progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements mainly due to Kiev’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under them to promote national accord and reconciliation. The recent escalation is clearly an attempt to divert public attention from the poor reform record and request for additional funds from their Western sponsors.
For the political solution to be achieved in Ukraine, the Minsk Agreements should be fully implemented, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line. However, the Ukrainian armed forces haven’t stopped shelling Donetsk and Lugansk, including the use of weapons that are supposed to have been withdrawn. This leads to civilian casualties and the destruction of property. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported many times the concentration of Ukrainian forces along the contact line.
According to the Minsk Agreements, signed two years ago, on the first day of the withdrawal of artillery Kiev had to engage in dialog, and start consulting with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives on the conditions for elections to be held on the basis of Ukrainian law and under OSCE oversight.
A month after the signing of the Minsk Agreements Kiev was required to enact a special status law adopting a resolution designating the territory that this law was supposed to cover. This hasn’t been done. A law was passed, the territories marked, but the law said that it didn’t apply to Donetsk and Lugansk!
The Minsk Agreements clearly say elections should be held in accordance with the OSCE criteria, one of which is to ensure that no one will be subjected to intimidation, harassment, etc. The statement by the Kiev authorities on “elections first, then amnesty” constitute a serious distortion of the sequence and logic of what was agreed. In accordance with the OSCE elections criteria, the amnesty should be granted before the elections.
It is crucial to understand at long last that the only way to settle the Ukrainian crisis is by implementing the Minsk Agreements, which represent a recipe for a political solution well in line with European values. What is required of Kiev is to treat its citizens as partners and abandon the Orwellian “anti-terrorists operation.” One cannot deal with its own citizens with a gun to their head.
And this intransigence should cease for the sake of comprehensive reforms in Ukraine, the lack of which is the key source of the present crisis. The declarations by British officials that sanctions against Russia can only be lifted after we fulfill our obligations according to Minsk treaty is a crude substitution of concept and a prolongation of anti-Russian politics of London.
Russia, together with France and Germany, is a guarantor of the Minsk accords, not part of it. The obligations written there are for Kiev and Donbass, in their quality as sides of the treaty and participants of the conflict, to fulfill.
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
Less than two weeks into office, President Trump faces one of the first big tests of his non-confrontational policy toward Russia. As new fighting erupts in Eastern Ukraine, the Kiev regime and its U.S. supporters are predictably demanding a showdown with Vladimir Putin.
Initial evidence suggests, however, that the latest flare-up in this nearly three-year-old conflict was precipitated by Kiev, possibly in the hope of forcing just such a confrontation between Washington and Moscow. It’s looking more and more like a rerun of a disastrous stunt pulled by the government of Georgia in 2008, which triggered a clash with Russia with the expectation that the George W. Bush administration would come to its rescue and bring Georgia into the NATO alliance.
After months of relative quiet, the fighting in Ukraine erupted on Jan. 28 around the city of Avdiivka, a now-decrepit industrial center. Eight pro-government fighters and five separatists apparently died in the first two days of hostilities. Meanwhile, residents of the city are struggling to survive heavy shelling and sub-zero weather with no heating.
Perennial critics of Russia were quick to blame Moscow for the renewed bloodshed. “We call on Russia to stop the violence (and), honor the cease-fire,” declared a State Department official.
The Washington Post’s reliably neo-conservative editorial page suggested that Russia felt liberated to unleash rocket and artillery barrages after Putin spoke with Trump by phone, with the goal of wrecking a meeting between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Russian onslaught “look(s) a lot like a test of whether the new president will yield to pressure from Moscow,” the Post declared, as if this were Czechoslovakia, 1938, all over again.
Poroshenko was quick to take advantage of the clash by asking, rhetorically, “Who would dare talk about lifting the sanctions in such circumstances?” Just last month, Austria’s foreign minister called for an easing of sanctions on Russia in return for “any positive development” in Ukraine. President Trump has been noncommittal about sanctions in the face of full-throated demands by congressional hawks in both parties to keep them in place.
Who’s to Blame?
The jury is still out on who provoked the latest violence, but Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, established by the U.S. government to broadcast propaganda during the height of the Cold War, reported Monday:
“Frustrated by the stalemate in this 33-month war of attrition, concerned that Western support is waning, and sensing that U.S. President Donald Trump could cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he tries to improve fraught relations with Moscow, Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength have gone on what many here are calling a ‘creeping offensive.’
“Observers say the Ukrainians appear to be trying to create new facts on the ground . . . In doing so, the pro-Kyiv troops have sparked bloody clashes with their enemy, which has reportedly made advances of its own — or tried to — in recent weeks.”
A senior member of Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine warned, “The direct result of forward moves is escalation in tension, which often turns to violence.” How right he was.
It’s hard to see what Putin gains from new fighting, at a time when Trump faces an army of skeptics at home for his go-easy-on-Russia strategy. Poroshenko has everything to gain, on the other hand, by pressing Americans and West Europeans to reaffirm their support for his government, which took power after a 2014 coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who was strongly supported in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
The Georgia Playbook
The situation is reminiscent of the August 2008 conflict between Russia and its neighbor on the Black Sea, Georgia. A bloody clash between the two countries’ armed forces in the tiny enclave of South Ossetia prompted a blast of militant rhetoric from American hawks.
Vice President Richard Cheney declared, “Russian aggression must not go unanswered.” Richard Holbrooke, who would become a senior adviser to the future President Obama, said, “Moscow’s behavior poses a direct challenge to European and international order.”
It may have been significant that the Georgian president’s paid U.S. lobbyist was also presidential candidate John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser. As one analyst commented at the time, “McCain’s swift and belligerent response to the Soviet actions in Georgia has bolstered his shaky standing with the right-wing of the Republican Party. . . . Since the crisis erupted, McCain has focused like a laser on Georgia, to great effect. According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released on August 19 he has gained four points on Obama since their last poll in mid-July and leads his rival by a two to one margin as the candidate best qualified to deal with Russia.”
Yet when the smoke settled, it turned out that Georgia, not Russia, had started the war by launching an artillery barrage against South Ossetia’s capital city. It was a ploy by Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to drag the West into supporting his campaign to take over the enclave.
The independent International Crisis Group had warned in 2007 that Georgia’s risky strategy of provoking “frequent security incidents could degenerate into greater violence.”
A year later, following the brief war with Russia, an ICG investigation reported authoritatively that it began with a “disastrous miscalculation by Georgian leadership,” who “launched a large-scale military offensive” into the Russian-occupied enclave, killing dozens of civilians and causing severe damage to South Ossetia’s capital from artillery barrages.
The report also criticized “Russia’s disproportionate counter-attack,” which it deemed a response to “the decade-long eastward expansion of the NATO alliance” and other grievances.
Putting blame aside, the ICG report observed that “The Russia-Georgia conflict has transformed the contemporary geopolitical world, with large consequences for peace and security in Europe and beyond.” Indeed, it marked one of the greatest setbacks in post-Cold War relations between Moscow and the West until the 2014 Ukraine crisis.
If the 2017 Ukraine crisis gets out of hand, the consequences for peace and security may be just as great or greater. It will be informative to see whether President Trump and his national security team get the straight facts before capitulating to the interventionists who want to see U.S.-Russian relations remain strained and volatile.
DONETSK – A referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO would mean Kiev’s ultimate renunciation of Donbass as the region is against joining the alliance, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Thursday.
In a recent interview with German daily Berliner Morgenpost, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he intended to hold a referendum on the country’s accession to NATO.
“An attempt to hold a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO means Kiev is ultimately surrendering Donbass. First, because Donbass will not be able to participate in the referendum… Second, we have repeatedly said that one of the most important demands of Donbass is that Donbass calls for friendly and allied relations with Russia and, therefore, against NATO,” Zakharchenko told Sputnik.
In December 2014, Ukraine canceled its non-aligned status, confirming its intention to join NATO. Poroshenko said a referendum on NATO membership would be held by 2020, after all NATO requirements have been met.