Tag Archives: Jonathan Steele

astroturfing for regime change: frontline in the (newest) war on the antiwar movement

A lot of good work for charity…

On Thursday [Feb 4th], David Cameron and Angela Merkel joined with lesser lights Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in London to host the “Supporting Syria & the Region 2016” conference.

Alongside many other luminaries including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, European Council president, Donald Tusk, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, they were gathered – according to the “about” page of the official website – “to rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war” by lending support to an “event built on 3 previous conferences that have been generously hosted in Kuwait.”

This hypertext link to “Kuwait” is intriguing to say the least. Following it you will read:

Kuwait is one of the world’s major international donors of humanitarian assistance and is both a pioneer and standard-bearer for the establishment of development funds in the Gulf region.

And:

Kuwait has increased its support for multilateral humanitarian action exponentially since the start of the crisis in Syria.

And how:

In September 2014, the United Nations, in recognition of Kuwait’s humanitarian efforts to bring together and galvanize the international community for the relief of the Syrian people, designated the State of Kuwait an “International Humanitarian Centre”.

Largesse that is indeed confirmed by an analysis paper published by the Brookings Institute back in December 2013. However, there is charity and there is charity…

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground. 1 [bold emphasis added]

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Mission accomplished: the oil and the gold

Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.

The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”

Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:

This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)

Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.

Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.

French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression. 2

The quoted document can be read in full at the U.S. Dept of State FOIA virtual reading room.

Click here to the full article “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya” at Global Research.

Thus, to prevent Libya slipping outside the global financial stranglehold held by western financiers, the French led the way for Nato to unleash a barrage of “shock and awe” air strikes under cover of the dusted down UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and a “no-fly zone”. This opened the way to the seizure and control of national resources including Libyan oil, and, if this recently declassified memo is accurate, Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves which were “intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency”.

The motive was always regime change and scare stories such as the one about Viagra-fuelled mass rape dutifully planted by our ever complaisant media, although quickly debunked, still served as an adequate pretext for “intervention”. Nato’s attack on Libya had nothing to do with saving lives:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was “deeply concerned” that Gaddafi’s troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. 3

Compare this with today’s callous indifference toward the plight of ordinary Libyans suffering the lawless mayhem of life in a failed state overrun with Salafist warlords. It isn’t hard to understand why. The west has “won” that war: the transnationals got what they wanted. “We came, we saw, he died”, as Hillary famously gloated. With Gaddafi dead, the real mission was indeed accomplished: the spoils were “ours”.

So ended one more episode in an already tedious and dreadful tale…

Read more about western motives for war on Iraq in this earlier post.

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Solidarity with refugees

By late Summer 2014, however, the exodus of refugees from war-torn Libya had become so great that the British government felt compelled to take action. And act it did, in accordance with its genuine concerns:

Britain will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, claiming they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Foreign Office ministers have quietly announced.

So Cameron and his government washed their hands of all responsibility. The “swarm of people” – Cameron’s own obscene description 4 – fleeing from a war in Libya that he had personally helped to ignite, needed to be held back whatever the human costs. Indeed, as the Guardian article of late 2014 continues:

Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep. […]

The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, responding to the Foreign Office refusal to take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.” 5

However, these faceless boat-people were about to be given their humanity back, if only momentarily. It would take the horror of seeing the washed up body of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. An image of war that lodged in our minds and stirred feelings of sorrow and compassion more effectively than any amount of pictures of ruined buildings or grainy videos of air strikes. Almost at a stroke, the public perception of the “immigrant crisis” was altered. 6

Little more than a week later on Saturday 12th September, the Solidarity with Refugees event kicked off at Park Lane and headed to Downing Street “with speeches in Parliament Square from a number of politicians and public figures including Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour party, and musician and activist Billy Bragg.”

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn had only been elected Labour leader a couple of hours earlier. Yet, almost immediately thereafter, and in characteristic fashion, he turned his back on the clamouring press hounds (who had done their best to ignore him up until then), barely acknowledging their presence at all, and made a short journey to speak instead to a mass rally in Parliament Square:

Parliament Square was packed with Corbyn supporters waving banners reading “refugees welcome” and other messages of support. They cheered and chanted “Jez we can, Jez we can” as he took to the stage hours after being voted Labour leader and demanded that the government recognise its “obligations in law”.

Corbyn said: “Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law, that would be good. But above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.” 7

I wasn’t amongst the crowds, but I had lent a little support to the occasion by promoting the “Solidarity with Refugees” rally here on this blog in the preceding days. The announcement copied directly from a Stop the War Coalition email read (in part):

Stop the War has come together with many other organisations to call for a national demonstration in London. We are also urging our members, supporters and groups to take any action they can on that day where they live, alongside anti-racist and refugee groups.

Successive British governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, plus on covert intervention in Syria. The outcome has been destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East, the growth of terrorism in the region, and the displacement of millions.

Their only solution is further war, even though it is increasingly obvious that this option is only creating yet more chaos. Just as we oppose wars, we try to show solidarity with its victims.

At the bottom of the page there was an accompanying list of those “other organisations” (also available on facebook):

National day of action called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London.

However, if you follow the link from the Guardian instead (find it above), it takes you to a somewhat different list of key organisations posted on an alternative facebook page. This altered roll call reads in full as follows:

Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Amnesty International, Stand Up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network, War on Want, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Black Out London, Emergency UK, Student Action for Refugees, London2Calais, British Syrian Medical Society, Avaaz.

There are a number of variations between these lists, but I wish primarily to draw attention to two changes in particular (as highlighted). Firstly, at the head of this extended list there is a relatively unknown organisation called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”. Secondly, there is Avaaz.

Now, had I realised Avaaz were in any way connected to this action, I would not have promoted it, regardless of the endorsement of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because Avaaz is not, and never has been, any part of the antiwar movement – in fact, of all the prominent campaign groups, Avaaz was foremost in calling for military action against Libya. Having played a prominent role in bringing about the destruction of Libya, rather than offering up apologies, Avaaz then promptly demanded another Nato “no-fly zone” over Syria. (Read more here.)

So the presence of Avaaz at any event raises my suspicions. But then we also have the “Syria Solidarity Movement” at the top of the list – so who are they?

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Syrian solidarity and the lesser known “IS Network”

The [Solidarity with Refugees] protest was set up less than two weeks ago by Ros Ereira, 38, from north London. The former television producer, who currently spends much of her time looking after her toddler daughter, created a Facebook page on 1 September calling for today’s protest. Within a week tens of thousands of people had pledged they would come and she had the logistical support of major organisations including Amnesty, Stop the War, the Refugee Council and Syria Solidarity UK.

According to the same article in The Independent:

Ms Ereira said: “I was looking for a demonstration ahead of the European summit and when I couldn’t find anything my friends encouraged me to set up something of my own. I thought it would just be my friends and now unexpectedly 90,000 people have said they’re going to come.”

Abdulaziz Almashi, 30, co-founder of Syria Solidarity UK, will be among those leading the rally. Mr Almashi is a computer science PhD student who came to the UK from Syria in 2009 to study. He still has brothers in Syria working as a doctor and a dentist in field hospitals. “Syrians have been abandoned totally by the international community,” he said. “If the international community doesn’t want to stop the massacres in Syria, the least they can do is accept refugees.” 8

In fact, Abdulaziz Almashi, who shared the podium with Ros Ereira at the rally, was a co-organiser of the rally, as London’s Evening Standard makes clearer. 9  And this where the story starts to gets interesting…

For just who is Abdulaziz Almashi and the campaign group Syria Solidarity UK? Well, type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google and the top link brings up a site with domain name http://www.syriauk.org/.

Click on that link and you open the Syria Solidarity UK website which also calls itself the “Syria Solidarity Movement UK” or more simply “Syria Solidarity Movement”. The site also takes you to a facebook page for “Syria Solidarity Movement”. In short, “Syria Solidarity UK” (co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi) and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” (most prominent amongst the supporters of the “Solidarity for Refugees” rally) turn out to be the same organisation – or if there is any difference between them then I entirely fail to discern it.

As human rights groups go, this particular “Syria Solidarity Movement” is a relative newcomer, and certainly not to be confused with an entirely unconnected campaign group that shares an identical name – more on this later. The first sightings I could find appear in the articles of a similarly greenhorn Trotskyite website called “International Socialist Network”, which chose the ill-fated abbreviated acronym “IS”. 10

 

This lesser known “IS Network” formed from a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party but then quickly became defunct, having “voted unanimously to dissolve itself in April 2015” less than two years after its formation in June 2013. “Sharing a rage and a desire for change is not enough to hold an organisation together in the long term,” they wrote in a solemn swansong.

But a year prior to their dissolution, IS Network posted this:

The Syria Solidarity Movement is a new organisation created by Syrian and socialist activists after the conference “Syria in the context of the Arab Uprisings”. Its [sic] an attempt to provide much belated solidarity for the Syrian revolution from the socialist and workers movement in Britain.

We’re currently trying to link up all the different student groups and activists who have been doing solidarity work on Syria in isolation, and build a cohesive movement which can begin to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began.

And to be clear here: this initial call to recruit activists to establish a “Syria Solidarity Movement” contains a hypertext link to the same organisation later “co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi”.

The post then continues:

The main [lie] is that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution, or that its revolutionary potential has disappeared following the escalation of the military conflict. This is false. […]

We will do what we can to rectify this by promoting links between student organisations, trade unions and solidarity campaigns in Britain, and the civil opposition on the ground in Syria which still keeps alive the spirit of the revolution.

We have working groups for students, trade union activists, humanitarian aid and media. If you wish to volunteer for any, please contact us. 11

Later other “radical leftist” groups went on to promote this new offshoot called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

For instance, on September 10th (a few days prior to the rally in London), RS21 (short for revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, which is just a different splinter group made up of disaffected SWP members) wrote:

Suddenly, everyone is talking about Syria. Saturday’s demonstration will be in solidarity with all refugees, but a Syrian refugee is one of the key organisers. Campaigners from the Syria Solidarity Movement UK and Stop the War Coalition are among those involved in the planning, along with many other organisations. Everyone should welcome this commitment to unity against the government’s treatment of refugees and other migrants.

The article also adds a different piece of the jigsaw (since if Abdulaziz Almashi is one co-founder of the group, then who else works alongside him?):

As part of an ongoing discussion, Mark Boothroyd, who was a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement UK, argues that the mainstream anti-war movement has failed Syrian revolutionaries struggling against a brutal dictatorship. 12 [bold highlight as original]

Following the links (or my footnotes), it turns out that Mark Boothroyd was, in fact, the author of the previously quoted IS Network recruitment drive which had encouraged activists to join the new “Syria Solidarity Movement” (see above).

Later, in November 2015, the (supposedly) alternative magazine Left Foot Forward wrote:

“The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria.” 13

(With link retained – which connects, of course, back to the Syria Solidarity UK website.)

By December, Peter Tatchell, someone I once admired, was also linking arms with Syria Solidarity UK.

Then, on December 9th, a letter appeared in the Guardian. It was provocatively entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” and signed by (amongst others but in the order as published) Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK,  Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner, Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member (although not by Caroline Lucas), Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK, and Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK.

It begins:

We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority.

What the signatories to this letter share, it seems, is the opinion that war in Syria remains ‘revolutionary’ in character (in the Marxist sense); their condemnation of StWC continuing as follows:

As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. 14 [bold emphasis added]

But this characterisation both of “the rebels” and the antiwar movement is demonstrably false. For the (armed) opposition to Assad is indeed “largely composed of jihadi extremists” having infiltrated as a fifth column during the very earliest stages of the conflict. That the opposition is comprised of mercenaries and terrorists is now well-documented (as I have previously shown). It is also easy to establish that these same jihadist groups have been bankrolled by our Gulf State allies and greatly assisted by Nato member Turkey. So they are indeed “agents of imperialism” (if, perhaps, unwitting ones) in a proxy war between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more broadly the US, Nato and Israel against Russia.

Moreover, the charge that StWC is “marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny” may provide a clever smokescreen, but it is also execrable nonsense. All it actually means is their own opinion has been marginalised, which is hardly surprising, since those leading the attack against StWC are neither “non-aligned” nor honest brokers for peace.

And this is why in the concluding sentences they talk only of the “Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad” 15 failing to include any mention whatsoever of the extraordinary array of jihadist factions fighting alongside the lesser forces of so-called Free Syrian Army (which is itself a dubious conglomeration of Islamist militia). There is no mention even of Jabhat al-Nusra – Syria’s main branch of al-Qaeda.

This is what Mark Boothroyd, co-founder of the “Syria Solidarity Movement” and signatory to the Guardian letter, concluded an extended piece he wrote in praise of “the rebels”:

For these reasons, whatever happens, the rebels will keep fighting. Spokesperson for Ahrar Al-Sham, Ahmad Qura Ali commented:

The regime continuing and Assad staying is a failure….It also demonstrates disrespect towards the sacrifices of the Syrian people and, even more importantly, irreverence towards the will of the Syrian people,” 16

Boothroyd’s tacit endorsement of Ahrar Al-Sham (amongst other ‘rebel factions’) tells us a great deal. For Ahrar Al-Sham (literally “Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) is indeed leading “the revolution” as one of the largest brigades in this so-called “moderate opposition”. And yet, Ahrar Al-Sham describes itself – on its own website – in the following manner [translation courtesy of Al Jazeera]:

“The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”. 17

This is the “revolution” Mark Boothroyd and comrades are backing today.

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Syrian Solidarity UK: leading the pro-war advocates

Earlier I outlined what you will find if you type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google. But what if instead you type “Syria Solidarity Movement” – that other name for the same organisation? The top link then turns out not to be the campaign group co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi and Mark Boothroyd, but a totally different and unrelated “Syria Solidarity Movement”. An organisation that adopted the domain name syriasolidaritymovement.org long before Almashi and Boothroyd decided to create their alternative.

So the immediate and most obvious question is this: why adopt the name of a pre-existing campaign organisation? An odd decision made odder since it automatically denies you ownership of a matching domain name. Indeed, can there be any rational explanation other than here is a case of deliberate identity theft? A new campaign group, with an outlook diametrically opposed to its rival, set up deliberately to overwrite it. Not conduct befitting a benign human rights organisation.

More surprising, maybe (please judge for yourself), is how factions of the erstwhile ‘radical left’ have fallen lockstep in line with establishment demands voiced by our corporate media who demand “intervention” in Syria. But then, once you delve into the articles above, a common theme emerges: the same one expounded in that front-running article published by IS Network (quoted above) “to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began… that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution”. This stated goal of “keep[ing] alive the spirit of the revolution” is ostensibly the reason RS21, Left Foot Forward, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are backing this new “Syrian Solidarity Movement”:

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime. 18

The above statement under the title “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians”, was penned by Syria Solidarity UK but published by Left Foot Forward. And what follows is another hit piece aimed squarely at the Stop the War Coalition in which the organisation accuses StWC of excluding “Syrians from discussion of their own country” and then lying about it. Yet in reality, this tiny group which has somehow managed to get tremendous media attention (more in a moment) has latched on to StWC in a deeply parasitical fashion. Here, for instance is Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of “Syria Solidarity Movement”, giving a soapbox speech outside the BBC before joining a Stop the War march on December 12th (a month to the day after his organisation published the statement above which lambasts StWC):

The problem is this: what is an organisation that openly calls “for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone”19 doing at an antiwar rally in the first place? Worse, why is their co-founder provocatively waving the flag of “rebel armies” comprised of and affiliated to Islamist militia groups that were armed, trained and funded by western governments and their Gulf State allies? The answer Abdulaziz Almashi gives to all these questions is this one: “listen to Syrians”. A three word refrain that begins his speech, just as in sloganised form it lends legitimacy and moral authority to his whole Syria Solidarity UK campaign.

Moreover, as a slogan it is as fraudulent as it is deliberately dishonest. There is no singular Syrian voice. How could there be? Not that the gulf between pro- and anti-government sides is the razor sharp divide of Shia versus Sunni we are encouraged to believe. In fact, most of those who support the government including fighters in the Syrian Army are Sunni not Shia. 20 And if we are really to “listen to Syrians” then we will find a wide range of opinions (as you would from any other nation), although only a minority of those living in Syria who support these so-called “rebel groups”, which are indeed sectarian. What the majority desire instead, besides a rapid return to law and order, is the restoration of Syria as a secular society:

[T]he results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

That comes from an article by Jonathan Steele published by the Guardian more than four years ago in January 2012. He continues:

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. 21

Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s full article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media”.

Reliable polls of the Syrian people are hard to find but a subsequent ones from May 2013 based on Nato data and published by the World Tribune also reported widespread support for Assad compared with almost none for the opposition. 22 Likewise, a more recent survey conducted last summer by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, published in the Washington Post on September 15th, found only 21% of Syrians said they “prefer life now than under Assad”; 79% said “foreign fighters made the war worse” and; significantly, 49% “oppose US coalition air strikes”. 23 Once again, this is far from the ringing endorsement for “intervention” claimed by supporters of “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

So there are two points to highlight here. Firstly, the so-called “Syria Solidarity Movement” of Abdulaziz Almashi is not about “Syrian solidarity” at all. Indeed, rather than taking an impartial stance, it allies itself with the entire coalition of the anti-Assad forces (with the singular exception of ISIS from which it sensibly distances itself). Secondly, although it portrays itself as a human rights organisation, it is actually a pro-war movement – openly so once one delves into any of its literature – yet on occasions when it suits, it feigns an antiwar position.

In fact, once we consider the background and origins of “Syria Solidarity Movement” in any detail, it begins to look very much like a Trojan Horse set up to infiltrate and embarrass the antiwar movement. It is surely noteworthy, therefore, that both the BBC and Channel 4 have given this otherwise inconsequential and fledging organisation considerable airtime.

On November 5th, for instance, Muzna Al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK was allowed ten minutes on BBC’s Daily Politics show to interrogate Labour MP Diane Abbott about StWC’s alleged “silencing of Syrians” when a few supporters of the group disrupted a public meeting. Throughout the studio debate, presenter Andrew Neil does his best to chaperone Muzna Al-Naib. Her political stance is never questioned and neither did he challenge the highly confrontational approach of the protesters (one of whom was the very non-Syrian Peter Tatchell):

(Incidentally, Diane Abbott comes across quite badly in this interview – not for the first time in her political career – but then so, in my opinion, does the unnervingly self-satisfied Muzna Al-Naib and insufferably smug host Andrew Neil.)

Here is Muzna Al-Naib again, now sat beside two likeminded compatriots answering softball questions on Channel 4 news on November 30th. The tone of the report is peremptorily favourable from the outset: “South London, where we’ve come to hear from Syrians, who know most about Syria, but whose voice is heard least… what do Syrian’s themselves actually think?” Direct echoes of the tendentious refrain of Syria Solidarity UK itself:

And here is Abdulaziz Almashi interviewed (a little more vigorously) by BBC news on December 23rd:

In little more than a year then, two representatives of the group (one a co-founder) have reached a television audience of millions and on at least three occasions. One has to marvel at such rapid success. What’s their secret…?

*

Avaaz and Purpose Inc.

In one of the very first posts put up by the Syria Solidarity UK website, published in March 2015, there are two closely affiliated organisations that are hypertext linked. Here is the concluding section of the relevant article:

Following the 16 March [chlorine gas] attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign.

See the syria2015.org.uk site for more on our 4th Anniversary March demand for a no-fly zone. 24

Each of the links above leads to a webpage that loudly calls for a “no-fly zone”. No great surprise given that at every turn of their own campaign this demand for western “intervention” is repeated. For example, this photo features prominently on the “about” page:

But what about those linked-in organisations: the “White Helmets” and “The Syria Campaign” – groups that also feature prominently as sidebar links beneath the heading ‘resources’? Cory Morningstar, an independent investigative journalist, has located the lynchpin. She writes:

The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices, The Syria Campaign and March Campaign #withSyria.

Adding that:

Purpose Inc. (with its co-founders) is a favourite of high-finance websites such as The Economist and Forbes and sells its consulting services and branding/marketing campaigns to Google, Audi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others that comprise the world’s most powerful corporations and institutions. In 2012, it raised $3m from investors. “Ford Foundation, which has given Purpose’s non-profit arm a grant, reckons it is shaping up to be “one of the blue-chip social organisations of the future.” 25

Click here to read the full article.

So is there evidence supporting Morningstar’s accusations of astroturfing? Well, this is where my own trail had also been inadvertently leading – but then it soon seems that all roads lead to Purpose Inc.

The Syria Campaign is a non-profit organisation registered as a company in the United Kingdom as The Voices Project—company number 8825761. (You can’t be a registered charity in the UK if most of your work is campaigning.)

We have a Governing Board who are legally responsible for the organisation and oversee strategy and finance for The Syria Campaign. The board members are Daniel Gorman, Ben Stewart, Sawsan Asfari, Tim Dixon and Lina de Sergie. [Bold highlights added]

That was taken from “about” on The Syria Campaign website. It continues:

The Syria Campaign is fiercely independent and accepts no money from governments, corporations or anyone directly involved in the Syrian conflict. This allows us full autonomy to advocate for whatever is needed to save lives.

Seed funding for The Syria Campaign was provided by The Asfari Foundation with supporting funds from other Syrian donors across the world who are frustrated by global inaction on Syria. [bold highlight added]

Following the trail a little further brings up who is behind “The Voices Project” (Avaaz also means “voice” by the way). It is a registered company and so comparatively easy enough to find some further answers:

The Voices Project 26 has a registered office address at c/o Paul A. Hill & Co, 3 Bull Lane, St Ives, Cambridgeshire [a firm of charter accountants who specialise in “tax services”] and eight current officers who are Sawsan Asfari (appointed 17 July 2015), Timothy Edwin Dixon (appointed 8 September 2014), Daniel Gorman (appointed 17 July 2015), John Jackson (appointed 8 September 2014), Salma Kahale (appointed 17 July 2015), Lina Sergie Attar (appointed 17 July 2015), Ben John Stewart (appointed 17 July 2015) and, last but not least, Jeremy Heimans (appointed 24 December 2013). 27

Most of those named tally with the board members declared by The Syria Campaign, but there are two exceptions – both highlighted above – Timothy Edwin Dixon 28 and Jeremy Heimans. Two names which alongside John Jackson (also highlighted) also form part of a different team:

Meet the team on a mission: when it comes to moving people towards action, we’re the experts.

A little of the blurb that greets you at the organisation called Purpose. And beneath the blurb are pictures of the shiny, happy people who work there including Jeremy Heimans, who is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer; Tim Dixon, listed as both Chief Political Strategist and Managing Director of Purpose Europe 29; and John Jackson, a Senior Advisor.

“Purpose moves people to remake the world” it says on a different webpage with rolling footage of an unnamed actor (Middle Eastern in appearance) being gently unblown up, a young child actress tinkering with a handgun in such a curious manner as to cause you to want to grab it off her, and a debonair couple, the black man eyeing an untouchable white companion. The message is this: we are cool, we are sophisticates, we are right on! It is a message determined to enter your mind like a maddening but seductive whisper.

On the “about” page, Purpose tells us more:

We create new organizations and ventures to tackle issues where mass participation and collective action can unlock big change.

This it admits with unflinching candour before adding how when it comes to their ‘philosophy’, Purpose deals in “Pragmatic Idealism”:

We take the world as it is in order to help make it what it ought to be. We challenge power when we need to—but that’s not all we do. We proudly collaborate with the public and private sectors, old and new power, allies and adversaries—all with eyes wide open.

And there is much more:

WE BUILD MOVEMENTS

Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.

BUILD

We deploy our award-winning creative campaigning and technology capabilities to launch new brands, technology products and social movements that stand out.

ACT

We rapidly prototype campaigns to scale and deepen engagement in our movements. We execute at all levels of ambition, directing some of the largest public engagement campaigns in the world today.

Then at the bottom of this page they provide a list of “Selected Partners” which includes Google, Audi, Ben & Jerry’s, alongside campaign groups including Walk Free, Oxfam, ACLU and – as you might expect – The Syria Campaign.

The business [Purpose.com] was co-founded by Jeremy Heimans, who calls himself a “movement entrepreneur”. Mr Heimans previously co-founded Avaaz, a campaigning group focused on poor countries, and GetUp!, a citizens’-rights group in his native Australia. Those were charities. Purpose aims to make profits, though not necessarily to maximise them. Like another big petitions business, Change.org, it is structured as a B Corporation, the American legal term for a for-profit company with a social mission. It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.

It sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes. Audi, for example, wants to design and promote machines to dispense clean water in India, a market where it hopes to burnish its car brand. Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting “new economy” products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee. 30 [bold emphasis added]

From a puff piece published in The Economist entitled “Profit with Purpose”, under the caption “The business of campaigning”, which also lazily admits that “Grassroots movements have usually been built, as the name implies, from the bottom up.” To which the polite response is: codswallop! – there is absolutely no “usually” about it.

In short then, Purpose Inc is the PR firm behind Avaaz and all of its related campaign groups.

*

The White Helmets

You might think that after seeing the consequences of their campaign for “freedom and democracy” in Libya, journalists like Nicholas Kristof and “humanitarian campaigners” like Avaaz would have some qualms.

writes Rick Sterling (co-founder of the original Syria Solidarity Movement), as he attempts to disentangle the misinformation surrounding the White Helmets, Avaaz, war-advocate Nicholas Kristof and their joint calls for a Syria no-fly zone. He continues:

Unfortunately they have learned nothing. They have generally not been held to account, with a few nice exceptions such as this Greenwald/Hussain article. And now they are at it again. Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.

The following illustration shows the sequence and trail of deceit leading to Avaaz’s call for a No Fly Zone in Syria.

Sterling then provides further background on the emergence of the so-called White Helmets:

White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria.  Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

The trainees are said to be ‘nonpartisan’ but only work in rebel-controlled areas of Idlib (now controlled by Nusra/Al Queda) and Aleppo. There are widely divergent claims regarding the number of people trained by the White Helmets and the number of people rescued.  The numbers are probably highly exaggerated especially since rebel-controlled territories have few civilians. A doctor who recently served in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo described it as a ghost town. The White Helmets work primarily with the rebel group Jabat al Nusra (Al Queda in Syria). Video of the recent alleged chlorine gas attacks starts with the White Helmet logo and continues with the logo of Nusra. In reality, White Helmets is a small rescue team for Nusra/Al Queda.

But White Helmets primary function is propaganda. White Helmets demonizes the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention. A White Helmet leader wrote a recent Washington Post editorial. White Helmets are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc. According to their website, to contact White Helmets email The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [bold emphasis added]

He also outlines the important role played by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:

The “White Helmets” campaign has been highly successful because of uncritical media promotion. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an advocate of the NATO/US attack on Libya. According to him, villagers who had been shot, injured and their homes destroyed were not bitter, they were thankful! “Hugs from Libyans” is how he viewed it.  It was, of course, nonsense, helping to pave the way in the invasion and destruction of the country.

Now Kristof is uncritically promoting the White Helmets, aiding and abetting their political and propaganda message seeking foreign intervention in Syria. 31

Click here to read Sterling’s full article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015.

*

War on the antiwar movement

[But] Does the most hardened peacenik really believe that Iraqis currently enjoy more liberty and delight than they would if Saddam were brought down?

So wrote neo-con apologist Julie Burchill in her Guardian column as the Iraq War got underway. The same rant continues:

Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That’s the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats’ names are the worst – a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world. We don’t know the precious names of the countless numbers Saddam has killed. We’re talking about a people – lots of them parents – subjected to an endless vista of death and torture, a country in which freedom can never be won without help from outside.

Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?

Her antiwar invective then hisses to a climax in which she projects a picture of post-intervention Iraq that could hardly be more a variance with the horror of events as they unfolded and the chaos that remains:

What these supreme egotists achieve by putting themselves at the centre of every crisis is to make the Iraqi people effectively disappear. NOT IN MY NAME! is western imperialism of the sneakiest sort, putting our clean hands before the freedom of an enslaved people. But even those whose anti-war protests started in good faith now know that when Saddam’s regime comes tumbling down, thousands of Iraqis will dance and sing with joy before the TV cameras, and thank our armed forces for giving them back their lives. 32

It is Burchill, of course, who was most guilty of “western imperialism of the sneakiest sort”. Burchill, who through such naked propaganda supplied ammunition to snidely undercut the goodwill of the millions brandishing antiwar banners. The method is all in her slippery abuse of the English language: turning peacemakers into “peaceniks”, into “anti-war nuts” and, best of all, into “appeasers”.

So compare Burchill’s warmongering propaganda of a decade past to that more recent open letter written by Abdulaziz Almashi, Peter Tatchell and others published by the Guardian last December (and already quoted above):

Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. 33

The rhetoric is more crafted and less abrasive than in Burchill’s rant but the insinuation is entirely unaltered. That those attached to the cause of ending the war are merely the secret appeasers of a dictator. A still more uncanny similarity is how this recent onslaught against the antiwar opposition came so hot on the heels of another Commons vote for airstrikes. 34 And after David Cameron’s shameless characterisation of the peace movement — Jeremy Corbyn (such a prominent figure in StWC) very much included — as “terrorist sympathisers”.

As Tariq Ali (another founder member of StWC) wrote in response:

Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.

The article entitled “The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn” published by The Independent, continues:

Stop the War was founded in different times [to previous peace movements]. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas.  […]

The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue.

Click here to read Tariq Ali’s full article.

Following that Commons debate, the media were falling over themselves in rival bids to talk up what Tariq Ali rightly describes as “Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well)”; relishing the chance to open up the fractures not so latent within the parliamentary Labour Party. Such swooning media focus on Benn’s opportunistic betrayal and forlorn attempt to appear Churchillian meant that Corbyn’s more measured speech was totally overshadowed:

[Notice: the video embedded above was taken down from youtube within 24 hours of posting this article — an alternative version can be found at the end of the article]

If the press had been more attentive, however, they may have drawn attention to a message received from a Syrian in Corbyn’s constituency by the name of Abdulaziz Almashi. He has asked me, said Corbyn, if the Prime Minister is able to guarantee the safety of his family when “your air force drops bombs on my city” [19.20 mins]. 35 And yes, this is Abdulaziz Almashi who leads the campaign demanding a “no-fly zone” over Syria, and whose organisation has been so scathing of StWC.

It would have been more honourable to deliver the message instead to the sympathetic ear of Cameron – a person who also wants “intervention” – even if in the eyes of the PM, Syrians living in exile, like Almashi, are just “a bunch of migrants” 36 – to quote his most recent outburst of casual bigotry. And Cameron does have more important matters on his mind too:

Instead, Almashi chose to spin Corbyn a line, hoping to be mistaken, as he was, for a fellow anti-war activist. It was a small propaganda coup that he instantly backed up by posting on the website of (please note) The Syria Campaign a message headed:

“Corbyn quoted me in Parliament today. Not bombing Raqqa [ISIS stronghold] isn’t enough. We must take positive action.”37

“Positive action” is code, of course, for regime change – just like “no-fly zone”.

It seems that Abdulaziz Almashi and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” he fronts will use any ploy to get attention. But then, given the intense media spotlight on his organisation’s earlier altercation with StWC, quoting from Almashi must be seen as a serious error of judgement on the part of Jeremy Corbyn too. And faced by so many adversaries in all quarters, he ought to take great care to avoid more serious stings in the future.

Click here to read an official ten-point response by the StWC to “the chorus of attacks” that was published on December 9th and entitled “It is the war party that has a reputation problem, not Stop the War”.

*

Concluding remarks

The war in Syria is hardly less inextricably wrapped up with the war in Libya than it is with the war in bordering Iraq. All three are products of western “intervention” and all three nations are now overrun with Salafist gangs. But there are important differences too.

The West’s role in the “shock and awe” annihilation of Iraq was an overt act of aggression and flagrantly illegal. Those most publicly responsible for orchestrating the fall of Baghdad have been justly disgraced. After the assault on Libya, however, an equivalently illegal act of western adventurism, that was likewise predicated upon a demonstrably false pretext, and set upon nothing short of regime change, the perpetrators suffered little to no opprobrium. A craftily negotiated UN resolution, quickly violated, provided useful cover. In general, the lies surrounding Libya have been much better concealed.

Meanwhile, this other grinding war in Syria, has been inflamed by terrorist militias closely affiliated to those now running rampant in Libya and Iraq, who are sponsored by Gulf State allies (including Kuwait) and often with the clandestine support of the Nato powers (Turkey in particular). In other words, in Syria the West has consistently led from behind, taking even greater care to cover its tracks. Otherwise, as I wrote at the top, this repeating tale is one as tedious as it is atrocious.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and not forgetting Yemen: this is really one war. A series of overlapping and interconnected battles for resources: oil, pipelines, finance, you name it. Wars to bring about regime change. Wars to capture and hold territory. And the one truly significant difference between old-fashioned imperialism and this swankier post-modern variant is in the branding. The public relations has stepped up a gear; it had too. So there is more guile to today’s propaganda, which is packaged and marketed using sophisticated strategies, then delivered into our homes via the new technologies and an increasingly complaisant media.

And the stated rationale for war is nowadays less haughty and considerably more liberal. Flag planting is out, as is any talk of “the white man’s burden”, and in their stead is ‘grassroots’ petitioning for “humanitarian intervention”. All the spin and the layers of gloss providing cover for the same old racket General Smedley Butler warned about more than seventy years ago. So here is a nice summary of how the same racket functions today:

Promoting the imperial social media fad of equivocating on US and NATO invasions that destroy entire societies, ostensibly because the current head of state is ruthless or corrupt, Avaaz apologists neglect the growing list of countries where these invasions have made things worse. Indeed, I am at a loss to find a country in my lifetime (1952-present) where US military aggression — either directly or through proxy mercenaries and US-financed and trained death squads — made things better.

Of course, if you look at militarism as a market-oriented strategy, then making war or creating armed mayhem is just part of doing business. With the crippling financial sanctions available to the US through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, invasion is just for show — part of the expected social spectacle — that routinely transfers wealth from the U.S. Treasury to Wall Street and the military industrial complex. 38

Click here to read the full article by Jay Taber published by wrongkindofgreen.org on Christmas Day.

The horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya alone ought to be enough proof, if proof is actually needed, that western “intervention” is a failure (for the victims caught in the crossfire and trapped on the ground). Those calling for another “no fly zone”, as Abdulaziz Almashi and his friends on the radical left do, either have appalling amnesia, or else are acting in extremely bad faith.

*

Update:

Here is a different upload of Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech on December 2, 2015. In this version, Corbyn speaks about the letter from Abdulaziz Almashi at 18:30 mins in:

*

1 From an analysis paper entitled “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home” written by Elizabeth Dickinson, published by the Brookings Institute in December 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya: New Emails Reveal Propaganda, Executions, Coveting Libyan Oil and Gold” written by Brad Hoff, published by Global Research on January 4, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/hillarys-dirty-war-in-libya-new-emails-reveal-propaganda-executions-coveting-libyan-oil-and-gold/5499358

3 From an article entitled “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on June 23, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/amnesty-questions-claim-that-gaddafi-ordered-rape-as-weapon-of-war-2302037.html

4

Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, Cameron told ITV News attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.

From an article entitled “Calais crisis: Cameron condemned for ‘dehumanising’ description of migrants” written by Jessica Elgot and Matthew Taylor, published in the Guardian on July 30, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/30/david-cameron-migrant-swarm-language-condemned

5 From an article entitled “UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation” written by Alan Travis, published in the Guardian on October 27, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/uk-mediterranean-migrant-rescue-plan

6 Little Alan Kurdi’s limp body on that Turkish beach sparked many reactions. In response, some appealed for a humane European-wide policy towards refugees, while dreamers implored us all to imagine, John Lennon-like, “a world without borders”. Meanwhile, as the media lurched into one of its periodic feeding frenzies, the most callous opportunists used a personal tragedy to claim just cause for an intensified bombing campaign. Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece The Sun on Sunday ran with this deplorable headline:

For Aylan – Exclusive poll: 52% say bomb Syria now

On which side in the Syrian conflict this contrived 52% – of the staff inside the News Corp office, perhaps? – believed Britain ought to bomb was less clear. Two years earlier in the aftermath of the Ghouta massacre, it had been Assad in the crosshairs when he was declared guilty of the ordering the killing. The charge against him (and the Syria Army) was based upon reputation and has never been substantiated, but calls to bomb the Syrian regime became a matter of urgency. Had air strikes been sanctioned, then Syria, like Libya before, would now be overrun by jihadist “rebels”: a diabolical outcome, but no great surprise to the policymakers at the Pentagon or in the White House.

Instead, a miracle occurred. A (very nearly) unprecedented antiwar vote against any British government stopped this stampede to war in its tracks. It would be Ed Miliband’s finest moment as Labour leader (although largely forgotten) and briefly clipped the wings of the UK war party. In response, Russia then stepped forward to help broker a deal which led to the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Another little remembered act of peacemaking. But then, a year after America’s war against ISIS, Russia joined the military campaign (extending air strikes to other terrorist groups). This jolted Britain into joining the conflict. So three months after the death of Alan Kurdi and Murdoch’s sabre-rattling headline, new excuses were found. “Britain has got its mojo back!” These are the words of our Chancellor, George Osborne, when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations in the immediate days after the vote. And the CFR applauded.

7 From an article entitled “Thousands join Solidarity with Refugees rally in London” written by Nadia Khomani and Chris Johnston, published in the Guardian on September 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/12/london-rally-solidarity-with-refugees

8 From an article entitled “Refugee solidarity march in London set to attract some unlikely protesters” written by Emily Dugan, published in The Independent on September 11, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-solidary-march-in-london-set-to-attract-some-unlikely-protesters-10497351.html

9

In the event description on Facebook, organisers Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi wrote: “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes…”

From an article entitled “London refugee rally: Tens of thousands to join demonstration and call for action to tackle crisis” published by the London Evening Standard on September 3, 2015. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-refugee-rally-tens-of-thousands-plan-to-join-demonstration-and-call-for-action-to-tackle-a2926581.html

10

Within three months of the demise of the IS Network, Islamist fighters who were formerly called ISIL/ISIS had “declared the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state” and “now simply refer[red] to itself as The Islamic State”.

Quotes from an article entitled “Iraq crisis: ISIS declares its territories a new Islamic state with ‘restoration of caliphate’ in Middle East” written by Adam Withnail, published in The Independent on June 30, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-declares-new-islamic-state-in-middle-east-with-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-as-emir-removing-iraq-and-9571374.html

11 From an article entitled “NOTE ON THE NEWLY FORMED SYRIA SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by International Socialist Network on March 21, 2014. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/swp-crisis/international/375-note-on-the-newly-formed-syria-solidarity-movement

12 From an article entitled “The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement” published by rs21 on September 10, 2015. http://rs21.org.uk/2015/09/10/the-syrian-revolution-and-the-crisis-of-the-anti-war-movement/

13 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to the Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

14 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

15 Ibid.

16 From an article entitled “Can the revolution in Syria survive an imperial carve up?” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by Pulse magazine on October 7, 2015. http://pulsemedia.org/2015/10/07/can-the-revolution-in-syria-survive-an-imperial-carve-up/

17 From the Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195, translated from the original Arabic, which read:

حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية حركة إسلامية إصلاحية تجديدية شاملة، أحد الفصائل المنضوية والمندمجة ضمن الجبهة الإسلامية وهي تكوين عسكري، سياسي، اجتماعي، إسلامي شامل، يهدف إلى إسقاط النظام الأسدي
في سورية إسقاطاً كاملاً، وبناء دولة إسلامية، تكون السيادة فيها لشرع الله -عز وجلَّ- وحده مرجعاً وحاكماً وموجهاً وناظماً لتصرفات الفرد والمجتمع والدولة

From an article entitled “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” written by Malak Chabkoun, published by Al Jazeera on September 17, 2014. http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/20149147499306405.htm#a2

18 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

19 Ibid.

20

Sunni Muslims make up 70% of Syria’s 25 million people and it is they who fill the ranks of the rebellion against Assad’s minority Alawite regime, considered apostates by Sunni clerics. Yet one reason why Assad remains in power despite being outnumbered by a rival sect is that many Sunnis are on his side, and their support is aiding his survival, say analysts and rebels.

“If Sunnis were united behind the rebels, trust me, Bashar would’ve fallen within days,” says Abu Qays, an anti-regime Syrian activist in the eastern city of Deir e-Zor who uses a nickname for security reasons.

From an article entitled “Sunnis fill rebel tanks, but also prop up Assad regime” written by Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, published in USA Today on August 1, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/01/syria-sunnis-assad/2599927/

21 From an article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media” written by Jonathan Steele published in the Guardian on January 17, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda

22

In May 2013, the US-based World Tribune reported, based on NATO data, that 70% of Syrians support Assad. The same piece suggested that 20% of Syrians surveyed felt neutral about the conflict, and only 10% supported the opposition. This figure has not been scrutinised, or even discussed, by most media sources.

From an article entitled “The Missing Question: Who Supports Assad?” written by Sophie Stewart-Bloch, published in the Huffington Post on December 30, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-stewartbloch/syria-conflict-assad_b_4507894.html

23

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/15/one-in-five-syrians-say-islamic-state-is-a-good-thing-poll-says/

24 From an article entitled “Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack” published by Syria Solidarity UK on March 18, 2015. http://www.syriauk.org/2015/03/syria-civil-defence-white-helmets-call.html

25 From an article entitled “SYRIA: AVAAZ, PURPOSE & THE ART OF SELLING HATE FOR EMPIRE” written by Cory Morningstar, published on wrongkindofgreen.org on September 17, 2014. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

26

The Voices Project was founded on 24 Dec 2013 and has its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The organisation’s status is listed as “Active” and it currently has 8 directors. The company’s first director was Mr Jeremy Heimans. The Voices Project does not have any subsidiaries.

Registered Address

C/o Paul A. Hill & Co
3 Bull Lane
St Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08825761/the-voices-project

27 https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08825761/officers

28

The first position as a director we have on file for Mr Timothy Edwin Dixon was in 2014 at The Voices Project. His most recent directorship is with Purpose Europe Limited where he holds the position of “Managing director”. This company has been around since 21 Dec 2012. In total, Timothy has held 2 directorships, all of which are current. [bold highlight added]

https://www.duedil.com/director/919096216/timothy-edwin-dixon

29

Purpose Europe Limited was registered on 21 Dec 2012 with its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The business has a status listed as “Active” and it currently has 3 directors. The company’s first directors were Purpose Global Llc, Mr Simon Peter Willis. Purpose Europe Limited has no subsidiaries.

Registered Address

3 Bull Lane
St. Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08340026/purpose-europe-limited

30 From an article entitled “Profit with Purpose” published by The Economist on January 26, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/business/21570763-how-profit-firm-fosters-protest-profit-purpose

31 From an article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators” written by Rick Sterling, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015. http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/04/seven-steps-of-highly-effective-manipulators/

32 From an article entitled “Don’t take my name in vain” written by Julie Burchill, published in the Guardian on March 29, 2003. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/mar/29/antiwar.uk

33 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

34 (Last time around) British Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq had been granted in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003. Burchill’s attack on the antiwar protesters was published in the Guardian on March 19th. And the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. (This time) Parliamentary approval for airstrikes in Syria granted on December 2, 2015. Letter castigating StWC was published by the Guardian on December 9.

35 From an article entitled “Assad’s UK Syrian exiles demand a voice” written by Shaun Ley, published by BBC news on December 10, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35026975

36

David Cameron has been accused of using inflammatory language about refugees after referring to people in camps at Calais as a “bunch of migrants”.

The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps.

Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week.

“They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.”

From an article entitled “Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ jibe is callous and dehumanising, say MPs” written by Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin, published in the Guardian on January 27, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/27/david-cameron-bunch-of-migrants-jibe-pmqs-callous-dehumanising

37 https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/corbyn-quoted-me-in-parliament-today/

38 From an article entitled “Imperial Social Media: Avaaz and the arms dealers” written by Jay Taber on December 25, 2015. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2015/12/28/imperial-social-media-avaaz-and-the-arms-merchants/

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one month after Ukraine’s revolution: reviewing the hype, the hypocrisy and the hysteria

During the last month or so, filtering out the lies, the half-truths and the outright nonsense in search of any semblance of truth about what’s happening in Ukraine has been an exceptionally tricky business. Propaganda has been flooding in from all sides (certainly if we were prepared to look from all sides) and the bias in the coverage has been as unstinting as it remains deliberately bamboozling.

So what can we now say with any guaranteed certainty about the situation in Ukraine? Well, firstly, and most obviously, there has been a revolution, although in saying this we should remember that this was an uprising – an insurrection – which ended in a bloodbath.

The only other uncontested facts are really these: that when the democratically elected though hugely corrupt government in Kiev was overthrown and replaced by a self-elected transitional government, Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine immediately fled to Moscow and declared the new authorities illegitimate. Following this, Putin then deployed forces in the Crimea to “restore law and order”. A military offensive that has been widely interpreted as an act of extreme aggression, even a declaration of war, and a further indication of Russia’s return to Soviet-style expansionism.

The hype

Before continuing, I would like to recommend a different article – one published by antiwar.com entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” Here are just a few extracts drawn from the beginning, middle and end:

As the real nature of Ukraine’s “democratic” and allegedly “pro-Western” opposition becomes all too apparent, the pushback from the regime-change crowd borders on the comic. The War Party is stumbling all over itself in a frantic effort to cover up and deny the frightening provenance of the neo-fascist gang they’ve helped to seize power in Kiev. […]

Outside the “we are all Ukrainians now” bubble, however, people are sitting up and taking notice. A Reuters piece spotlights the general uneasiness about the exact color of this latest US-sponsored “color revolution”:

“When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.” […]

I don’t know which is more alarming: the entrance into government of a party that traces its origins back to a fighting battalion affiliated with Hitler’s SS, or the sight of US officials whitewashing it. They’re flying the Confederate flag and the Celtic cross in Kiev, and the first African American President is hailing them as liberators. That’s one for the history books!1

Click here to read the full article.

Key to separating a little of the wheat from the chaff requires a clearer picture of the following: i) What were the people in the square protesting about? ii) What kind of protest was taking place? iii) Who were the leaders?

So let’s take each of these points in order:

i) Demands of the Maidan

I touched on this in an earlier extended post, but to recap relatively briefly here: the protesters were united primarily because of their strong opposition to the ruinous and kleptocratic presidency of Yanukovych. The majority also appear to have been demanding closer ties with the EU and so we saw quite a number of tattered EU flags fluttering above the square.

Scratch the surface just a little, however, and we learn that the protesters were most angered by the Ukrainian government’s acceptance of a Russian bailout package worth $15 billion. On paper at least, the Russian deal was far better than the EU’s alternative, but many Ukrainians who are fearful of Russia (justifiably so), were quick to point out that “the only place you find free cheese is in a mousetrap”. In other words, they wanted to know where the Kremlin wished the strings to be attached.

Yanukovych was not the Russian puppet he has been often been portrayed as, but a man desperately struggling to get out off a hole of his own making and seeking help wherever he could find it (East or West). With his downfall, the new transitional government is now led by the former banker Arseniy Yatseniuk. “Yats” was, if you recall, the man preferred by Washington as Victoria Nuland’s leaked phone call so embarrassingly revealed. It is also worth pointing out that Yatseniuk is a co-founder of the Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation, “a nonpartisan international philanthropic foundation” (according to wikipedia), which has partners including Chatham House, The United States Department of State, and Nato. Strange bedfellows for a philanthropic foundation, one might think.

And here is what Yatseniuk told the press soon after his appointment as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister:

“We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight,” Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.

“We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell,” he added.2

The kamikaze mission Yatsenyuk has in mind will involve Greek-style austerity measures, served up very much to the satisfaction of the IMF and EU. So welcome to hell indeed!

For further details on the Russia and EU deals, as well as Victoria Nuland’s support for Yatseniuk, I refer you again to related sections in the post linked above.

ii) The protests

The protests in Independence Square were far from peaceful. Evidently, amongst the crowds there were many peaceful individuals and so whenever the BBC and Channel 4 reported from the square they were keener to draw attention to this non-violent contingent. It was even possible to make lazy comparisons to earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. We saw the tents, the soup kitchens, the banners and, occasionally, the poets! Here was Occupy Kiev, although rapidly spreading as it won over hearts and minds across the country to eventually become Occupy Ukraine. And according to the early accounts, every reasonable Ukrainian was chipping in to help the Maidan. These were our first impressions.

Amongst the ordinary protesters, however, there were others who appeared more sinister. Dressed for battle in WWII-style army helmets, and often marching in columns, like an army. The police locking shields like Roman legions in vain attempts to fend off a furious bombardment of sticks, rocks and petrol bombs. Well, Occupy Ukraine is more heavy duty, but that’s okay we were gently reassured. And the same news reports that implied that it was fine to rip up cobblestones, smash them up on a makeshift revolutionary production line, and catapult them at the police lines, also showed Kiev ablaze with barricades of burning tyres and looted government buildings.

During Channel 4‘s coverage on the eve of the main battle, Wednesday [Feb 19th], their Europe Correspondent Matt Frei revealed that some of the protesters were filling up hundreds of plastic bottles with petrol and polystyrene fragments which, he then explained, would cause the Molotov Cocktails to stick like napalm. So arson too was presented as not only an acceptable form of civil disobedience but a tactic requiring impressive levels of commitment and hard work – which it does – but let’s face it, if a similar situation was unfolding in London, with rivers of fire and the streets engulfed by clouds of acrid smoke, the protesters would be have been called “rioters”. Instead, we were constantly given to understand that the Maidan occupied the moral high-ground, even when evidence indicating the contrary was being simultaneously shown to us.

And then we must come to the vitally important question of who ordered snipers to open fire on the protesters. The western media has always been very clear about this (at least to begin with) – it was the Berkut who carried out government orders to shoot the protesters. But, there is an alternative version of events. When first reported upon, it was rather quickly sidelined as “a conspiracy theory”. Here, for example, is a Guardian report from March 5th:

A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.

Embedded below is a recording of that intercepted phone conversation although I should warn you that there are also extremely graphic images overlaid. The controversy surrounds what Paet says to Ashton about 8 mins into the call – it is also transcribed by the Guardian in the same article that continues beneath the video:

The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.

During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.

“What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides,” Paet said.

“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

“So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.

Ashton replies: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton says.3

This opinion expressed by Paet is not quite as extraordinary as the Guardian report would have us believe. Snipers have been used to provoke revolutionary fervour on past occasions, the best known example happening during the Miraflores confrontation in Caracas, Venezuela during a violent uprising and failed attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in April 2002. You can read more on this in another earlier post.

So I would beg to differ with the Guardian‘s rather easy dismissal of Paet’s claims. “False flag attacks” are irrefutably a part of history.

You can click here to read their full report.

More recently [Sat 8th], Associated Press released an article backing up claims that the sniper attacks had been a provocation. It begins:

On Wednesday Paet confirmed the recording was authentic, and told reporters in Tallinn that he was merely repeating what Bogomolets had told him. He said he had no way of verifying the claims, though he called Bogomolets “clearly a person with authority.”

Bogomolets couldn’t be immediately reached by the AP for comment. She did not answer repeated calls to her cellphone or respond to text messages.

In an interview earlier this week with a correspondent from British newspaper The Telegraph, Bogomolets said she didn’t know if police and protesters were killed by the same bullets, and called for a thorough investigation.

“No one who just sees the wounds when treating the victims can make a determination about the type of weapons,” she was quoted as saying. “I hope international experts and Ukrainian investigators will make a determination of what type of weapons, who was involved in the killings and how it was done. I have no data to prove anything.”

However, according to the same report, support for the “conspiracy theory” appears to be growing in Kiev, although, in admitting the claims of Paet, members of the transitional government point not to factions within the Ukrainian opposition (and why would they?) but to Russia instead:

Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government. […]

“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” [Ukrainian] Health Minister Oleh Musiy said. […]

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signaled that investigators may be turning their attention away from Ukrainian responsibility.

“I can say only one thing: the key factor in this uprising, that spilled blood in Kiev and that turned the country upside down and shocked it, was a third force,” Avakov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “And this force was not Ukrainian.”4

Click here to read the full Associated Press report.

So we might ask ourselves, whether Russia would be likely to send snipers in order to destabilise an already dangerous situation in the hope of covertly toppling Yanukovych, so that it might later seize on the chaos in order to annex the Crimea – “the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion”, as the Associated Press article suggests.

If so, then why has the West not drawn our fuller attention back to the leaked phone call? Indeed, why were the claims made by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, first publicised by Russia Today, and then either ignored or dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by western media? Was all this somehow a part of the same Kremlin plot?

iii) The leaders of the Maidan

Embedded below is a promotional video for a faction of the Maidan known as the “Right Sector”:

Right Sector have all the hallmarks of an extreme-right group because they are one. And disturbingly, in Ukraine, Right Sector are not alone – though they appear to be the most hardline of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi groups. As you can see from the video above, they were also a big part of the paramilitary wing of the Maidan protests.

A BBC news report (released soon after the dust had settled) calls attention to the fact that with the removal of Yanukovych, Right Sector became one of the biggest winners from the crisis:

The 42-year-old [Dmytro Yarosh, who is head of the fascist Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization or “Tryzub”] leads the paramilitary movement known as Right Sector, which was involved in violent clashes with the police in Kiev and considers the far-right party Svoboda “too liberal”. [I will come to Svobado next]

Advocating a “national revolution”, he dismissed the Yanukovych administration as an “internal occupation regime” and wants to ban both the former ruling party and its ally, the Communist Party.

There is pressure from the Maidan demonstrators to give him a security-related post in the new government, possibly as Mr Parubiy’s deputy.5

Click here to read the full BBC news report entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key Players”.

Another BBC news report from the previous day told us a little more:

Ukraine’s new interim government has been presented at Kiev’s main protest camp, the Maidan, following last week’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister. The cabinet – to be voted on by MPs on Thursday – includes leading activists. […]

Overall Maidan commander Andriy Parubiy – who commands huge respect among the protesters – was named candidate for secretary of the National Security and Defence Council

Andriy Parubiy is a neo-Nazi too, but we can deal with him in a second. The same article goes on:

However, some of the nominations – including that of Mr Avakov – prompted loud booing from the crowd, who said those candidates were not worthy of government posts.

People also chanted “Yarosh! Yarosh!”, demanding that the leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, be given a post. [the bold emphasis is added]6

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

But then, on the eve of the bloodiest night of the protest, at the end of Thursday evening’s Channel 4 news broadcast on Feb 20th, Matt Frei had already more casually let the cat out of the bag. Standing next to him was Yuriy Levchenko, captioned as spokesmen of “the far-right party Svoboda”, and Matt Frei was there to interview him in the politest possible way. What Frei might have asked, but didn’t, was why did his ultra-nationalist party with a name that now translates as “freedom” change from being “the Social-National Party” when it was founded in 1991. Back then they had also identified themselves with a symbol called the Wolfsangel, which looks like this:

The similarity to the swastika is not accidental, as this report from Der Spiegel published last month explains:

The Svoboda party also has excellent ties to Europe, but they are different from the ones that Klischko might prefer. It is allied with France’s right-wing Front National and with the Italian neo-fascist group Fiamma Tricolore. […]

In a 2012 debate over the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, he said that she wasn’t Ukrainian, rather she was a “Jewess.” Indeed, anti-Semitism is part of the extremist party’s platform; until 2004, they called themselves the Social-National Party of Ukraine in an intentional reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party. Just last summer, a prominent leader of party youth was distributing texts from Nazi propaganda head Joseph Goebbels translated into Ukrainian.7

Click here to read the full article from Der Spiegel International.

And embedded below you can watch Yuriy Levchenko as Svoboda candidate complaining to France 24 following his defeat in the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Please judge for yourself whether Levchenko appears to be a neo-Nazi:

But in fairness to Matt Frei, he wasn’t the first to rub shoulders with the far-right extremists in this latest Ukrainian uprising. Back in December, neo-con Senator John McCain was very happy to join Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party, and already a member of the Ukrainian parliament – indeed, one of thirty-eight Svoboda candidates who won seats in the last election – on the stage in Independence Square during a mass rally:

It was Oleh Tyahnybok along with Andriy Parubiy (remember him? – the recently appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine) who in 1995 had jointly founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), which has since been rebranded as Svoboda. And Dmytro Yarosh (leader of the even more odious Right Sector who the crowds were chanting for – at least according to that BBC news article) has indeed since been appointed as Parubiy’s deputy.

So are there fascists in the new government? Yes. Are they in positions of influence? Well, aside from Parubiy and Yarosh who now jointly oversee national security, and Oleh Tyahnybok, of course, there is also:

The new Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych is a member of the far-right Svoboda party, which the World Jewish Congress called on the EU to consider banning last year along with Greece’s Golden Dawn.

The party, which has long called for a “national revolution” in Ukraine, has endured a long march from relative obscurity in the early 90s. Their declaration that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” has raised fears for the safety of the country’s Jewish population.

Svoboda now controls the ecology and agricultural ministry with Andriy Mokhnyk, the deputy head of Svoboda, running ecology and Ihor Shvaika as agriculture minister.

That’s taken from a Channel 4 piece also catching up with events a little late in the day (again from March 5th) and continuing:

The most important office seized by Svoboda is that of deputy prime minister, now occupied by Oleksandr Sych, whose position on abortion rights and comments about rape provoked an international outcry.

He has been criticised for declaring: “Women should lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including one from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”.

Svoboda member Oleh Makhnitsky is now acting prosecutor general.

The initial actions of the interim government have included forcing making Ukrainian the only official language of the nation and making moves to remove a law which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism”.8

In total, there are eight Svoboda neo-Nazis now occupying positions in Ukraine’s transitional government – fascist representatives making policy in every sector.

So why did the BBC and Channel 4 wait until after the revolution (or coup) was over before they started shedding this light on the far-right leadership at the heart of the Maidan movement, and why isn’t news of these worrying fascist gains in an Eastern European state being featured more prominently in their regular broadcasts today?

Click here to read the full article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”

The hypocrisy

This is how veteran investigative reporter John Pilger chose to begin his latest article [from March 16th]:

Washington’s role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a “strategic threat”. The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?

The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal US “ally”. This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington’s coups – in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a “Ukraine” or a “Chile” could never happen to them.9

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Pilger’s point, in brief, is that the United States, more often than not by the clandestine hand of the CIA, has a long record of overthrowing governments including those in power in democratic countries and sometimes even those of its own western allies. He then implies – without providing any supporting evidence – that Washington played a central role in the fall of Yanukovych. So is Pilger correct?

Well, we certainly know that both John McCain and Victoria Nuland made pre-revolutionary visits to Kiev in support of the Maidan. We also know that America has been spending large sums of money to “build democratic skills and institutions” and to “promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations.” Nuland talked of over $5 billion in ‘aid’ of this kind, although she failed to say more precisely how any of that money was spent. (So we may wonder, for instance, if any went into the coffers of the “Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation”.)

We also have the very clear and recent historical precedents in the form of those “colour revolutions” of the last decade, including, of course, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. All of which, it was later revealed, had been orchestrated by Washington and manufactured by means of NGOs, most especially those of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Soros remains proud of the part his own networks played in those earlier and much more peaceful uprisings. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some see the hand of Soros assisting in this latest upheaval in Ukraine, but is there direct evidence?

Here is what George Soros himself wrote on February 26th:

Following a crescendo of terrifying violence, the Ukrainian uprising has had a surprisingly positive outcome. Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage-can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. This was one of those historic moments that leave a lasting imprint on a society’s collective memory.

No mention of any fascist elements there – but did Soros’ funding play any role in this latest revolution? The answer he gives is almost tantalising:

I established the Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine in 1990 – before the country achieved independence. The foundation did not participate in the recent uprising, but it did serve as a defender of those targeted by official repression.

So what does this mean? “Serve as a defender” – defending by what means? And who were “those targeted by official repression”? Well, one of the groups that Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) helped in ‘defending’ were Spilna Sprava (which translates as “The Right Deed” but are also known as “Common Cause”). And so here is another BBC news report worthy of closer inspection (and bear in mind it is was published as far back as February 1st):

Together with the Right Sector, Common Cause is also at the extreme end of the Ukrainian protest movement, though it does not appear as yet to share the former’s relish for street fighting.

It is best known for capturing several key government offices in Kiev, such as the ministries of justice, agriculture, and energy.

The group has called for early parliamentary and presidential elections, and describes any opposition leaders who may urge protesters to disperse before the early polls “either idiots or provocateurs”.

“If we don’t force the authorities to go today, we’ll regret it tomorrow,” says the group’s website.10

You will find the organisation Spilna Sprava registered in the IRF annual report for 2009 at the bottom of page 189 where it is described as a “Charitable Foundation”.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

However, for full-blown hypocrisy it’s hard to beat John Kerry censuring Russia and Putin after sending forces into the Crimea, saying “you just don’t invade another country on phoney pretext in order to assert your interests” [about 2:30 mins into clip]:

Not that Kerry is wrong in his assessment. Russia is most certainly “asserting its interests” but then are we really supposed to understand that in comparable circumstances America would do otherwise? When under Obama, America already daily flexes its military might in faraway Afghanistan, over Yemen, and even in Iraq (where a strong US presence still remains). Remembering that Nato’s “kinetic action” against Libya became a flagrant violation of the humanitarian bounds of UN Security Council Resolution “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. And that just six months earlier, Kerry and Obama were about to go ahead with massive air strikes against Syria without UN backing of any kind.

If there were a real crisis on the American doorstep would the US shrink from military engagement on the grounds that it ought not “assert its interests”? Would they even wait for a crisis – for are we also supposed to forget about the US invasion of the tiny island of Grenada in 1983? Or protecting its strategic interests in Panama in 1989? Or meddling in El Salvador, in Nicaragua and the notorious Iran-Contra scandal? Or US involvement in the Venezuelan coup in 2002, or for that matter their evident backing of the violent uprising taking place in Venezuela today? In fact, are we to forget about US interference in almost every country in Latin America throughout the entire postwar era – it really wasn’t so very long ago when White House officials openly referred to the continent as “America’s backyard”.

Former New York Times correspondent and investigative reporter, Stephen Kinzer, recently wrote a piece for The Boston Globe entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” in which he provides a more detailed historical perspective on the latest crisis. His article begins:

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”

Russia’s dispatch of troops in recent days to Crimea — a verdant peninsula on the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine but, partly as a result of Stalin-era ethnic cleansing, has a mainly Russian population — was the latest fulfillment of Kennan’s prediction.

Kinzer continues:

Putin’s decision to deploy troops reflects his loss of control over Ukrainian politics. US officials recognize this, and are pressing their anti-Russia campaign. Last week President Obama received the prime minister of Georgia. The prime minister of Moldova is due this week. These meetings are aimed at honing a strategy for further isolating Russia; it is called “Western integration.”

Much has been made of the fact that Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Europe western provinces and the pro-Russian east, of which Crimea is a part. A “velvet divorce” dividing Ukraine into two countries might be the best solution, but border changes, even when they seem sensible from far away, are always difficult to engineer.

If Ukrainians cannot agree to divide their country, Russia may do it for them. It already occupies part of Moldova and part of Georgia. For it to keep an army in Ukraine would anger the United States — and many Ukrainians — but it would be nothing new. Military occupation is, in fact, one of the few weapons Russia has to oppose the “Western integration” of neighboring countries.11

Click here to read Stephen Kinzer’s full article.

To read more on George Soros’ backing of previous “colour revolutions” as well as Victoria Nuland’s remarks on more recent American largesse, I refer readers again to my previous post.

The hysteria

It is even harder to know where to start when we get to the matter of hysteria over what Kinzer rightly describes as the Ukraine debacle. For convenience, however, we might begin again with John Kerry and that interview on Meet the Press! already embedded above:

“This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really Nineteenth Century behaviour in the Twenty-First Century. And there is no way to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But, there’s much more than that – Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G8 and more – that they’re simply going to isolate Russia.”

So the aim now appears to be to isolate Russia… but is that even possible? Here is a little more of Kerry’s latest blustering:

“There could even ultimately be asset freezes, visa bans, there could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country.”

But could it be that Kerry and the US are actually the ones in danger of becoming isolated? After all, how can Germany start imposing sanctions when it depends on a Russian gas supply. And as for those asset seizures, can Kerry really imagine that the dirty money Russian oligarchs prefer to launder by taking advantage of the uncommon laxity of our own financial centres will no longer be welcomed? Here are the thoughts of Ben Judah writing in the New York Times on “London’s Laundry Business” and the unlikelihood of such tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs [from Friday March 7th]:

The White House has imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials, and President Obama has issued an executive order enabling further sanctions. But Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.

It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.

Britain, open for business, no longer has a “mission.” Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.

The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.12

Overall, the tone of the rhetoric coming from Washington is alarming. Economic sanctions have historically been a precursor to war. That cracks within the Nato alliance are already showing is therefore good news. Any ratcheting up of tension between the two opposing superpowers being in no one’s best interests (other than defence contractors of course) and the dangers of backing Russia into a corner are all-too obvious:

Both John Kerry’s threats to expel Russia from the G8 and the Ukrainian government’s plea for Nato aid mark a dangerous escalation of a crisis that can easily be contained if cool heads prevail. Hysteria seems to be the mood in Washington and Kiev, with the new Ukrainian prime minister claiming, “We are on the brink of disaster” as he calls up army reserves in response to Russian military movements in Crimea.

Were he talking about the country’s economic plight he would have a point. Instead, along with much of the US and European media, he was over-dramatising developments in the east, where Russian speakers are understandably alarmed after the new Kiev authorities scrapped a law allowing Russian as an official language in their areas. They see it as proof that the anti-Russian ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine who were the dominant force in last month’s insurrection still control it. Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.

So begins an excellent piece by Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian. Steele is another journalist who has managed to sidestep all of the hysteria and remain level-headed about this latest escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.

His article continues:

Kerry’s rush to punish Russia and Nato’s decision to respond to Kiev’s call by holding a meeting of member states’ ambassadors in Brussels today were mistakes. Ukraine is not part of the alliance, so none of the obligations of common defence come into play. Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.

Russia’s movement into Crimea was certainly an invasion – of sorts – and marked the beginning of a dangerous new phase in the present Ukrainian crisis. Although Russia are entitled to keep troops at bases within Crimea, and though the number of troops appear to have remained below those permitted under treaty, by moving Russian troops into the streets, Putin has been acting outside of International law. That said, this invasion is no way comparable to the types of “shock and awe” assault we are accustomed to seeing the US and Nato engage in. What Kerry called an “incredible act of aggression” resulted in no casualties (other than the unfortunate victims of more recent sniper attacks), in part because the majority in Crimea are not hostile to the Russian forces. Indeed, it was not the elected parliament of Crimea but the self-appointed parliament in Kiev which many Crimeans fear and oppose (and do not regard as legitimate), who declared the Russian troop movements “an act of war”.

Here is more from Jonathan Steele who closes his article considering the legality or otherwise of Russia’s annexation of Crimea13 as well as his hopes of a diplomatic resolution:

It is not too late to show some wisdom now. Vladimir Putin’s troop movements in Crimea, which are supported by most Russians, are of questionable legality under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty that Russia signed with Ukraine in 1997. But their illegality is considerably less clear-cut than that of the US-led invasion of Iraq, or of Afghanistan, where the UN security council only authorised the intervention several weeks after it had happened. And Russia’s troop movements can be reversed if the crisis abates. That would require the restoration of the language law in eastern Ukraine and firm action to prevent armed groups of anti-Russian nationalists threatening public buildings there.

The Russian-speaking majority in the region is as angry with elite corruption, unemployment and economic inequality as people in western Ukraine. But it also feels beleaguered and provoked, with its cultural heritage under existential threat. Responsibility for eliminating those concerns lies not in Washington, Brussels or Moscow, but solely in Kiev.14

The article, which is entitled “John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off”, offers a perspective which very few mainstream journalists (Stephen Kinzer and Liam Halligan being two others along with Stephen Cohen – see previous article) have so far been prepared to offer. His call for an end to the hysteria is surely the wisest call anyone can make right now.

*

Additional:

Following the referendum in Crimea, on Monday [March 17th] Democracy Now! featured a discussion about the vote and the likely diplomatic, economic and military repercussions following Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The three guests were Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting; Nicholas Clayton, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Crimea and covering the South Caucasus since 2009; and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Here is a snapshot of what each had to say:

Oliver Bullough: Well, the first thing about the vote is the result. The result was never in any doubt. The only option, essentially, on the ballot paper was either—well, you has a choice: to leave Ukraine or to join Russia. There was no “no” option. So, there was never any question that this would go one way. And it did indeed go that way. It went that way overwhelmingly, though, personally, I think possibly the results given are a little bit inflated. I can’t believe that the turnout was as high as 83 percent, certainly considering the fact that all the Ukrainians who live in Crimea and all the Crimean Tatars, who together make up, you know, more than 30 percent of the population, boycotted the polls. […]

Well, you know, it was—people were turning up for the polling stations. People were casting their votes in a fairly orderly manner. But it got increasingly jolly as the day wore on and it became obvious which way the vote was going to go. And people gathered on the central Lenin Square underneath the big towering statue of the founder of the Bolshevik state. And there was a rock concert, and people gathered, waved Russian flags, chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” as if they were at a football match. It occurred to me about halfway through that it was like a combination of Russia winning the World Cup and the Nuremberg rally. It was a very peculiar atmosphere of sort of a degree of celebration and also as a strange and slightly disquieting sense of triumphalism that I, as a non-Russian, found a little bit weird.

Dmitri Trenin: Well, I would say that the Russians have become used to people essentially using various standards for their own behavior and for other people’s behavior. Basically, President Putin in his press conference recently intimated that he was doing the things that basically the United States was doing. He was—he was placing the legitimate above the legal. If you need something and you need it badly, you go for it. It may not be legal, but if it’s your—if it’s in your national interest, then you go for it—except that the cases of Libya or Kosovo or Iraq, arguably, were less important for the United States’ national security interests than the issue of Crimea and Ukraine is, or was, for Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.

Nicholas Clayton: Well, the new leadership, it appears that they’re still very much in crisis mode, attempting to hold the country together. Many of them were not in the government before the Yanukovych regime fell. One of the more controversial things that has happened recently and one of the firmer gestures that the new government has made is saying that those advocating secession in other Ukrainian territories will be apprehended. And on one hand, this is a bit of an escalation of the rhetoric within Ukraine; however, it also represents very much the crisis mentality of the new government. As you mentioned before, there have been increasing protests in the cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters have clashed, and three people have died so far. There’s been accusations traded, but Kiev has claimed that a large portion, if not the majority, of these pro-Russian protesters are indeed Russian citizens that have come—been bused in from Russia, and they’re also tightening the border. It appears that they’re trying very hard to avoid any other province in Ukraine from getting the Crimea treatment at this point. […]

And as we’ve discussed already this hour, I do think that many in the West underestimated how strategic Ukraine, and particularly Crimea, is to Russia. The port of Sevastopol has been the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since imperial days, since the 18th century, and it actually is probably the best harbor in the Black Sea for a large fleet and one of the only ones that could safely hold a large fleet. It has a deep harbor, it’s very large, and it’s protected on both sides by hills, which means the wind is not a factor. If Russia were to be booted from there, it would have to drastically reduce the size of its fleet and spend billions of dollars attempting to build up facilities in one of its other ports in order to hold it. And the Russian Black Sea Fleet is the portion of the Russian navy that it uses to project naval force into not only the Black Sea, where it has significant interests, but also the Mediterranean Sea and through the Sinai and the Indian Ocean, and therefore, it’s an important portion of their Middle East strategy and their foreign policy in those regions.

And so, this really is a—what the Russians call a steel interest, something that is certainly a red line and certainly something that if Russia had to retreat from, would be very—would very much hurt their foreign policy and their ability to project power in the world. And we saw—this is partially why Russia moved so quickly in the upper house, was that many figures in the new government in Kiev did make statements saying that they wanted to basically cancel the lease that Russia has for the use of the base in Sevastopol. The current lease gives Russia the right to use that port until 2042, but there—in the past, previous governments have also tried to push Russia out, and it has been a major factor in Russia’s relationship with Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union and very much—very much has been a huge card in the East-West battle over Ukraine, as well.

For once I would also recommend the latest outing of BBC’s political magazine programme This Week, which featured analysis from the Telegraph‘s Liam Halligan.

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1 From an article entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” written by Justin Raimondo, published by antiwar.com on March 12, 2014. http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2014/03/11/what-color-is-ukraines-color-revolution/

2 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

3 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: bugged call reveals conspiracy theory about Kiev snipers” written by Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on March 5, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/ukraine-bugged-call-catherine-ashton-urmas-paet

4 From an article entitled “Russia, Ukraine feud over sniper carnage” written by Mike Eckel, published by the Washington Post on March 7, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-ukraine-feud-over-sniper-carnage/2014/03/07/12ed2364-a638-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html

5 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key players” published by BBC news on February 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25910834

6 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

7 From an article entitled “’Prepared to Die’: The Right Wing’s Role in Ukrainian Protests” published by Der Spiegel on January 27, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/ukraine-sliding-towards-civil-war-in-wake-of-tough-new-laws-a-945742.html

8 From an article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”, published by Channel 4 news on March 5, 2014. http://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right

9 From an article entitled “The forgotten coup – and how the godfather rules from Canberra to Kiev” written by John Pilger, published on March 16, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-forgotten-coup-and-how-the-godfather-rules-from-canberra-to-kiev

10 From an article entitled “Groups at the sharp end of Ukraine unrest” published by BBC news on February 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26001710

11 From an article entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” written by Stephen Kinzer, published in The Boston Globe on March 3, 2014. http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2014/03/03/cold-war-over-russia-isn-zero-sum/Df9VSHeJFpKUz3tRKDjUXJ/story.html

12 From an article called “London’s Laundry Business” written by Ben Judah, published in The New York Times on March 7, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/londons-laundry-business.html?_r=0

13 ‘annexation’ is a provocative term. Many Russians including those in Crimea see it as a ‘reunification’. Mikhail Gorbachev said:

Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party’s laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions.” He said: “To declare sanctions you need very serious reasons. And they must be upheld by the UN.” Adding: “The will of the people of the Crimea and the Crimea’s possible unification with Russia as a constituent region do not constitute such a reason.”

http://rt.com/news/mistake-fixed-crimea-gorbachev-422/

14 From an article entitled “The Ukraine crisis: John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off” written by Jonathan Steele, published in the Guardian on March 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/02/not-too-late-for-ukraine-nato-should-back-off

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