Category Archives: Russia

Enlightened Corners: The Russia 2018 World Cup

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian‘s sneering with his review of the World Cup’s opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim ‘Mr Vladimir Putin’ – think Vlad the Impaler – was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin’s Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world’s crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he’s doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.

Ronay added:

A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president’s performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.

Driven by an army of ‘Russian bots’, the ‘Putin alternative reality machine’ is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump’s presidency, to Corbyn’s rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West’s alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of “Vladimir, Vladimir”. When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia’s involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron ‘possibly expected’ the Games ‘to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community’, having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the ‘international community’ that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered ‘less enlightened corners of the world’, given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in ‘less enlightened corners’, including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist’s dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.1

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in ‘a human rights activist’s dream’.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the “dictator” Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah’s opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a ‘thuggish pariah’.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

Williams’s stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn’t of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull…

As for the event:

It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.

Kelner’s piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically:

So nice of Robbie to say hello.

In The Times, under the title, ‘Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,’ chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

What does Russia want from this tournament?

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was ‘about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life’.2

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a ‘modern, progressive approach to life’ will have nodded sagely from their more ‘enlightened corners of the world’.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV’s senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that “Stalin had a proper ‘tache”. Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, “a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive.”3

And:

The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: “They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match.”

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya’s oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

“I’d be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won’t,” she admits. “But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that.”4

And then there was ‘Putin’s Russia with David Dimbleby’, a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

“In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here…” So begins David Dimbleby’s thoughtful film in which – as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament – he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin’s 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.’5

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 – one day after the US-UK’s Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them ‘smart bombs’ – Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

Isn’t it in fact true that America is… by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we’ve seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it’s beginning to look as though you’re going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.6

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

London 2012 – A ‘Festival of Light’

By contrast, the London 2012 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony was widely hailed as ‘a masterpiece’. For The Daily Telegraph it was ‘brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British’. The BBC’s chief sports writer Tom Fordyce commented: ‘no-one expected… it would be quite so gloriously daft, so cynicism-squashingly charming and, well, so much pinch-yourself fun’.

‘Cynicism’, which certainly had been ‘squashed’, was off the agenda. In an article titled, ‘Festival of Light’, The Times preached from a patriotic pulpit:

From London these next few weeks will come joy in a time of trouble, will come spectacular feats and great human dramas, will come triumph and will come tears. The great dream of the Olympic founders, that the Games would eliminate war, was naive. But they can at least unite us in common endeavour. Mankind has many moments of great darkness, but this will be a festival of light.

Yesterday’s opening ceremony was a triumph. Adventurous, self-confident, playful, entertaining and all with a sense of history. It was suffused, in other words, with the spirit of the Games to come… Festival of Light: Great feats of athletic ability; great unscripted stories of triumph and disaster; a great sense of national spirit. Britain will rise to a shining occasion… For our country, as well as the athletes from around the world, this is a time to shine.

This was a time to exalt in Britain’s greatness, ‘a time to shine’. It was not a time to sneer at ‘our’ great wars of aggression.

In an article titled, ‘Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night’, the Observer’s editors also waxed lyrical on the opening ceremony:

Sport has a special hold on the imagination. This is sport of the most special kind. We didn’t drop the torch. We didn’t foul up or shrink from the daring option. We put creativity first. Now, why on earth should all that go hang when it’s all over?

The Observer sought out any remaining readers not yet reduced to tears of patriotic joy:

It sought to sum up a country – a very multicultural land manifestly – which had played a full part in world literature, world construction, world invention (even if very few of those feats are taught in our core curriculum these days). It was anxious to show us, in short, that we’d mattered – and hint that we could perhaps matter again.7

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian:

Here too the opening ceremony set the tone, suggesting that we should love the country we have become – informal, mixed, quirky – rather than the one we used to be.

Freedland soared on a reverie of poetic possibility. The Olympics had offered hope of a place ‘where patriotism is heartfelt, but of the soft and civic rather than naked and aggressive variety; a place that welcomes visitors from abroad and cheers louder for the Turkish woman who came last in a 3,000m steeplechase heat than it did for the winner.

This is the Britain we let ourselves see these past two weeks. It will slip from view as time passes, but we are not condemned to forget it. We don’t have to be like the long-ago poet who once wrote: “Did you exist? Or did I dream a dream?”

The sublime, lovely and inspirational were everywhere in reviews of the London 2012 opening ceremony and Games.

Three weeks before the ceremony, Amnesty International published a report, ‘Libya: Rule of law or rule of militias?’, based on the findings of an Amnesty visit to Libya in May and June 2012.

The militias, Amnesty reported, were now ‘threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections… They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities… They are also recklessly using machine guns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.]

Amnesty added:

The entire population of the city of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000, was driven out by Misratah militias and remains scattered across Libya, including in poorly resourced camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

None of this was up for discussion by Britain’s sports writers and broadcasters, nor even by its political commentators. It would have been deemed as outrageous for journalists to mention UK realpolitik then as it would for them to not make at least some passing reference to brutal Russian realpolitik now.

  1. Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, ‘Thursday’s best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,’ The Guardian, 14 June 2018.
  2. Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018.
  3. Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,’ Telegraph, 14 June 2018.
  4. ‘World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,’ The Sun, 9 June 2018.
  5. ‘What’s on TV tonight: Putin’s Russia, The Fight for Women’s Bodies and Beetlejuice,’ Telegraph, 13 June 2018.
  6. Quoted, John Eldridge, ‘Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,’ Routledge, 2003, p.14.
  7. Leading article, ‘London 2012: Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night,’ The Observer, 29 July 2012.

Life-giving Light and Those Who Would Snuff it Out

The concluding sentence of Roy Medvedev’s superb account of Russia during the Stalin years reads:

When the cult of Stalin’s personality was exposed [in the XXth and XXIInd Congresses in 1956 and 1961 respectively] a great step was made to recovery.1

It’s a vital point, similar to that made by the incredible truth and reconciliation commission event that followed the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and that point is this: before any society can really advance it must recognise and admit to itself the mistakes and crimes perpetrated by its own trusted leaders. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg once put it:

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.2

Yet self-criticism of our own governments is almost impossible. Infinitely more effective than state censorship – which can restrict criticism – is self-censorship, and that’s pretty much what we have: a society which is incapable of seriously challenging those in power, let alone calling them to account for any wrongdoing – not through any state-imposed censorship, but through creating a culture that’s utterly brainwashed into believing the perfection of their constitution and therefore refusing to even imagine its very considerable imperfections. Whilst we do not have the domestic death squads and concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to enforce domestic obedience, we still have loyal populations that are almost as effectively programmed to believe the perfections of their state leaders and their institutions as many Germans and Russians were during the Hitler and Stalin years.

In Britain, for example, in 2015 when the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was provocatively questioned about the Party’s well-known opposition to monarchy she remarked,

I can’t see that the Queen is ever going to be really poor, but I’m sure we can find a council house for her — we’re going to build lots more.

This obviously whimsical comment, although factually reasonable, provoked the following headline in The Independent: ‘We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,’ say Greens

Similar sensationalist headlines led in almost every newspaper and TV news broadcast. Green Party membership, which had been surging until that moment, immediately fell off a cliff. I was a membership secretary for our local Green Party branch at the time and had been signing up new members at the rate of about two a week. New memberships not only stopped completely, but some who had just joined us immediately cancelled their memberships. And this from people who would see themselves as progressives. No need to guess how Tory voters, who comprise most voters, reacted to Bennett’s quip. Such is the level of brainwashing in a supposedly democratic country about the perfection of the British monarchy, and its unchallengeable position as unelected head of state.

But it’s not just Britain that has to endure a majority of brainwashed citizens. I remember seeing a TV documentary about the time of the illegal Iraq War in 2003. The programme was about heroic US marines bravely defending western freedom, by helping to kill defenseless Iraqi civilians. Some of the heroes were interviewed about the hard time they were having, and the one that will forever stick in my mind implied that no amount of personal suffering was too great for him. “I would slit my own throat for my president”, he said. So Iraqi civilians didn’t have much chance.

The marine’s remark reminded me of a quote in Medvedev’s book, showing the similarity between modern US citizens and the brainwashed Russians of Stalin’s day:

Just as [religious] believers attribute everything good to god and everything bad to the devil, so everything good was attributed to Stalin and everything bad to evil forces that Stalin himself was [supposedly] fighting. “Long live Stalin!” some officials shouted as they were taken to be shot.3

When, very occasionally, some of the major crimes of our great trusted leaders are brought to our attention, there is never any clamouring for justice, no national outrage that the public’s trust could be so cheaply squandered. Whilst some newspapers might print a subdued story or two, located somewhere towards the bottom of page thirty nine, and whilst national TV stations may record a few words tucked away deeply buried somewhere on their websites, in the sacred name of “balance”, the real gravity of the misdeeds of our trusted leaders are otherwise routinely ignored, and the revelations are quickly lost in the usual myriad of trivial distractions.

For example, when, after many years and thirteen million pounds of treasure, the Chilcot Report was eventually published, effectively providing sufficient evidence for Tony Blair and other establishment leaders to be indicted for war crimes, no such calls from our trusted leaders were heard – just a deafening silence, followed almost immediately by business as usual.   But those who dare to provide the evidence of our rulers’ misdeeds are quickly and viciously victimized – as any whistleblower could easily confirm; with the better-known of whom, such as Daniel Ellsberg, Mordechai Vanunu, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden standing as fine examples of the terrible consequences of speaking the truth about power. This is how Rosa Luxemburg’s ruthless self-criticism is rendered impossible in our “free” societies where official censorship doesn’t exist, but where official “news” isn’t worth censoring.

One of the holiest cows of the establishment, the institution which, almost above any other, will not tolerate any form of criticism, are our so-called “defence” forces. The word “hero” has been re-defined to mean absolutely anyone wearing a military uniform. TV commercials encouraging young people to join the armed forces appear almost every night. TV programmes depicting the military as brave heroes resisting overwhelming odds in the sacred name of freedom and democracy appear almost every night. Every year people adorn themselves in little plastic poppies and stand in silence for two minutes on the 11th November, not so much to recall those who were needlessly slaughtered for the supposed “war to end all war”, but to serve as a subliminal recruitment aid. Criticising the armed forces is always strictly off limits.

The Annihilation of Raqqa

Yet a recent report by Amnesty International (AI), who investigated the devastating attack by western coalition forces on the Syrian city of Raqqa, is so damning that anyone who does not criticise those responsible is guilty by association of war crimes.4 They are in a similar position to those who silently stood by as their neighbours were carted-off to Nazi concentration camps. Although AI has a somewhat dubious reputation, earned mainly by its very tepid response to the multitude of horrors perpetrated over many years by the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine, its latest report on Raqqa has some merit.

Raqqa, Syria, February 2018 (AI Photo)

No one will ever know how many civilians perished in last year’s battle for Raqqa. However, estimates for the numbers of people living in the city prior to the war are given at around 220,000, whilst the number estimated to be living there earlier this year is around 61,000.  Some civilians managed to flee the city, but many did not, as they were prevented from doing so by IS. Amnesty summarised the terrible situation for civilians as follows:

The four-month military operation to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa, the Syrian city which IS had declared its capital, killed hundreds of civilians, injured many more and destroyed much of the city. During the course of the operation, from June to October 2017, homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure were reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.

Residents were trapped, as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, and US-led Coalition’s air and artillery strikes rocked the city. With escape routes mined by IS and the group’s snipers shooting at those trying to flee, civilians fled from place to place within the city, desperately seeking refuge or escape. Some were killed in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge, and others as they tried to flee.5

If Amnesty was referring to North Korea, say, or Iran, Russia, China, or the Syrian government, almost certainly its report would have been leading the western world’s news broadcasts. Outraged politicians and their tame propagandists in the mainstream media would have been demanding that “something should be done”. But those countries were not the subjects of the Amnesty report. It was referring instead to the biggest villains in the world — the US and British governments, joined on this occasion by France. Although other countries were implicated in this particular “coalition of the willing”, their roles were relatively minor. Consequently our politicians and their lackeys in the mainstream media seem hardly to have noticed AI’s report. Once again the truth is available, but has been conveniently self-censored by all the usual tricks of state.

Entire neighbourhoods in Raqqa are damaged beyond repair (AI Photo)

Two investigators from AI spent two weeks in February 2018 visiting the ruins of Raqqa. They went to 42 different locations and interviewed 112 civilian residents. About half of the report focuses mainly on the personal stories of four families whose lives were devastated by the “liberation” of Raqqa from IS occupation by the combined efforts of western firepower, and ground-troops supplied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a mainly Kurdish militia.

Although the so-called global coalition:

boasts membership of 71 countries and four inter-governmental organisations; an eclectic alliance including nations as diverse as Panama and Poland, Australia and Afghanistan. Some Coalition members, Chad, for example, or Niger, are likely to have given support in name only. Others, particularly European states, were more deeply involved, although the exact extent of their actions is not always clear.6

Whilst most people are probably aware that US, British and French air forces bombed countless targets in Syria generally, and specifically here, in Raqqa, fewer people know about the involvement of western ground troops. But AI tells us:

[T]he US deployed some 2,000 of its own troops to north-eastern Syria, many of whom were engaged in direct combat operations, notably firing artillery into Raqqa from positions outside the city. In addition, a smaller number of special forces were operating close to front lines alongside SDF members. British and French special forces were also deployed to the area, but in much smaller numbers.

Among the US deployment were Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with GPS-directed 227mm rockets, which could be fired from 300km away, as well as hundreds of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the 24th MEU equipped with M777 howitzers, which they used to rain down 155mm artillery fire upon the city from a distance of up to 30km.6

Children riding a bicycle among destroyed buildings in Raqqa. (AI Photo)

AI concludes its summary of the involvement of “coalition” forces as follows:

The Coalition launched tens of thousands of strikes on Raqqa during the military campaign. Of these, more than 4,000 were air strikes, almost all of them carried out by US forces. British forces carried out some 215 air strikes, while the French military was responsible for some 50 air strikes with the overwhelming majority – more than 90% – carried out by US piloted aircraft and drones. No other members of the Coalition are known to have carried out air strikes in Raqqa. At the same time, US Marines launched tens of thousands artillery shells into and around Raqqa…

While Coalition forces operated mostly from positions several kilometres outside the city, a small number of special operation forces from Coalition member states – notably the US, UK and France – operated alongside the SDF close to front line position in/around the city, reportedly mostly in an advisory rather than combat role.

The SDF were partly responsible for locating targets for Coalition air and artillery strikes. It is not clear what percentage of the Coalition air and artillery strikes were carried out based on co-ordinates provided by the SDF – as opposed to strikes on targets identified by Coalition forces themselves through air surveillance or other means – and the extent to which Coalition forces verified targets identified by the SDF prior to launching strikes on those targets.7

Although Kurdish militia were reportedly too lightly-armed to be physically accountable for the destruction of Raqqa, their target identification function was clearly significant.

It has long been routine for the military’s propaganda machine to dismiss concerns about civilian casualties inside war zones, and the carnage wreaked on Raqqa was no exception. Furthermore, the military’s word is always accepted at face value.

[A]t the height of conflict in Raqqa, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend wrote that ‘… there has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict’.8

But the alleged accuracy of the ordnance used by the military is not the point. The point is that no matter how smart the smart bombs are, they’re still killing civilians – and that’s a war crime. An estimated 4,000 bombs were dropped on the defenceless civilians of Raqqa by “coalition” warplanes. Given that many of those are only accurate, on a good day, to within ten metres of their target, it’s very clear to see that these alone must have accounted for considerable civilian casualties. But they may not have been the main problem.

Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell (senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), suggests that the Coalition operation was far from precise: ‘In five months they fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets… They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War.’8

But legitimate ISIS targets must have been almost negligible, as IS had immersed themselves amongst the civilian population. Given also that most artillery shells are considerably less accurate than guided missiles, and can only be expected to strike within a hundred metres of their targets, and given that tens of thousands of these things rained down on the trapped and defenceless civilians of Raqqa, the claims by the military’s propagandists that they tried everything possible to minimise civilian casualties are obviously ludicrous.

There has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict [than in Raqqa]
— Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend

The ruins of the destroyed house where 28 members of the Badran family and five neighbours were killed in a Coalition strike on 20 August 2017 in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Isis withdraws, undefeated, from Raqqa

Sometime in October some sort of deal was suddenly worked out which allowed Isis to simply pack up and leave Raqqa, in a convoy of trucks, together with most of their weaponry. According to a BBC report, the deal:

enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.  Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal…

[T]he convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles…

Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the [IS] group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

War crimes

The US-led “coalition” undoubtedly committed a vast number of war crimes in the “liberation” of Raqqa, and the considerably-referenced AI report summarises the particular breaches of law applicable:

(a) The Principle of Distinction

This requires parties to conflict to at all times, ‘distinguish between civilians and combatants’ and to ensure that ‘attacks may only be directed against combatants’ and ‘must not be directed against civilians’. Parties to conflict must also distinguish between ‘civilian objects’ and ‘military objectives’. Anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict is a civilian, and the civilian population comprises all persons who are not combatants. Civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. In cases of doubt, individuals should be presumed to be civilians and immune from direct attack. Making the civilian population, or individual civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack (direct attacks on civilians) is a war crime (My emphasis).9

It isn’t clear how hard the “coalition” tried to distinguish combatants from non-combatants, but in the four detailed case studies that Amnesty supplied – which were the tragic stories of just four families from a city of tens of thousands – it would appear they didn’t try very hard at all. One such piece of evidence was supplied by “Ammar”, who

told Amnesty International that on ‘the second or third day of Eid” [26-27 June 2017] an air strike killed 20-25 people, mainly civilians but some IS too, at a communal water point, around the corner from Abu Saif’s house.’10

So, clearly essential water supplies were either deliberately targeted by the “coalition”, or some “legitimate” target was so near that the likely presence of defenceless civilians was simply ignored.

(b)  Proportionality

The principle of proportionality, another fundamental tenet of IHL, also prohibits disproportionate attacks, which are those “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack (that is, knowing that the attack will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage) constitutes a war crime. The Commentary on the Additional Protocols makes clear that the fact that the proportionality calculus requires an anticipated “concrete and direct” military advantage indicates that such advantage must be “substantial and relatively close, and that advantages which are hardly perceptible and those which would only appear in the long term should be disregarded (my emphasis).11

Whilst it is undeniable that the head-chopping organ-eating occupiers of Raqqa were about as vile a group of psychopaths as it’s possible to get, and that their removal from Raqqa would no doubt be extremely difficult to accomplish, it’s deeply questionable that the total destruction of a civilian-occupied city could be considered proportional to the reign of terror it was supposed to terminate. The fact that IS were eventually cleared out of Raqqa, very much alive and well, shows that they were not committed kamikaze warriors and suggests that alternative methods for bringing to an end their repulsive occupation may have been possible.

(c) Precautions

In order for parties to an armed conflict to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality they must take precautions in attack. “Constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects”; “all feasible precautions” must be taken to avoid and minimise incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The parties must choose means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding or at least minimising to the maximum extent possible incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. As well as verifying the military nature of targets and assessing the proportionality of attacks, the parties must also take all feasible steps to call off attacks which appear wrongly directed or disproportionate. Parties must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. When a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the parties must select the target the attack on which would be expected to pose the least danger to civilians and to civilian objects.

The limited information available on the precautions in attack taken by the Coalition suggests that they were not adequate or effective. The cases examined in detail indicate that there were serious shortcomings in verification that targets selected for attack were in fact military, with disastrous results for civilian life. Further, several attacks examined by Amnesty International suggest that the Coalition did not, at least in those instances, select weapons that would minimise harm to civilians. Also, the warnings that were given to civilians were not effective. They did not take into account the reality that civilians were blocked from leaving Raqqa, and did not include specific information (such as warning civilians to stay away from tall buildings).11

Amnesty claim that up to the point of publication of their report repeated approaches to “the coalition” for specific details regarding their attacks on Raqqa were either inadequately answered or had not been answered at all. Therefore questions relating to whether sufficient precautions were taken remain unanswered, and could imply breaches of international law.

(d) Joint and individual responsibility of coalition members

One of the attractions to “coalition” actions is the difficulty in attributing specific responsibility for possible crimes after the event, and Amnesty states:

It is concerned that this lack of clarity may enable individual Coalition members to evade responsibility for their actions. The UK Government, for example, maintained until May 2018 that it had not killed a single civilian in Syria or Iraq, despite carrying out thousands of air strikes across the two countries. On 2 May 2018 it admitted for the first time that one of its drone strikes had caused one civilian casualty in Syria in March 2018.11

However, there is very limited wriggle-room in attempting to evade responsibility by trying to divert attention to others. International Humanitarian Law (IHL):

Requires all states to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for its provisions under Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. This includes both positive and negative obligations on states providing assistance to another state which is then used to commit a violation of international humanitarian law. The negative obligation is not to encourage, aid or assist in violations of IHL by parties to a conflict. The positive obligation includes the prevention of violations where there is a foreseeable risk they will be committed and prevention of further violations where they have already occurred.

The USA, UK, France, and other states involved in military operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve therefore may be legally responsible for unlawful acts carried out by Coalition members.12

(e) Duty to investigate, prosecute and provide reparation

States have an obligation to investigate allegations of war crimes by their forces or nationals, or committed on their territory and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute the suspects. They must also investigate other war crimes over which they have jurisdiction, including through universal jurisdiction, and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects.12

A young man holding a child staring at the ruins of bombed buildings in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Life-giving light – and those who would snuff it out

The Amnesty International report provides compelling evidence that, at the very least, there are legitimate questions to be answered regarding the attacks on Raqqa by the USA, Britain and France. And it must never be forgotten that the whole IS phenomenon is mostly a creation of the west, that without the deeply cynical plotting of the US, British and possibly French deep states, IS would likely never have come into existence. The words of French foreign minister Roland Dumas should be recalled:

I’m going to tell you something,” Dumas said on French station LCP. “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business [in 2009]. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.

So Dumas may have said – but the French were involved in the destruction of Raqqa.

Raqqa’s residents surveying the destruction in the city centre (AI Photo)

If similar probable war crimes had been carried out in some other country by Russia, say, or China, or Iran, or any other nation to which the west is routinely hostile, almost certainly outraged voices would be heard caterwauling in Westminster and Washington. Front pages of newspapers, together with TV and radio news programmes would be howling that “something must be done”. Yet in Westminster and Washington the silence is deafening. Not a single word of protest appears on the front pages of our newspapers, and our TV and radio stations appear to be looking the other way. Why? Because our “heroes” are personally involved, and personally responsible for the terror, and that is the terrible truth that cannot be admitted.

The cold hard fact is that far from being heroic, many people in the military are de facto war criminals. From at least as far back as the second world war, when defenceless civilians were bombed to death and incinerated in their homes in the pointless bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, for example, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the slaughter of countless defenceless civilians in later wars, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the more recent civilian killing fields of Iraq, Libya and now Syria, our so-called heroes have just as much innocents’ blood on their hands as any Nazi war criminal ever had.

With very few exceptions, the military seldom do anything heroic. The very last thing that senior officers want, the generals, admirals, air marshals and so on, is a peaceful world – for the very obvious reason that they would all be out of work, vastly overpaid work requiring very little real and useful effort, work that not only pays these people far more than they’re worth, but also, which is far worse, gives them far too much power in our societies. Consider, for example, the words of an unnamed general in a recent Observer interview that if Jeremy Corbyn – a lifelong pacifist – was to win a general election:

There would be a mutiny in the armed forces… unless he learnt to love NATO and the nuclear bomb.13

The cold hard fact is that these people, those who run our so-called “defence” forces are out of control. They are more interested in protecting their own careers than doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and which so many people mistakenly believe they are doing – protecting us. We are not made safer by the ruthless and illegal destruction of civilian cities such as Raqqa. The people that carry out these war crimes should be brought to account and charged like the common war criminals they really are, which is pretty much the same conclusion reached by Amnesty International:

Where there is admissible evidence that individual members of Coalition forces are responsible for war crimes, ensure they are prosecuted in a fair trial without recourse to the death penalty.14

We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve.
— V.I. Ulyanov, (Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface.))

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.
— Rosa Luxemburg15

Sometimes I think we biologists may find ourselves coming into politics from our own angle. If things go on as they are going – We may have to treat the whole world as a mental hospital. The entire species is going mad; for what is madness but a complete want of mental adaptation to one’s circumstances? Sooner or later, young man, your generation will have to face up to that.…

I have an idea, Father, a half-formed idea,that before we can go on to a sane new order, there has to be a far more extensive clearing up of old institutions… The world needs some sort of scavenging, a burning up of the old infected clothes, before it can get on to a new phase. At present it is enormously encumbered… This is just a shadowy idea in my mind… Something like breaking down condemned, old houses. We can’t begin to get things in order until there has been this scavenging.

— HG Wells, The Holy Terror, Simon and Schuster, 1939.

  1. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, p. 566.
  2. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, Preface.
  3. Medvedev, p. 363.
  4. Amnesty International Report, p. 9.
  5. AI Report, p. 5.
  6. AI Report, p. 48.
  7. AI Report, p. 49.
  8. AI Report, p. 53.
  9. AI Report, p. 62.
  10. AI Report, p. 44.
  11. AI Report, p. 63.
  12. AI Report, p. 64.
  13. How the Establishment lost control, Chris Nineham, p. 93.
  14. AI Report, p. 67.
  15. Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface

G7 vs. G6+1: The War of Words

Background

The war of words has intensified between the U-S and G-7 allies after President Donald Trump retracted his endorsement of the communiqué of the once-united group.

The German chancellor called Trump’s abrupt revocation of support for a joint communiqué sobering and depressing. Angela Merkel, however, said that’s not the end. France also accused Trump of destroying trust and acting inconsistently. Trump pulled the U-S out of the group’s summit statement after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on the U-S.  The White House said Canada risked making the U-S president look weak ahead of his summit with the North Korean leader. But, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland later reiterated that her country will retaliate against U-S tariffs in a measured and reciprocal way.

*****

PressTV: What do you make of Mr. Trump’s decision to renege on the G7’s final statement?

Peter Koenig: Trump pulling out from the final G7 statement is just show; the usual Trump show. He signed it, then he pulled out. We have seen it with the Iran Nuclear Deal, with the North Korea meeting, on and off, with the tariffs first. About two months ago the tariffs were on for Europe, Mexico and Canada, as well as China. Then they were off for all of them, and now they are on again…

How serious can that be? Trump just wants to make sure that he calls the shots. And he does. As everybody gets nervous and talks about retaliation instead of practicing the “politics of silence” strategy.

In the case of Europe, the tariffs, or the equivalent of sanctions, as Mr. Putin recently so aptly put it, may well serve as a means of blackmailing Europe, for example, to disregard as Trump did, the Iran Nuclear Deal, “step out of it – and we will relieve you from the tariffs.”

In the case of Canada and Mexico, it’s to make sure Americans realize that he, Mr. Trump, wants to make America Great again and provide jobs for Americans. These tariffs alone will not create one single job. But they create an illusion and that, he thinks, will help Republicans in the up-coming Mid-term Elections.

In China tariffs are perhaps thought as punishment for President Xi’s advising President Kim Jong-Un ahead of the June 12 summit and probably and more likely to discredit the Yuan as a world reserve currency, since the Chinese currency is gradually replacing the dollar in the world’s reserve coffers. But Trump knows that these tariffs are meaningless for China, as China has a huge trade surplus with the US and an easy replacement market like all of Asia.

PressTV:  How could the silence strategy by the 6 G7 partners have any impact on Trump’s decision on tariffs?

Peter Koenig: Well, the G6 – they are already now considered the G6+1, since Trump at the very onset of the summit announced that he was considering pulling out of the G7- so, the remaining 6 partners could get together alone and decide quietly what counter measures they want to take, then announce it in a joint communiqué to the media.

It does not have to be retaliation with reciprocal tariffs.  It could, for example, be pulling out of NATO.  Would they dare? That would get the world’s attention. That might be a much smarter chess move than copying the draw of one peon with the draw of another one. Because we are actually talking here about a mega-geopolitical chess game.

What we are actually witnessing is a slow but rapidly increasing disintegration of the West.

Let’s not forget, the G7 is a self-appointed Group of the “so-called” world’s greatest powers. How can that be when the only “eastern power”, Russia, and for that much more powerful than, for example, Canada or Italy, has been excluded in 2014 from the then G8?

And when the world’s largest economic power – measured by the real economic indicator, namely, purchasing power parity – China has never been considered being part of the G-Group of the greatest?

It is obvious that this Group is not sustainable.

We have to see whatever Trump does, as the result of some invisible forces behind the scene that direct him. Trump is a convenient patsy for them, and he plays his role quite well. He confuses, creates chaos, and on top of it, he, so far single-handedly wants to re-integrate Russia in the G-7; i.e., the remaking of the G-8.

So far the G6’s are all against it. Oddly, because it’s precisely the European Union that is now seeking closer ties with Russia. Maybe because they want to have Russia all for themselves?

If that is Trump’s strategy to pull Europe and Russia together, and thereby create a chasm between Russia and China, then he may succeed. Because the final prize of this Trump-directed mega political chess game is China.

Trump, or his handlers, know very well that they cannot conquer China as a close ally of Russia. So, the separation is one of the chess moves towards check-mate. But probably both Presidents Putin and Xi are well aware of it.

In fact, the SCO just finished their summit in China’s Qingdao on 9 June, about at the same time as the G7 in Canada’s Charlevoix, Quebec Province, and it was once more very clear that this alliance of the 8 SCO members is getting stronger, and Iran is going to be part of it. Therefore, a separation of Russia from the Association is virtually impossible. We are talking about half the world’s population and an economic strength of about one third of the world’s GDP, way exceeding the one of the G7 in terms of purchasing power.

This, I think is the Big Picture we have to see in these glorious G7 summits.

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

US Trade War with the European Union

Background

The EU on Wednesday said a raft of retaliatory tariffs, including on whiskey and motorcycles, against painful metals duties imposed by the US would be ready as early as July.

The European Commission, which handles trade matters for the 28-country bloc, “expects to conclude the relevant procedure in coordination with member states before the end of June,” said European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic at a news briefing.

This would allow “that the new duties start applying in July,” he added.

“It is a measured and proportionate response to the unilateral and illegal decision taken by the US to impose tariffs on the European steel and aluminum exports which we regret,” said the former Slovak prime minister.

From blue jeans to motorbikes and whiskey, the EU’s hit-list of products targeted for tariffs with the US reads like a catalogue of emblematic American exports.

The European Union originally drew up the list in March but pledged not to activate it unless US President Donald Trump followed through on his threat to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum.

The Trump tariffs came into effect on June 1 and the EU now joins Mexico and Canada and other close allies that have announced their own wave of counter-duties against Washington.

The EU commission must now take their proposal to be signed off by the bloc’s member states amid divisions over what path to take against Trump’s unpredictable policies.

France and the Netherlands back a tough line against the US, while export powerhouse Germany has urged caution towards Trump’s “America First” policies.

*****

PressTV: How do you think this will affect the US? Wouldn’t it create more unemployment in America?

Peter Koenig: First, I think we have to distinguish between the various trade blocks and trade wars, like China, Russia, the NAFTA partner countries, Mexico and Canada – and the European Union – the EU. They are all different in as much as they have different motives.

Second, there is much more behind the so-called trade wars than trade. Much of this trade war is propaganda, big style, for public consumption and public debate, whereas in reality there are other negotiations going on behind closed doors.

And thirdly, there are mid-term elections coming up in the US this fall, and Trump must satisfy his home base, all the workers to whom he promised “Let’s Make America Great Again” – meaning bring back jobs, use US-made metals. So, Trump is also addressing those Americans who wait for jobs. As you know the unofficial but real figure of unemployment in the US is about 22% – and that does not even include the large segment of underemployed people, mostly youth.

I think we have to see the Big Picture here. And Trump, or rather those who give him orders, may not see all the risks that this complex multi-polar tariff war implies.

But for now, let’s stick to Europe.

It is very well possible that the EU will also impose import duties on US goods. But if it stays at that, it is very likely that this so-called trade war with the US is pushing Europe even faster than is already happening towards the East, the natural trading partners – Russia and China. As I said, it’s already happening.

But the Big Picture, in the case of Europe, I believe is IRAN. With tariffs on steel and aluminum – quite sizable tariffs, European producers of these metals, the second largest after China, would hurt. There may not be an immediate replacement market for America.

So, Trump may want to blackmail Europe into accepting his new sanctions on Iran. In other words, “either tariffs or you follow my dictate – abandon the Nuclear Deal and impose sanctions”.

Frankly, I doubt very much that this will work, since EU corporations have already signed billions worth of contracts with Iran. On the other hand, Germany in particular, is keen in renewing political as well as trade relations with Russia.

And the recent remark of the new US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, that he will support conservative right-wing movements in Germany and in Europe did certainly not go down well in Germany, with already a Parliamentary movement to expulse him, which certainly doesn’t help US-German relations.

As we speak, most likely this type of “blackmail” negotiations, “either tariffs or you go with us against Iran”, are going on with the EU behind closed doors. Of course, nobody knows the outcome.  Trump is like a straw in the wind, bending to whatever seems to suit him best at the moment.

Remember, a couple of months ago he already imposed tariffs on Europe, along with everybody else, on steel and aluminum, then he lifted them again – and now we are on again. It’s like with most everything he does. It’s probably his business negotiation strategy.

But, this would just confirm that this trade war is much more than meets the eye, more than a trade war – it’s about geopolitics – like “show me your card – which camp are you in?”

Trump and those who manage him may still be under the illusion of the last 70 years, that the whole world, especially Europeans, have to bend over backwards to please the US of A, because they saved Europe – and the world – from the Nazi evil.

Not only is it time to stop the vassalage and become autonomous again, but also, many European start understanding that whom they really have to thank for liberating them from the Nazis – is Russia.

Venezuela: Vanguard of a New World

Venezuela is a champion in democracy, in democratic elections, as proven twice within the last twelve months and more than a dozen times since 1999. Never mind that the lunatic west doesn’t want to accept it simply because the west – the US and her handlers – and her European vassals, cannot tolerate a socialist country prospering, one that is so close to the empire’s border and on top of it, loaded with natural riches, like oil and minerals. Venezuela’s economic success could send intellectual “left-wing” shock waves to the dumbed and numbed American populace, with shrapnel ricocheting all the way to blindfolded Europe.

That would be terrible. That’s why Venezuela must be economically strangled, literally, by illegal sanctions, by totally unlawful outside interventions within sovereign Venezuela, by corrupting internal food and medicine distribution, literally buying off bus drivers to stay home rather than driving their assigned routes to take people from home to work and vice-versa; and corrupting truck drivers not to deliver the merchandise, so that supermarket shelves are empty. They can be photographed, to make the world believe that Venezuela is at the brink of collapse. Those who are not too young may recall exactly the same pattern of outside (CIA) interference on the Chilean system in 1973, leading up to the CIA instigated coup that killed the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and put hard-core neonazi Augusto Pinochet in power. Outside interference, CIA and other State Department funded secret services, was also widely responsible for trying boycotting and influencing the Venezuelan democratic election process. To no avail. They did not succeed.

A similar situation exists with Iran, a mighty powerful nation with a high level of intellect, research, industrial and agricultural potential and – foremost – with a collective mindset that does not want to be trampled by the west, let alone by Washington. Iran is the leader in the Middle East and eventually will be the pillar of stability of the region. No Israel Government would dare to mess with Iran. Netanyahu’s threats are just empty saber-rattling. Iran has also strong and reliable allies, like China and Russia. China is buying the bulk of Iran’s hydrocarbon production and would not stand idle in an Israel-US confrontation with Iran. Hence, Iran doesn’t need to submit to the dictate of Washington. Iran is a sovereign nation, having already embarked on a path of ‘Resistance Economy’, meaning, a gradual decoupling from the western fraudulent dollar-based monetary system. Iran is considering launching a government-owned and managed cryptocurrency which would be immune from western sanctions – same as is the Venezuelan oil-backed Petro.

If Venezuela was allowed by the west to prosper, the people of North America could wake up. And, for example, demand explanations why their government is actually so undemocratic as to interfering in other countries affairs around the world, overthrowing other sovereign governments – killing millions, who do not want to bend to the rules of the US dictator; and at home planting fear through false flags and staged terror acts; i.e., multiple school shootings, sidewalk car rampages (Manhattan) and Marathon bomb attacks (Boston).

Never mind whether the US Presidents behind such terror are called Trump, Obama, Bush, or Clinton – and the list doesn’t end there. One could go way back to find the same pattern of attempted submission through fear, propaganda, acts of terror. They are all pursuing the same sinister agenda, world hegemony at any price.

Venezuela – and Iran for that matter – are in a totally different league. Venezuela voted on 29 July 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly, an elaborate, transparent process to establish a true People’s Parliament. The idea is brilliant, but was, of course, condemned by the west as fraud – because the reigning elite of the west could and will not allow the people to be in power.

When Iran’s President Rouhani was re-elected in May 2017, Washington was happy, believing Rouhani would bend to the rules of the west. He didn’t. In fact, he stood his course, though trying to maintain friendly – and business – relations with the west, but at Iran’s terms. As this doesn’t seem to be possible, specially after Trump’s unilateral stepping out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also called the Nuclear Deal, and re-imposing “the strongest sanctions the world has ever seen”, what is there left, other than decisively detaching from the west and joining the eastern alliances, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This is precisely what Venezuela is doing, calling her losses, but moving on to more friendly pastures – and to certainly a more prosperous future.

Western parliaments have become smoke screens for hiding financial dictatorships, and lately worse, police and military oppression for fear people might stand up — which they actually do, right now in France against Macron’s new labor law, intent of stripping workers of their benefits acquired through decades of hard work. Basically, since last February, people take to the streets of Paris, fearless, despite France being the most militarized country of Europe. They are exposed to tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, but do not give up defending not only their labor rights but also defending theirs and the peoples of France’s democratic right of freedom of expression which in most EU countries has died a silent death.

On 20 May 2018 Venezuela held another peaceful and absolutely democratic Presidential Elections, witnessed by international observers from more than 40 countries, including former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and former President of Spain, José Luis Zapatero. They all have confirmed the transparency of the Venezuelan electoral system and called upon the international community to respect the election results. Indeed, the United States as well as Europe could learn a lot from the Venezuelan electoral process and from Venezuelan democracy.

Washington, its European Union vassals and the Organization of American States (OAS), again – what else – condemned the elections as a fraud before they actually took place, urging President Maduro to cancel them (what an abject arrogance!). Similarly, the so-called Lima Group – a collective of 14 Latin American nations – has accused the Maduro Administration of manipulating the elections, declaring the results “illegitimate, also before the ballots were cast. But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center, said: “Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Zapatero said at a press conference that the EU, who was invited directly by President Nicolas Maduro to join international election observers, didn’t send delegations because of “prejudice”. Zapatero said, “There is prejudice, and life and political experience consists of banishing prejudices and getting to know the truth firsthand.” He also pointed to the OAS’s double standards against Venezuela: “What are they saying about what’s happening in Brazil and Honduras?” – And allow me to add, “and currently in Nicaragua”?

Correa doubled up, saying, “No one can question the Venezuelan elections… in the world there is no election as monitored as Venezuelan elections.” – The absolute correctness of the Venezuelan election was further confirmed by CEELA, the Latin American Council on Electoral Experts. Mr. Moscoso, the head of CEELA, stated that the CEELA delegation has met with experts and candidates ahead of last Sunday’s [20 May 2018] elections and confirmed “harmony in the electoral process.”

There is no doubt by any member of the high-powered and professional electoral observation delegations that the Venezuelan elections were correct and that Nicolas Maduro has legitimately been re-elected with 68% of the votes for the next 6 years – 2019 to 2025. The “low” turn-out of 54% is blamed by the west on Venezuela for barring the opposition candidates and opposition parties from voting. In fact, the turn-out is “low”, because of the west (EU and US) instigating the opposition to boycotting the elections. Under these circumstances, 54% is a great turnout, especially when compared to the only slightly higher numbers – 55.7% – of   Americans who went to the polls in 2016, when Trump was elected; and 58% in 2012, for Obama’s second term.

It is actually a horrendous shame that we, independent journalists and geopolitical analysts, have to spend time defending the transparency and correctness of the Venezuelan elections and democratic system – the best in the world – in the face of governments where fraud and lies are on their every-day menu and where initiation of conflict and wars – mass killings – is their bread and butter. Yes, bread and butter, because the economy of the United States could not survive without war, and the elite puppets in Europe might be trampled to mulch, if they had not become militarized oppressive police states.

That’s the state of the neoliberal/neofascist world of the 21st Century – defending the honest and correct from accusations by the criminal lying hooligans – is what the west has become, a bunch of mafia states without ethics, where laws are made by white collard criminals for their corporate dominated governments.

There are other reasons why Venezuela has become a vanguard of a new emerging world – a world that is separating itself gradually from the west. Other than China and Russia, Venezuela is among the first countries to abandon the US dollar as trading currency. Caracas has been selling its hydrocarbons to China for gold-convertible Yuan. Venezuela is also the world’s first country to introduce a government controlled, petrol backed cryptocurrency, the Petro which will soon be enhanced by the Petro-Oro, another government-controlled cryptocurrency, based on gold and other minerals.

None of the other privately launched block chain currencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero, Ripplel, and literally more than 3,000 digital blockchain currencies, have any backing. They can be considered similar to fiat money, highly speculative, lending themselves to money-laundering and other fraud.

When the Petro was launched in March 2018 it attracted presale interests from 133 countries of US$ 5 billion equivalent. The first day presale raised US$ 735 equivalent; impressive record figures indicating a huge interest of the world at large to find an alternative to the US currency dominated western monetary system – the one and only tailored to hand out sanctions, block international monetary transfers and confiscate foreign funds abroad. And this is because all international dollar transactions have to transit through a US bank either in London or in New York.

Without divulging many details about the Petro – for good reasons – President Maduro has praised the Petro as a key weapon in his fight against what he describes as an “economic war” led by the United States. The oil-backed digital cryptocurrency is convertible into: yuan, rubles, Turkish liras and euro – all of which is indicative that the world wants an alternative – and Venezuela has initiated this alternative.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran have also announced the introduction of a government-owned cryptocurrency. They are formidable shields against US-dollar intrusion and interference. Government-owned and managed cryptocurrencies are, in fact, master tools for an approach of “Economic Resistance” against economic sanctions. Russia is way ahead of the pack. As President Putin said already two years ago, the sanctions were the best thing that could have happened to Russia, which was economically devastated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sanctions allowed Russia to promote self-sufficiency, rebuild agriculture and her outdated industrial park, put new energy and savvy into research and development, and actually become in the last three years the world’s first wheat exporter.

Similar approaches are already happening large-scale by other nations, subject to Washington’s sanctions regime; i.e., Iran, Cuba, North Korea and, of course, China. Independence from the western economy also means moving away from globalization and especially the globalized US-dollar hegemony. Venezuela is the vanguard of a slowly growing movement of countries that have already abandoned the use of the US-dollar for international trade, like India, Pakistan, Iran. This growing trend may become a groundswell of independent nations, that may bring the US economy to its knees. It is a war without aggression, but with alternatives for circumventing economic hostilities from Washington, from the US led attempts to subjugate the world to the dollar dictate; i.e., to US-dollar hegemony. The resistance movement shall overcome.

First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Trump is Alienating Europe: This Is a Good Thing

Thesis: the main achievement of the Trump administration to date has been to alienate European allies, in particular Germany, France and Britain, thus weakening the Atlantic Alliance. Originally concerned by candidate Trump’s questioning of NATO’s continuing relevance, they have been satisfied by Trump’s re-commitment to the alliance (even as he moans about the member countries’ general failure to shell out the 2% for “defense” the pact theoretically entails). But they’ve been dismayed by the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate, its pullout from the Iran nuclear deal (threatening sanctions on European companies that in accordance with the deal want to trade with Iran), its abandonment of coordinated policy on Israel, its imposition of tariffs on European steel and aluminum, and its general barking tone.

These days Angela Merkel is feeling more in common with Vladimir Putin than Donald Trump. Putin speaks to her in fluent German, treats her with respect, and is generally predictable, unlike the erratic Trump.

He tells her: let’s make more energy deals for mutual benefit, whatever the Americans think. And please don’t support the expansion of NATO; enough already. We are a formidable power, but our military budget is tiny compared to NATO’s and we are not about—and have no reason to—invade you. We just don’t want your military alliance to completely encircle us. We understand that, as a U.S. ally, you had to echo Washington’s condemnation of our annexation of Crimea and apply sanctions to us. But you know as well as I do that if Ukraine had been brought into NATO as the U.S. planned after the 2014 coup, our Crimea naval bases would have been transferred to NATO and we could never accept that. If you make the lifting of sanctions contingent on Russian withdrawal from Crimea, sorry, we will just have to accept them while applying counter-sanctions. Let us work together on the issues that unite us, like combating climate change and implementing the Iran agreement and protecting these agreements against U.S. obstruction.

This is potentially a key moment in which finally the unholy alliance based on a Faustian bargain between the U.S. and European anticommunists in the late 1940s fractures. What is the greater threat to Europe? The Russian state, which has gone through the agonizing process of full-scale capitalist restoration and a period of total chaos in the 1990s giving way to recovery under Putin, and which currently spends about 14% of what the U.S. devotes to military expenses every year? Or the U.S., which (still) wants to dictate European policy, even as its GDP dips relative to Europe’s? The EU GDP is now 90% of the U.S.’s.

Putin told Emmanuel Macron at the recent St. Petersburg economic conference: “Europe depends on U.S. in the realm of security. But you don’t need to worry about that; we’ll help. We’ll provide security.” I don’t think it was a joke.

Imagine a Europe not dominated by German banks deeply invested in support for U.S. imperialism using EU architecture to hold nations hostage to imposed austerity programs. Imagine a Europe of independent countries seeking rational equidistance between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has envisioned a free trade union including the EU extending from Vladivostok to Lisbon. It would be facilitated by China’s “new Silk Road” infrastructure projects, which may indeed unite Eurasia as never before, even as the U.S. recedes into the Grey Havens.

Russia will keep Crimea, as it has for most of the last three centuries; Ukraine will have to accord autonomy to the Russian-speaking Donbas region; Europe will lift its Russia sanctions gradually, because they are not in Europe’s interest (and punish Europe for the U.S.’s sake); contempt for the U.S. will mount so long as Trump is president, and could even deepen if he’s succeeded by Pence. The EU will continue to split on issues of immigration, austerity, Russian ties and other issues and the splits will deepen. The understaffed and clueless State Department will continue to urge trans-Atlantic unity. But having violated that unity repeatedly the U.S. has no moral authority to demand its continuation.

Meanwhile Putin plans a meeting with Japan’s Abe Shinzo to resolve the Northern Islands question. Probably a swap of islands, Russia returning two to Japanese sovereignty. This would end the formal state of war between the two countries and pave the way to huge Japanese investments in Russia. And given the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Japan will likely be drawn more into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization dominated by China and Russia.

India under Modi is basking in a period of U.S.-Indian friendship. Having (without clear explanation) forgiven India for its robust nuclear weapons program the U.S. seeks more cooperation with India versus China. But the U.S. alienates New Delhi over Iran sanctions. India buys Iranian oil and will continue to do so.

Xi Jinping in China enjoys a good relationship with Trump, having cleverly flattered him and Ivanka. But he is not pleased with Trump’s trade war threats and challenge to Chinese construction on the South China Sea atolls. The Chinese economy grows by leaps and bounds, and China’s military strengthens inevitably. China is the main rival to the U.S. geopolitically, and it is strategically aligned not only with Russia but with Central Asian countries, former Soviet republics, in general.

The U.S. could at least once boast of hegemony over Latin America, where military dictatorships once comfortably secured U.S. interests. Now these are gone.  Latin America in general militates in different ways against U.S. imperialism. The spectacle of a U.S. president demanding the construction of a wall to keep out Mexican illegal immigrants and demanding that Mexico pay for it appears to hundreds of millions of people as a perverse, sadistic move. Reports of kids separated at the border from their parents and disappearing in their hundreds doesn’t help.

The U.S. is alienating Canada, for god’s sake, by steel tariffs. Good good good good good. Let’s break the whole thing, Donald!

The emergence of a multilateral world—in which the U.S. cannot oblige its allies (as it did in the case of the Iraq War) to embrace its own lies, and share in the ramifications of their acceptance—is on the horizon. The world sees a moron in the White House, handles him carefully, its leaders probably trading notes on his disturbing and unstable personality. Leaders assess the U.S. as a declining power with a horrifying arsenal and more horrifying willingness to invade countries for no good reason but diminishing geopolitical clout. The flurry of exchanges between European and Iranian leaders after the U.S. announcement on the Iran deal and stated determination of the Europeans to beat U.S. secondary sanctions, and strong EU statements of indignation at the US. decision, may signal a sea-change in relations.

European Council President Donald Tusk (a former Polish prime minister) last week criticized “the capricious assertiveness of the American administration” over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea. adding: “Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies? But, frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump. Because, thanks to him, we got rid of all the illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

You realize what this means?

These are significant words, under-reported by the U.S. media, that appears to simply assume the continuation of the existing U.S. hegemonic order in the world, is addicted to the cult of promoting military “service” as a good in itself, and—while wanting to bring down Trump for various reasons—cannot challenge capitalism and imperialism or make astute analyses of present conditions because they are paid by corporations that have vested interests in promoting the CNN and NYT concept of reality. The fact is, the post-war U.S.-dominated world is collapsing, as it should. As empires do.

The fact that this collapse is aided by a colorful idiot in the White House merely adds dramatic appeal to the historical narrative. He will grandiloquently preside over some sort of Korean agreement to satisfy his ego, then perhaps attack Iran with zero European backing but frenzied Israeli and Saudi support, inaugurating a major if not world war. This would not further endear this country to the planet in general.

Iran and Pompeo’s 12-Point Ludicrous Wish List

When you listen to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s 12-Point wish list, what he calls Plan B to confront Iran – one can but wonder, has this man, or for that matter the entire Trump Administration, truly departed from the realm of common sense? This is, of course, a question many of us have been asking for quite a while. But this latest affront of aggression towards Iran is so out of context, out of whack, so ludicrous, that the question is more like is the empire reaching the end of the rope and using Iran as one of a last-ditch propaganda effort to prove to the world its economic and military might, like in “we are the greatest and exceptional nation. Don’t you dare start messing with us”?

Trump’s reneging on the Nuclear Deal was the first step. It was, of course, pushed by Israel, but based on lie after lie and more lies, that Iran did not comply with the conditions and ‘spirit’ of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). And this despite the fact that the Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna has already at least 8 times since the signing of the deal in July 2015 confirmed that Iran is in absolute compliance.

What exactly is Washington and its Israeli handlers trying to achieve with Pompeo’s most clumsy approach? “Regime Change”, perhaps? By activating and mobilizing the Fifth Column in Iran to create an internal revolt, with the objective of putting a new Shah-type puppet in place?  The desperation of creating a strong and oppressive “ally” in the Middle East – as Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf States are ‘failing’ US trustworthiness – is hidden only by a thin veil.

Abandoning US loyalty in the Middle east is becoming epidemic. Iraq has just elected a new Parliament, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s nationalistic, anti-American Shia Sairoon Alliance emerged as the winner with 54 seats in the 329-seat Iraqi Parliament. Though, it is said that al-Sadr’s coalition was largely elected because of his anti-corruption stance, his parliamentary victory also means a resurgence of an Iraqi nationalism with a strong position against foreign influence, meaning especially the US, but possibly also Iran. The latter remains to be seen when the new Government is in place. Within the coming 90 days, al-Sadr, the new ‘kingmaker’, will have to form a new governing body and choose a President. But already now it is clear that Iraq, if left alone by the west as a sovereign country, will turn away from Washington and may eventually also move towards an eastern alliance.

However, what might possibly be a key reason behind Trump’s and Pompeo’s outrageously preposterous and utterly awkward anti-Iran tirade, other than submitting to Israel’s dictate, is the fact that the EU seems to want to stick to the deal, and to make things worse, is planning to switch from US dollars to euros in payments for oil supplies from Iran. This emerged from a recent meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the UK, and the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, where ways were discussed on how to protect the JCPOA for the remaining signatories after Washington backed out of deal.

Using the euro, rather than the traditional US dollar as an instrument for payment, would also protect the new trade agreements between Iran and Europe from US interference and sanctions. Unless, of course, the US would decide to ‘sanction’ the entire EU. But would they want to ‘punish’ their principal trading partner, who is already weary of Washington’s ever mounting unreasonable demands, thus, pushing them more and more to the east?

On the other hand, dropping the dollar as a means of payment for hydrocarbons would set a further precedent for future hydrocarbon trading elsewhere which would weaken the US dollar – ergo, the US economy – even more. Remember, Russia and China are not using the dollar for years to trade hydrocarbons. By putting Iran under the “strongest ever” sanction regime, the financial rulers behind Washington may hope to deter Europe from trading in euros instead of dollars. Should this not work, Trump may have other ammunition in store against Europe, like re-imposing the recently waived tariffs on steel and aluminum.

What becomes ever clearer is that the empire approaches the end of the rope. By such actions of tariffs and sanctions, the Trump Administration is just driving its main trading partner, Europe, into the ‘eastern camp’; i.e., Russia, China and Iran. This is already happening. Recent talks between Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and President Putin, the contents of which were non-aggression and trade, are a clear indication that Europe is getting tired of being commandeered by Washington. This is, by the way, the opinion of more than 90% of the people in Europe.

By re-establishing closer and peaceful relations with Russia, European leaders would actually move closer to their ever so revered democratic principles. Though, this too, is a process hindered by many contradictory political activities within Europe. For example, the neoliberal/neo-nazi move towards militarization, with rising peoples’ oppression, is so far rather increasing than easing, especially in France, but also in Germany, where Bavaria has already or is about to pass a law prohibiting any normal citizen (other than MSM journalists) to take pictures of demonstrations in which authorities’ atrocities could be witnessed and recorded. At this point, the only major EU country that is about to form a euro-sceptic government, a return to sovereign democracy, and which is discussing the possibility of a parallel currency is Italy.

Back to Pompeo and especially Trump’s bombastic, “the strongest sanctions ever imposed on a country…”- Really? But, so what? – At this point and with a well-structured “Economy of Resistance”, Iran is almost immune to US sanctions. And as President Rouhani said a few days ago, we might hurt for a short while, but will soon recover and be much stronger than living under the scepter of a western economic dictatorship. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether the EU will resist Washington’s pressure to bend to Washington’s “rule of law” or whether they finally go their own way. Europe is politically still very much part of the West, even if they become more detached from Washington, they are still under NATO’s yoke. Depending on the power of European autonomy, dealing with Europe may yet expose Iran to the vulnerability of dollar-based US sanctions.

Economy of Resistance is essentially food, health, education and industrial production self-sufficiency (local production for local markets with local money through public banking), and trading with neighboring and/or friendly and politically aligned countries. In the case of Iran, this is well under way. Iran is about to become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, spearheaded by Russia and China, and is already enjoying special status within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), slated to become a full member either later this year or in 2019. The EEU and SCO, also headed by China and Russia, with members of the EEU and lately also India and Pakistan, comprise about half of the world’s population and control one third of the world’s GDP. They, and by association Iran, do not need the West for survival at all.

Besides, Iran is a crucial link in President Xi’s New Silk Road initiative, also called the Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI is a gigantic multi-multi-trillion-dollar (equivalent, but NOT dollar-based) project, spanning at least the next hundred years or more and aiming at developing transport, rural and urban, agricultural and industrial infrastructure; and connecting people through research, education, culture – all envisioning linking Eastern China and Russia with the most Western European trading places, as well as the Middle East through Iran, Africa through Kenya, and even Latin America through the southern tip of South America.

There are at this point at least six “land corridors” and a maritime route foreseen. Building them involves economic development of the still backward areas in western China, eastern Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Sub-Sahelian Africa, connecting them with infrastructure, knowledge, science and bringing about economic inclusion with the rest of the world. This is a huge scheme following egalitarian principles not known in the west. Iran is already part and parcel of this extraordinary development plan.

Regarding Washington’s ‘backstabbing’ of Iran’s Nuclear Deal, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, also warned North Korea in view of their forthcoming negotiations with Trump on nuclear disarmament. Mr. Qassemi cautioned DPRK may think twice before believing in any deal made by the US.

Vigilance is also in order for Iran. As part of the empire’s last-ditch effort for survival, there may be multiple attempts to infiltrating destabilizing elements into Iran. Together with the well-established Iranian Fifth Column and unlimited foreign designed propaganda, they may attempt internal upheavals, terror acts, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the legitimate Iranian Government. Trump and Pompeo with their terror speeches – which will continue for sure – are preparing the terrain for the world to believe in Iran’s internal conflicts the same way they have done it with Venezuela, and the same way they will do it with impunity anywhere they want to achieve regime change. At this stage, I don’t believe Washington and Israel would be bold enough to launch a direct or proxy military attack on Iran. They are well aware of Iran’s might and power of retaliation.

• This article was first published by the New Eastern Outlook

Will Europe stand up to American Pressure?

Europe has decided to assert its independence: it will not revise its agreement with Iran and will not comply with US sanctions. When Washington tore up the Iran deal, that was the last straw for the European Union. In reality the EU had nowhere left to retreat — any further capitulation to the Atlanticists’ dictates would render the entire pan-European project meaningless. Will May 2018 prove to be the turning point, the moment when the West’s unity began to fracture?

On May 17, 2018, the leaders of the countries of Europe, together with senior officials from the European Union, gathered in Sofia, officially to discuss their relations with the Balkan countries that are candidates for EU membership. But how could there be any talk of expanding the EU if it is unable to manage its primary mission — protecting the interests of Europeans? Thus it is unlikely that the conversation at that informal dinner in the Bulgarian capital was about anything other than their relations with the US, because Europe is on the verge of not just a trade war, but a geopolitical conflict with its … Well … with its what, exactly?

Its senior partner? Ally? Suzerain? Competitor? In geopolitical terms, the US is without question the boss over the Old World — under the auspices of a unified West and NATO. It is the American Atlanticists who hold the higher rank. After WWII, the US used various means of control to seize the reins in Germany, Italy, France, and other countries in Western and later in Eastern Europe. Great Britain partnered with them to help keep Europe under control, and since then — despite any differences that may have arisen between the two shores of the Atlantic — Europe, even in the form of the European Union, has generally remained their vassal.

French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel walk during the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

As the project to integrate Europe gained momentum, continental Europeans felt a growing desire to become more independent, but Washington and London always kept that situation well in hand.

Germany’s genuine autonomy and especially its rapprochement with Russia has clearly been at odds with the interests of the Atlanticists — and a few years ago, under the pretext of a “Russian threat,” Europe knuckled under to the anti-Russian sanctions.

The majority of Europe’s political class understood that it was beneficial for the EU to have close ties with Russia, and they have always been looking for a chance to end the confrontation with Moscow. In order to perpetuate the atmosphere of Russophobia, the Anglo-Saxons even resorted to staging the provocation with the Skripals, so as to somehow preserve the tension between Russia and Europe.

It seemed that Europe would remain under their thumb for the immediate future. Europe’s leaders will wait to see how the power struggle in the US ends and will try to simultaneously accommodate themselves to both Trump as well as to the Atlanticist elite that opposes him. However, recent actions by Washington seem to have prompted some major changes.

Trump needed the dissolution of the Iran deal largely for domestic political reasons, but he was prepared to lean particularly heavily on the Europeans. In accordance with his plans, the Europeans needed to agree with the US to compel Iran to draw up a new accord that could be presented as a major victory to the American public. Trump did not take into account the individual positions of Russia or China, which would in any case be against a revision of the deal. Apparently inspired by the imaginary success of his Korean offensive (in which Beijing and Pyongyang created the illusion of a breakthrough for him), the US president decided that everything would work out fine in this matter as well. To encourage the Europeans to be more amenable, they were threatened with sanctions. But the Old World balked outright and decided to preserve both the deal as well as its relationship with Iran.

And the aftermath of the US pressure on Europe over the Iran deal will now extend far beyond just a run-of-the-mill misunderstanding between allies.

Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies? But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful to President Trump. Because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions,” stated the chairman of the European Council, or in other words, the president of united Europe, Donald Tusk on May 17, 2018.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, US President Donald Trump and President of the European Council Donald Tusk

And the head of the government of this united Europe, Jean-Claude Juncker, stated a week earlier that the European Union needed to take on the role of global leader, because Trump’s decision to tear up the Iran deal meant that the US “no longer wants to cooperate” with other parts of the world and was turning away from friendly relations “with a ferocity that can only surprise us.” In addition, European countries should do more than simply salvage the agreement with Iran: “We have to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor, and because of it, in the long term, influence.”

So as it turns out, Europe is not only ready to shoulder the responsibility for its own future — something which even Angela Merkel has been speaking about for the past year, which includes providing for its own security — but is also ready to replace the US as a world leader! Did we actually hear this correctly?

Yes, that’s right. In fact, they started talking about this in Europe immediately after Donald Trump won the election more than a year and a half ago. Even then, Trump was declaring that America should focus on itself and not on the construction of a unified Atlanticist world, and that for the sake of filling America’s coffers he would shake down all its partners, enemies, and allies. Europeans, who have grown used to wielding only limited sovereignty in matters of war and peace, were suddenly being told that they needed to pay for being protected by the US, because Trump’s America saw that umbrella as something expendable.

The West’s unity began to fracture. And although the Atlanticist elite on both sides of the ocean hope that Trump turns out to be nothing more than a bad dream and that everything will go back to normal in 2020, the reality is that there is no way the West can regain that indivisibility. America will rewrite its foreign policy with the goal of “making itself great again,” regardless of whether or not Trump is in power, because the hegemon has cracked and America’s more nationalistic elites are seizing power from the ones who have been playing at being the world’s policeman.

What is left for the Atlanticists? Should they make their peace with this or attempt to shift the Western world’s center of gravity toward Europe? But are there any political figures in Europe who are capable of taking the lead? They tried to audition Merkel, but she refused to bite. Tusk or Junker? Macron? They’re all wrong. There is no solution — and in this environment, relationships among the Western nations are evolving the way Trump wanted: into a battle between national states.

Trump sees the EU as a competitor and he wants to weaken it. When it comes to the Iran deal, what’s important isn’t even that it’s about Iran, around which Germany and France have constructed big economic plans, but rather that Europe is simply being ordered to abandon the idea of protecting its own interests. And also that this is being done under an utterly contrived pretext. Unlike the introduction of the anti-Russian sanctions, there are no reasons whatsoever for tearing up that deal, not even nominal ones.

Europe cannot agree to this. It would be suicide for the very European Union itself. As Renaud Girard, a columnist for Le Figaro writes: “Now that such an unheard-of dictate from the US is upon us, will the Europeans be able to regain their independence? This is a test of truth for the political dimension of the EU. If the European Union caves to Trump, this will negate any reason for its existence.”

And the ones talking this way aren’t just those who have spent the last few years reminding Europe that it is harming itself by bowing to Washington’s pressure and keeping the anti-Russian sanctions intact. Now this is the argument being made even by the hardliners on Moscow — the reliable Atlanticists.

“This is nothing less than a massive assault on the sovereignty of European states and the European Union. They are deprived of their right to decide on their policies and actions by brutal dictates from a foreign — and allegedly friendly — country. This is utterly unacceptable from a European point of view, as well as a violation of the preaching of Trump himself. It relegates Europe to just abiding by and implementing policies with which it profoundly disagrees,” writes former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt in the Washington Post.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, May 2018

Europe cannot cave in to US pressure, but it cannot realistically break ties with Washington when rejecting it, much less lay a claim to the mantle of global leadership. Europe simply wants more independence, which is already asking a lot, given the current state of world affairs. To achieve this, Europe needs to develop a more favorable balance of forces and interests, and when seeking out the building blocks for this, it naturally turns its gaze toward Moscow.

It just so happens that within a week the heads of half of the world’s most powerful countries — Germany, France, Japan, and India — have visits to Russia. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were initially planning to talk to Vladimir Putin about a variety of topics: Syria, trade, Ukraine … But now everything will revolve around the word “Iran,” which signifies much more than just a country or a deal. It is rather the choice that Europe is making as we all watch.