Friday, October 31, 2014

"All fo' You": Vintage Cafe Music From Liberia

Liberia has been in the news constantly the last couple of months due to the West African Ebola outbreak. Here is an interesting song, "All fo' You," off the 1997 release of vintage recordings by Howard Hayes & The Greenwood SingersSongs of the African Coast: Cafe Music of Liberia.

"All fo' You" plumbs the depths of the connection between romantic love and annihilation:

Iran Nuclear Deal No Chickenshit

From my perch in the early morning dark of a 100-plus-year-old apartment building, located in a city by the sound that used to be known for its jets and now is synonymous with an online retail giant, the tectonic plates of global governance seem to be grinding into motion. A slight realignment is in the offing. What are the signs?

To begin with let's start with the ridiculous, the "chickenshit" feud between USG and Israel over anonymous disparaging comments made by an Obama official to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine about Bibi Netanyahu's manliness. As Jodi Rudoren summarized in a story the other day, "Israel Jabs Back After U.S. Official Calls Netanyahu a Coward," the barroom beer-muscle persiflage is all about a deal with Iran over its nuclear program:
Israeli politicians spent most of Wednesday responding with outrage and concern to an article in The Atlantic quoting a senior American official calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “coward” — and also using a more colorful but vulgar synonym that starts with “chicken.” Mr. Netanyahu and his allies denounced such a personal attack as inappropriate, while his critics declared it evidence of the dangerous deterioration of the state’s most treasured alliance that Mr. Netanyahu has caused.
Then, in late afternoon, a senior Israeli official offered a new spin. “It appears that someone in the administration is trying to pre-empt Prime Minister Netanyahu’s criticism of an imminent and highly problematic deal with Iran,” said the official, speaking on the condition that he not be named, since that is how this game is played. “It is a transparent attempt to discredit the messenger instead of dealing with the substance of his criticism.”
It would be easy to write all this off as what Aaron David Miller, a veteran Washington observer on all things Middle East, called “the nanny-nanny-boo-boo kindergarten school,” where “they call each other names.” But there are serious underlying differences in Israel and the United States regarding the fate of Iran’s nuclear program, and the downward dip between their leaders comes at a critical juncture. 
With a Nov. 24 deadline looming, Israelis have watched, with rising concern, signs of an international deal that would allow Iran to preserve at least some of its nuclear program and would bring about the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. Worse for Jerusalem, President Obama’s aides have indicated that they will try to bypass a vote on the deal in Congress, where Israel’s support is strongest and Mr. Netanyahu has occasionally made direct appeals. 
Mr. Netanyahu, who has spent much of his career arguing that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel, insists that allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium at any level leaves it on the threshold of producing a bomb, and that a flawed deal is worse than no deal. 
“There is no way to bridge this gap, because whatever is acceptable to America is not acceptable to us,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser. “So there could be some kind of deliberate attempt to put Netanyahu in some kind of uncomfortable position, so when he says whatever he says in a month, it will be less relevant or attract less attention.”
The magisterial Gareth Porter outlines the deal taking shape between Iran and the P5+1 (the UN Security Council permanent five members plus Germany) in an article that appeared yesterday on the Counterpunch web site, "Is an Iranian Nuclear Deal in the Works? A Compromise on Enrichment":
US and Iranian negotiators are working on a compromise approach to the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, which the Barack Obama administration has said in the past Iran was refusing to make concessions on. 
The compromise now being seriously discussed would meet the Obama administration’s original requirement for limiting Iran’s “breakout capability” by a combination of limits on centrifuge numbers and reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium, rather than by cutting centrifuges alone. 
That approach might permit Iran to maintain something close to its present level of operational centrifuges. 
The key to the new approach is Iran’s willingness to send both its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as well as newly enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into fuel for power plants for an agreed period of years. 
In the first official indication of the new turn in the negotiations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham acknowledged in a briefing for the Iranian press October 22 that new proposals combining a limit on centrifuges and the transfer of Iran’s LEU stockpile to Russia were under discussion in the nuclear negotiations. 
The briefing was translated by BBC’s monitoring service but not reported in the Western press. 
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the US delegation to the talks, has not referred publicly to the compromise approach, but she appeared to be hinting at it when she said on October 25 that the two sides had “made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable”. 
Despite the new opening to a resolution of what had been cited for months as the main obstacle to a comprehensive agreement, the negotiations could nevertheless stall in the final weeks over the timing of sanctions removal. 
Iran’s willingness to negotiate such arrangements with the US delegation will depend on Russia’s agreement to take the Iranian enriched uranium. 
The beginning of discussions on the new approach was reported in September – just days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin had met to discuss key issues in Iranian-Russian cooperation on the building of two nuclear power plants and fuel supply for Bushehr.
Russia is the key to any successful bargain over Iran's nuclear program. But what about the New Cold War? Isn't this an impediment to securing Russia's help? As James Kanter reports, "Ukraine and Russia Reach Accord on Natural Gas Deliveries," one of the main casus belli of the New Cold War, Europe's vulnerability vis-a-vis its dependence on Russian natural gas, has been resolved, at least nominally:
BRUSSELS — Russian and Ukrainian officials reached an agreement on Thursday night to resume Russian deliveries of natural gas to prevent shortages over the winter. 
The deal caps months of laborious talks under the aegis of European Union authorities on how much, and how soon, Ukraine needed to pay Russia for gas it has already consumed, and on the terms for future deliveries. 
The standoff between Moscow and Kiev also prompted concerns in Europe that Russian gas piped across Ukraine, a former Soviet state, could be interrupted.
The particulars of the deal are as follows:
  • Ukraine will pay $3.1 billion by the end of the year to cover its outstanding debts. These payments are based on a price of $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
  • Going forward Ukraine will purchase "Russian gas at a cost of $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of the year, and at a cost of $365 per 1,000 cubic meters from January to March next year."
Of course, this assumes a lot. To begin with, can Ukraine come up with the loot? Secondly, is the government in Kiev stable enough to last until March?

In any event, the deal signed is significant. The health of Gazprom is inseparable from the rise of Russia under Putin; hence, Moscow has always been preoccupied with making sure the crisis in Ukraine doesn't impact the long-term soundness of the energy giant's operations.

There is one more development that augurs a global tectonic shift is underway -- Egyptian bulldozing of homes in the Sinai along the Gaza border. According to a story yesterday by the superb reporter Kareem Fahim written in tandem with Merna Thomas, "Egypt Flattens Neighborhoods to Create a Buffer With Gaza":
CAIRO — With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gazain a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier. 
The demolitions, cutting through crowded neighborhoods in the border town of Rafah, began with orders to evacuate on Tuesday and were part of a sweeping security response by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to months of deadly militant attacks on Egyptian security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula, including the massacre of at least 31 soldiers last Friday.
That assault was the deadliest on the Egyptian military in years, and a blow to the government, which has claimed to be winning the battle against insurgents. The resort to a harsh counterinsurgency tactic — destroying as many as 800 houses and displacing up to 10,000 people to eliminate “terrorist hotbeds,” as Mr. Sisi’s spokesman put it — highlighted the difficulties the military has faced in breaking the militants as well as the anger that operations like Wednesday’s inevitably arouse.
The border clearing came as the authorities have signaled a growing determination to expand their security reach throughout Egypt, to counter militants, they say, but also to crush outbreaks of ordinary dissent, rights advocates say. It was also the latest instance of the government using the overwhelming force of its security apparatus to confront what it sees as a threat to Egypt’s existence, whether the growing strength of militants or the demonstrations by thousands of Islamists during the overthrow of the government of Mohamed Morsi. 
Some of the recent measures, including a crackdown on university protests and a presidential decree issued Monday putting public facilities like power stations and roads under the protection of the military, were “confirmation of a conviction we have had for months,” said Gamal Eid, the head of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information. “Egypt is solidifying the rule of the police and the military,” he said.
There have been two responses to the Arab Spring by the U.S. chaos-inducing unipolar system of global governance. One, is co-optation by means of Wahhabi-exported Salafists. This is on display in Libya and Syria. The other, in states to be maintained whole and not cracked into pieces, there is the Sisi option, a massive police state crackdown on any dissent. Egypt is leading the way on this with fulsome support from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and, regardless of a bit of meek pro forma mewling, the United States.

Israel cannot pursue another Operation Protective Edge-type genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. One more and the BDS Movement will reach critical mass. Now what appears to be in the offing is a plan by Israel to create a "Greater Gaza." As Jonathan reported in September, "Is there a plan to force Palestinians into Sinai?"
Desperately overcrowded, short on basic resources like fresh water, blockaded for eight years by Israel, with its infrastructure intermittently destroyed by Israeli bombing campaigns, Gaza looks like a giant pressure cooker waiting to explode. 
It is difficult to imagine that sooner or later Israel will not face a massive upheaval on its doorstep. So how does Israel propose to avert a scenario in which it must either savagely repress a mass uprising by Palestinians in Gaza or sit by and watch them tear down their prison walls? 
Reports in the Arab and Israeli media – in part corroborated by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas – suggest that Egypt may be at the heart of plans to solve the problem on Israel’s behalf. 
This month Israeli media reported claims – apparently leaked by Israeli officials – that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold. 
The scheme is said to have received the blessing of the United States. 
‘Greater Gaza’ plan 
According to the reports, the territory in Sinai would become a demilitarised Palestinian state – dubbed “Greater Gaza” – to which returning Palestinian refugees would be assigned. The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas would have autonomous rule over the cities in the West Bank, comprising about a fifth of that territory. In return, Abbas would have to give up the right to a state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 
The plan, which would most likely result in significant numbers of Palestinians moving outside the borders of historic Palestine, was quickly dismissed as “fabricated and baseless” by Egyptian and Palestinian officials.
It could be that what we are looking at here is an elaborate game of musical chairs. Peace with Iran will be achieved at the price of a Greater Gaza solution to the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. The future of the caliphate in all this seems to be in the form of Sunnistan, which the odious Thomas Friedman riffed on this week in the disinformation manifesto, "ISIS and Vietnam." Sunnistan, so the thinking goes, is to balance Kurdistan and Shiastan.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NFL Week Eight: Carson Palmer Stands Tall

Week Eight began well with the home-team Broncos notching a solid win over injury-weakened San Diego. With no running game to speak of, Philip Rivers was unable to mount sustained drives, as he did last year when the 'Bolts traveled to the Mile High City.

This was the last Thursday night NFL game to appear on nationwide broadcast television for the remainder of the season; tonight the Thursday night platform reverts back to the NFL Network. For eight weeks the "unwashed" of the nation like myself who have no cable and choose not to frequent bars basked in the television's glow every evening on Thursday. I despised Phil Simms when he quarterbacked Parcells' Giants, the bĂȘte noire of every self-respecting 49ers fan at the time, but I must say he is by far the best analyst on television today. I'm going to miss these Thursday night CBS broadcasts.

Denver looks formidable: a strong defense, Ronnie Hillman developing as a potent ground-gainer, topped off by what is easily the NFL's top passing attack of Peyton Manning throwing to Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, and Demaryius Thomas. I think the Broncos offense can be stopped by the right defense, as the Seahawks proved last year. The problem for other teams around the league is that defense does not exist midpoint of the season.

The Cardinals D looked stout enough against the Philadelphia Eagles. But the difference in that game was the quarterback position. Nick Foles' numbers, 36 completions in 62 attempts for 411 yards and 2 TDs, surpassed Carson Palmer's 20 for 42, 329 yards and 2 TDs, but the Raiders castoff impressed me to no end. He stood tall in the pocket and never appeared rattled by the Eagles pass rush. You could tell he was seeing the entire field, and of course his game-winning bomb to rookie speedster John Brown was a thing of perfection.

NFL Week Eight Sunday began for me at 6:30 AM with the Fox telecast of the Lions-Falcons game from London's Wembley Stadium. Golden Tate had a huge game, helping the Lions overcome a 21-point halftime deficit to defeat the freefalling Falcons. If the Seahawks had a do-over I'm sure they would keep Golden Tate and deal Percy Harvin prior to the beginning of the season, though the rumor that Tate carried on a tryst with Russell Wilson's wife that culminated in the pair's divorce likely would have made the plucky wideout's departure inevitable.

Game #2 for me on Sunday was Seattle vs.Carolina. The Seahawks finally ran into a team more snake-bit than themselves; plus, the defense finally, in the fourth quarter, found its pass rush. A cocky Cam Newton, cocky in the first half despite the inability to hit paydirt -- he ridiculously celebrated every chickenshit first down he scrambled for -- was not cocky by game's end. Seattle tallied a necessary win when Wilson, overcoming numerous mistakes -- a fumble, a pick, missing a wide-open Cooper Helfet for a touchdown -- connected on a pretty pass to Luke Willson, who actually held onto the ball this time, for the game winner.

Now Seattle has a chance to regroup with Oakland in town on Sunday. The Raiders dominated the Seahawks in the final preseason game. So this isn't the walkover that Vegas' 15-point spread says it is. Still, with a win on Sunday, and another win at home next week against the Giants, Pete Carroll will have bailed out his leaky, listing vessel and gotten back on course.

Game #3 was the aforementioned bird bash, Cardinals vs. Eagles. Then it was on to game #4, the Sunday night Packers-Saints match-up. By this time I was on my fourth straight game. I only made it to halftime. The score was tied 16-16. I was convalescing from a lingering flu. The rest and recuperation that such a televisual NFL smorgasbord afforded was welcome.

You can fool yourself and be who you imagine yourself to be. For a spell at least. Then things change. And you're not so strong.

I had not called in sick for five years. So my ego encrusted around being an "iron man." Strong and always showing up to the job and working hard. When I called in sick Monday before last I had to adjust the self-image. Arriving to work the next day I asked myself, "Who am I?" The answer I received was not pleasant. I am a jester, a fool, a clown.

But such is life. The ego is always being amended, buffeted this way and that like a toy boat in the foamy surf. Better not to pay too much attention. Best just to accept that health is the anchor and leave it at that.

New Cold War to Grow Hot Again?

The New Cold War between Russia and the West seems to be heating up again in Ukraine. Judging by the number of stories this morning in the Gray Lady, informational flagship of U.S. unipolarity, something is afoot.

NATO is squawking about a large presence of Russian military aircraft over the Black, Baltic and North Seas as well as the Atlantic. If one reads to the end of the AP story, "Spike Seen in Russian Military Flights," it seems as if this is more a case of Western fear-mongering than a serious new threat:
Brynjar Stordal, spokesman for the operational command of Norway’s armed forces, said Norwegian F-16s intercepted one formation of Bear bombers and tankers west of Norway. The tankers turned back north, he said, but the bombers kept flying south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain. 
“We’ve had several of these incidents, around 40 a year,” Mr. Stordal said. “What sets this apart from some of the missions we see from the Russian side is the formation was a little bit larger than we usually see, and they went a bit further south than they usually do.”
Hardly the stuff that merits an entire story or a scary headline.

Then there is the David Jolly story, "France Denies It Agreed to Deliver Mistral-Class Warship to Russia," about France overriding the contractor on delivery of the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carrier warships:
On Wednesday, Mr. Rogozin [deputy prime minister of Russia] posted a photograph on Twitter of what appeared to be an invitation letter to Anatoly Isaikin, the head of Rosoboronexport, from Pierre Legros, a senior vice president in DCNS’s surface ships and naval systems division [the contractor] and a member of the company’s executive board. 
In the letter, Mr. Legros thanks Russia’s Defense Ministry for having accepted a modified delivery date and adds, “Accordingly, it is now my pleasure to invite you personally to this ceremony, which will take place on Nov. 14, 2014, in St.-Nazaire.” 
The day’s itinerary includes “transfer of ownership and delivery act signature on board the Vladivostok.” 
DCNS could not immediately be reached for comment on the Twitter post.
So what is going on?

Several things. For one, Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk the prime minister who set off the election that was just completed when he tendered his resignation last summer, is improbably poised -- based on the surprising first-place finish of his People's Front party, edging the Bloc Petro Poroshenko 22.2 percent to 21.8 percent -- to return to the Rada as prime minister. David Herszenhorn has the story, "After Ukraine Vote, a New Test: Burying a Legacy of Dysfunctional Politics."

Let's not forget that Yats is the U.S. man in Kiev, the one memorialized in the famous Victoria Nuland cell-phone "Fuck the EU" intercept as State Department property; he's the one that is going to bring the neoliberal wood to Ukrainian behinds as they say goodbye to fuel subsidies and pension benefits in order to align with European "norms."

All I can say about Yats' miraculous victory is to quote a passage from an earlier Herszenhorn story, "Ukraine President Claims Win for Pro-West Parties." The guy, Yuri Boiko, who led a reformed Party of Regions under the name of "the Opposition Bloc," called the recent parliamentary elections "the dirtiest ever."
The exit polls showed one party that is generally regarded as pro-Russian winning enough votes to clear the threshold for forming a faction in the Parliament. That party, the Opposition Bloc, includes some of Mr. Yanukovych’s former allies with strong ties to the embattled east, and it could ultimately prove crucial to future negotiations with Mr. Putin and to resolving the simmering conflict there. 
The party is led by Yuri Boiko, a former deputy prime minister and energy minister under Mr. Yanukovych. Mr. Boiko also has served as energy minister and was head of the Ukrainian national energy company, Naftogaz, from 2002 to 2005, giving him extensive business dealings with Russia. 
The Opposition Bloc was also heavily supported by Sergiy V. Liovochkin, one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen and a former chief of staff to Mr. Poroshenko. Mr. Liovochkin had a falling out with Mr. Yanukoych over the response to the protests last fall and tried to resign. 
After the polls closed, Mr. Boiko thanked voters, but called the elections “the dirtiest ever.” Ukraine has a long history of corruption and ballot fraud.
 I think it highly likely that Yats bribed and ballot-stuffed his way to first place.

This is all happening against the high-stakes poker of the tripartite -- Russia, Ukraine and EU -- gas talks in Brussels, which apparently have collapsed (Gazprom representatives have flown home to Moscow) over Europe's unwillingness to guarantee Ukraine's loan.

As Professor Nicolai Petro explained to RT:
RT: What about gas agreements? Do you think there are still some points that require discussion? 
NP: No, I don’t because all of the aspects of the gas agreement have been negotiated and agreed to except for the amount of the loan that Ukraine needs to pay for its debt without which Russia will not allow gas to flow, without the amount that it ships being paid for in advance. The decision on that loan, at least as President Putin sees it, is entirely in the hands of European Union, how it wants to negotiate that loan. Clearly, Ukraine does not have the money to pay for it. There is a conceptual understanding and agreement that the EU or some private bank within Europe must provide that loan guarantee until the next IMF tranche comes through. So it is basically entirely in the hands of the EU negotiators at this point.
The U.S./EU appears to be back to playing hardball -- NATO squawking about the menacing Russian bear; trade sanctions reaffirmed; Yats back at the helm -- all that needs to happen is for the Minsk ceasefire protocol, always frail, to be completely rescinded. And there is plenty to argue that is about to happen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cantlie Video Has Fourth Estate on the Defensive

There seems to be a great deal of mystery about the military situation in Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish city on the Turkish border that has been under assault by Islamic State since mid-September.

Last week, following news that the U.S. was supplying antitank weapons and other munitions by airdrop and that Turkey had cleared the way for the pesh merga to join the battle, I thought it was all over but the shouting. ISIS was being cleared from the city, resorting to car bombs in a desperate attempt to maintain a tactical advantage.

Well, today a defeat of Islamic State is far from clear.

Conniptions in the Western media monopoly began in earnest on Monday when Islamic State released a video of Brit hostage John Cantlie reporting in level tones from a serene-seeming Kobani that all stories in the Western press to the contrary "the mujahideen" were in complete control of the city and nary a Western reporter or PKK or YPG Kurdish fighter was anywhere to be seen.

The video production quality is impressive and Cantlie has some gravitas. So all in all one would have to conclude that it is a significant propaganda triumph for the caliphate.

The following is a transcript of Cantlie's comments as provided by the SITE web site:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful 
Inside 'Ayn al-Islam 
[Aerial footage from "drone of the Islamic State Army"] 
[John Cantlie] 
Hello, I'm John Cantlie, and today we're in the city of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border. That is in fact Turkey right behind me, and we are here in the heart of the so-called PKK safe zone, which is now controlled entirely by the Islamic State. For a month now, the soldiers of the Islamic State have been besieging this key Kurdish city and, despite continual American airstrikes, which have so far cost nearly half a billion dollars in total, the mujahideen have pushed deep in the heart of the city. They now control the eastern and southern sectors. 
Now, the Western media, and I can't see any of their journalists here in the city of Kobani, have been saying recently that the Islamic State are on the retreat. In the last 48 hours, hundreds of Islamic State militants have been reportedly killed in airstrikes, said the IB Times, on the 16th of October. We now we've killed several hundred of them, said John Kirby, the Pentagon official. The Islamic State is retreating from the Syrian city of Kobani, said the BBC on October the 17th, while Patrick Coburn said in The Independent that despite suffering serious losses, the Islamic State was continuing its assault on the city. 
Now this is all quite a turn-around from earlier in the month, when U.S. officials were saying, and I quote: "The strategically unimportant city of Kobani was going to fall into mujahideen hands in just a matter of time. It's going to be difficult with just airpower to prevent the Islamic State from taking the town, said U.S. National Security Advisor Tony Blinken on the 10th of October. 
Now, good ole John Kerry doesn't seem to think the mujahideen are retreating. He called Kobani a "horrible example of the unwillingness of people to help those who are fighting the Islamic State". Now that's a dig at Kurd-hating Turkish President Erdogan. 
But the point is, from where I'm standing right now, I can see large swathes of the city, and I can even see the Turkish flag behind me, and all I've seen here in the city of Kobani is mujahideen. There are no YPG, PKK, or Peshmerga in sight. Just a large number of Islamic State mujahideen, and they are definitely not on the run. Without any safe access, there are no journalists here in the city. So the media are getting their information from Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries, neither of whom have the slightest intention of telling the truth of what is happening here on the ground. Now, airstrikes did prevent some groups of mujahideen from using their tanks and heavy armor as they would have liked, so they are entering the city and using light weapons instead, going house to house. 
Now America is very keen for Kobani to become a symbol - a symbol of victory of the coalition that is working together to defeat the Islamic State. But they now and the mujahideen also know that even with all their airpower and all their proxy troops on the ground, even this is not enough to defeat the Islamic State here in Kobani and elsewhere. 
Kobani is now being reinforced by Iraqi Kurds who are coming in through Turkey, while the mujahideen are being resupplied by the hopeless United States Air Forces, who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen. Now the battle for Kobani is coming to an end. The mujahideen are just mopping up now, street to street, and building to building. You can occasionally hear erratic gunfire in the background as a result of those operations. But contrary to what the Western media would have you believe, it is not an all-out battle here now. It is nearly over. As you can hear, it is very quiet, just the occasional gunfire. 
Two-hundred thousand inhabitants of the city have been displaced because of the fighting that came here. You can see the refugee camps over my right shoulder over there in Turkey, where the inhabitants now are. But contrary to media reports, the fighting in Kobani is nearly over. 
Urban warfare is as about as nasty and tough as it gets, and it’s something of a specialty of the mujahideen.
On cue, running to play catch-up in the propaganda game, are stories this morning by both the Gray Lady and the Associated Press announcing the entry of modest numbers of fighters -- 150 pesh merga and 50 Free Syrian Army militia -- into Kobani to provide support for the beleaguered YPG fighters there.

According to the AP story, "Syrian rebels enter Kurdish town from Turkey":
MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AP) — A small group of Syrian rebels entered the embattled border town of Kobani from Turkey on Wednesday on a mission to help Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State extremists in Syria, activists and Kurdish officials said. 
The group of around 50 armed men is from the Free Syrian Army, and it's separate from Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters who were also en route Wednesday to Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border. 
Idriss Nassan, a Kurdish official from Kobani, said the FSA group crossed to Kobani through the Mursitpinar border crossing in Turkey. Nassan, who spoke in Mursitpinar, said they travelled in cars but did not have more details. 
The FSA is an umbrella group of mainstream rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. The political leadership of the Western-backed FSA is based in Turkey, where fighters often seek respite from the fighting. 
The 150 Iraqi peshmerga troops arrived in Turkey from Iraq early on Wednesday and were expected to cross into Syria later in the day. Their deployment came after Ankara agreed to allow the peshmerga troops to cross into Syria via Turkey.
At the end of the New York Times story, "Iraqi Kurds Are Joining Fight to Drive Islamic State From Kobani," by Kamil Kakol and Kareem Fahim is an admission that there is some truth to the Cantlie video:
The United States has conducted more than a hundred airstrikes on the militants around Kobani, and has provided weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish fighters with airdrops. Even so, Kurdish officials in Kobani said Tuesday that the Islamic State had recovered from losses it sustained earlier this month as the airstrikes intensified, and now controlled up to half the city.
The Gray Lady's Robert Mackey posts a story, "Echoes of Patty Hearst in Kobani," that explores the authenticity of the Cantlie video. What is interesting about the Mackey piece is that the version of the Cantlie video he posts is edited down to exclude  much of the content of Cantlie's critique of Western journalists, namely, that because Western reporters are not on the ground in the city they are relying solely on the Pentagon and the YPG for their information. In other words, they are being played.

It is a legitimate point. The reporting on Kobani has been poor.

To be fair to the Gray Lady, her reporters have quoted civilians who have fled the city. But these quotes don't provide much illumination other than to confirm, "Yes, things are bad; so bad we had to leave our home and cross the border."

Mackey, sort of a Williamsburgesque laptop whiz meant no doubt to rope millennials into the newspaper, hews closely to the State Department line.

I don't think Islamic State will capture Kobani. The Kurdish fighters of the YPG have proven too formidable for that. Coupled with U.S. air power and newly arriving pesh merga artillery, Kobani will remain -- to the chagrin of Erdogan -- under the control of the Kurdish People's Protection Forces.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Ballroom's Futuristic Cover of "Baby, Please Don't Go"

One afternoon taking a lunchtime nap lying on the floor in a darkened carpeted file room I heard a cover of the blues standard "Baby, Please Don't Go." I thought I was listening to a recording of some new, cutting edge bohemian folktronic artist from one of the many small-label compilations I had recently synced to my iPod.

It turns out it was from 1967 and the band was The Ballroom, one of the many mid-1960s projects of Curt Boettcher. Known for his sunshine pop, Boettcher worked with Gary Usher on The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968) and Sagittarius.

The Ballroom's cover of "Baby, Please Don't Go" -- way ahead of its time -- can be found on disk three of Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965–1968.

Gray Lady Shines a Little Light on the Deep State

Two stories over the last two days show the ease with which the Gray Lady can illuminate the Deep State rumbling beneath our tattered democracy when she so chooses.

Today Ron Nixon has an informative expose, "Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.,"
on the hoary practice of mass surveillance by the United States Postal Service. There were 50,000 requests to secretly record the information on the outside of the envelope, a surveillance program called mail covers, in 2013 alone. This information was the result of USPS audit posted without fanfare, in the spirit of Poe's "The Purloined Letter," on the Office of the Inspector General, United States Postal Service web site at the end of last May.

What makes the USPS mail covers surveillance program noteworthy is that seemingly anybody can request one, from a county sheriff to Mephistopheles himself, the National Security Agency; the request does not have to be made for national security reasons, as Nixon explains:
The mail cover surveillance requests cut across all levels of government — from global intelligence investigations by the United States Army Criminal Investigations Command, which requested 500 mail covers from 2001 through 2012, to state-level criminal inquiries by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which requested 69 mail covers in the same period. The Department of Veterans Affairs requested 305, and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security asked for 256. The information was provided to The Times under the Freedom of Information request.
Postal officials did not say how many requests came from agencies in charge of national security — including the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection — because release of the information, wrote Kimberly Williams, a public records analyst for the Postal Inspection Service, “would reveal techniques and procedures for law enforcement or prosecutions.”
Defense lawyers say the secrecy concerning the surveillance makes it hard to track abuses in the program because most people are not aware they are being monitored. But there have been a few cases in which the program appears to have been abused by law enforcement officials.
Particularly interesting is how postal surveillance was used by anti-immigrant politician Sheriff Joe Arpaio to harass a political opponent:
In Arizona in 2011, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, discovered that her mail was being monitored by the county’s sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Ms. Wilcox had been a frequent critic of Mr. Arpaio, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. 
The Postal Service had granted an earlier request from Mr. Arpaio and Andrew Thomas, who was then the county attorney, to track Ms. Wilcox’s personal and business mail. 
Using information gleaned from letters and packages sent to Ms. Wilcox and her husband, Mr. Arpaio and Mr. Thomas obtained warrants for banking and other information about two restaurants the couple owned. The sheriff’s office also raided a company that hired Ms. Wilcox to provide concessions at the local airport.
“We lost the contract we had for the concession at the airport, and the investigation into our business scared people away from our restaurants,” Ms. Wilcox said in an interview. “I don’t blame the Postal Service, but you shouldn’t be able to just use these mail covers to go on a fishing expedition. There needs to be more control.” 
She sued the county, was awarded nearly $1 million in a settlement in 2011 and received the money this June when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. Mr. Thomas, the former county attorney, was disbarred for his role in investigations into the business dealings of Ms. Wilcox and other officials and for other unprofessional conduct. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on Mr. Arpaio’s use of mail covers in the investigation of Ms. Wilcox. 
In another instance, Cynthia Orr, a defense lawyer in San Antonio, recalled that while working on a pornography case in the early 2000s, federal prosecutors used mail covers to track communications between her team of lawyers and a client who was facing obscenity and tax evasion charges. Ms. Orr complained to prosecutors but never learned if the tracking stopped. Her team lost the case. 
“The troubling part is that they don’t have to report the use of this tool to anyone,” Ms. Orr said in an interview. The Postal Service declined to comment on the case. 
Frank Askin, a law professor at the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic, who as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued the F.B.I. nearly 40 years ago after the agency monitored the mail of a 15-year-old New Jersey student, said he was concerned about the oversight of the current program. 
“Postal Service employees are not judicial officers schooled in the meaning of the First Amendment,” Mr. Askin said.
Besides mass postal surveillance another hoary aspect of the Deep State trotted out by the Gray Lady for a jog in the national consciousness was Eric Lichtblau's "In Cold War, U.S. Spy Agencies Used 1,000 Nazis." This of course has been the stuff of well-researched books, Hollywood movies and comic books for decades, so much so that it is taken for granted by most citizens, but it is nice to see the "newspaper of record" weigh in with confirmation.

Lichtblau opens his story by framing the U.S.-Nazi collaboration as a memento of the Cold War:
WASHINGTON — In the decades after World War II, the C.I.A. and other United States agencies employed at least a thousand Nazis as Cold War spies and informants and, as recently as the 1990s, concealed the government’s ties to some still living in America, newly disclosed records and interviews show. 
At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, law enforcement and intelligence leaders like J. Edgar Hoover at the F.B.I. and Allen Dulles at the C.I.A. aggressively recruited onetime Nazis of all ranks as secret, anti-Soviet “assets,” declassified records show. They believed the ex-Nazis’ intelligence value against the Russians outweighed what one official called “moral lapses” in their service to the Third Reich. 
The agency hired one former SS officer as a spy in the 1950s, for instance, even after concluding he was probably guilty of “minor war crimes.” 
And in 1994, a lawyer with the C.I.A. pressured prosecutors to drop an investigation into an ex-spy outside Boston implicated in the Nazis’ massacre of tens of thousands of Jews in Lithuania, according to a government official.
That CIA spy, Aleksandras Lileikis, according to Lichtblau, was implicated in
[T]he machine-gun massacres of 60,000 Jews in Lithuania. He worked "under the control of the Gestapo during the war," his C.I.A. file noted, and 'was possibly connected with the shooting of Jews in Vilna.” 
Even so, the agency hired him in 1952 as a spy in East Germany — paying him $1,700 a year, plus two cartons of cigarettes a month — and cleared the way for him to immigrate to America four years later, records show. 
Mr. Lileikis lived quietly for nearly 40 years, until prosecutors discovered his Nazi past and prepared to seek his deportation in 1994. 
When C.I.A. officials learned of the plans, a lawyer there called Eli Rosenbaum at the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit and told him “you can’t file this case,” Mr. Rosenbaum said in an interview. The agency did not want to risk divulging classified records about its ex-spy, he said. 
Mr. Rosenbaum said he and the C.I.A. reached an understanding: If the agency was forced to turn over objectionable records, prosecutors would drop the case first. (That did not happen, and Mr. Lileikis was ultimately deported.) 
The C.I.A. also hid what it knew of Mr. Lileikis’s past from lawmakers. 
In a classified memo to the House Intelligence Committee in 1995, the agency acknowledged using him as a spy but made no mention of the records linking him to mass murders. “There is no evidence,” the C.I.A. wrote, “that this Agency was aware of his wartime activities.”
There it all is, sort of the grand prize of Deep State skullduggery -- shielding a genocidal Nazi asset from prosecution and lying to Congress.

Lichtblau also tells the story of how the CIA employed and protected the SS official, Otto von Bolschwing, who mentored Adolf Eichmann:
One SS officer, Otto von Bolschwing, was a mentor and top aide to Adolf Eichmann, architect of the “Final Solution,” and wrote policy papers on how to terrorize Jews. 
Yet after the war, the C.I.A. not only hired him as a spy in Europe, but relocated him and his family to New York City in 1954, records show. The move was seen as a “a reward for his loyal postwar service and in view of the innocuousness of his [Nazi] party activities,” the agency wrote.
Though Lichtblau's story is tainted by framing the CIA-Nazi collaboration as a thing of the past, a "boys will boys" historical curio of the Cold War, what shines through is an account of "invisible" government, the CIA and FBI, addicted to criminality and murder.  As Lichtblau says,
Evidence of the government’s links to Nazi spies began emerging publicly in the 1970s. But thousands of records from declassified files, Freedom of Information Act requests and other sources, together with interviews with scores of current and former government officials, show that the government’s recruitment of Nazis ran far deeper than previously known and that officials sought to conceal those ties for at least a half-century after the war.
Lichtblau could have drawn the government's recruitment of Nazis right up to now and what is going on in Ukraine where the U.S. worked with neo-Nazis to stage a Kiev putsch in February, setting that country on a course for civil war. We are now experiencing a New Cold War with Russia.

Institutions are organic. They have a memory. Old habits die hard, particularly when elected officials do nothing to change the offending behavior.

Hopefully now after the failed Obama presidency there is a greater appreciation of the inviolability of the Deep State. We can elect supposedly transformational popular leaders in landslide elections and nothing will change. You know the scorecard: Guantanamo Bay remains opens, domestic oil and gas consumption and extraction is soaring, U.S. troops are bombing Iraq, the entire planet is under surveillance.

Where we go from here -- Hillary vs. Jeb? -- is hard to imagine.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bad as It Is, Failure of Umbrella Movement's Straw Poll Is Even Worse Than It Looks

The Umbrella Movement is one-month old. 

At some point the Gray Lady stopped referring to the Hong Kong pro-democracy sit-in as a "Revolution" and started calling it a "Movement." I thought that by the end of the sit-in's first week it was basically over because by then it was clear that the police were not going to make the mistake they made initially, which was the police mistake made during the Seattle WTO ministerial of responding to peaceful protesters with massive amounts of tear gas and pepper spray and flash-bang grenades. When the police respond with massive force to a non-violent demonstration it actually brings more people into the streets.

By the end of the first week in Hong Kong the crowds were thinning. The first burst of enthusiasm had spent itself.

At this point there are two main encampments: one in the Admiralty district and one in Mong Kok. The Zuccotti Park encampment, the hub of the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement, managed to survive for two months, from September 17 to November 15, 2011 before Mayor Bloomberg's police force broke it apart early one morning.

I'm sure the leaders of the Umbrella Movement are aware that the clock is ticking and something needs to be done soon to avoid the fate of Occupy Wall Street; hence the planned straw poll designed, most likely, to generate momentum to get officials back to the bargaining table. Unfortunately, as Chris Buckley and Alan Wong report in "Pro-Democracy Movement’s Vote in Hong Kong Abruptly Called Off," the vote crashed on the launch pad:
HONG KONG — Organizers of a planned vote among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators abruptly canceled it on Sunday, exposing tensions and confusion over how to sustain the movement a month after protesters occupied major streets to demand free elections. 
Student leaders and organizers of Occupy Central With Love and Peace, the group that laid the groundwork for a civil disobedience campaign for democracy, had urged people to vote at protest sites on Sunday and Monday as a way of registering their support for student negotiators seeking political concessions from the government. 
The referendum boiled down to two simple questions: Did voters endorse demanding that the Hong Kong government press Beijing to make democratic concessions on election rules, and did they agree that the changes should apply to city Legislative Council elections in 2016 and the race for chief executive in 2017?
But hours before the balloting was due to start on Sunday night, organizers announced it was off and apologized. They said there was too much disagreement over the wording and value of the vote. “We acknowledge that there was not enough consultation with the public,” they said in an emailed statement. 
At a news conference, some organizers were contrite, while others cast their surprise move in the best possible light.
“It won’t affect the morale of this movement,” said Alex Chow Yong Kang, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “This decision can rebuild the trust between us and the protesters. Protesters have all along shared a single goal; it’s just that they may have different views about the execution.”
But even before the cancellation, the vote, intended as a display of unity, had brought into focus tensions among protesters over how to hone their broadly shared aspirations into durable demands and strategies. Such strains could deepen as the protesters face fatigue in their own ranks and the refusal of the Hong Kong government and Chinese Communist Party leaders to make the major concessions demanded by demonstrators, said David Zweig, a professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 
“The question becomes: What’s the endgame?” he said in a telephone interview from Toronto, where he was visiting. “Once they didn’t pull out earlier and declare victory, they needed something from the government to be able to declare victory. Now they need to find some endgame, and I think that they’re not going to find it without compromise.”
Although supporters of the protests were unlikely to disagree with the two wordy propositions on the canceled ballot, some feared the vote could pave the way for unacceptable compromise or premature withdrawal from the street occupations in three parts of the city. Benny Tai, an associate professor of law who is a co-founder of Occupy Central, earlier denied that intention and said he had no power over deciding when protesters left the streets. Occupy Central had initially envisioned a much smaller, briefer protest in Central, the main financial district of Hong Kong.
At a news conference on Saturday, Mr. Tai said that he could not say how to sustain the protests into a second month. “You can just go down to the plaza and ask the protesters who have stationed there for so many days, how long do they prepare to stay. I think you can get a good answer.” 
But protesters have voiced a range of opinions on the future of their grass-roots movement. Some have wavered from the demand that voters be allowed to put forward candidates for chief executive without vetting from Beijing, while others said that demand, called civic nomination, could not be weakened.
Peter Lee wrote recently on the Counterpunch web site, "Democracy in Hong Kong: The Unelected Battle," about a document dump "of the meeting minutes of the Alliance for Democracy, a grouping of pro-democratic organizations engaged in Occupy-related issues."

In the minutes, Benny Tai, the chief legal mind for Occupy Central with Love and Peace, frets that direct nomination -- the goal of the Umbrella Movement -- is not an international legal standard:
Unless the [document dump] report is repudiated, the pro-dems don’t have a legal leg to stand on within the framework of the Basic Law and the NPC; what’s more surprising is that they recognize that they don’t even have a particularly strong legal case for direct nomination under the “international standards” for democracy the students are currently trumpeting.
Claudia Mo, a Civic Party stalwart and ex-AFP reporter (which might explain why she has appeared a few times in AFP’s Occupy coverage as a quotable notable), observed that “international standards” seemed unclear.
Benny Tai, whose job is presumably to make an airtight legal case for the action, instead observed that international practices don’t demand popular nomination. In fact, the UK doesn’t have direct nomination, as a HKSAR representative pointed out during the student dialogue. The key stipulation is a matter of principle: Do citizens have real choice? Do the candidates represent different needs and backgrounds? The best he could say was that popular nomination would unequivocally meet international standards, not that it was the only way.
Even more problematically, perhaps, the UK opted out of the Article 25 of the Universal Covenant of Civil and Political Rights for universal suffrage and direct elections for Hong Kong during its merrily undemocratic colonial years, and the PRC succeeded to that treatment when it took over in 1997. The OHK legal case rests on the rather frail legal reed that Beijing inadvertently surrendered its reservation by holding legislative elections.
And that is the best that the cream of the Hong Kong legal profession and the NED—whose job it is to twist Beijing’s knickers on these kinds of treaties—has been able to come up with after over a decade of determined lawyering. 
Remarkably, Benny Tai also voiced the concern that another popular referendum might be necessary to legitimate OHK’s demands and allow it to achieve standing as a negotiator, another tip that the case is not a legal slam dunk. (I might point out parenthetically that I approve of this state of mind, since otherwise we’re left with the metaphysical, undemocratic, and dare I say borderline-putschlike idea that the students can claim the right to speak for “Hong Kong” simply by putting feet on the street.)
So the struggle is in its essence political, not legal. 
Without a solid legal strategy, therefore, OHK has turned to a political strategy, that is, to create a rumpus in Hong Kong sufficient to discredit the HKSAR report and reopen the issue.
In other words, absent any legal standing, a popular vote, even a straw poll held in the main protest encampments, became a necessity. The fact that it couldn't get off the ground bodes ill for the Umbrella Movement. Judged by the standards of Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park, it has a month left.

The highly politicized U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva weighed in with an assist for the Umbrella Movement late last week. Michael Forsythe reported, "U.N. Human Rights Panel Urges China to Allow Free Elections in Hong Kong," that
The United Nations Human Rights Committee urged China on Thursday to allow elections in Hong Kong without restrictions on who can run as a candidate. The move appeared likely to draw strong criticism from Beijing, where officials decided in August to set strict guidelines for the 2017 election of the city’s next leader, prompting mass sit-in protests.
The 18-member panel in Geneva said that Hong Kong needed to do more to ensure that its people had not only the right to vote, but also the right to run for office. 
Hong Kong China should take all necessary measures to implement universal and equal suffrage in conformity with the covenant, as a matter of priority for all future elections,” Cornelis Flinterman, a member of the rights panel from the Netherlands, said on Thursday, referring to an international agreement on political rights.
The committee focused on the Aug. 31 decision by China’s Communist Party-run legislature to adopt guidelines for the 2017 election that would effectively keep anyone not approved by Beijing from appearing on the ballot for chief executive, the city’s top post. 
Under the guidelines, candidates must get the approval of more than half the members of a 1,200-person nominating committee, which includes many of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing tycoons as well as representatives of other social groups friendly to the central government. The city, Asia’s most important financial center, was transferred from British to Chinese control in 1997, and its legal and administrative system is separate from that of the rest of China. 
Yuval Shany, a member of the rights panel from Israel, said the nominating committee was “not fully representative of the Hong Kong population.”
The irony of Israel lecturing China about providing full representation for Hong Kong passes, of course, without comment by Forsythe. One wonders why the Human Rights Committee doesn't implore the United States to allow candidates to run without restrictions. Better yet, why not an official U.N. rebuke for the myriad voter identification laws being passed by Republican legislatures to disenfranchise poor people?

One possible silver lining is that the Umbrella Movement is creating a new international standard, "Civic Nomination," one that is not practiced in the industrialized core Western democracies. This can be used, as it is in London, to reignite Occupy Wall Street.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Putin Nails It: Valdai Comments Highlight Chaos of U.S. Unipolarity

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke sensibly Friday at the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session about the fraying international order and the failure of U.S. unipolarity.

Neil MacFarquhar covered Putin's Valdai talk yesterday in "Putin Accuses U.S. of Backing ‘Neo-Fascists’ and ‘Islamic Radicals’." MacFarquhar has a tricky assignment on his hands because the content of Putin's message is unassailable -- the United States since the end of the Cold War has time after time sought to undermine the global order established after World War Two, and the result has been increasing instability. So what MacFarquhar does is quote a passage where Putin says that the United States supports "neo-fascists" and "Islamic radicals"; then he repeats the customary Western media monopoly talking points about Putin's desire for a renascent Russian Empire, followed by a concluding three paragraphs about a faux pas committed by a Putin deputy chief of staff asserting that Putin is the apotheosis of Russia:
Mr. Putin also disagreed with remarks by a senior Kremlin aide that Russia could not exist without the president, comments that provoked a mocking reaction on social media and elsewhere. 
Vyacheslav V. Volodin, a deputy chief of staff, had told the conference that any attack on Mr. Putin was an attack on Russia. “There is Putin, there is Russia,” Mr. Volodin was quoted as saying in the Russian news media during a closed session at Sochi. “No Putin, no Russia.” 
The president himself rejected the formula, saying in response to a question about it, “Russia will, of course, do without the likes of me.”
The MacFarquhar story is an embarrassment for the Gray Lady.

Read Putin's statement at the Valdai meeting, the theme of which was "The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules." Excerpts are available on the President of Russia web site:

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, friends, it is a pleasure to welcome you to the XI meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. 
It was mentioned already that the club has new co-organisers this year. They include Russian non-governmental organisations, expert groups and leading universities. The idea was also raised of broadening the discussions to include not just issues related to Russia itself but also global politics and the economy. 
I hope that these changes in organisation and content will bolster the club’s influence as a leading discussion and expert forum. At the same time, I hope the ‘Valdai spirit’ will remain - this free and open atmosphere and chance to express all manner of very different and frank opinions.    
Let me say in this respect that I will also not let you down and will speak directly and frankly. Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is little point in even meeting in this way. It would be better in that case just to keep to diplomatic get-togethers, where no one says anything of real sense and, recalling the words of one famous diplomat, you realise that diplomats have tongues so as not to speak the truth.  
We get together for other reasons. We get together so as to talk frankly with each other. We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us.
Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game without Rules. I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face. There is nothing new of course in the idea that the world is changing very fast. I know this is something you have spoken about at the discussions today. It is certainly hard not to notice the dramatic transformations in global politics and the economy, public life, and in industry, information and social technologies. 
Let me ask you right now to forgive me if I end up repeating what some of the discussion’s participants have already said. It’s practically impossible to avoid. You have already held detailed discussions, but I will set out my point of view. It will coincide with other participants’ views on some points and differ on others.
As we analyse today’s situation, let us not forget history’s lessons. First of all, changes in the world order – and what we are seeing today are events on this scale – have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts. Second, global politics is above all about economic leadership, issues of war and peace, and the humanitarian dimension, including human rights. 
The world is full of contradictions today. We need to be frank in asking each other if we have a reliable safety net in place. Sadly, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals. This system has become seriously weakened, fragmented and deformed. The international and regional political, economic, and cultural cooperation organisations are also going through difficult times.
Yes, many of the mechanisms we have for ensuring the world order were created quite a long time ago now, including and above all in the period immediately following World War II. Let me stress that the solidity of the system created back then rested not only on the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries, but on the fact that this system’s ‘founding fathers’ had respect for each other, did not try to put the squeeze on others, but attempted to reach agreements.
The main thing is that this system needs to develop, and despite its various shortcomings, needs to at least be capable of keeping the world’s current problems within certain limits and regulating the intensity of the natural competition between countries.
It is my conviction that we could not take this mechanism of checks and balances that we built over the last decades, sometimes with such effort and difficulty, and simply tear it apart without building anything in its place. Otherwise we would be left with no instruments other than brute force.
What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it to the new realities in the system of international relations.
But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.  
The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.   
Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.   
We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white. 
In a situation where you had domination by one country and its allies, or its satellites rather, the search for global solutions often turned into an attempt to impose their own universal recipes. This group’s ambitions grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.
The very notion of ‘national sovereignty’ became a relative value for most countries. In essence, what was being proposed was the formula: the greater the loyalty towards the world’s sole power centre, the greater this or that ruling regime’s legitimacy.
We will have a free discussion afterwards and I will be happy to answer your questions and would also like to use my right to ask you questions. And during the upcoming discussion let someone try to disprove the argument that I just set out.
The measures taken against those who refuse to submit are well-known and have been tried and tested many times. They include use of force, economic and propaganda pressure, meddling in domestic affairs, and appeals to a kind of ‘supra-legal’ legitimacy when they need to justify illegal intervention in this or that conflict or toppling inconvenient regimes. Of late, we have increasing evidence too that outright blackmail has been used with regard to a number of leaders. It is not for nothing that ‘big brother’ is spending billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its own closest allies, under surveillance.
Let’s ask ourselves, how comfortable are we with this, how safe are we, how happy living in this world, and how fair and rational has it become? Maybe, we have no real reasons to worry, argue and ask awkward questions? Maybe the United States’ exceptional position and the way they are carrying out their leadership really is a blessing for us all, and their meddling in events all around the world is bringing peace, prosperity, progress, growth and democracy, and we should maybe just relax and enjoy it all?   
Let me say that this is not the case, absolutely not the case.
A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.  
Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.
They once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to international terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries. Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.
During my conversations with American and European leaders, I always spoke of the need to fight terrorism together, as a challenge on a global scale. We cannot resign ourselves to and accept this threat, cannot cut it into separate pieces using double standards. Our partners expressed agreement, but a little time passed and we ended up back where we started. First there was the military operation in Iraq, then in Libya, which got pushed to the brink of falling apart. Why was Libya pushed into this situation? Today it is a country in danger of breaking apart and has become a training ground for terrorists. 
Only the current Egyptian leadership’s determination and wisdom saved this key Arab country from chaos and having extremists run rampant. In Syria, as in the past, the United States and its allies started directly financing and arming rebels and allowing them to fill their ranks with mercenaries from various countries. Let me ask where do these rebels get their money, arms and military specialists? Where does all this come from? How did the notorious ISIL manage to become such a powerful group, essentially a real armed force?   
As for financing sources, today, the money is coming not just from drugs, production of which has increased not just by a few percentage points but many-fold, since the international coalition forces have been present in Afghanistan. You are aware of this. The terrorists are getting money from selling oil too. Oil is produced in territory controlled by the terrorists, who sell it at dumping prices, produce it and transport it. But someone buys this oil, resells it, and makes a profit from it, not thinking about the fact that they are thus financing terrorists who could come sooner or later to their own soil and sow destruction in their own countries.
Where do they get new recruits? In Iraq, after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the state’s institutions, including the army, were left in ruins. We said back then, be very, very careful. You are driving people out into the street, and what will they do there? Don’t forget (rightfully or not) that they were in the leadership of a large regional power, and what are you now turning them into?
What was the result? Tens of thousands of soldiers, officers and former Baath Party activists were turned out into the streets and today have joined the rebels’ ranks. Perhaps this is what explains why the Islamic State group has turned out so effective? In military terms, it is acting very effectively and has some very professional people. Russia warned repeatedly about the dangers of unilateral military actions, intervening in sovereign states’ affairs, and flirting with extremists and radicals. We insisted on having the groups fighting the central Syrian government, above all the Islamic State, included on the lists of terrorist organisations. But did we see any results? We appealed in vain.
We sometimes get the impression that our colleagues and friends are constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies, throw all their effort into addressing the risks they themselves have created, and pay an ever-greater price.  
Colleagues, this period of unipolar domination has convincingly demonstrated that having only one power centre does not make global processes more manageable. On the contrary, this kind of unstable construction has shown its inability to fight the real threats such as regional conflicts, terrorism, drug trafficking, religious fanaticism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism. At the same time, it has opened the road wide for inflated national pride, manipulating public opinion and letting the strong bully and suppress the weak.
Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries. The unipolar world turned out too uncomfortable, heavy and unmanageable a burden even for the self-proclaimed leader. Comments along this line were made here just before and I fully agree with this. This is why we see attempts at this new historic stage to recreate a semblance of a quasi-bipolar world as a convenient model for perpetuating American leadership. It does not matter who takes the place of the centre of evil in American propaganda, the USSR’s old place as the main adversary. It could be Iran, as a country seeking to acquire nuclear technology, China, as the world’s biggest economy, or Russia, as a nuclear superpower. 
Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, draw new dividing lines, put together coalitions not built for something but directed against someone, anyone, create the image of an enemy as was the case during the Cold War years, and obtain the right to this leadership, or diktat if you wish. The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this. The United States always told its allies: “We have a common enemy, a terrible foe, the centre of evil, and we are defending you, our allies, from this foe, and so we have the right to order you around, force you to sacrifice your political and economic interests and pay your share of the costs for this collective defence, but we will be the ones in charge of it all of course.” In short, we see today attempts in a new and changing world to reproduce the familiar models of global management, and all this so as to guarantee their [the US’] exceptional position and reap political and economic dividends. 
But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world’s diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals. We see what happens when politics rashly starts meddling in the economy and the logic of rational decisions gives way to the logic of confrontation that only hurts one’s own economic positions and interests, including national business interests.
Joint economic projects and mutual investment objectively bring countries closer together and help to smooth out current problems in relations between states. But today, the global business community faces unprecedented pressure from Western governments. What business, economic expediency and pragmatism can we speak of when we hear slogans such as “the homeland is in danger”, “the free world is under threat”, and “democracy is in jeopardy”? And so everyone needs to mobilise. That is what a real mobilisation policy looks like. 
Sanctions are already undermining the foundations of world trade, the WTO rules and the principle of inviolability of private property. They are dealing a blow to liberal model of globalisation based on markets, freedom and competition, which, let me note, is a model that has primarily benefited precisely the Western countries. And now they risk losing trust as the leaders of globalisation. We have to ask ourselves, why was this necessary? After all, the United States’ prosperity rests in large part on the trust of investors and foreign holders of dollars and US securities. This trust is clearly being undermined and signs of disappointment in the fruits of globalisation are visible now in many countries.   
The well-known Cyprus precedent and the politically motivated sanctions have only strengthened the trend towards seeking to bolster economic and financial sovereignty and countries’ or their regional groups’ desire to find ways of protecting themselves from the risks of outside pressure. We already see that more and more countries are looking for ways to become less dependent on the dollar and are setting up alternative financial and payments systems and reserve currencies. I think that our American friends are quite simply cutting the branch they are sitting on. You cannot mix politics and the economy, but this is what is happening now. I have always thought and still think today that politically motivated sanctions were a mistake that will harm everyone, but I am sure that we will come back to this subject later. 
We know how these decisions were taken and who was applying the pressure. But let me stress that Russia is not going to get all worked up, get offended or come begging at anyone’s door. Russia is a self-sufficient country. We will work within the foreign economic environment that has taken shape, develop domestic production and technology and act more decisively to carry out transformation. Pressure from outside, as has been the case on past occasions, will only consolidate our society, keep us alert and make us concentrate on our main development goals.
Of course the sanctions are a hindrance. They are trying to hurt us through these sanctions, block our development and push us into political, economic and cultural isolation, force us into backwardness in other words. But let me say yet again that the world is a very different place today. We have no intention of shutting ourselves off from anyone and choosing some kind of closed development road, trying to live in autarky. We are always open to dialogue, including on normalising our economic and political relations. We are counting here on the pragmatic approach and position of business communities in the leading countries.  
Some are saying today that Russia is supposedly turning its back on Europe - such words were probably spoken already here too during the discussions - and is looking for new business partners, above all in Asia. Let me say that this is absolutely not the case. Our active policy in the Asian-Pacific region began not just yesterday and not in response to sanctions, but is a policy that we have been following for a good many years now. Like many other countries, including Western countries, we saw that Asia is playing an ever greater role in the world, in the economy and in politics, and there is simply no way we can afford to overlook these developments.
Let me say again that everyone is doing this, and we will do so to, all the more so as a large part of our country is geographically in Asia. Why should we not make use of our competitive advantages in this area? It would be extremely shortsighted not to do so.
Developing economic ties with these countries and carrying out joint integration projects also creates big incentives for our domestic development. Today’s demographic, economic and cultural trends all suggest that dependence on a sole superpower will objectively decrease. This is something that European and American experts have been talking and writing about too.
Perhaps developments in global politics will mirror the developments we are seeing in the global economy, namely, intensive competition for specific niches and frequent change of leaders in specific areas. This is entirely possible.
There is no doubt that humanitarian factors such as education, science, healthcare and culture are playing a greater role in global competition. This also has a big impact on international relations, including because this ‘soft power’ resource will depend to a great extent on real achievements in developing human capital rather than on sophisticated propaganda tricks.
At the same time, the formation of a so-called polycentric world (I would also like to draw attention to this, colleagues) in and of itself does not improve stability; in fact, it is more likely to be the opposite. The goal of reaching global equilibrium is turning into a fairly difficult puzzle, an equation with many unknowns.
So, what is in store for us if we choose not to live by the rules – even if they may be strict and inconvenient – but rather live without any rules at all? And that scenario is entirely possible; we cannot rule it out, given the tensions in the global situation. Many predictions can already be made, taking into account current trends, and unfortunately, they are not optimistic. If we do not create a clear system of mutual commitments and agreements, if we do not build the mechanisms for managing and resolving crisis situations, the symptoms of global anarchy will inevitably grow.
Today, we already see a sharp increase in the likelihood of a whole set of violent conflicts with either direct or indirect participation by the world’s major powers. And the risk factors include not just traditional multinational conflicts, but also the internal instability in separate states, especially when we talk about nations located at the intersections of major states’ geopolitical interests, or on the border of cultural, historical, and economic civilizational continents.
Ukraine, which I’m sure was discussed at length and which we will discuss some more, is one of the example of such sorts of conflicts that affect international power balance, and I think it will certainly not be the last. From here emanates the next real threat of destroying the current system of arms control agreements. And this dangerous process was launched by the United States of America when it unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and then set about and continues today to actively pursue the creation of its global missile defence system.
Colleagues, friends,
I want to point out that we did not start this. Once again, we are sliding into the times when, instead of the balance of interests and mutual guarantees, it is fear and the balance of mutual destruction that prevent nations from engaging in direct conflict. In absence of legal and political instruments, arms are once again becoming the focal point of the global agenda; they are used wherever and however, without any UN Security Council sanctions. And if the Security Council refuses to produce such decisions, then it is immediately declared to be an outdated and ineffective instrument.
Many states do not see any other ways of ensuring their sovereignty but to obtain their own bombs. This is extremely dangerous. We insist on continuing talks; we are not only in favour of talks, but insist on continuing talks to reduce nuclear arsenals. The less nuclear weapons we have in the world, the better. And we are ready for the most serious, concrete discussions on nuclear disarmament – but only serious discussions without any double standards.
What do I mean? Today, many types of high-precision weaponry are already close to mass-destruction weapons in terms of their capabilities, and in the event of full renunciation of nuclear weapons or radical reduction of nuclear potential, nations that are leaders in creating and producing high-precision systems will have a clear military advantage. Strategic parity will be disrupted, and this is likely to bring destabilization. The use of a so-called first global pre-emptive strike may become tempting. In short, the risks do not decrease, but intensify.
The next obvious threat is the further escalation of ethnic, religious, and social conflicts. Such conflicts are dangerous not only as such, but also because they create zones of anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos around them, places that are comfortable for terrorists and criminals, where piracy, human trafficking, and drug trafficking flourish.
Incidentally, at the time, our colleagues tried to somehow manage these processes, use regional conflicts and design ‘colour revolutions’ to suit their interests, but the genie escaped the bottle. It looks like the controlled chaos theory fathers themselves do not know what to do with it; there is disarray in their ranks.
We closely follow the discussions by both the ruling elite and the expert community. It is enough to look at the headlines of the Western press over the last year. The same people are called fighters for democracy, and then Islamists; first they write about revolutions and then call them riots and upheavals. The result is obvious: the further expansion of global chaos.
Colleagues, given the global situation, it is time to start agreeing on fundamental things. This is incredibly important and necessary; this is much better than going back to our own corners. The more we all face common problems, the more we find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak. And the logical way out is in cooperation between nations, societies, in finding collective answers to increasing challenges, and in joint risk management. Granted, some of our partners, for some reason, remember this only when it suits their interests.
Practical experience shows that joint answers to challenges are not always a panacea; and we need to understand this. Moreover, in most cases, they are hard to reach; it is not easy to overcome the differences in national interests, the subjectivity of different approaches, particularly when it comes to nations with different cultural and historical traditions. But nevertheless, we have examples when, having common goals and acting based on the same criteria, together we achieved real success.
Let me remind you about solving the problem of chemical weapons in Syria, and the substantive dialogue on the Iranian nuclear programme, as well as our work on North Korean issues, which also has some positive results. Why can’t we use this experience in the future to solve local and global challenges?
What could be the legal, political, and economic basis for a new world order that would allow for stability and security, while encouraging healthy competition, not allowing the formation of new monopolies that hinder development? It is unlikely that someone could provide absolutely exhaustive, ready-made solutions right now. We will need extensive work with participation by a wide range of governments, global businesses, civil society, and such expert platforms as ours.
However, it is obvious that success and real results are only possible if key participants in international affairs can agree on harmonising basic interests, on reasonable self-restraint, and set the example of positive and responsible leadership. We must clearly identify where unilateral actions end and we need to apply multilateral mechanisms, and as part of improving the effectiveness of international law, we must resolve the dilemma between the actions by international community to ensure security and human rights and the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state.
Those very collisions increasingly lead to arbitrary external interference in complex internal processes, and time and again, they provoke dangerous conflicts between leading global players. The issue of maintaining sovereignty becomes almost paramount in maintaining and strengthening global stability.
Clearly, discussing the criteria for the use of external force is extremely difficult; it is practically impossible to separate it from the interests of particular nations. However, it is far more dangerous when there are no agreements that are clear to everyone, when no clear conditions are set for necessary and legal interference.
I will add that international relations must be based on international law, which itself should rest on moral principles such as justice, equality and truth. Perhaps most important is respect for one’s partners and their interests. This is an obvious formula, but simply following it could radically change the global situation.
I am certain that if there is a will, we can restore the effectiveness of the international and regional institutions system. We do not even need to build anything anew, from the scratch; this is not a “greenfield,” especially since the institutions created after World War II are quite universal and can be given modern substance, adequate to manage the current situation.
This is true of improving the work of the UN, whose central role is irreplaceable, as well as the OSCE, which, over the course of 40 years, has proven to be a necessary mechanism for ensuring security and cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic region. I must say that even now, in trying to resolve the crisis in southeast Ukraine, the OSCE is playing a very positive role.
In light of the fundamental changes in the international environment, the increase in uncontrollability and various threats, we need a new global consensus of responsible forces. It’s not about some local deals or a division of spheres of influence in the spirit of classic diplomacy, or somebody’s complete global domination. I think that we need a new version of interdependence. We should not be afraid of it. On the contrary, this is a good instrument for harmonising positions.
This is particularly relevant given the strengthening and growth of certain regions on the planet, which process objectively requires institutionalisation of such new poles, creating powerful regional organisations and developing rules for their interaction. Cooperation between these centres would seriously add to the stability of global security, policy and economy.  But in order to establish such a dialogue, we need to proceed from the assumption that all regional centres and integration projects forming around them need to have equal rights to development, so that they can complement each other and nobody can force them into conflict or opposition artificially. Such destructive actions would break down ties between states, and the states themselves would be subjected to extreme hardship, or perhaps even total destruction.
I would like to remind you of the last year’s events. We have told our American and European partners that hasty backstage decisions, for example, on Ukraine’s association with the EU, are fraught with serious risks to the economy. We didn’t even say anything about politics; we spoke only about the economy, saying that such steps, made without any prior arrangements, touch on the interests of many other nations, including Russia as Ukraine’s main trade partner, and that a wide discussion of the issues is necessary. Incidentally, in this regard, I will remind you that, for example, the talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO lasted 19 years. This was very difficult work, and a certain consensus was reached.
Why am I bringing this up? Because in implementing Ukraine’s association project, our partners would come to us with their goods and services through the back gate, so to speak, and we did not agree to this, nobody asked us about this. We had discussions on all topics related to Ukraine’s association with the EU, persistent discussions, but I want to stress that this was done in an entirely civilised manner, indicating possible problems, showing the obvious reasoning and arguments. Nobody wanted to listen to us and nobody wanted to talk. They simply told us: this is none of your business, point, end of discussion. Instead of a comprehensive but – I stress – civilised dialogue, it all came down to a government overthrow; they plunged the country into chaos, into economic and social collapse, into a civil war with enormous casualties.
Why? When I ask my colleagues why, they no longer have an answer; nobody says anything. That’s it. Everyone’s at a loss, saying it just turned out that way. Those actions should not have been encouraged – then it wouldn’t turn out that way. After all (I already spoke about this), former Ukrainian President Yanukovych signed everything, agreed with everything. Why do it? What was the point? What is this, a civilised way of solving problems? Apparently, those who constantly throw together new ‘colour revolutions’ consider themselves ‘brilliant artists’ and simply cannot stop.
I am certain that the work of integrated associations, the cooperation of regional structures, should be built on a transparent, clear basis; the Eurasian Economic Union’s formation process is a good example of such transparency. The states that are parties to this project informed their partners of their plans in advance, specifying the parameters of our association, the principles of its work, which fully correspond with the World Trade Organisation rules.
I will add that we would also have welcomed the start of a concrete dialogue between the Eurasian and European Union. Incidentally, they have almost completely refused us this as well, and it is also unclear why – what is so scary about it?
And, of course, with such joint work, we would think that we need to engage in dialogue (I spoke about this many times and heard agreement from many of our western partners, at least in Europe) on the need to create a common space for economic and humanitarian cooperation stretching all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Colleagues, Russia made its choice. Our priorities are further improving our democratic and open economy institutions, accelerated internal development, taking into account all the positive modern trends in the world, and consolidating society based on traditional values and patriotism.
We have an integration-oriented, positive, peaceful agenda; we are working actively with our colleagues in the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS and other partners. This agenda is aimed at developing ties between governments, not dissociating. We are not planning to cobble together any blocs or get involved in an exchange of blows.
The allegations and statements that Russia is trying to establish some sort of empire, encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbours, are groundless. Russia does not need any kind of special, exclusive place in the world – I want to emphasise this. While respecting the interests of others, we simply want for our own interests to be taken into account and for our position to be respected.
We are well aware that the world has entered an era of changes and global transformations, when we all need a particular degree of caution, the ability to avoid thoughtless steps. In the years after the Cold War, participants in global politics lost these qualities somewhat. Now, we need to remember them. Otherwise, hopes for a peaceful, stable development will be a dangerous illusion, while today’s turmoil will simply serve as a prelude to the collapse of world order.
Yes, of course, I have already said that building a more stable world order is a difficult task. We are talking about long and hard work. We were able to develop rules for interaction after World War II, and we were able to reach an agreement in Helsinki in the 1970s. Our common duty is to resolve this fundamental challenge at this new stage of development.
Thank you very much for your attention.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (commenting on statements by former Prime Minister of France Dominique de Villepin and former Federal Chancellor of Austria Wolfgang Schuessel): I would like to begin by saying that overall I agree with what both Wolfgang and Dominique have said. I fully support everything they said. However, there are a few things I would like to clarify.
I believe Dominique referred to the Ukrainian crisis as the reason for the deterioration in international relations. Naturally, this crisis is a cause, but this is not the principal cause. The crisis in Ukraine is itself a result of a misbalance in international relations.
I have already said in my address why this is happening, and my colleagues have already mentioned it. I can add to this, if necessary. However, primarily this is the outcome of the misbalance in international relations.
As for the issues mentioned by Wolfgang, we will get back to them: we will talk about the elections, if necessary, and about the supply of energy resources to Ukraine and Europe.
However, I would like to respond to the phrase “Wolfgang is an optimist, while life is harder for pessimists.” I already mentioned the old joke we have about a pessimist and an optimist, but I cannot help telling it again. We have this very old joke about a pessimist and an optimist: a pessimist drinks his cognac and says, “It smells of bedbugs,” while an optimist catches a bedbug, crushes it, then sniffs it and says, “A slight whiff of cognac.”
I would rather be the pessimist who drinks cognac than the optimist who sniffs bedbugs. (Laughter)
Though it does seem that optimists have a better time, our common goal is to live a decent life (without overindulging in alcohol). For this purpose, we need to avoid crises, together handle all challenges and threats and build such relations on the global arena that would help us reach these goals.
Later I will be ready to respond to some of the other things mentioned here. Thank you.
BRITISH JOURNALIST SEUMAS MILNE (retranslated from Russian): I would like to ask a two-in-one question.
First, Mr President, do you believe that the actions of Russia in Ukraine and Crimea over the past months were a reaction to rules being broken and are an example of state management without rules? And the other question is: does Russia see these global violations of rules as a signal for changing its position? It has been said here lately that Russia cannot lead in the existing global situation; however, it is demonstrating the qualities of a leader. How would you respond to this?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I would like to ask you to reword the second part of your question, please. What exactly is your second question?
SEUMAS MILNE (retranslated from Russian): It has been said here that Russia cannot strive for leading positions in the world considering the outcomes of the Soviet Union’s collapse, however it can influence who the leader will be. Is it possible that Russia would alter its position, change its focus, as you mentioned, regarding the Middle East and the issues connected with Iran’s nuclear programme?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russia has never altered its position. We are a country with a traditional focus on cooperation and search for joint solutions. This is first.
Second. We do not have any claims to world leadership. The idea that Russia is seeking some sort of exclusivity is false; I said so in my address. We are not demanding a place under the sun; we are simply proceeding from the premise that all participants in international relations should respect each other’s interests. We are ready to respect the interests of our partners, but we expect the same respect for our interests.
We did not change our attitude to the situation in the Middle East, to the Iranian nuclear programme, to the North Korean conflict, to fighting terrorism and crime in general, as well as drug trafficking. We never changed any of our priorities even under the pressure of unfriendly actions on the part of our western partners, who are led, very obviously in this case, by the United States. We did not even change our positions even under the sanctions.
However, here too everything has its limits. I proceed from the idea that it might be possible that external circumstances can force us to alter some of our positions, but so far there have not been any extreme situations of this kind and we have no intention of changing anything. That is the first point.
The second point has to do with our actions in Crimea. I have spoken about this on numerous occasions, but if necessary, I can repeat it. This is Part 2 of Article 1 of the United Nations’ Charter – the right of nations to self-determination. It has all been written down, and not simply as the right to self-determination, but as the goal of the united nations. Read the article carefully.
I do not understand why people living in Crimea do not have this right, just like the people living in, say, Kosovo. This was also mentioned here. Why is it that in one case white is white, while in another the same is called black? We will never agree with this nonsense. That is one thing.
The other very important thing is something nobody mentions, so I would like to draw attention to it. What happened in Crimea? First, there was this anti-state overthrow in Kiev. Whatever anyone may say, I find this obvious – there was an armed seizure of power.
In many parts of the world, people welcomed this, not realising what this could lead to, while in some regions people were frightened that power was seized by extremists, by nationalists and right-wingers including neo-Nazis. People feared for their future and for their families and reacted accordingly. In Crimea, people held a referendum.
I would like to draw your attention to this. It was not by chance that we in Russia stated that there was a referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was made by the legitimate authority of Crimea – its Parliament, elected a few years ago under Ukrainian law prior to all these grave events. This legitimate body of authority declared a referendum, and then based on its results, they adopted a declaration of independence, just as Kosovo did, and turned to the Russian Federation with a request to accept Crimea into the Russian state.
You know, whatever anyone may say and no matter how hard they try to dig something up, this would be very difficult, considering the language of the United Nations court ruling, which clearly states (as applied to the Kosovo precedent) that the decision on self-determination does not require the approval of the supreme authority of a country.
In this connection I always recall what the sages of the past said. You may remember the wonderful saying: Whatever Jupiter is allowed, the Ox is not.
We cannot agree with such an approach. The ox may not be allowed something, but the bear will not even bother to ask permission. Here we consider it the master of the taiga, and I know for sure that it does not intend to move to any other climatic zones – it will not be comfortable there. However, it will not let anyone have its taiga either. I believe this is clear.
What are the problems of the present-day world order? Let us be frank about it, we are all experts here. We talk and talk, we are like diplomats. What happened in the world? There used to be a bipolar system. The Soviet Union collapsed, the power called the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
All the rules governing international relations after World War II were designed for a bipolar world. True, the Soviet Union was referred to as ‘the Upper Volta with missiles’. Maybe so, and there were loads of missiles. Besides, we had such brilliant politicians like Nikita Khrushchev, who hammered the desk with his shoe at the UN. And the whole world, primarily the United States, and NATO thought: this Nikita is best left alone, he might just go and fire a missile, they have lots of them, we should better show some respect for them.
Now that the Soviet Union is gone, what is the situation and what are the temptations? There is no need to take into account Russia’s views, it is very dependent, it has gone through transformation during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we can do whatever we like, disregarding all rules and regulations.
This is exactly what is happening. Dominique here mentioned Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia before that. Was this really all handled within the framework of international law? Do not tell us those fairy-tales.
This means that some can ignore everything, while we cannot protect the interests of the Russian-speaking and Russian population of Crimea. This will not happen.
I would like everyone to understand this. We need to get rid of this temptation and attempts to arrange the world to one’s liking, and to create a balanced system of interests and relations that has long been prescribed in the world, we only have to show some respect.
As I have already said, we understand that the world has changed, and we are ready to take heed of it and adjust this system accordingly, but we will never allow anyone to completely ignore our interests.
Does Russia aim for any leading role? We don’t need to be a superpower; this would only be an extra load for us. I have already mentioned the taiga: it is immense, illimitable, and just to develop our territories we need plenty of time, energy and resources.
We have no need of getting involved in things, of ordering others around, but we want others to stay out of our affairs as well and to stop pretending they rule the world. That is all. If there is an area where Russia could be a leader – it is in asserting the norms of international law.
QUESTION: The peaceful process between the Palestinians and Israelis has completely collapsed. The United States never let the quartet work properly. At the same time, the growth of illegal Israeli settlements on the occupied territories renders impossible the creation of a Palestinian state. We have recently witnessed a very severe attack on the Gaza Strip. What is Russia’s attitude to this tense situation in the Middle East? And what do you think of the developments in Syria?
One remark for Mr Villepin as well. You spoke of humiliation. What can be more humiliating than the occupation that Palestine has been experiencing all these years?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Regarding Palestine and the Israeli conflict. It is easy for me to speak about this because, first, I have to say and I believe everyone can see that our relations with Israel have transformed seriously in the past decade. I am referring to the fact that a large number of people from the former Soviet Union live in Israel and we cannot remain indifferent to their fate. At the same time, we have traditional relations with the Arab world, specifically with Palestine. Moreover, the Soviet Union, and Russia is its legal successor, has recognised Palestinian statehood. We are not changing anything here.
Finally, regarding the settlements. We share the views of the main participants in international relations. We consider this a mistake. I have already said this to our Israeli partners. I believe this is an obstacle to normal relations and I strongly expect that the practice itself will be stopped and the entire process of a peaceful settlement will return to its legal course based on agreement.
We proceed from the fact that that Middle East conflict is one of the primary causes of destabilisation not only in the region, but also in the world at large. Humiliation of any people living in the area, or anywhere else in the world is clearly a source of destabilisation and should be done away with. Naturally, this should be done using such means and measures that would be acceptable for all the participants in the process and for all those living in the area.
This is a very complicated process, but Russia is ready to use every means it has for this settlement, including its good relations with the parties to this conflict.
DIRECTOR, KIEV CENTER FOR POLITICAL AND CONFLICT STUDIES MIKHAIL POGREBINSKY: Mr President, I have come from Ukraine. For the first time in 70 years, it is going through very hard times. My question has to do with the possibility of a settlement. In this connection, I would like to go back in history. You mentioned that there was a moment when a trilateral format was under consideration: Russia-Ukraine-Europe. Back then, Europe did not agree to it, after which a series of tragic events took place, including the loss of Crimea, the death of thousands of people and so forth.
Recently, Europe together with Ukraine and Russia agreed that this format is possible after all; moreover, a corresponding resolution was passed. At that moment, there was hope that Russia together with Europe and Ukraine would manage to reach agreement and could become the restorer of peace in Ukraine. What happened next? What happened between Moscow and Brussels, Moscow and Berlin – because now the situation seems completely insane? It is unclear what this might lead to. What do you think happened to Europe?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, what happened can be described as nothing happened. Agreements were reached, but neither side complied with them in full. However, full compliance by both sides might be impossible.
For instance, Ukrainian army units were supposed to leave certain locations where they were stationed prior to the Minsk agreements, while the militia army was supposed to leave certain settlements they were holding prior to these agreements. However, neither is the Ukrainian army withdrawing from the locations they should leave, nor is the militia army withdrawing from the settlements they have to move out of, referring, and I will be frank now – to the fact that their families remain there (I mean the militia) and they fear for their safety. Their families, their wives and children live there. This is a serious humanitarian factor.
We are ready to make every effort to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements. I would like to take advantage of your question to stress Russia’s position: we are in favour of complete compliance with the Minsk agreements by both sides.
What is the problem? In my view, the key problem is that we do not see the desire on the part of our partners in Kiev, primarily the authorities, to resolve the issue of relations with the country’s southeast peacefully, through negotiations. We keep seeing the same thing in various forms: suppression by force. It all began with Maidan, when they decided to suppress Yanukovych by force. They succeeded and raised this wave of nationalism and then it all transformed into some nationalistic battalions.
When people in southeast Ukraine did not like it, they tried to elect their own bodies of government and management and they were arrested and taken to prison in Kiev at night. Then, when people saw this happening and took to arms, instead of stopping and finally resorting to peaceful dialogue, they sent troops there, with tanks and aircraft.
Incidentally, the global community keeps silent, as if it does not see any of this, as if there is no such thing as ‘disproportionate use of force’. They suddenly forgot all about it. I remember all the frenzy around when we had a complicated situation in the Caucasus. I would hear one and the same thing every day. No more such words today, no more ‘disproportionate use of force’. And that’s while cluster bombs and even tactical weapons are being used.
You see, under the circumstances, it is very difficult for us in Russia to arrange work with people in southeast Ukraine in a way that would induce them to fully comply with all the agreements. They keep saying that the authorities in Kiev do not fully comply with the agreements either.
However, there is no other way. I would like to stress that we are for the full implementation of the agreements by both parties, and the most important thing I want to say – and I want everyone to hear that – if, God forbid, anyone is again tempted to use force for the final settlement of the situation in southeast Ukraine, this will bring the situation to a complete deadlock.
In my view, there is still a chance to reach agreement. Yes, Wolfgang spoke about this, I understood him. He spoke of the upcoming elections in Ukraine and in the southeast of the country. We know it and we are constantly discussing it. Just this morning I had another discussion with the Chancellor of Germany about it. The Minsk agreements do stipulate that elections in the southeast should be held in coordination with Ukrainian legislation, not under Ukrainian law, but in coordination with it.
This was done on purpose, because nobody in the southeast wants to hold elections in line with Ukrainian law. Why? How can this be done, when there is shooting every day, people get killed on both sides and they have to hold elections under Ukrainian law? The war should finally stop and the troops should be withdrawn. You see? Once this is achieved, we can start considering any kind of rapprochement or cooperation. Until this happens, it is hard to talk about anything else.
They spoke of the date of the elections in the southeast, but few know that there has been an agreement that elections in southeast Ukraine should be held by November 3. Later, the date was amended in the corresponding law, without consulting anyone, without consulting with the southeast. The elections were set for December 7, but nobody talked to them. Therefore, the people in the southeast say, “See, they cheated us again, and it will always be this way.”
You can argue over this any way you like. The most important thing is to immediately stop the war and move the troops away. If Ukraine wants to keep its territorial integrity, and this is something we want as well, they need to understand that there is no sense in holding on to some village or other - this is pointless. The idea is to stop the bloodshed and to start normal dialogue, to build relations based on this dialogue and restore at least some communication, primarily in the economy, and gradually other things will follow. I believe this is what should be achieved first and then we can move on.
PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR GOVERNANCE AND PUBLIC POLICY AT CARLETON UNIVERSITY (OTTAWA) PIOTR DUTKIEWICZ: Mr President, if I may I would like to go back to the issue of Crimea, because it is of key importance for both the East and the West. I would like to ask you to give us your picture of the events that lead to it, specifically why you made this decision. Was it possible to do things differently? How did you do it? There are important details – how Russia did it inside Crimea. Finally, how do you see the consequences of this decision for Russia, for Ukraine, for Europe and for the normative world order? I am asking this because I believe millions of people would like to hear your personal reconstruction of those events and of the way you made the decision.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not know how many times I spoke about this, but I will do it again.
On February 21, Viktor Yanukovych signed the well-known documents with the opposition. Foreign ministers of three European countries signed their names under this agreement as guarantors of its implementation.
In the evening of February 21, President Obama called me and we discussed these issues and how we would assist in the implementation of these agreements. Russia undertook certain obligations. I heard that my American colleague was also ready to undertake some obligations. This was the evening of the 21st. On the same day, President Yanukovych called me to say he signed the agreement, the situation had stabilized and he was going to a conference in Kharkov. I will not conceal the fact that I expressed my concern: how was it possible to leave the capital in this situation. He replied that he found it possible because there was the document signed with the opposition and guaranteed by foreign ministers of European countries.
I will tell you more, I told him I was not sure everything would be fine, but it was for him to decide. He was the president, he knew the situation, and he knew better what to do. “In any case, I do not think you should withdraw the law enforcement forces from Kiev,” I told him. He said he understood. Then he left and gave orders to withdraw all the law enforcement troops from Kiev. Nice move, of course.
We all know what happened in Kiev. On the following day, despite all our telephone conversations, despite the signatures of the foreign ministers, as soon as Yanukovych left Kiev his administration was taken over by force along with the government building. On the same day, they shot at the cortege of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, wounding one of his security guards.
Yanukovych called me and said he would like us to meet to talk it over. I agreed. Eventually we agreed to meet in Rostov because it was closer and he did not want to go too far. I was ready to fly to Rostov. However, it turned out he could not go even there. They were beginning to use force against him already, holding him at gunpoint. They were not quite sure where to go.
I will not conceal it; we helped him move to Crimea, where he stayed for a few days. That was when Crimea was still part of Ukraine. However, the situation in Kiev was developing very rapidly and violently, we know what happened, though the broad public may not know – people were killed, they were burned alive there. They came into the office of the Party of Regions, seized the technical workers and killed them, burned them alive in the basement. Under those circumstances, there was no way he could return to Kiev. Everybody forgot about the agreements with the opposition signed by foreign ministers and about our telephone conversations. Yes, I will tell you frankly that he asked us to help him get to Russia, which we did. That was all.
Seeing these developments, people in Crimea almost immediately took to arms and asked us for help in arranging the events they intended to hold. I will be frank; we used our Armed Forces to block Ukrainian units stationed in Crimea, but not to force anyone to take part in the elections. This is impossible, you are all grown people, and you understand it. How could we do it? Lead people to polling stations at gunpoint?
People went to vote as if it were a celebration, everybody knows this, and they all voted, even the Crimean Tatars. There were fewer Crimean Tatars, but the overall vote was high. While the turnout in Crimea in general was about 96 or 94 percent, a smaller number of Crimean Tatars showed up. However 97 percent of them voted ‘yes’. Why? Because those who did not want it did not come to the polling stations, and those who did voted ‘yes’.
I already spoke of the legal side of the matter. The Crimean Parliament met and voted in favour of the referendum. Here again, how could anyone say that several dozen people were dragged to parliament to vote? This never happened and it was impossible: if anyone did not want to vote they would get on a train or plane, or their car and be gone.
They all came and voted for the referendum, and then the people came and voted in favour of joining Russia, that is all. How will this influence international relations? We can see what is happening; however if we refrain from using so-called double standards and accept that all people have equal rights, it would have no influence at all. We have to admit the right of those people to self-determination.