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The Good, The Bad & The Unknown: Understanding Syria (Part 1)

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Given the alarming escalation of international tensions over the Syrian conflict following the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib and the United States’ subsequent missile strike on Syrian Air Force bases, it is time for a review of the situation that has now been presented to Western populations through mainstream newsmedia once again as grounds for war.

According to the narrative that we are given, it is religion – specifically, the internal divisions of Islam – that drives both pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces in Syria in what seems to be a Sunni vs Shia/Opposition vs Government ‘civil war’, and not a regional battle to get rid of an international coalition of terrorist factions decimating secular societies.

This analysis targets a narrative common to most Western media. Our Australian counterparts are similarly shallow and disaffected, and rarely research their own articles on foreign conflicts, rather importing them, for an even more homogenized mass world coverage. Because the supposed facts being paraded in this – or any – inflamed crisis imported from the Western intelligence organisations and mainstream media outlets are misleading, fallacious or wrong, any reader searching for truth or an honest interpretation based on facts regarding the conflict may find themselves more confused or, worse, completely deceived about its nature.

The leading news corporations of countries like the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia etc are holding to the agenda that supports the “we’re fighting ISIS,” and “Assad must go” group think. It can be outlined as follows:

  • The Syrian uprising was purely civilian, with terrorists groups entering the ongoing conflict later, taking advantage of the situation
  • The regime started the conflict by using violence against peaceful protestors, who then started “arming themselves” to fight back
  • To overthrow Assad The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only
  • With complete disregard for international law and its institutions, the Syrian “criminal regime” must be toppled by an international coalition in its “Responsibility to Protect” civilians

Let’s take a look at these claims to see where they come from and what their intentions in terms of forming public opinion are.

What started as a peaceful civilian uprising against the Syrian president, turned into a bloody, armed civil war

This statement is the most important platform in the Western narrative regarding Syria, setting the stage for endless demonization of al-Assad and the Syrian government. The reality is that an opportunity was sought by the Sunni salafist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow the secular Syrian state, which was an agenda that brought them into aligment with right-wing elements of the states of Israel and Turkey, who sought a territorial foothold in the Golan Heights and Northern Syria. This, in turn, brought the support of the US and its allies to the anti-Assad coalition, and into direct opposition to the Syrian allies of Russia and Iran.

A 2006 diplomatic report by US chargé de affaires William Roebuck shows a clear intention of State Department officials regarding the regime and its ‘vulnerabilities’:

“We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of this vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising”.

As Robert Naiman wrote in the WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, “In public, the US was opposed to Islamist ‘extremists’ everywhere; but in private it saw the “potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists” as an “opportunity that the US should take action to try to increase”. Along with other advice, Roebuck suggests “playing on Sunni fears of Iranian influence… thought often exaggerated”, adding that both the “Egyptian and Saudi missions in Syria are giving increased attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue”. Fanning sectarian tensions is an old ploy, especially within strategies unconcerned by their effects on civilian societies.

Other formerly classified documents also look back into the moments before the 2011 uprising, as this heavily redacted US Defense Intelligence Agency document obtained via federal lawsuit, states: “AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) supported the Syrian opposition since the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. AQI declared its opposition to the Assad’s government because it considered it sectarian regime targeting Sunnis”.

Frans Van der Lugt, killed by extremists in 2014 in Homs, suggested , in a series of formerly classified cables that the beginning of the conflict was not as simple as mainstream media states:

“I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents.” There were indeed anti-Assad protests, sometimes clashing with pro-Assad protests, but they were in many cases infiltrated or even promoted by elements with very different goals, mainly not Syrian in origin, and used for violence against civilians and peaceful protestors, policemen and soldiers. “Many opposition sympathizers started to arm themselves, first as protection and later to expel government’s forces. (The conflict) soon acquired sectarian features… this dragged into the conflict other regional forces…”

Here the article refers to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, among others. These ‘other regional forces’ became increasingly involved in a more covert fashion as the ‘uprising’ took hold.

The US and its allies fund, arm and train “moderate” Islamic rebel factions only

Earlier in the Syrian war, US officials had at least maintained the pretense that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America´s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies “…were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis (sic) coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of US-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As an example, the “moderate” rebels from Nour al-Din al-Zenki are one of the groups supported by the CIA, who beheaded a Palestinian boy last July for the cameras and took ‘selfies’ of themselves while doing it. A few months later another incident, this time covered ‘Aleppo Media Center’, showed the world a wounded child by the name of Omran (Aylan in other reports), who then became the poster boy for the Syrian conflict by means of media exposition. The connection between this two apparently dissociated incidents goes by the name of Mahmoud Raslan, one of Omran’s rescuers and photographer, seen in the video footage of the rescue outside the ambulance holding a camera with members of the White Helmets (civilian rescuers). This individual is also in pictures with the ‘moderate’ beheaders of the Nour al-Din al-Zenki mentioned above, posing like friends on a weekend trip, blurring the already thin line between moderates, extremists and even the so-called non-partisan civilian rescuers (USAID-funded) White Helmets.

The US-led coalition in Syria claims divisions between the Sunni majority and the Alawite Shia have provoked both sides to commit atrocities that have caused not only an enormous loss in lives but the destruction of communities, strengthen positions and reduce hope on a political solution. However, the majority of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is Sunni, and has included in the past a few Christian generals. As Kamal Alam writes for The National Interest:

The fact remains: The moderate Syrian opposition only exists in fancy suits in Western hotel lobbies. It has little military backing on the ground. If you want to ask why Assad is still the president of Syria, the answer is not simply Russia or Iran, but the fact that his army remains resilient and pluralistic, representing a Syria in which religion alone does not determine who rises to the top.
Deir-Ezzor, an entirely Sunni city which has held out against ISIS encirclement for two years—and is commanded by the Druze General Issam Zahreddine, was attacked by the US Army, who targeted an SAA base killing 62 soldiers and wounding several more, in the first direct attack from the Pentagon on a Syrian Government facility or its forces. This incident happened on September 17th and ended the ceasefire, and not the alleged Russian attack on a UN aid convoy that allegedly took place two days later.

Taking in consideration the secular character of the Syrian society and its government, all bets on sectarian originated violence should be on the rebel side, also known for establishing Sharia law courts in controlled territories.

The Syrian ‘authoritarian regime’ must be toppled by an international coalition in its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilians

The often-quoted Syrian Observatory of Human Rights indicates that up to September 2016, the number of deaths is 301,000. These estimates put the numbers between 250,000 and almost 500,000 victims and several millions displaced and surviving as refugees mainly in neighbor countries and Europe.

However, the sources of this information are not without an allegiance either. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one man operation located in Coventry, England. It is run by Rami Abdulrahman, a declared member of the opposition: “I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes,” he told Reuters in 2012. It was also revealed by the New York Times that the SOHR is funded by subsidies from the European Union and a certain European country he won’t disclose.

As geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci notes: “…it is beyond doubt that it is the United Kingdom itself – as Abdul Rahman has direct access to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The NYT in fact reveals that it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.”

John Kerry and Samantha Power reduced themselves to advocates for terrorism by campaigning against Syria and Russia in their efforts to regain Eastern Aleppo from forces made up of 50% al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Who are also said to dominate any other faction fighting on that side. The phrase “rebel-held Aleppo” is a mainstream media fiction fostering support for terrorism among world public opinion.

Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists. Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.

While honest, ethical news outlets would denounce the audacity of a government whose officials advocate for human rights and point fingers at Russia for alleged war crimes while at the same time supporting terrorism as a manner of proxy army against Syria, Western mainstream media instead acts as a sort of PR asset for power. It’s not surprising to find recent cases when high ranking diplomats and politicians are caught lying to the public, even about supposed war crimes, to be then whitewashed by media giants as the New York Times or the BBC, like the fallacy of going to war with Iraq over it’s weapons of mass destruction – a term resurrected in demonizing Syria. Sadly, this is the kind of news available to most people in the world. It is in the interests of all peaceful and reasonable people worldwide to seek a deeper understanding of the truth, when so much is at stake.

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Dancing With The Devil: Australian Uranium in Ukraine

Filed in: Geopolitics Author: Brendan R Hay

In November 2016, a group of Australian federal politicians gathered quietly to take a very quick look at an issue with very long consequences. The outcome was an agreement that has now seen Australia sign a deal to sell uranium to a nation at war with Russia.

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

There has been a lack of detailed information to support the safety and safeguards assumptions underpinning the proposed treaty action, and according to some sources the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) National Interest Analysis of the plan is deeply deficient, especially in relation to key safeguards and security concerns and the implications of the Russian conflict. The NIA’s under-stated noting that ‘political tensions currently exist between Ukraine and Russia‘ completely fails to recognise or reflect the gravity of the situation.

Any plan to supply Australian uranium to such a fraught region deserves the highest level of scrutiny.
Instead, we have tick-a-box paperwork and cut-and-paste assurances.

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster spread fallout over vast areas of eastern and western Europe and five million people still live in contaminated areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Serious containment and waste management issues remain at Chernobyl with a massive concrete shield now under construction in an attempt to enclose the stricken reactor complex and reduce the chances of further radioactive releases.

Against this ominous backdrop there are deep concerns over those parts of the Ukrainian nuclear sector that are not yet infamous names, including very real security concerns about nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

The Zaporizhia nuclear facility is Europe’s largest and is only 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Some commentators have described the nuclear plants in the region as pre-deployed nuclear weapons, and there have already been armed incursions during the recent conflict period. Acts of apparent sabotage have already seen the dangerous practise of emergency power unloading at nuclear power plants in Ukraine– including the Zaporozhskaya and South Ukrainian reactors.

Australia has already suspended uranium sales to Russia and it makes an interesting political point to start selling uranium to the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine now. Along with security concerns there are serious and unresolved safety and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. President Petro Poroshenko still refuses to combat the endemic corruption that infuriates Ukrainians and strangles their economy.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four of which are currently running beyond their design lifetime while a further six will reach this state by 2020.  That means two thirds of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors will be past their use-by date within five years. The currently contested series of license renewals and the related European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing of a program to upgrade safety features at Ukrainian nuclear facilities has highlighted serious deficiencies in governance, operations and compliance with contemporary international standards.

On top of that, there is growing regional concern over the risks associated with the Poroshenko administration focus on keeping the reactors running. In rushing to extend operating licences Ukraine is cutting process and safety corners and not complying with its obligations under the Espoo Convention – an international framework agreement around transboundary environmental impact assessment. In April 2013 the UN Espoo monitoring group found that license renewals at the Rivne nuclear facility were not compliant with Espoo procedures.

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

In 2013 the Eastern Partnership, a leading East European civil society forum, declared that the absence of environmental impact assessment for nuclear projects posed ‘a severe threat to people both in Ukraine and in neighbouring states, including EU member states’. Nearby nations including the governments or Slovakia, Romania and Hungary have formally and unsuccessfully called for Ukraine to provide further detail on its nuclear projects and to facilitate increased regional dialogue on this unresolved issue of concern.

The Ukrainian government’s response to continuing domestic and international disquiet over the operations of its nuclear sector was a 2015 government decree preventing the national nuclear energy regulator from carrying out facility inspections on its own initiative. This coupled with increased pressure on industry whistle-blowers and critics has done nothing to address the real risks facing the nations aging nuclear fleet.

Apart from any other reason, the Ukraine sales deal should not be advanced in the continued absence of any meaningful Australian government, agency and uranium company response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which was directly fueled by Australian uranium.

None of these issues have been meaningfully identified, let alone addressed, in Australian treaty action or analysis to date. The Australian government and the rest of the West must recognize this danger, drop its charade of portraying Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a paladin of democracy, and start forcing him to enact visible, tangible reforms. Anemic recommendations, such as the  US State Department’s vague wish for ‘a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms,’ aren’t going to cut it. The overturned states of Syria and Libya are straining Europe to the breaking point – consider what a failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Central Europe could do.

Spinning the Panama Papers: Propaganda for the Taking

Filed in: News & Current Affairs  –  Author: JF Dowsett

Currently, there’s enough political ‘spin’ being churned and re-churned through the mainstream media to make one’s head – well, spin.

It’s been fascinating to observe the widely varied responses in international media and politics to the recent leak of the Mossack Fonseca data, popularized as the Panama Papers. Reactions have ranged from outrage, to demands for action, to claims of political agendas and intelligence operations.

Over the last few years, high profile data leaks and data dumps (Sony PSN, Ashley Madison, iCloud etc) have forced cybersecurity issues into mainstream public discussion. However, each time there is a leak it also exposes more secretive corporate practices and raises questions over the ethics of the entities in question. Indeed, there are interesting parallels in leaks such as that of Ashley Madison and more recently the Mossack Fonseca data. Both entities, while operating in vastly different industries with very different business models – one is essentially a dating website while the other is an established law firm – when it comes to the data they hold the considerations for its storage and protection and the implications of breach or compromise are very similar. Each company holds highly personal, sensitive information on individual people and their associated networks, finances, and behaviors.

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Mossack Fonseca [image via aljazeera.com]

However, the main focus of the recent Panama Papers story has not been so much about their contents but about their implications for a man who has become somewhat of an obsession for the mainstream media – Vladimir Putin. His image has been on the front page of all the Western propaganda outlets, as their campaign against the Russian leader only seems to intensify with time. The only problem for the West is that the Panama Papers have uncovered absolutely no evidence that directly connects Putin with the numerous allegations in the Western press.

From the outset there have been serious questions regarding the origin and authenticity of the Panama Papers, suggesting that the Mossack Fonseca scandal was initially being carefully managed by the Western journalistic establishment, selectively releasing stories without allowing the public to see the entire trove of documents and data. Now arguably the most important data leak and whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, has put its weight behind such allegations. On Wednesday, 6 April, this tweet appeared on the internet: “#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP [i.e. the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project] which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID & Soros,” as promulgated by the official WikiLeaks twitter account (@wikileaks). Later on the same day, this tweet followed: “#PanamaPapers: WikiLeaks’ Kristinn Hrafnsson calls for data leak to be released in full.”

Guilt by Association

The Panama Papers reveal the existence of numerous offshore companies, which are basically means used to launder or simply hide money in offshore financial centres, commonly referred to as “tax havens.” Many prominent names explicitly figure in the leaked papers, names such as those of the Prime Ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the names of the children of the president of Azerbaijan or even the name of the King of Saudi Arabia. Predictably however, in the mainstream media, with the BBC and the Guardian leading the charge the name of Russia’s President is mentioned time and again, as if the Panama Papers were primarily a leaked time-bomb about to strike the figure of Vladimir Putin hard and fast. In reality though, his name is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Papers. Instead, the ICIJ merely talks about “associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” associates such as Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Sergi Roldugin are mentioned — the first being Russian businessmen and “oligarchs,” as the West likes to refer to Russian capitalists, and the latter a Russian businessman and cellist. The Guardian went as far as calling him “Putin’s best friend,” in view of the fact that he is Putin’s daughter Maria Putina’s godfather and apparently the one who introduced Russia’s current president to Lyudmila Shkrebneva, Putin’s wife between 1983 and 2014. Thus, it seems that the Panama Papers paint Putin guilty by association. While, Vladimir Putin and the exact nature of his arguable friendships and possible business dealings are beyond my reach, the mainstream media’s fixation with the Russian President seems strangely beholden to Obama administration policy. Bloomberg’s Alan Katz, for instance, recently pointed out that Washington is planning to scour the Panama Papers for the names of “people who may have helped companies or individuals evade sanctions related to Russia’s role in destabilizing Ukraine.” With a view towards adding these names to the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of sanctioned parties of course.

The immediate reaction to news breaking of the Mossack Fonseca leak was to spend a few minutes looking at the funding sources of one of the main organizations handling the leak: the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As listed on their own website, recent funders include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations in addition to the Ford Foundation. Their site also states that the “ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity.” A look at the financial supporters of the Center for Public Integrity reveals that they include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the Rockefeller Family Fund; and the Open Society Foundations once again. We should remember that at the end of last year, Russia banned the Open Society Foundations and other groups owned by Soros as they were a threat to national security.

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The Center for Public Integrity [image via knightfoundation.org]

Newspapers that are the antithesis of independent and objective media have been running stories around the clock on Putin’s so-called crimes. On the 13th of April, one such paper – the Guardian – was still writing hit-pieces against the Russian President and the Russian nation. The article titled: ‘So what if Putin is corrupt?’: Russia remains unmoved by offshore revelations, is an affront to objective journalism and human intelligence, and is merely another article demonizing the Russian people. The reaction in the media and subsequent political discussions allude somewhat to the intentions of those behind the release of the Mossack Fonseca files.

National Socialist and Intelligence background of Mossack Fonseca

From the Daily Mail of :

The man behind a Panama ‘tax scam’ that guards the clandestine wealth of the global elite is the son of a Nazi SS officer from a unit known as the ‘Death’s Head division’. Jürgen Mossack is at the heart of the biggest financial data leak in history, and has allegedly been helping world leaders, politicians and celebrities launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax from his base in Panama.

It has now been revealed that his father, Erhard Mossack, was a member of the Nazi fighting unit known as the ‘Death’s Head division’, a dreaded force during the Second World War.

According to reports, U.S. Army intelligence archives hold a file on him as he allegedly offered his services to the U.S. government as an informant, claiming ‘he was about to join a clandestine organisation, either of former Nazis now turned Communist… or of unconverted Nazis cloaking themselves as Communists.’

The old intelligence files indicate that Mossack’s father later ended up in Panama, where he offered to spy, this time for the CIA, on Communist activity in nearby Cuba.

It’s also worth not­ing that the Inter­a­gency Work­ing Group which was set up in 1999 to find and dis­close infor­ma­tion related to inves­ti­ga­tions of Nazi and Japan­ese WWII war crimes does con­tain a record for Erhard Mos­sack in the sec­tion for FBI files. There isn’t much infor­ma­tion avail­able, but in the “cat­e­gory” sec­tion for Mos­sack it lists “For­eign Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence (For­merly Inter­nal Secu­rity, For­eign Intel­li­gence)”, indicating that the US likely took Mos­sack up on his offer.

Although the media have focused – predictably – on asso­ciates of Vladimir Putin and Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi, other clients of Mos­sack Fon­seca include Imee Mar­cos, daugh­ter of the late dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos and Car­men Thyssen-Bornemisza, daugh­ter of Hein­rich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

So we can see then that this alleged leak likely has its origin in a Western capitalist intelligence operation spearheaded by Soros/Rockefeller network entities such as the Center for Public Integrity and the Open Society Foundations to further this concerted propaganda campaign against Russia and the enemies of the West. Even though the Panama Papers have caused a little trouble for a few token puppets of the Anglo-American establishment – David Cameron for instance – the main focus of the leaks has been to target the forces that have stood up to the West – Putin, Assad etc.

 

Litvinenko inquiry: UK investigation fires political broadside at Moscow

A UK inquiry has concluded that the murder of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was “probably” approved by President Vladimir Putin. Retired High Court Judge Sir Robert Owen wrote that he was “sure” that two former Russian officials poisoned the 44-year-old at a London hotel with highly radioactive polonium-210. “The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin,” Sir Robert Owen wrote (emphasis added). Nikolai Patrushev was head of the FSB in 2006.

Anatoly Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, and Ben Emmerson QC [image via thestar.com]

Anatoly Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, and Ben Emmerson QC [image via thestar.com]

According to the report, Mr Litvinenko was poisoned with tea in 2006, and the detailed public inquiry has found that Mr Putin is likely to have signed off on the poisoning of the former KGB agent, in part due to personal ‘antagonism’ between the pair, it said. Litvinenko had been drinking tea at the Millennium hotel with former Kremlin bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi on the day he was poisoned, but Russia refused demands by British prosecutors in 2006 to extradite him. Lugovoi is now a member of the Russian parliament, in the far-right nationalist LDPR party. Responding to the report, Lugovoi, said the accusations against him were “absurd”, the Russian news agency Interfax was quoted as saying. “As we expected, there were no surprises,” he said. “The results of the investigation made public today yet again confirm London’s anti-Russian position, its blinkeredness and the unwillingness of the English to establish the true reason of Litvinenko’s death.” Kovtun, now a businessman in Russia, said he would not comment on the report until he got more information about its contents, Interfax reported.

Open hearings for the Litvinenko Inquiry started at the end of January, investigating his mysterious polonium-210 poisoning nearly a decade ago and were scheduled to last for about 10 weeks. The major focus of the inquiry has been the incrimination of Viktor Ivanov, the Director of The Federal Narcotics Service of Russia. As the inquiry heard closing arguments, the prosecution alleged that a report provided by Litvinenko to a security firm in 2006 before his murder made serious allegations against Ivanov, which could have served as a motive for the Kremlin to murder the former KGB officer by using a rare radioactive isotope. In response to the allegations, Ivanov told RT News, “It is clear that I cannot be the main target of this attack. These stones were thrown at the president of the Russian Federation, and this points us towards those who pulled the strings, certain Western political elites and their intelligence services. This is the level where there is no room for playing by the rules or delivering justice.”

Interestingly, the major international media services generally carry the story of the release of the public inquiry’s report as “Marina Litvinenko calls for sanctions against Russia,” and “Putin ‘probably’ ordered Litvinenko murder”. Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s World at One program Marina Litvinenko welcomed the imposition of asset freezes on Lugovoi and Kovtum. Asked if Britain’s response was adequate she said: “Yes I believe so.” However, interjecting at the January 21 press conference in London to clarify ‘technical details’ of the case, British QC Ben Emmerson delivered a politically-charged monologue taking special care to clarify that this was a Russian state-sponsored attack “on the streets of London” and called it “a mini act of nuclear terrorism.” The UK Scottish National Party’s Peter Grant went much further with the anti-Russian rhetoric. “The report I think leads to only one possible conclusion – we now have to regard the Russian government, the Russian state as an organisation actively involved in the commission, funding, supporting and directing acts of terrorism against UK citizens within the United Kingdom,” he said.

The anti-Russian rhetoric we are seeing across the UK conservative press and political parties in the wake of the release of the report disturbingly pushes the issue far further to the right of the political spectrum and tears a massive hole in Anglo-Russian relations. The Guardian has gone as far as publishing text from a part of the report carrying an unverified account from a witness claiming Putin was a pedophile. In drawing an incredibly long bow, David Davis, who was shadow home secretary at the time of the murder, said the report meant that in a civil UK court Putin would be found guilty of complicity in murder. He said: “We need to go after the financial assets of Putin in the Bahamas and in Cyprus. Eventually you get to a point when with a dictator you have to draw a line as we did in the 30s.”

The public inquiry has drawn criticism from independent and research journalists and political commentators. ‘This man was killed, was murdered in London almost 10 years ago. This latest report was set up in July 2014 – interestingly, just a couple of weeks after the MH17 disaster. So it was set up in this particular climate, this anti-Russia climate, and it has gone on now for 18 months. And what have they come up with – they’ve come up with a verdict that ‘probably’ this was the work of the Kremlin. ‘Probably’ – is not evidence,” Journalist and broadcaster Neil Clark told RT. “What is lacking – is any hard evidence, this is just conjecture; this is just a theory put forward; one of the theories is that the Kremlin was behind this. But there are other theories too to explain why this man may have been murdered,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the context of this. The fact was this man died in 2006, and we’ve got an inquiry set up in 2014 in the very month when the West was taking very anti-Russian line.”

As the official coroner’s inquest into Litvinenko’s death was suspended in July 2014 to start a public inquiry shortly thereafter, the timing is interesting. The coroner’s inquest came to an end when the Home Secretary asked the coroner to stop conducting the inquest as a criminal investigation, clearly something outside the jurisdiction of the coroner. This changed again, however, when Prime Minister David Cameron turned Owen loose on a search for Russian state culpability by appointing him as chairman of the public inquiry. This pre-determined position was obvious from Emmerson’s repeated insistence during Marina Litvinenko’s press conference that the inquiry’s conclusions were primarily about linking the murder to the Russian government in what he was calling “acts of nuclear terrorism,” during a politically charged diatribe at the January 21 conference. Emmerson also attempted to frame the alleged assassination as a large-scale state sponsored operation, affecting hundreds of UK citizens in the immediate vicinity of the radioactive contaminants. He stopped short of calling it an act of war by Russia on Britain, but that implication was most definitely the elephant in the room.

It is interesting to note that the inquiry is in no way a trial or judicial procedure, but simply a public inquiry. The term ‘public inquiry’ is actually a misnomer, because the rules in the UK allow a public inquiry to be conducted behind closed doors. Martin McCauley, former senior lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London said, “All they can do, as they said, ‘we have a prima facie case which proves that Lugovoy and Kovtun were acting as part of the FSB,’ which goes right up to Nikolai Patrushev. But prima facie only means on the face of it. Therefore, the case is not proven. In other words it is a probability, and in an English court it wouldn’t stand up, because you couldn’t convict Lugovoy and Kovtun on the evidence, which has been presented in the report… They didn’t cross-examine or interview Lugovoy or Kovtun…”

Cameron’s UK Conservative party has shown its anti-Russian stance as it shifted the coronial inquest to a public inquiry in order to allow a greater media exposure to what were clearly pre-determined findings of Russian state culpability. The call for further political action through sanctions belies the motivation for setting up such an enquiry, with the Litvinenko case a prime candidate for the task. Since 2008 Cameron has adopted a more robust, anti-Russian stance than the rest of the UK government has. He called for Russia to be suspended from membership of the G8 group of industrialised nations and for Georgia’s entry into NATO to be brought forward. Cameron’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin was initially cordial but soured over the annexation of Crimea by Russian-backed forces in early 2014. During the initial stages of the crisis, Cameron telephoned Putin to inform him that “Your relationship with us will face increasing difficulties unless you stop the aggression.” Shortly before the 2015 UK elections, even Labour candidate Ed Miliband called for tougher anti-Russian sanctions, if Russia, in his opinion, would continue its actions in aggravating the situation in eastern Ukraine. However, it is obvious that the Conservatives are toughest when it comes to evaluation of the Kremlin’s “Ukrainian policy.” In this case, these are exclusively geopolitical motives. The Russian senator noted that unlike other major European Union states, such as Germany and France, the United Kingdom has always taken a harsh approach to Russia. “In the British approach [toward Russia] there is no evidence of any further analysis, no rethink of what is happening in Europe on the whole, or with Ukraine, or the Russian Federation. The British approaches are extremely conservative and that is why I don’t expect any changes for the better from the point of view of Russian interests here,” Kosachev told RIA Novosti.

With the Conservative Party securing a majority of 330 seats in the parliament, the current harsh stance adopted by the United Kingdom toward Russia is highly likely to remain unchanged.

The Irony of the West vs Russia: geopolitical hypocrisy

Photo: US officials say Russia has deployed battle tanks and artillery in Syria. (Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Photo: US officials say Russia has deployed battle tanks and artillery in Syria. (Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

A recent CNN article entitled ‘Putin’s playbook in Syria draws on Ukraine and loathing for revolution’ has its readership continuing to ponder the ‘what is Putin REALLY up to’ group think led by the neo-conservative liberal interventionists in Washington and followed unquestioningly in allied Western governments such as those of Australia and the UK.

There is a stark irony in that those elements of right-wing conservative Western governments and think tanks criticize what they see as an unknown Russian ‘playbook’ while fostering their own march to endless confrontation.

It also belies the expectation in Washington, London and Canberra that there is always an endgame planned for any military or political intervention, something that has become the rule for regime change policies backed by those same governments.

The United States’ neoconservative foreign policy and similarly aligned policy principles of its Middle East coalition partners often draw heavily from ideals laid down in think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the infamous Project for New American Century (dissolved in 2006 and re-formed as the Foreign Policy Initiative) which clearly lay out conservative goals and an endgame for US foreign policy; ie using the ideals of national interests/national security as a foundation for swaying public and therefore political opinion in favor any foreign interference it sees as necessary to maintaining the US as the world’s leading superpower.

In an interview with Foreign Policy In Focus, Robert Kagan – co-founder of both the PNAC and FPI – iterated the institute’s position toward Iran, saying, “It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.”1

Russian T-90 tank (image via defencetalk.com)

Russian T-90 tank (image via defencetalk.com)

Another ‘what are they up to’ article appearing in the Australian Murdoch press now has Russia ‘striking fear intothe heart of the West’ with new military technologies. The hypocrisy of this alarmist hype is stark when one considers the billions of dollars spent by the US alone ($620 billion in 2014)2 in developing new weapons for use in current and future conflicts. The very concept of soft power as employed by the West necessitates the use of fear of dominant military power to leverage geopolitical goals.

In their alarmist, McCarthyist clamor, the mainstream press chooses to focus on the increasing presence of Russian armed forces in the Middle East and elsewhere and conveniently ignore the facts of endless Western military imperialism. For example, while Russia has 14 military bases in foreign territories, the main sources of information on American military installations (NATO Watch Committee, the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases) reveal that the US operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases Worldwide.3

If any military operations truly ‘strike fear’ into any populace, one would have to look no further than the information on US Predator covert drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia during Barack Obama’s presidency now stands at 491.

In a special edition of the BBC’s Newshour Extra, recorded at the annual conference of the governing UK Conservative Party, a panel discusses appropriate responses to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. The question posed was whether EU and US sanctions, imposed following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, be re-assessed or perhaps used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over joint military action in Syria.

FILE In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin. Russia defied international efforts to end a crackdown on civilians by Assad regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions and providing it with weapons. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, file)

FILE In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo Vladimir Putin, then Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow’s Kremlin. Russia defied international efforts to end a crackdown on civilians by Assad regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions and providing it with weapons. (AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, file)

British Defence Minister Liam Fox summed up the prevailing Western group think on Syria in claiming that Putin’s move to support Assad in Syria is a deliberate distraction from the Ukraine issue while strangely offering that this was why the Ukraine issue has “disappeared from our media”.4

Fox continued to also claim that Russian politicians openly admitted to recognizing that they face the same international pressures as the West but hold on to power by making NATO the existential threat to the Russian people.

Summing up Fox’s statements in the program highlights some key ideological points held by neo-conservatives in the West and aligns perfectly with the propaganda we see in the conservative mainstream press:

• Assad and Putin are the ‘bad guys’
• ISIS wouldn’t be a problem the West had just gotten rid of Assad
• Assad needs to be deposed for allegedly using chemical weapons
• Russia would think twice about helping in Syria if we had punished it for perceived transgressions in Ukraine
• the west needs to ‘draw the lines’ and then punish anyone who crosses them
• Russia has ignored the UN and acted unilaterally by crossing sovereign borders

Incredibly, Fox’s view seems to be that if Western allies – presumably through NATO – had have ‘punished’ Putin for transgressing national sovereignty in Ukarine then Russia would now be less inclined to support its Syrian ally on the ground. This type of rhetoric only serves to further polarize the alliances that are now facing off in Syria.

Not only do these opinions show an ignorance of even recent history but also reflects the inherent chauvinism of the belief that the West is aligned with what is morally “good” and those nations seen to be in opposition as “bad”. In the now somewhat chilling words of former US President George W. Bush, “…our country is strong, we go forward to defend freedom, and all that is good and just in our world.”5

A CNN op-ed that Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading voice on national security issues, wrote on Oct. 13, 2015, was particularly chilling. It called on Obama to inflict severe pain on Russia and Putin regardless of the consequences:

“There is an opportunity here … to impose significant costs on an adversary that wants to undercut the United States everywhere. It is an opportunity to weaken an anti-American ruler who will always view us as an enemy. … We cannot shy away from confronting Russia in Syria, as Putin expects the administration will do. His intervention has raised the costs and risks of greater U.S. involvement in Syria, but it has not negated the steps we need to take. Indeed, it has made them more imperative.

“We must act now to defend civilian populations and our opposition partners in Syria. As Gen. David Petraeus and others have advocated, we must establish enclaves in Syria where civilians and the moderate opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and ISIS can find greater security. These enclaves must be protected with greater American and coalition airpower and likely foreign troops on the ground. We should not rule out that U.S. forces could play a limited role in this ground contingent. If al-Assad continues to barrel bomb civilians in Syria, we should destroy his air force’s ability to operate.

“We must back up our policy in ways that check Putin’s ambitions and shape his behavior. If Russia attacks our opposition partners, we must impose greater costs on Russia’s interests — for example, by striking significant Syrian leadership or military targets. But we should not confine our response to Syria. We must increase pressure on Russia elsewhere. We should provide defensive weapons and related assistance to Ukrainian forces so they can take a greater toll on Russian forces. … And if Putin continues to strike Syrian civilians and our opposition partners, we should ramp up targeted sanctions on Russia. Low energy prices are battering Russia’s economy and currency. We should increase that pain.”6

As Obama precariously admits he ‘failed’ in Syria – which echoes Liam Fox’s ‘we missed our chance’ rhetoric and underscores the notion that even more military intervention in the Middle East was actually necessary – are the nations of the Western Allies prepared to reconsider the increasingly dubious justifications for foreign intervention and regime change?


1. Goulka, Jeremiah (5 November 2012). “The Dogs of War Are Barking”. Regions: Middle East & North Africa. Foreign Policy In Focus (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies). ISSN 1524-1939.
2. 2015 United States federal budget https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_States_federal_budget
3. The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases/5564
4. BBC World Service – Newshour Extra, ‘Doing Business with Mr Putin’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0343hjp
5. George W. Bush’s Address to the Nation on September 11, 2001 https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_W._Bush

The Russians are coming, 2015: neo-conservative propaganda in the West

With the recent Russian approval of military action to support its Syrian allies, propaganda in Western media ramps up to fever pitch with headlines like: “Russian President Vladimir Putin launches air strikes in Syria, but what’s he really up to?” The Australian mainstream media – along with a great part of Australian politics – has become disappointingly predictable in its blind, no-questions-asked endorsement of US neo-conservative interventionist policies. This unfortunately keeps an important discussion on Syria and the foreign policies being adopted as far away from Damascus as Canberra out of the public realm altogether.

120713023419-al-assad-gestures-story-top

Image via AFP/GETTY

After barely registering the former Abbot government’s decision to support US actions in Syria, the Australian press for example falls all over itself in decrying any action taken by the Kremlin to ostensibly achieve the same goals – that is, ensuring that militant Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are prevented from taking over the Assad regime.  At thus point, it seems clear that not many commentators question whether the US-led coalition has considered much beyond its parochial “Assad must go” neocon vision.

Indeed, according to an article on news.com.au the US is “…suggesting the Russians are helping Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad fight off rebel forces and accusing Putin of ‘pouring gasoline on the fire’ in Syria.” It would appear that to some in the Obama administration leaving a power vacuum which the extremist groups would inevitably fill is preferable to supporting Assad in fighting the ‘rebels’ whose forces would become part of a new Islamic Syrian state.

Middle-East based journalist Martin Chulov said Russia sees itself as a counter to US influence in the region, had “outfoxed” the US by announcing it would go it alone against Islamic State. “He wants a victory,” Fisk writes in The Independent. “Syria’s army, the only institution upon which the regime — indeed, the entire state apparatus — depends is being re-armed and trained for a serious military offensive against ISIS, one which is meant to have enormous symbolic value both in the Middle East and in the world.”

The issue for leaders and policy makers in the West now seems to be one of trust – do we follow the US in constant soft power plays like sponsored regime change (as in Ukaraine) to achieve what are often unclear aims or do we allow Russia to take more of a lead in the Middle East to achieve what seems to be their own unclear goals.

The extent of the mistrust of Assad’s regime and Putin’s foreign policies is revealed in sampling some recent Australian mainstream news articles:

Defiant Russia pledges more Syria assistanceThe West Australian, September 10, 2015
Abbot considers expanding fight to SyriaThe West Australian, August 23, 2015
Bashar al-Assad the accidental dictatorThe West Australian, August 30, 2015
In bed with a homicidal maniacnews.com.au (News Limited) September 21, 2015
Assad must go but his regime could save Syria from IslamistsThe Australian, September 16, 2015
Assad’s fall may not spell the end of Syria’s agonyThe Australian, August 22, 2015

Characterizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in such ways – maniac – parallels the childish way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin is also portrayed in the right-wing Australian press. It belies the ideological fears that drive the tightly-framed narrative in conservative newsrooms.

It follows the propaganda-style treatment of other (former) heads of state such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. The US invasion of Iraq is now not only widely seen as a strategic blunder, but also possibly a war crime, based on the unilateral nature of the decision to invade a sovereign nation on false pretenses (Hussein’s touted but non-existant links to al Qaeda) without the sanction of the UN. It follows, then, that the subsequent capture and execution of Hussein bears dubious legality at best. The torture and murder of Gaddafi was seen by the then US Secretary of State as a geopolitical master-stroke. “We came, we saw, he died,” she enthused upon being informed of his demise.

The reasoning behind the Obama administration’s continued “Assad must go” policy now sits within the framework of so-called humanitarian considerations, with liberal war-hawks such as Victoria Nuland driving the discussion. This is in contrast to demanding other regime changes in the Middle East based on fraudulent claims of support of global terrorism (as in the case of Iraq), yet the states of Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria have been on a neocon hit-list at least since the Bush-42 administration.

As Russia continues to take a greater role in the Middle East, Western media outlets would be well advised to be wary of slipping into a Fox News-style propaganda and war-mongering mode of news presentation. This is not to say that Assad and Putin are without any kind of culpability – no more or less than most other heads of powerful states – or that their domestic and foreign policy records should not be held to account. Rather, some balance needs to be restored to the coverage and discussion of these matters, relying less on regurgitating propaganda from allied governments and lobby groups and more on a considered approach to viewing complex international geopolitical in the greater historical, ethnic and social context.

MH-17: Australia’s flight into a warzone

In July 2014, the Australian Government found itself embroiled in a complex international situation in one of the world’s geopolitical hotspots after Malaysian Airline’s flight MH17 was allegedly shot down over Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.  All contact was lost with the Boeing 777 around 50 kilometres from the Ukraine–Russian border and then crashed near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

9M-MRD

9M-MRD, the aircraft shot down, photographed in October 2011

Immediately, the US and its allies focused the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Official Washington jumping to the conclusion that Ukrainian rebels and Russia were guilty in the shoot-down of the Malaysian passenger plane. Consequently, the European Union got in line behind the American-backed Poroshenko regime in Ukraine and supported further economic sanctions to punish Russia. According to some independent investigative journalists however, some US intelligence analysts may see the evidence differently.

Robert Parry writes that, “despite US spy satellites positioned over eastern Ukraine, US intelligence agencies have released no images of a BUK system being transferred by Russians to rebel control, shipped into Ukraine, deployed into firing position and then being taken back to Russia. Though the Obama administration has released other images of Ukraine taken by U.S. spy satellites, the absence of any photos of a rebel-controlled BUK missile battery has been the dog not barking in the strident case that Official Washington has made in blaming the rebels and Russia for the July 17 shoot-down that killed 298 people.”

If it was a rebel-operated BUK-1M (also referred to as the SA-11 Gadfly), it would suggest definitive evidence is required to prove that it quickly appeared from Russia, was used for a single shot by Russian-mentored separatist rebels, then just as quickly disappeared back into Russia – but with no satellite photos from the USA proving such a theory. On the other hand, a successful shoot-down of a Russian plane would have been a major coup for the newly installed Kiev regime, which saw the Russian ally President Viktor Yanukovych overthrown last February, providing the catalyst for the current civil war. It is disturbing to note that certain senior Ukrainian politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed the desire to see Vladimir Putin killed.

This possibility coupled with the lack of official intelligence seems to have given impetus to competing theories, such as the airliner being shot down by a Ukrainian Su-25 or Su-27 fighter jet – as in the opinion of officials such as Michael Bociurkiw, one of the first Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) investigators to arrive at the scene of the disaster, near Donetsk. In a July 29 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Bociurkiw, he said that: “There have been two or three pieces of fuselage that have been really pockmarked with what almost looks like machine gun fire; very, very strong machine gun fire.”

In addition, a Globalresearch.org piece in September 2014 featured retired Lufthansa pilot Peter Haisenko’s conclusion in on the new shootdown theory and pointed to the entry and exit holes centered around the cockpit. The lack of officially released intelligence to support a claim of pro-Russian rebel shootdown, and by extension a lack of credibility over further political isolation and economic sanctioning of Russia prompted the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) to issue a memorandum to the President Barack Obama, urging him to release what evidence the US intelligence community has about the tragedy.

“Twelve days after the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, your administration still has issued no coordinated intelligence assessment summarizing what evidence exists to determine who was responsible – much less to convincingly support repeated claims that the plane was downed by a Russian-supplied missile in the hands of Ukrainian separatists,” the July 29 letter states. “As veteran intelligence analysts accustomed to waiting, except in emergency circumstances, for conclusive information before rushing to judgment, we believe that the charges against Russia should be rooted in solid, far more convincing evidence. And that goes in spades with respect to inflammatory incidents like the shoot-down of an airliner. We are also troubled by the amateurish manner in which fuzzy and flimsy evidence has been served up – some of it via social media.”

In spite of the need to establish proper evidence in such a complex and potentially explosive situation once again the mainstream media plays to the rhetoric of Washington and its Western allies, relying on unverified claims being made by the Kiev regime about something as sensitive as whether Russia provided sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles – capable of shooting down high-flying civilian aircraft – to poorly trained eastern Ukrainian rebels. In October 2014 Australian Prime Minister made the dubious decision to refer to his upcoming G20 meeting with Vladimir Putin – to be held in Brisbane – in the following incendiary manner: “I am going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am – I am going to be saying to Mr Putin Australians were murdered, they were murdered by Russian backed rebels.”

The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten was equally as diplomatic, first taking a swipe at the government for “laying out the red carpet” for Putin, as well as accusing the Russian President of knowing “more about what happened with MH17 than he’s let on.” Shorten also went on to state that, ”It’s an international conference, not a conference run by Australia, so if Putin has the arrogance to turn up to visit a nation whose nationals died in this plane crash, he can.”

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin (image via businessinsider.com)

As disturbing as the knee-jerk reaction of conservative and liberal politicians alike, just as alarming is the anti-Russian sentiments increasingly found in the Australian news media. Consider a few NewsCorp headlines: “Ukraine Russia war and MH17: What is Putin really up to?” “Vladimir Putin: I am not autistic” – “Vladimir Putin: Just what is he thinking?” Putin is routinely featured as a comical character, lampooned in the Australian press as an eccentric criminal in a fashion that no other global leader is, almost in a way that suggests he should not be taken seriously. Without doubt, it would be dangerously naive to underestimate the importance of good relations with the Russians to ensure stability in the region.

What many in the media and government seems to misunderstand is that the charges are so serious that it could propel the world into a second Cold War and conceivably – if there are more such miscalculations – into a nuclear confrontation. These moments call for the utmost in journalistic professionalism, especially skepticism toward propaganda from biased parties. Australians are now experiencing more of the American style prelude to economic and military confrontation – that is, the major U.S. news outlets, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, publishing the most inflammatory of articles based largely on unreliable Ukrainian officials and on the U.S. State Department which was a principal instigator of the Ukraine crisis.

In the past, this kind of knee-jerk diplomacy and war-chasing journalism has influenced public opinion and allowed politicians to seek justification for confrontation, both economic and military. In the past, the pretenses given for war with ideological enemies and opposing states have been often misleading and sometimes false. In the case of a volatile conflict involving powerful factions in a far-flung and poorly understood region, it would be wise for Australians to be careful in rushing to judgements based on speculation or unverified facts. This time, the stakes are considerably higher.

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