March 21st and March 30th, 2014

Is Ukraine a Prelude to WWIII?
by Felicity Arbuthnot

March 21st

As the US, EU and Britain huff and puff in barrel loads of clichés: “red lines” are “crossed”, “sovereignty and territorial integrity has been violated”, they stand “shoulder to shoulder” with their shoe-horned in fascist government in Ukraine, they are “resolute against Russian aggression”, and will not “stand idly by”, sanity seems in short supply.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry representing a country which makes Genghis Khan look like a wimp when it comes to illegal invasions, still retains the prize for jaw dropper of the decade: “You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text”, he pontificated on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

On the thirteenth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq and the total destruction of its “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, by America and Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has scuttled off to Brussels for a meeting of European Union Ministers to agree to a “robust response” to Russia – who has fired not a shot, invaded no one and threatened nothing except to respond  that if sanctions were imposed on Russia, they might consider a trading response. Fair enough, surely?

The government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea called a referendum, distinctly disturbed by the threat by Kiev’s US proxy government that the Russian language was to have no status, and Jews and blacks would not be tolerated.

A fraction under 97% voted to cede to Russia, with a turnout of over 80% – an electoral enthusiasm of which Western governments could only dream.

As much of the main stream media and the usual politicians thundered of voting under pressure or even at gunpoint, 135 international observers from 23 countries said consistently they saw no pressure of any sort, and they had “not registered any violations of voting rules.”

President Putin also points out the double standards: “Our Western partners created the Kosovo precedent with their own hands. In a situation absolutely the same as the one in Crimea they recognized Kosovo’s secession from Serbia legitimate while arguing that no permission from a country’s central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence is necessary”, further reminding that the UN International Court of Justice agreed to those arguments.

It’s beyond double standards. It’s a kind of baffling, primitive and blatant cynicism. One can’t just twist things to fit interests, to call something white on one day and black on the next one.

Clearly referring to the threats and onslaughts on sovereign nations of recent years, he added, on being accused of violating international law: “Well, it’s good that they at least recalled that there is international law … Better late than never”, commenting with some validity, that his nation’s stance on Crimea was in no way similar.

And there is that ill-used (by the usual suspects) “Reponsibility to Protect”, defined as including “crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and their incitement”, precisely what the bunch that has taken over the government in Kiev has threatened, with the Jewish community in Kiev feeling so besieged that “Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, called on Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even the country if possible …”

The UN definition of Responsibility to Protect also stipulates that States have a responsibility to “encourage and assist” in fulfilling responsibility in protection of those threatened and at risk. Russia has arguably done as requested by its former State and neighbour and as laid out by the UN. Yes, of course, there is self interest, with NATO encroaching ever closer and the country’s Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea and NATO countries, the US and UK planning military exercises with Ukraine – but Russia’s actions have been a model of peaceable, threat-free strategy.

President Putin expressed the all admirably: “Russia is an independent and active participant of international relations. Just like any nation it has national interests that must be taken into consideration and respected.”

He laid out the double standards: “In the practical application of policies, our Western partners – the United States first and foremost – prefer to be guided not by international law, but by the right of strength. They believe in their exceptionalism, that they (can) decide on the fate of the world, that they are always right.”

Law was disregarded in Yugoslavia in 1999, bombed by NATO with no UN mandate, Afghanistan, Iraq. Perversion of the UN Resolution on Libya, which was for a no fly zone, not bombing the country into submission – a tragic, shameful travesty with the horror of the murder of the country’s Leader, most of his family, over which Hillary Clinton laughed as she said: “We came, we saw, he died.” Clinton, of course, has now called Putin “Hitler.”

The “coloured revolutions” in Europe and the Arab world were simply more of the same by other means, Putin stated, but in “Ukraine the West crossed a red line”, with Russia’s wish for dialogue and compromise ignored.

The red line was in that “The coup-imposed authorities in Kiev voiced their desire to join NATO, and such a move would pose an imminent threat to Russia.”

Meanwhile, escaped from the American asylum, Vice President Joe Biden said that the U.S. stands resolutely with Baltic States in support of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression. “Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior”, Biden said, after meeting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins. What “aggression” exactly?

However, the all is more complex: “Current international law combines two contradictory principles: a government’s territorial integrity on the one hand, and a nation’s right to self-determination on the other, according to Maxim Bratersky of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

The West recognized Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008, based on the principle of right to self-determination. “Kosovo is a mirror image of the current situation in Crimea”, says Bratersky.

“In sending troops into Kosovo, NATO did not allow the Serbs to intervene in the referendum. The UN did not give NATO’s forces a mandate to send troops into Kosovo.” He also points out that South Sudan ceded from Sudan in 2011 (with world leaders or their Ambassadors attending the celebrations). East Timor became independent of Indonesia, both endorsed by the UN. Mutual agreement ruled, as with Crimea and the Russian Federation.

In 1997, the British returned Hong Kong to Chinese jurisdiction.

“But on the whole, the system of international law does not function. The side that has the most bayonets wins,” Bratersky states. “Kosovo is a vivid example of this.”

In trade and energy supplies, Russia has a lot of bayonets and the coffers of the EU and US are woefully low.

David Cameron has grand plans to “celebrate” the centenary of the start of World War 1 this year; however, he still seems hell bent on celebrating it by starting World War 111.

As this is finished, in response to the US placing travel bans on Russian politicians and public figures, rather than engaging in a diplomatic exchange of views, Russia has “announced sanctions against several advisers to President Obama as well as a number of lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — retaliation after President Obama announced economic sanctions against Russia.

The sanctions ban Boehner, Reid, and Senators Mary Landrieu, Daniel Coats, Robert Menendez, John McCain, as well as Obama advisers Caroline Atkinson, Daniel Pfeiffer, and Benjamin Rhodes from entering Russia.”

Someone please chuck that Obama Nobel Peace Prize into the Potomac.

March 30th

One of the delightful things about America is that they have absolutely no historical memory.

— Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, 1898-1976

More verbiage:  Russia has taken a “dark path”. Vice President Joe Biden said in Poland last week that those who rely on “aggression and fear” are bound to fail. Indeed, think Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran, the gradual current slinking from Afghanistan after approaching a 13 year reign of terror; creeping from Iraq in the dead of night after eight years of murder, decimation, torture and infanticide, followed by enjoining the destruction of Libya and, as with Iraq, the murder of the country’s leader.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said obediently that Russia was “in flagrant breach of international law (sending) a chilling message across the continent of Europe.”

Quite how a “flagrant breach …” is a nearly 97% Crimean vote to cede to Russia in a referendum, against an arguably illegitimate government in Ukraine deciding to pretty well cede to Europe with no referendum, in a deal which will cost every household in Ukraine in living standards and disposable income – the majority already woefully stretched – in crippling IMF stringency measures on a loan now believed to be eventually $27 Billion, is hard to fathom.

Meanwhile, President Obama arrived in Europe on the 15th anniversary of the onslaught on former Yugoslavia for a G7 meeting and Nuclear Security Summit, to scuttle, with John Kerry, from The Hague, to Brussels, Rome, to Riyadh, to curb “Russian aggression” as “new NATO training and exercises (are to) take place in Poland … the U.S. … has sent some 300 air troops and a dozen F-16 fighters to Poland for joint training in a show of military support (and) the U.S. is considering rotating American forces to the Baltic region to conduct ground and naval exercises …” (News Agencies, Websites.)

Yet Russia is the “aggressor”, having stated and restated that the nation has no intention to move further into Ukraine, and whose troops in Crimea are still well below the contingency allowed in a mutual, legal agreement, whilst the US crosses the Atlantic to rattle sabers (and F-16s.)

President Obama also had a private meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reportedly to attempt to enlist him in the “clear message” brigade.

President Xi was perhaps remembering the “clear message” of the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade (15th May 1999) when it was hit by five JDAM bombs, directed by the CIA. China had been against the attack on Yugoslavia and its diplomatic mission had determinedly stayed, unlike the US and UK, whose diplomats unfailingly flee ahead of bombs – near invariably theirs.

The attack caused outrage in China:

Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Beijing surrounded the US Embassy, hurled rocks through its windows, threw paint bombs, and set fire to it, apparently without any attempt on the part of the Chinese authorities to stop them.

The Embassy bombing resulted in China’s former President, Jiang Zemin, meeting Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin to agree to “a stronger strategic alliance between the two countries to counter United States dominance in world affairs.”  Perhaps White House staff have forgotten, or do not brief too well on modern history – has President Obama read any?

Moreover, in seeking the support of President Xi, Obama had another stumbling block: the National Security Agency’s espionage tactics. The meeting took place “just days after news broke that the U.S. spy agency had tapped into Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei’s computer system” and as Michelle Obama, was visiting China and lecturing her host country on transparency and openness in cyberspace.

As President Obama arm twisted and threatened – sorry, mobilized “all our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international correlation that sends a clear message” – on his route to a major confrontation with Russia, prepared, if necessary for a “show of strength”, and as many a murderous President before him, to fight to the last drop of blood of the sons and daughters of others, he laughably arrived (at a cost of ten million Euros to Belgium for his twenty four hour stay) with “a nine hundred strong entourage, including forty five vehicles and three cargo planes.”

Additionally, Belgium mobilized: “ three hundred and fifty police and military on motorbikes to secure the President’s routes to EU and NATO summits … while a convoy of nine US helicopters (took) Obama to an American First World War cemetery”, to tour a battlefield and lay a wreath – as he seemingly is prepared to plunge the planet into another global confrontation, if leaders are lemming enough to follow.

But if he is prepared to be as feckless with others’ finances as he is with others’ blood, there may be a few stumbling blocks.

Belgium, population 11,161,642 (2012) has had trading links with Russia since the early 18th century. Peter the Great visited what is now Belgium in 1717 and donated funds for a portico to a spa town, some sixty years before the birth of the United States of America. Last year’s exports to Russia were worth some four billion Euros.

In all, according to Eurostat, the 27 EU countries exported 108 Billion Euros-worth of goods to Russia in 2012 and imported 163 Billion Euros in trade from Russia “with energy accounting for more than three quarters of imports.”

In blindly backing the US in another certifiably insane provocation, Britain has much to lose. According to UK Trade and Investment, “Russia remains an important trading partner … Between 2009 and 2012, exports of goods and services to Russia have grown by over 75% from £4.3 billion to £7.6 billion.”

Last September, David Cameron made a “landmark visit” to Moscow with a “strong commercial focus.“ With him were the Foreign Secretary, the Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green and a delegation 24 business leaders representing a range of sectors. The visit aimed to “cement relations.” Beware British politicians bearing gifts.

In November, Business Secretary Vince Cable led a trade visit to Russia, “with more than thirty British companies to boost the fast growing economic links between the two countries …British exports to Russia have almost tripled in the last ten years, with around six hundred UK companies currently operating in the country. The opportunities are huge for British business – that’s why we’re also investing in a $50 million fund to help British small businesses export to Russia.”

The not so small businesses who accompanied the Business Secretary were bosses from Britain’s biggest companies, including Rolls-Royce, British Airways, Rio Tinto and Diageo in a bid to “strengthen ties and promote trade.”. Other companies that have recently moved into the Russian market include Cadbury, AstraZeneca, Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer and Monsoon.

Trevor Barton, Executive Director of the Russian British Chamber of Commerce said that British exports to Russia have been continuing to grow at 20-30% per annum, with Russian imports in mainly raw materials, oil and gas slightly exceeding exports. However, the market is “pretty substantial (the UK’s) fastest growing export market of anywhere in the world”, which the UK government had actively “encouraged.”

Russia was a “ very close trading partner and the possibilities have not gone away”, said Barton for whom, it seems, the country is not alone a business opportunity, but for which he cares and relates. But these were “challenging times” in “spending time talking to companies and persuading” explaining possibilities, when frequently potential investors currently simply unquestioningly take at face value the insane biased media hype. (Mr Barton was scrupulous in not commenting on politics, the latter lines are entirely the writer’s interpretation.)

Germany’s foreign trade group BGA, has warned that Germany would suffer more than other European country if sanctions escalated: “With about 6,200 German companies invested in Russia, and bilateral trade worth 76 billion Euros ($105 billion) last year. A trade conflict would be painful for the German economy …” warned BGA President Anton Börner, adding that Germany could not do without Russia since both economies were “highly complementary.” (News Agencies.)

By late 2010, French companies in Russia had increased six-fold with trade between the two countries worth $22.6 billion. Fifty percent of Russia’s fruit and berries are imported from Holland, Portugal and Poland. A meat deal with Brazil (pork and beef especially) also have the potential to diminish or trash European trade.

From Ireland in the west of Europe to Italy in the south (the latter Europe’s fourth largest trader with Russia) to Greece in the east, focus has been on developing trading ties with Russia and the EU can certainly do with no financial set backs.  It is already in the eyes of many a fiscal train wreck waiting to happen.

Across the Atlantic, in Houston, Texas alone, 400 companies trade with Russia. Sanctions could lead to some of America’s biggest companies being impacted. PepsiCo “had nearly $5 billion in net revenue from Russia in 2012.” Coca-Cola has a “large presence” and Exxon Mobil has signed a deal with Russian state oil company Rosneft to drill in the Arctic, beginning this year, “the lucrative crude up there could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Both General Motors and Ford have a market share in Russia and have invested in production facilities, with Ford negotiating a partnership with Russian Sollis, the all worth several $billion. “Russia is an emerging market with growing incomes, and U.S. companies have been actively looking to increase their investment there in recent years.”

And from the US Moscow Embassy:

“President Obama announced the National Export Initiative (NEI) two years ago, with the goal of doubling exports by 2014. U.S. embassies are committed to supporting U.S. companies to start exporting or grow their exports to Russia. In this section, you’ll find a quick description of Russia’s export market and some suggestions for getting started.”

“This is no time for bluster” blustered President Obama in a speech in Europe last week. Indeed, he seems to have missed that not only is he determined to potentially bankrupt swathes of Europe and the US, President Putin holds all the cards. For thirteen years closer ties have been developing in trade and policies with the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – representing 42% of world population and about a quarter of the world’s economy.

They have already: “created their own Stock Alliance and are creating their own development bank to finance large infrastructure projects. There are also dynamic trade and multiple projects in different areas … in total, there are more than 20 formats of cooperation within the BRICS intensively developing.” In February they agreed on possibly eleven directions of scientific and technical cooperation, from aeronautics to bio and nanotechnology. They also plan to  “modernize the global economic system so dominated by the EU and US.

This year “Russia and China have a full agenda for bilateral cooperation, which includes not only trade but also such spheres as energy, aircraft building, mechanical engineering, military and science cooperation, tourism” and more. Cultural ties are also strengthening with 2014-2015 a year of youth exchange.

Russia and China are additionally planning joint events to mark the seventieth anniversary of the victory over German fascism in WW11 next year.   Really bad timing for Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to delight over America’s $5 billion spent on installing a fascist government in Kiev.

And suppose Russia switched from accepting US dollars, Euros and the UK pound, to other currencies, as observers have commented could be being considered.

Further, as Europe’s energy is highly dependent on Russia, perhaps, like Crimea, the 27 EU countries could be granted some democracy and vote as to whether they want the radiators to go cold and to paraphrase Churchill “the lights go off all over Europe.”

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.)