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Argentina and Brazil: Between Exceptional Growth and Raising Social Tensions

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Latin America is assisting to a rapid economic growth and hopes for the future have never been as positive as in recent years. All economies have experience rapid growth with GDP over 5%, at least until the 2008 downturn that has inevitably hit economies still over dependent from US import/export. Nevertheless, the rises of Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina have been hailed as the most positive signals in world economic trends since 2000 and results were obtained with a mix of policies not always made from a strong capitalist background. However, if some countries like Chile continued in their growth, others have started to slow down due not only to world recession but also to internal political problems. Venezuela descending trend was accentuated by Chavez death and a succession that started to show some cracks in the once strong and united Socialist Party’s support, but it is certainly the two main giants of the subcontinent that attracted the attention of the economists: Brazil and Argentina.

 

Brazil: A Future Superpower with Explosive Social Contradictions

In Brazil presidential elections are expected on 5 October and after the spotlight of the recent football world cup, Brazilians will have now a serious ground to challenge the political establishment. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is running for re-election under the Workers’ Party, will have to conduct her campaign amid the official news that Brazil had fallen into a recession earlier this year. The economy of South America’s largest country shrank by 0.6% in the second quarter of this year and by 0.2% in the first. Analysts are projecting Brazil’s growth to be less than 1% in 2014 while inflation is on the rise. In 2010, when Ms Rousseff was first voted into office for the Workers’ Party, the economy was growing at 7.5%, attracting positive headlines both at home and abroad. However, support for the government started to fall after millions of Brazilians took to the streets last year amid a wide range of grievances, ranging from the rising costs of public transport to police violence and the expenses associated with this year’s World Cup. If the football competition, for a moment, helped the government in keeping Brazilians distracted it is now clear that the struggle cannot be postponed any longer. The opposition, tired of years of leftist policies, although successful, is now riding the popular discontent for increased prices and unemployment accusing what they called an “excessive state interventionism” in economy and a lack of reforms to help business flourish independently. The government blames a less favorable international environment for the slowdown and claims that a wave of unjustified pessimism has inhibited investments.

The Workers’ Party has been in power since 2003, following the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, as President in October 2002. Lula, a former shoeshine worker, heads Brazil’s first left-wing government for more than 40 years with the promise to challenge poverty and for the first time to rule for the poorest while assisting to an unprecedented economic growth that put Brazil into the rising economies of the 21st century.

Brazil’s natural resources, particularly iron ore, are highly prized by major manufacturing nations, including China. Thanks to the development of offshore fields, the nation has become self-sufficient in oil, ending decades of dependence on foreign producers. The spectacular growth even led Brazil to launch its first space rocket in October 2004, officially including Brazil within the space élite. Nevertheless, the oil richness has not come without compromises and the rights to explore Brazil’s biggest oilfield are awarded to a consortium led by the state-run energy giant Petrobas backed by French, Anglo-Dutch and Chinese firms. Critics say that allowing foreign companies a stake in the oilfield will damage national interests and within the party’s hardliners this has been seen as a concession to those same capitalist enemies fought for decades. But the new resources helped Lula and the government in launching social programmes, continued by his successor Dilma Rousseff, that allowed millions of Brazilians to be lifted out of poverty. These included a variety of policies such increases in the minimum wage, social programmes such as Bolsa Familia, which encourage school attendance and vaccinations in exchange for income support. Brazil’s Aids programme has become a model for other developing countries: it has stabilized the rate of HIV infection and the number of Aids-related deaths has fallen. Brazil has bypassed the major drugs firms to produce cheaper, generic Aids medicines. The government has also launched Brazil Sem Miseria (Brazil Without Poverty) welfare scheme, aimed at lifting millions out of extreme poverty, and in August 2012 the parliament approved a law for universities that requires them to reserve fifty percent of their places for public school students, and increases the number of spaces allotted to black, mixed-race and indigenous students.

Campaigns to improve the life conditions in the Amazon forest and the most remote areas of the country generated initially wide support to the Workers’ Party. The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest has been a major international worry, as it is also an important reservoir of plant and animal life. Deforestation has been slowed down by extra policing and pressure from environmental and consumer groups. The government has fined illegal cattle ranchers and loggers, while the food industries have banned products from illegally deforested areas, such as soya beans and beef. Officials estimate that deforestation in 2010 fell to 5,000 sq km for the year, down from 7,000 sq km the year before and a peak of 27,000 sq km in 2004. Nevertheless, it has not always been a smooth sailing: pressure from poor peasants for land, struggle against slavery that it is still common in some remote areas and the need to sustain a rapid development have created uneasiness. Ranchers reacted sometimes violently, as in November 2011 when Brazil indigenous Guarani leader Nisio Gomes was shot dead in western Brazil. He was part of a Guarani Kaiowa group that had returned to their ancestral land after being evicted by ranchers. Farms lobby criticized the government’s law in forest protection and forced tree replanting in illegally cleared lands, leading even to resignation within the party from the environment minister Marina Silva, who is today the main rival candidate for President Rousseff.

Brazil’s spectacular growth, combining a strong policy to develop the immense resources and the necessity to tackle the poverty and inequality that weighs down the country, nevertheless opened difficult scenarios for the party. The economic growth did not solve Brazil’s problems and although nobody can deny the huge progresses registered especially for the poorest sector of the population, there is still a wide gap between rich and poor. Two are the main areas of social conflict in the country: in the countryside, where much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families, a situation which the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) demand land redistribution, and in the big cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo where harsh social conditions are responsible for a third of the population living in favelas or slums.

Unfortunately for the government one of the counter effects of the cities widespread poverty is the rising of violence and drug trafficking which put the political leaders between two major problems: gangs violence on one side and police brutality on the other. In March 2005 a Death squad kills at least 30 people on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, the city’s worst massacre in over a decade; in May 2006 scores of people are killed in gang attacks and a police brutal response in Sao Paulo state; in June 2011 Security forces occupy one of the biggest slums in Rio de Janeiro, as part of a major crackdown on organized crime ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

The discontent generated by rising prices and the excessive spending to host the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games In Rio de Janeiro in 2016 have also been fuelled by the accusations that after Lula the party is losing its original soul, with corruption scandals filling the press news. Although the first corruption scandal emerged during Lula presidency in 2005, the fast action from the president announcing a wave of resignation within the party ranks and his televised apology reassured Brazilians of his goodwill leading to the re-election in 2006 and the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010. But soon it appeared that the old corruption monster of past governments was able to affect the Workers’ Party and scandals continued to emerge: in December 2007 the speaker of the Brazilian Senate and a key ally of President Lula, Renan Calheiros, resign in order to avoid an imminent impeachment hearing; in September 2008 President Lula suspends intelligence chiefs amid allegations their agencies spied on officials, politicians and judges; in June 2011 President Rousseff’s chief of staff resigns amid corruption allegations.

Whether it will be still the Workers’ Party to address this series of issues, with the aim of completing its programme with more attention to the needs of the population or it will be a change with Marina Silva and a sort of step back to a more liberal and capitalist strategy, one fact is clear: Brazil is a superpower in his childhood, and exactly like a child the good discipline imparted cannot be forgotten and must be used to build the next step of development.

 

Argentina: A Spectacular Recovery Can Survive on Political Nationalism?

Argentina, exactly like Brazil, after the dark age of a brutal dictatorship, the Falkland’s/Malvinas War and the years of uncontrolled corruption, assisted to a long period of exceptional growth. Although there are unresolved social issues and rising discontent within the poorest population, the achievement of Argentina’s economy have been even more remarkable if we take into account the crash of 2001-2002 which left a scar still visible today in the whole infrastructure that appear vulnerable and politically unstable.

However, unlike Brazil, Argentina turn to progressive leftist policies was not an obvious one or piloted by a proper socialist party, instead was the progressive wing of the Peronist party that emerged as victorious. Due to the strong critic against US policy and pursuing soon a policy mixed of nationalism and veiled socialist views, the Kirchners (Nestor and Cristina Fernandez) were able to rebuild the economy, obtaining strong popular support. Especially in recent years the government of Cristina Fernandez resorted even more to a strong and aggressive policy: justice for the criminals of the Dirty War, renewed claims on the Falklands/Malvinas and a new wave of nationalizations, aimed at secure popular support although critics points to the fact that this is just a diversion to mask the economic troubles that led to a new recent financial crisis.

Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly educated population, a globally competitive agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. The country is one of South America’s largest economies although it has also fallen prey to a boom and bust cycle. The modern history of Argentina’s economy started In 1999, when Fernando de la Rua, of the centre-left Alianza opposition coalition, won the presidency thus inheriting 114 billion-dollar public debt. In order to restructure the economy de la Rua accepted the IMF policies of austerity and an aid package for nearly 40 billion dollars. The harsh austerity measures provoked a mass unrest and strikes forcing de la Rua to form a government of national unity in July 2001 and appointing three finance ministers in as many weeks as cabinet resignations and protests continued. While the country’s credit rating started to slip, President de la Rua met US President George W Bush in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an economic crash in Argentina. By December 2001 Economy Minister Cavallo announced stronger restrictions to halt an exodus of bank deposits while the IMF stopped $1.3bn in aid. The news sparked violent riots during which 25 people died in street protests forcing on 20 December President Fernando de la Rua to resign. The appointments of Adolfo Rodriguez Saa first and Peronist Senator Eduardo Duhalde as president in January 2002 could not avoid the collapse: within days the government devalued the peso, ending 10 years of parity with the US dollar, banking and foreign exchange activity were suspended. In November 2002 Argentina defaulted on an $800m debt repayment to the World Bank, having failed to re-secure an IMF aid. The new elections called by Duhalde for March 2003, later put back to April, to try in winning public support for the government’s handling of the economic crisis in reality put an end of it opening a new era in Argentina’s history.

In May 2003 Nestor Kirchner is sworn in as president after former President Carlos Menem, who gained most votes in the first round of elections, pulled out before the second round. During Kirchner’s presidency a recovery was well under way, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a vital new loan. Since then, Argentina has restructured its massive debt, offering creditors new bonds for the defaulted ones, and has repaid its debt to the IMF.

Between 2003 and 2012, GDP doubled, with an average annual economic growth rate close to 7.2 percent, which constituted the highest average growth rate achieved in the country’s economic history for such a long period. More importantly, this unparalleled economic growth was socially inclusive, reflected in a clear reduction in poverty, unemployment, and inequality, making Argentina’s GDP per capita one of the highest in Latin America. Since 2003, key components of Argentina’s growth model were the creation of quality jobs, the progressive reduction of inequality, social inclusion and better income distribution. During this period, 500,000 new jobs were created each year, and unemployment thus was reduced from 18 percent in 2002 to 6.9 percent in 2012. The minimum wage grew to be the largest in Latin America. In turn, the average real wage increased by more than 37 percent. The end-result was a historic increase in living standards, which is reflected in the doubling of the middle-class between 2003 and 2009, as found by a report by the World Bank, only 24 percent of the population in 2003 against 46% in 2009.

The economic boost was mainly due to a more flexible exchange rate regime, a sustained global and regional growth, a boost in monetary, fiscal and income distribution policies, and a favorable international commodity prices. The economic recovery enabled the government to accumulate substantial official reserves, over $51 billion as of late August 2010. Poverty dropped to 12% in 2010 from the record high of over 50% in 2001-2002. Foreign trade played an increasingly important role in Argentina’s economic development, and key export markets included Brazil, EU, China, U.S. and Chile. The production of grains, cattle, and other agricultural goods continues to be the backbone of Argentina’s export economy while high-technology goods and services are emerging as significant export sectors.

This was the extraordinary period of growth that coincided with Nestor Kirchner presidency and his wife Cristina Fernandez at least until his death in 2010. The extraordinary economic results gave huge support to the presidents along with some of the internal policies such as the strong commitment to make justice for the Dirty War years crimes by imprisoning those responsible. Tens of thousands of people were killed by the military junta between 1976 and 1983; the bodies of many abductees (known as the desaparecidos “disappeared” ) have never been found, although forensic work continues to recover them. Amnesties which protected former junta members from prosecution (established during Carlos Menem presidency) were repealed in 2003 and the pardons granted to military leaders overturned in 2005. Soon followed the trials and the sentences: in October 2007 former Roman Catholic police chaplain Christian Von Wernich is convicted of collaborating in the murder and torture of prisoners; in August 2008 two former generals are sentenced to life imprisonment for their actions; former military ruler General Jorge Videla is sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity; former naval officer Alfredo Astiz and 11 other former members of the security forces are given life sentences for crimes against humanity; in July 2012 two former junta leaders were found guilty of overseeing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners during 1976-1983 dictatorship: Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were sentenced to 50 and 15 years in prison respectively.

Although world economic entered a period of crisis in 2008, Argentina managed to stay afloat continuing its economic growth and ensuring to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, succeeded to her husband in 2007, a comfortable presidency. The trend is also confirmed when, following the death in October 2010 of the ex-President Nestor Kirchner and seen as likely to come back into power in 2011 elections, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner wins a second term with a landslide 54% of the vote mainly thanks to the economic successes. But her second term is also the most controversial one and lead to the present new economic crisis, thus for many opening a second phase for Argentina.

After a 9.2 percent growth rate in 2010, and 8.9 percent in 2011, in 2012 the economy only grew by 1.9 percent in a context of a persistent drought that impacted heavily on agricultural output. Strong economic activity recovered in 2013 but the global financial turmoil and rapid declines in world commodity prices started to impact Argentina’s market. While the economic downturn was less severe in Argentina than elsewhere, the deterioration of both domestic and international demand complicated the fiscal situations of both the federal government and the provinces. Nevertheless, was still the financial sphere that causes apprehension, due to Argentine arrears to international creditors and a large number of arbitration claims filed by foreign companies that remain to be resolved. Outstanding external debts included over $6.3 billion owed to official creditors according to Government of Argentina statistics, including about $500 million owed to the United States. By July 2014 Argentina made a final attempt to reach a deal with a group of US creditors to avoid a possible default on its debt, but a US federal judge did not allow the country to make a scheduled payment to bond holders unless it paid the creditors as well. This opened to the current financial crisis although many point at other economic indicators that put Cristina Fernandez under accusations of mismanagement.

By 2014 the government was struggling with high inflation, slow economic growth, falling central bank reserves and weak exports to key markets such Brazil. Argentina’s economy slipped into contraction in the January to March quarter for the first time in nearly two years with consumer prices rising by 12.9 percent, while international reserves shrank by 25 percent. Argentina’s has been accused of masking economic results to avoid international pressure and keep internal support. The inflation rate was estimated by many private-sector economists to be around 30% a year, consumer prices were rising by about 25 percent annually, while the peso currency’s black market rate was 48 percent weaker than the official rate. After several years of publishing non-credible statistics, Argentina’s official statistics agency (INDEC) released substantially revised inflation and GDP growth data that are closer in line with private estimates. The IMF had formally censured Argentina in February 2013 because of manipulation of inflation and GDP data, the first act of this kind in financial history.

Nevertheless, Cristina Fernandez managed to stay in power and keep support mainly due to a policy of political nationalism and economic nationalization, turning more to the left to appease popular demands. Argentina remains locked in a territorial dispute with Britain over the Falklands Islands, which are governed as a British overseas territory, but have been claimed by Buenos Aires since the 1830s as Las Malvinas. The issue led to war in 1982, when the islands fell to an invasion launched by Argentina’s military junta, but were re-conquered by Britain in a conflict that caused hundreds of deaths on both sides. Cristina Fernandez supported renewed claims over Las Malvinas by handing documents to UN formally laying claim to a vast expanse of the ocean, as far as the Antarctic and including island chains governed by Britain; imposing new controls on ships passing through its waters to Falklands Islands and even persuaded members of the South American trading bloc Mercosur to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag during the 30th anniversary of the war. In March 2013 Falkland Islanders vote overwhelmingly in favour of remaining a British overseas territory but Argentina described the referendum as pointless. Parallel to this political nationalism, Kirchner proceed in a nationalization plan that hit energy company YPF, which was majority owned by Spain’s Repsol. In November 2013, President Fernandez appoints left wingers to run the cabinet of economy, agriculture and central bank in a move to strengthen state intervention.

All the above moves aimed at uniting the traditional nationalism of the peronist party by pursuing Las Malvinas claims and increase economic state interventionism to please the left radicals ensured to Cristina Fernandez a majority in the congress even when she has lost control on some provinces in the last elections. Playing Las Malvinas card is always a sure bet as the majority of Argentineans still consider this a post-colonial issue, and also put Argentina in the forefront of those countries that in South America strongly oppose the arrogance of the main powers such US or UK. Using interventionism in economy, pleased some of the radicals within the party as well as opening to a cooperation with left sectors that will connect the president with the popular strata more inclined to support social policies.

Whether Argentina will be able to achieve resilience in economy and put behind the traumas of the financial crashes it will depend on how effectively the government will be able to play its cards without bluffing: the result could backfire leaving more arguments to the opposition rather than the supporters.

Written by Matteo Figus

19/09/2014 at 16:59

Latin America: Once Washington’s Back Garden, Today a Land of Raising Powers

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Trying to keep under a “political control” the proximity area is not only a Russian prerogative, and it is what usually great powers have exercised over centuries to guarantee their own security. Russia’s looking after the ex soviet republic has for decades found its parallel in the American “back garden policy” towards Latin America which found its roots in the famous Monroe Doctrine. The subcontinent for decades has been put under the iron fist of Washington with the main task of counterbalancing the rising of socialism and the possible contagion from Cuba. However, if this policy gave its fruit and was pursued steadily during the Cold War, since the collapse of Soviet Union the US started to lose their grip as Russia started to lose its own on the east.

The last 20 years have seen great changes in Latin America, shaping the terrain for future development and at the same time brining into the 21st century continuity with the remnants of the past. Where it is heading today Latin America and what signals gave in the past two decades?

Latin America after having witnessed some of the most brutal dictatorships during the Cold War period started to develop finally its own road towards an “autonomous democracy” although not solving completely the problems inherited from the past (colonial and post independence). The Cold War inevitably put the subcontinent under the American radar in trying to eradicate any repetition of the Cuban experiment or, to use a word from Che Guevara, any “foco” able to develop in a new revolution Cuban style or to a socialist turn like in Chile. Dictatorships were appeased and even favored in some of the hot spots of leftist insurgence and radical political groups: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia just to name some. Where dictatorship never arrived to repress the political shift, a counter revolution or a civil war was used, such in Nicaragua, to counter the Sandinistas or fomenting repression in Guatemala and El Salvador. Exactly like the Soviet Union, the US controlled its neighbors blocking any attempt to a political progress considered less favorable. Nevertheless, the end of the Cold War suddenly exposed the US policy towards the subcontinent as obsolete and counterproductive, leading to a U-turn towards what can be described a disinterested or a sort of self accomplished security, thus paving the way for a more autonomous policy by the Latin American countries.

Latin America, free from the heavy guard of Washington, started to develop its own political choices as well as facing its unresolved problems, and developed interesting factors in international politics. Latin America is a land in rapid economic progress but is also full of contradictions and paradoxes, the recent Fifa World Cup in Brazil exposed to the world what the subcontinent is: potentially rich but marred by violence and civil unrest due to poverty, inequality, corruption, and police brutality. Latin America today offers some interesting points of discussion that we can identify under an economic, political and institutional field. On the economic field the subcontinent struggles between rapid growth and the inequality and poverty that destroy the dreams for the population such in Brazil or with economies oscillating from grow to sudden crashes like in Argentina. On the political field, since 1990 we assisted to a revival of Marxism both under a revolutionary strategy like in Chiapas, Venezuela and Bolivia or passing for milder turns like in Brazil, Uruguay and even Nicaragua where even ex guerrilla fighters started their own conversion from radicalism to reformism. Last, and not least, the institutional collapse of some of the fragile states in Latin America is better represented by the struggle of Mexico against its own drug cartels or the never ending Colombian guerrilla legacy which still leave the government under a constant threat.

Written by Matteo Figus

19/09/2014 at 16:11

Maths is not an opinion: Ob : Ne = Pu : Ua

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Politics is a science and often is described as an art, but generally cannot escape the harsh and crude judgement that reality and history, through facts, expose in front of us.

We can debate on how we arrive to certain conclusions and how a fact unfolded, but that will not change the fact itself in being established. Exactly like maths, the result is not under question and two plus two is four, no question about.

The equation Ob stays to Ne as Pu stays to Ua is a scientific proof that politics can run along double standards and even hypocrisy but also that will not change the crude reality of the actual situation, whether we like or not. We can still refuse to accept the result but that does not change the fact.

What the equation stands for? It stands for the actual international scenario, where in face of the double standards, censorship and propaganda from the west and the east, there is a convergence of result and responsibilities. Obama stays at Netanyahu as Putin stays at Ukraine. This is a crude and real fact, both part of the equation explain the same result: power, nationalism, strategic interest. In one word forget humanitarian concerns.

Gaza and Ukraine are the face of the same medal but Western and Russian propaganda are trying to demonstrate the contrary. Everything has been said about the Ukrainian crisis, but the latest developments following the Malaysian plane disaster are the example of how to use a tragedy for strategic interests. No one really is thinking of the victims, but only how to exploit this to further escalate a tension with Russia. The whole archetype of the western democracy and judicial system is the presumption of innocence until a free trial and evidence is found. But what about the Ukrainian disaster? Official accusations to Russia are moved everyday by US and UK governments based on supposition, ideas, satellite images never shown, telephone interception never verified. On the other side, Russia is playing the same game, claiming Ukrainian responsibility but also without bringing a shred of proof. Although, it is legitimate to speculate and even advance hypothesis to the causes of the disaster and, based on facts, hazard an explanation, from speculation to actually build sanctions and international condemnation is a big jump ahead.

Going back to our initial question then, what makes different Ukraine from Israel? Where are the same indignation and disgust for the civilians killed in indiscriminate Israeli raids? If the same amount or even a 1/3 of all victims were caused by Putin or Yanukovich, we were probably already sending troops to fight in Ukraine. What makes this unhappy child, that is Israel, being continually immune from criticism and repercussions?

The support that Israel receives, not only militarily but also on a diplomatic level is such that if Netanyahu is responsible of war crimes, then are also his sponsors such US and UK. Exactly like they consider Putin the mastermind behind Ukraine, then you cannot deny Obama and US administration responsibility for the total impunity on how Israel conducts its criminal war in Palestine, Gaza, including past wars.

So, an objective analysis is still possible? Can we escape the brainwashing of our media, like the BBC putting Ukraine plane disaster on top of the news whilst Gaza is discussed like an appendix, an unfortunate situation to try to play down, to ignore the civilian dead by their fault because being there and not because of a military attack from Israel?

 

Israel has the right to defend itself. How many times we heard this sentence, and it has been as long as the dispute itself. Of course we know that every country has a right to defence but Israel is a state that signed international conventions, including for human rights, and cannot use this as a pretext to bombard indiscriminately all the Gaza strip. The IDF is now fighting these endless wars for over 50 years, and still they pretend to tell us that they do not know that due to Gaza’s high population density civilian victims are likely to happen. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, although now trying to transform itself in a political group, and its launch of missiles indiscriminately against innocent Israeli civilians is a crime, but this does not justify Israel to kill in the same way innocent people. Hospitals, schools, UN buildings, houses are these all Hamas nests? Even if Hamas is using human shields as Israel claims, and they are aware of, does this legitimate you to kill innocents anyway? Hamas is a terrorist group, but for a state to be classed as terrorist is ten times worst and this what Israel has become.

The unhappy child, like North Korea is for China with its tantrums, is the best way to expose the western double standards.

What about the Ukrainian plane disaster? Let’s start from the basics assumptions.

Ukrainian responsibility can be considered in two ways: a fighter jet shoot down the plane or a surface to air missile hit MH17. An objective analysis will says: If a fighter jet shoots down a civilian plane by mistake, then it means that it was trying to hit another plane, but rebels for what we know do not have an air force. Same apply to the missile theory, if they shot down the plane than the target could only have been another fighter jet, but rebel do not have an air force. Therefore this opens a further speculation: was it in response of a violation of the Ukrainian air space by Russian planes?

Rebels responsibility, once established that they do not have an air force, can only be considered under the use of surface to air missiles such the famous BUK. This also means that they were likely trying to shoot down a Ukrainian fighter jet, and clearly making a huge mistake.

Thus this opens other questions? How the rebels managed to obtain such sophisticated system, was from Russia or was stolen from Ukrainian hardware? If a Ukrainian fighter jet was flying nearer MH17, why this was happening? Why civilian flights have been allowed over Eastern Ukraine air space and over a conflict zone? It has been said that above 10,000 km flights would have been considered safe, but nobody was aware of any BUK missile deployed in the area? Where was the intelligence from US when they were able to spot three tanks entering from the Russian border but failed to spot a BUK missile system being deployed or supplied by Russia?

At last Russia, can it be held responsible? Obviously, but first should be established whether a BUK missile system has been supplied to rebels, or a fighter jest crossed over Ukraine airspace or they have fired themselves against the civilian plane.

 

Nevertheless, all the above are only speculations and may be total rubbish, unless actual proof is given, but from speculation to actually start officially accusing someone is again a big jump into the unknown.

 

To go back to our equation then Putin still stays at Ukraine, because exactly like the US, Russia uses strategic interest and goals to weaken the enemy presence and the plane incident, like the Gaza war, are at the eyes of the masters unfortunate episodes that they try to cover as much as they can or to explain differences. Their luck is that media are biased in Washington and London as in Moscow and they brainwash easily their audience; their misfortune is that where media freedom is blinded by nationalistic views, everyone using their own judgement can escape the mainstream media and search for the truth or the fact independently.

 

Unfortunately for all of us, and especially for the Gaza and the plane victims, big powers do not have long memory and focus, exactly like a child they have a short time span focus and so they easily change their attention as soon as a new front is open: that happened to Mali, Iraq and Isis, North Korea, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Boko Haram, Kenya, Al Shabab, etc.

Maths is not an opinion is a fact, war crimes are also facts, but justice unfortunately is becoming a mere opinion.

 

 

Written by Matteo Figus

27/07/2014 at 14:30

The Isis: An Offensive Not Only Towards Iraq

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The Isis offensive has exposed not only the failure of the Iraqi state but also of the whole Middle Eastern strategy pursued in these years by the US. “I told you so”, this is the resounding and well known sentence that many are now saying referring to the Iraqi situation. It is difficult not to comment or express sympathy for the use of the sentence when for years we have been brainwashed with the fairy tale of the “mission accomplished” or of Iraq becoming a stronger state. However, acute observers did not miss to notice the constant bloodshed of car bombings and suicide attacks targeting Baghdad’s markets or Shia sanctuaries as worrying signs of an incoming sectarian violence.

The hypocrisy is reaching gigantic dimension then if we look at Syria, where for years Assad warned of Al Qaida linked group filling the ranks of the insurgency and branded as mere propaganda from the West. You would have expected at least the decency of an “admission of misunderstanding” (a diplomatic way to admit failure) instead we heard American and British officials saying that they could not prevent or foresee Isis offensive. Is that true? One fact is established: unless Isis is taken into the wider picture that is set by its own goals, and therefore addressing not only Iraq but also Syria, the risk of a civil war spilling across the region, not on nationalist lines bit on sectarian ones, is becoming an alarming possibility.

 

Who is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant?

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (alternatively translated as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fī al-ʻIrāq wa-al-Shām), abbreviated ISIL, ISIS, now officially calling itself simply the Islamic State (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية‎ al-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah), is an unrecognized state and active jihadist militant group in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a sovereign state, it claims the territory of Iraq and Syria, which implies future claims over more of the Levant region, including Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, a part of southern Turkey and Cyprus.

The group in its original form was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organizations, the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the insurgent groups Jaysh al-Fatiheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal Sunnah and Jeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, and a number of Iraqi tribes that profess Sunni Islam.

Isis has witnessed significant growth as an organization owing to the deteriorated security situation in Iraq and Syria, both subjected to the western change of regime strategy. In Iraq Isis flourished due to the Sunni population being sidelined by the Shia government in Baghdad, where political discrimination and even persecution created the fertile support for Sunni insurgents to join the group. In Syria, the civil war created the situation under which ISIS make the most of the inability of the government to control its borders, taking advantage of the influx of armaments from neighboring countries and supporting Sunni in their struggle against the Alawite minority in power. In the ongoing Syrian civil war, Isis has a large presence in the Syrian governorates of Ar-Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo.

Isis may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including 3,000 foreigners with many arriving from Chechnya and even from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

Isis is known for its harsh interpretation of Islam and brutal violence, which is directed particularly against Shia Muslims. In addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians on both Iraq and Syria. Isis had close links with al-Qaeda until 2014 but, after an eight-month power struggle, al-Qaeda cut all ties with the group, reportedly for its “notorious intractability” and brutality, although the reason is more related to divergent strategic objectives between the group and the main al Qaida linked movement in Syria, Al Nusra Front.

Isis is now widely regarded not as a terrorist organization but as a proper army with ambitions to govern, similar to the Taliban: they have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, they currently run social programs, which includes social services, religious lectures, it also performs civil tasks such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply.

The group is also known for its effective use of propaganda. In November 2006, the group established the al-Furqan Institute for Media Production, which produced CDs, DVDs, posters, pamphlets, and web-related propaganda products. Isis’s main media outlet is the I’tisaam Media Foundation, which was formed in March 2013 and distributes through the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). In 2014, ISIS established the Al Hayat Media Center, which targets a Western audience and produces material in English and German, and the Ajnad Media Foundation, which releases jihadist audio chants. Isis’s use of social media has been described as sophisticated and it regularly takes advantage of social media, particularly Twitter.

It is estimated that Isis have assets worth $2 billion, making it the richest jihadist group in the world. About three quarters of this sum is represented by assets seized after the group captured Mosul in June 2014, including likely $429 million looted from Mosul’s central bank as well as a large quantity of gold bullion. Sources of funding are mainly generated from kidnapping, extortion rackets, robbing banks and gold shops. The group is also widely reported as receiving funding from private donors in Gulf States, and both Iran and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding Isis, although there is reportedly no evidence that this is the case. The group is also believed to be receiving considerable funds from its operations in Eastern Syria, where it has control on oil fields and engages in smuggling out raw materials and archaeological artifacts. ISIS also generates revenues from producing crude oil and selling electric power in northern Syria.

A caliphate was eventually proclaimed on 29 June 2014, with the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named as its caliph, the group was renamed the Islamic State and calling for Muslims to accept obedience.

 

Paradoxes and Contradictions fuel ISIS growth

 

So why is now Isis becoming so important even to create a miraculous rapprochement of Washington with Iran? The reason it may be the obvious partition of oil resources but at a closer look the US policy is more similar to a matryoshka. On the exterior the policy may have been shortsighted and failed in addressing the future state structure when a change of regime is achieved, but it also offer inside a sub-goal that is to create a weak state unable to survive and be dependent of US assistance. This opens therefore to the third sub-goal that is to generate an instable situation in the region under which no one will be enough powerful to overcome or undermine western interests.

For years the US have branded the change of regime policy as an infallible tool to export democracy, but they never considered that once eliminating a strong power the spot could be soon filled by another questionable or even more dangerous figure. Nevertheless, this strategy, even though being blind on future scenarios, suits best for the principle of divide et impera by fuelling internal instability. Iraq with its Shia government, although officially approved by Washington, has also been under scrutiny due to its Iranian links, and this is the reason why Kurds have been allowed to maintain their formidable army of Peshmerga. But exactly as per Shia groups, the Kurds cannot be allowed to exert influence to the point of creating an independent state across the region. So whilst on the news the US branded Iraq a mission accomplished, the constant bloodshed in everyday life simply exposed a failing project waiting to develop a next stage. Isis grew out of these paradoxes and religious violence, but what Washington did not planned or considered is that the internal instability is evolving into sectarian violence and completely underestimates the importance of the Syrian civil war connection.

 

Isis could have never reached the current proportion without also gaining valuable advantages from the Syrian civil war. The other rebel and opposition fighters have been soon outgunned by government’s forces while the western and especially Arab supplies soon ended in Isis or Al Nusra hands thus polarizing the conflict not as political but as religious. Assad’s warnings have always been branded as regime propaganda, but on the ground ISIS gained not only equipment but also basis and oil fields in Syria, has been able to deploy a stronger army to counter not only government forces but also other rebel groups, Al Nusra and even to support Iraqi insurgency.

Whilst stronger concern has been put on Iraq with the Syrian side of the Isis activities continuing to be underestimated, on the other Assad and rebel groups fight against Isis basically alone and you can wonder how it would be possible to destroy effectively the group without targeting its basis in Syria.

Isis offensive in fact opened at the eyes of the whole wide world the paradox and contradictions of the Middle Eastern policy of several countries, all of which have little or nothing to do with the wellbeing of Iraqis.

 

ISIS Effects in the Region

 

Syria

Isis already controls large parts of northern and eastern Syria, including much of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour provinces. Emboldened by the gains made in Iraq, Isis fighters seized a number of strategically important towns along the Syrian side of the border. They also used weapons and equipment seized from the Iraqi army.

Isis’s advance is said to have alarmed the Syrian government, which has allegedly refrained from targeting the jihadist group because of the damage it has caused to more moderate rebel forces. However, over the past weeks, the Syrian air force has for the first time attacked Isis strongholds and also for the first time neighboring Iraq even welcomed action in its own territory.

The main Syrian opposition alliance, the National Coalition, has said it has been warning about the threat posed by Isis for years, and that pro-Western and Islamist rebel groups should have been given the military aid they needed earlier to counter it. They launched an offensive to expel Isis from Syria in January, triggering fighting that has killed thousands. Syria offers the excellent conditions for a jihadist group to raise and shine: security decay, arms influx, fighters joining from other countries, indifference of big powers. Buy Syria is not different from Iraq, you have an alawite minority, Shia linked, that struggle for maintain its power, you have the Kurds and you have the Sunni population that have been subjected to decades of discrimination.

But if Iraq received outmost attention and even forced US and Britain to reconsider their links with Iran, Syria on the other is still seen as a country to be left alone struggling against the group. This reinforce the idea that behind the concern there is in reality an use of Isis to reach the ultimate goal that is a change of regime and destroy another pillar of the anti US policy in Middle East.

 

Iran

Iran’s Supreme Leader rejected military intervention in Iraq by the US, accusing Washington of trying to manipulate sectarian divisions to retake the country it once occupied. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he believed Iraqis could end the violence themselves.

The region’s leading Shia power is reported to have sent troops to Iraq to advise its security forces on how to tackle Isis. The commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Gen Qasem Soleimani, has flown to Baghdad to oversee the capital’s defences and the thousands of Iraqi Shia who have responded to calls to take up arms and defend their country, particularly its Shia shrines.

Iran has steadily built up its influence in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, with whom it fought a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s. Many Iraqi leaders spent years in exile in Iran, and their political parties and militia receive support from Tehran. Iran strengthened its position in Middle East in recent years thanks mostly to the reckless actions of the western coalition, but at the same time Iran understood very soon the danger posed by the policy of divide et impera and the possible degeneration into sectarian violence. This is the reason why if one side Iran welcome the request of intervention to stop Isis on the other does not approve western involvement in a situation created ad hoc by them. Iran is aware that the West, without a powerful Iranian support, will not achieve its goals, reason why Teheran is instead strengthening its forces with Assad.

 

Jordan

Jordan has bolstered its defences along the border with Iraq with tanks and rocket-launchers after Sunni militants seized territory in the west of Anbar province and took control of the Iraqi side of the only land crossing with Jordan at Traybil.

The loss of Traybil is not seen as an immediate security threat to Jordan. However, army units had been put in a state of alert.

Some analysts believe Jordan could be Isis’s next target. However, they note that the government is more stable than Iraq’s, its army more effective, and its jihadist ideologues have denounced Isis’s brutality. In addition Jordan strong links with the Palestinian cause will open another theatre of operations with all the dangers connected to it.

 

Turkey

ISIS has taken over a number of cities and towns near Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, and kidnapped dozens of Turkish citizens.

Although the Turkish government has threatened to retaliate if any of its citizens are harmed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of the risks of launching air strikes against the Isis-led forces in Iraq because of the risk of serious civilian casualties.

Analysts say the Turkish government is changing its stance on the creation of an independent Kurdish state in north-eastern Iraq, which it has long opposed. Officials now reportedly believe that Iraq will end up becoming a loose federation of three entities – Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shia Arab – or divided altogether. Nevertheless, Turkey did not officially commented on the Kurds aspiration of creating a wider state encompassing also Turkish and Syrian territories.

Erdogan’s opponents also say his government has helped Isis by allowing Syria-bound jihadists to pass freely through its territory.

 

Saudi Arabia

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki openly accused Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni Gulf power, of promoting “crimes that may qualify as genocide” by providing financial and moral support to Isis. The Saudi government rejected what it called a “malicious falsehood”. It stressed that it wished to see the destruction of Isis, and blamed the “exclusionist policies” of Maliki’s Shia-dominated government.

Despite such assertions, Isis is widely believed to receive money from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of Saudis are also believed to have fought in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

The authorities in Riyadh are increasingly concerned about returning Saudi jihadists switching their attention to the kingdom.

 

Kuwait

The Kuwaiti government has been criticised for having allowed wealthy donors to fund extremist groups. Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah has said the recent developments in Iraq are “deeply worrying” but were “expected”.

The Kuwaiti minister responsible for border security, Maj Gen Sheikh Mohammed al-Youssef, assured citizens and residents that the emirate’s northern frontier was safe. He said the state of readiness of the Kuwaiti military did not need to be raised because the situation in the predominantly Shia south of Iraq was “calm”. Wealthy donors based in Kuwait are believed to have given money to ISIS and other extremist Sunni rebel groups in Syria. This has increased the hostility of Iran and Syria towards the Gulf States.

 

Conclusion

The US are now caught in this situation that on one side may be a step further of their policy but in reality it could spill out of control very soon. While the US are trying to get Iran into the dispute, the move could be seen as hardly genuinely believable, as there is a sense that an Iranian involvement into the conflict could in reality exacerbate the sectarian violence rather than solve it. For many analysts Iran intervention is as questionable as Israel’s one. In such polarized situation while Isis is pushing for an all out war against Shia groups, on the other Israel in engaged again in the never ending saga with Hamas in Gaza. A war in the Gaza Strip would inevitably offer even more dangerous reasons to further damage the already fragile situation in the region, out of which Isis could get the biggest benefit.

The US are finding themselves caught in the paradox of their own policy without a future but with sub targets. The problem is that this time an intervention in Iraq could be seen as pro Shia government and will open questions about inaction in Syria; an intervention in Syria at the same time is not even considered, and while Turkey is calling for Kurds independence like Israel, it is difficult not to question why Tel Aviv government is keen to appease independence for Kurds and reject any negotiation on the Occupied Territories. This reinforces the idea that the whole project is to split the area in small states, and that there is a convergence of interests bringing together the US, Turkey and Israel on eventually accepting the partition of Iraq but continuing to destroy the Assad regime.

Syria and Iran are on the other side strengthening their partnership and, although not mentioned, they look with preoccupation at Lebanon as the possible next confrontation ground for ISIS, where the ground for a sectarian violence is fertile and where the two states have an ally in the Hezbollah.

 

The choice between partition versus enabling governments, although questionable they may be, to fight on their own terrorist groups, is the key to resolve Isis crisis, but a wrong move could open even more dangerous perspectives not only for the Middle East but also for US security and the West as a whole.

Written by Matteo Figus

11/07/2014 at 17:08

The Ukrainian Crisis: When Moscow plays in being the West

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The Ukrainian crisis, as we have seen already, has a domestic and an international dimension, both being the reason of the unrest and probably of its solution. While western and eastern Ukraine uses nationalism and ethnic factors to justify their struggle, the West and Russia act in a common ground of a “fake paternalism” that in reality covers the strategic and geopolitical interests behind their actions.

Especially Russia has been a sort of a puzzle recently towards the Ukrainian crisis: from triumphant action in securing a deal with Yanukovich in December 2013, to his demise in February this year; from the military action and annexation to Crimea to the stall and sometimes undecipherable position towards eastern Ukraine.

What really Russia wants from Ukraine? Is it real the threat of military intervention or it is a bluff, a sort of soviet-era blackmailing?

 

Moscow intervention is due to western historic blindness

The reasons of the Russian involvement in Ukraine are deeply rooted in history and especially in the last twenty years of international politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia assisted to the downfall of every single partner or satellite country, assisted to the failing of the state and its institutions, and especially was subjected to the West “revenge and punishment”. Russia in the 90s was a derelict state, anarchy was widespread, internationally was the “pet” of Washington, who used all its economic might to keep Russia under the leash. The US were free to move in the world scenario without any control, and if Russia was less concerned about the Iraqi invasion, the Balkans wars and Somalia turmoil, everything started to change for the bad to worse very soon. Washington’s plan to build a missile shield, officially against Iran and North Korea but in reality against Russia, increased nationalism in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Czech Republic, all countries that happily offered to assist the US. Russia started to realize that behind the friendly and paternalistic face there was a design to put Russia in a cage from where it will not be able to resurface again, a revival of the cordon sanitaire used against bolshevism in the last century.

But many can argue, if Russia was is such derelict conditions, then why the Americans were so keen to waste time and resources in this strategy? The reason is because the US knew that Yeltsin would not have been able to hold power for long and the strategy was to keep weak an adversary already wounded, before it was too late. Unfortunately for the US, the Chechen terrorism helped Russia in finding the key man to turn around its destiny: Vladimir Putin.

His ruthless conduct in the Chechen War was his business card to the West, that surely understood that the new Kremlin course would be a bumpy one, but at the same time underestimated Putin’s capacity to hold power for long and especially to rebuild Russia’s self esteem. During the ‘war on terror years’ and the Bush preventive war strategy, Russia still played a submissive role: western sponsored UN resolutions were voted in favor or abstained, a criticism was shout but not too loud. The US continued to look at Russia as an ex superpower, something to keep an eye on but not to be worried too much.

This therefore started to build in the West that sort of over confidence that any action against Russia, even the sensible ones, will not generate greater consequences. In this project aimed at destroying Russia’s vital space in the east, were used the “revolutions” or change of regime piloted to overthrow pro-Russian governments and replace them with pro-western ones. The main pillars of this strategy were: the missiles shield in Poland and Romania, the Ukrainian revolutions and Georgia.

In reality while the US and its allies continued to see Russia as a “pet”, they did not realize that Putin was already rebuilding its military might, the economy was growing at faster rate and the country was in the verge of an economic boom. Russia had to digest some hard situations but the turning point was in 2008, not for Obama election but instead for two important events that changed Russian politics for ever: Kosovo independence and Georgia action in Abkhazia and Ossetia.

2008: Back to the future, when soviet praxis meet Putin’s modernism.

The unilateral independence of Kosovo from Serbia enraged the Kremlin, denouncing a violation of international law and designed to split countries with ethnic or religious differences, like Russia. Russia for the first time appeared not only angry by words but took decisive steps blocking any recognition to the new state. However, we were far from any real action. This to Washington seemed the “ usual dog that barks but never bites” and therefore came the next step: Georgia.

The imprudent and suicidal action of president Saakashvili to retake Abkhazia and Ossetia by force, with the benediction of the West, changed the course. The Russian blitzkrieg, not only destroyed the Georgian army, but even put at risk the existence of the country itself as the Russian troops were marching on Tbilisi. The shock for Georgia and the West was unprecedented: Russia was at war and no one knew how to stop, suddenly the pet became again the big bear of soviet times, irascible, intractable, and aggressive.

The Georgian war, that took as a pretext the defense of Russian citizens in the two breakaway regions recognized by Moscow, was a clear response to the US for Kosovo. From then the relations between the two countries has deteriorated further: Russia cut the opposition out of power; paid its financial debts and expelled USAID, deemed useless for a rich nation like Russia; rebuilt the military power which display every year in the Victory Day parade in soviet style; restored nationalism and pride; internationally ended the appeasement to Washington. If Russia committed the fatal error to let the US act in Libya, Putin did not thought twice in blocking any attempt to intervention in Syria or fomenting unrest in Iran.

So why the Ukrainian crisis unfolded? The West after the debacle in Syria, where for two years was trying to build a case against Assad to legitimate an armed intervention, i.e. the chemical weapons, saw Russia not only blocking any UN resolution but even reaching successfully a deal, that it is still in place, to control and destroy these dangerous weapons. Russia’s move, is seen as the first major diplomatic success since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and for the first time we saw emerging what in Putin’s mind is the resetting of the world relations under a ‘Yalta restore system’ to superpowers balance.

But everyone knew that the tit for tat politics, used by both countries in the Cold War, was only starting and how to strike at Russia’s very heart of interests? Appeasing the Ukrainian protests was for the West a return to the policy of piloted change of regime and at the same time this would have enraged Russia. However, Washington was wrong in the calculation that Russian reaction could not led to a Georgian style intervention even though, this time, was a surgical intervention. Russia intervened to take what was needed and keep the rest in standby, while the West does not have a case either for intervention of for blocking Russian interference.

Nevertheless, we would be wrong to think of Russia’s actions in a straight line and without the double standards of which Moscow accuse the West. Crimea is not eastern Ukraine and Putin knows that.

 

Russian double standards: Crimea and the Donbas

Crimea,that was already an autonomous region within Ukraine, since the start of the unrest, voiced preoccupation and signals of a shift towards Russia. Its major Russian population and especially the naval base that Russia kept from soviet times, were all reasons for the Kremlin to do not waste a lifetime opportunity. Putin considered Crimea under a strategic and geopolitical factor masked by nationalism and rhetoric to facilitate a return to the mother land.

Putin used nationalism to obtain internal approval, but the reality is that Russia could not afford to lose the Black Sea fleet: it is needed to access and control the eastern Mediterranean (Syria), keep under control NATO states. If under a military point of view there was nothing that Kiev could have done to prevent a takeover, and a war that Russia probably would have fought for real, even on historical side there were few reasons to oppose a change. Crimea has always been Russian since 1783, although Tartar population lived in the peninsula until 1944. The Czars fight to control the peninsula and the access to the sea was vital. Even under the Soviet Union, Crimea was until 1954 a region depending from Russia SSR, although being an autonomous region. The main change occurred in the WWII when, following the Nazis invasion, some Ukrainians assisted the Germans, and in Crimea some Tartars fought against the Russians. At war over, Stalin revenge was devastating: he deported the entire population of Tartars in Siberia, and the peninsula was reshaped under Russian predominance and held with an iron grip. However, in 1954, the soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Ukrainian, in the prologue to the famous de-stalinisation transferred Crimea to the Ukraine SSR, seen by many in the Soviet Union as a sort of compensation, justified under administrative advantages represented by geographical and common economic structure with Ukraine. Russia always maintained its naval base, and the situation remained unchanged until our times. The Tartars were allowed to return in Crimea only in 1991.

Ukraine and the West, although ventilated anger and still do not recognize Russian annexation, know that in fact this is now a fait accompli and regard Crimea as something non defendable; even ex US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex Soviet president Mikhail Gorbacev, who are far from being considered Putin’s supporters, condemned US negation of history and Russia’s right to Crimea. Nevertheless, this exposes also Moscow hypocrisy: what about Kosovo then? Six years ago they furiously denounced a violation of international law by allowing a unilateral referendum, and now the same happened in Crimea but with sides switched. Has Moscow changed line? Not really, the Kremlin still regards any unilateral action as dangerous to a country national unity, especially in a country like Russia, but the gain from Crimea and the potential loss of a strategic base were far more important than this pillar of Russian policy and for one time have been overlooked. This can be demonstrated by the total different approach towards eastern Ukraine.

When the eastern regions declared unilaterally an independence referendum, Moscow was silent and on more than one occasion even invited the rebels to refrain as there were no suitable conditions to hold a poll due to military engagement, although in reality the situation was not that dissimilar from Crimea. Moscow, following Crimea annexation, threatened military intervention in the east, as did in Georgia, to defend Russian citizens, but in reality nothing happened, although we have had already many episodes that could have been taken as a pretext: the Odessa fire, an assassination attempt of pro Russian mayor in Kharkhiv, the recent assault to the Russian embassy in Kiev. Nonetheless the Russian tanks are still on the other side of the border, except for old fashion ones that supposedly crossed and joined the rebels. This demonstrates that Russia is playing a different game in Ukraine: is doing exactly what Washington has been doing is Syria by arming rebels, fomenting unrest in the population, giving logistic support. In other words, no direct intervention, but a low intensity conflict by creating a situation where the rebels are strong enough to resist government forces and at the same time not that strong to alter the balance leading to an armed intervention from the west.

Russia in other words is keeping Ukraine at a leash as the US have done with Russia in the 90s. Economic sanctions towards Kiev will bite hard, gas supply halted recently will damage even further an economy at collapse. Russia also know that the government in Kiev is helpless, does not have a clear policy and an intervention will be considered only if a reckless action will happen: the recent embassy incident was a demonstration of how dangerous is the game Kiev is playing and led even the US to angrily criticize the government for inaction in protecting Russian diplomats.

Russia is not willing to go to war, due to economic consequences, on a military side although Russian forces are superior, it will not be easy against the Ukrainian army that has hardware from Russian industry, nationalism will increase the risk of an all out war with the possibility of a repetition of the afghan campaign. Russia at the same time does not want to take control of an economy in tatters, although the Donbas is the industrial powerhouse of Ukraine. Moscow still hope that will be able to settle with Ukraine for a federation with eastern regions obtaining a large form of autonomy, and a country that may join NATO and the EU, but keeping the east neutral or free from NATO bases.

How likely is this succeed will depend on many factors, but surely not from western sanctions as Russia is not concerned about that, at least until the West will not start to open the eyes and see Russia for what it is, a superpower back in business. While the West thought to have closed the front door to Russian expansionism, on the other simply forgot the back garden door, where Russian new czars take their afternoon tea with their Chinese partners, who also are US antagonists in the Pacific. The result is old ideological enemies signing multibillion dollars deals that dwarf western sanctions and give to Russia a long term investment in an area now cut off completely to western businesses.

Written by Matteo Figus

17/06/2014 at 21:47

Ukraine Crisis: A Western crash test dummy against a Russian wall

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Ukraine is fighting for its unity, and most likely survival, but whether the current military action is an anti-terror operation or a war, a fact is clear: Ukraine is heading towards disaster unless a diplomatic and peaceful solution will be found. The problem for Ukraine is that the new Kiev government and the Eastern rebellious regions are not alone in this dispute and their “external sponsors” are to be considered the main reason for the bitter turning of events. While the West, namely the EU and US, and Russia at a different time, and for different reasons, intervened in Ukraine politics for their own geo-political interests, on the other they simply got stuck in front of their stubbornness and hypocrisy by reaching a point of no return.

 

The Ukraine crisis unfolded few months ago when protests against former president Viktor Yanukovich culminated in what Moscow called a “western sponsored coup” and the Western powers a “democratic change”. The Maidan protests, aimed against Yanukovich’s decision to withdraw from an association agreement with the EU and signing instead a deal with Russia, were soon taken as a pretext from the West to fuel a change of regime as already seen in other areas: Iraq, Libya and the failed attempt in Syria. Nevertheless, this reckless action did not take into account Russia’s vital space and a likely reaction that culminated with the Crimean annexation.

Yanukovich’s government, elected and legitimate, was overthrown by mass protests made mostly by common citizens although no one can deny the presence of armed groups linked to the far right movements with clear xenophobic tendencies such Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) or the Maidan Self Defence Forces. While the West stepped up its anti-Russian propaganda, it did not realise the danger in fuelling an already fertile ground for hatred between the two souls of Ukraine, West and East. By denigrating and openly taking side against the legitimate government in Kiev and supporting what was increasingly becoming an armed insurrection and not a peaceful democratic rally, western interference reinforced the extremist groups providing them with a sort of legitimacy. In few words, the same script adopted in Syria where for long time they supported an armed insurrection refusing to admit that the only taking advantage were terrorist groups linked to Al Qaida or of other Islamist tendencies. While the West ignored this warning (to be honest not that far in the past to be forgotten), it may be worth to mention that even in the 2012 Football Euro Cup for example many in the EU expressed concerns at hooliganism and racist behaviour in Ukraine, especially in UK.

Russia on the other side took this careless action as a pretext and reason to express its concerns for Russian citizens and the Russian speaker population in Eastern Ukraine. While Russia started to build up its war machine, the West and many Ukrainians simply decided to turn blind in front of the evidence: the Maidan protest were not a simple democratic movement , but a clear rebellion and an armed insurrection that many countries, including Russia and the democratic crusaders in Washington and London would not have hesitated to crush at the first sight of weapons within civilians. This led to a brutal repression by Yanukovich, where the (in)famous Berkut and snipers fired against protesters, but also to a response where policemen and security forces were shot dead. Nevertheless amid all this turmoil Yanukovich avoided making that step that would have plunged Ukraine into civil war: call in the army to quell the unrest.

Negotiations were made and even some opposition parties agreed to sit at a table to pave the way for new elections, with Yanukovic granting any sort of concession such amnesty, freeing all arrested and promising greater autonomy for regions. But the deal was sunk by the West pushing the more extreme souls of the Maidan protests to take the lead and provoking further unrest that could have been only resolved by either an army coup or Yanukovich departure. When he decided to leave, at that point it seemed to everyone that the Maidan protests would have been able to close the game and the release of Yulia Timoshenko as the final act of a victorius anti Russian “revolution” in 90s style. It was exactly at this point that the “phase two” of the Ukrainian crisis developed and started with the Kremlin involvement: Yanukovich finds refuge in Russia, Crimea is flooded by special Russian troops, a 40,000 strong army gathered at the border.

Nevertheless, while Crimea was a price willing to be paid in Kiev, and even in the West although the apparent outrage, it was also clear that the Kremlin’s gamble of threatening military invasion in the East played exactly the same side effects generated by western influence in Kiev: exacerbated rather than ease the already irreparable situation in the country. Kiev’s government at this point found itself not struggling for survival but to keep a country united. Attempts to reduce far right movements presence and promise of a new presidential elections were clearly futile in front of a domino effect that, exactly similar to the Maidan protests, saw people rebelling against central government and declaring autonomy, independence or asking Russian annexation.

While the West this time promptly called these rebels “terrorist and agents of Russia”, Russia vested the rebellions as “popular will and democratic expression of an under siege population of Russians from fascists in Kiev”. These words, as mere propaganda may be, had a strong effect in Russia and Ukraine as they were used only during what is known as The Great Patriotic War against the Nazis.

Kiev: new government, new president same confusion on the ground

The new government appeared for many as inept and incapable to deal with the unrest. While it was without any chance and counterproductive oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was the initial inertia showed during the start of the Eastern rebellion that fuelled a sort of excessive optimism, a thought that a swift solution could be found. While the East was proclaiming itself free with a People’s Republic in Donetsk and hold a referendum not recognised by the international community, in Kiev whilst condemning the fact that an electoral consultation was taking place in a deteriorated security situation, they found nothing better than to do the same by organising presidential election in a country on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the point of no return was the decision to call in the army, thus increasing the danger of a civil war, with soldiers refusing to fight and switching sides, military difficulties and an expensive human price to pay that is already showing its bill.

But if the Kiev government decided to do what Yanukovich refused to do, and thus applying the same role of the army as saw in Syria, Libya and Egypt against their own population, it also appear that the government born from the Maidan protests is not followed by the same population strata as demonstrated by the recent presidential elections. If at first Yulia Timoshenko’s freedom was seen by many as the first step for a return to power, the election saw the victory of a man not new in Ukrainian politics, as having cooperated with both Yushenko and Yanukovich, with the West and Russia. Entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko, won an outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential poll of May 2014 with 54% of the votes, he was the only oligarch to have supported the pro-European opposition from the start, though unaffiliated to any of the country’s political parties. He is known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Ukraine’s largest confectionery manufacturer, Roshen. Poroshenko was supported by the former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, who gave up his own presidential ambitions to throw his weight behind him, and by fellow tycoon Dmitry Firtash, who has long been on cordial terms with Russia. Ukrainian media interpreted the great support for Poroshenko as a reaction to the opposition’s inability to find common ground during and after the anti-government protests that overthrow former President Viktor Yanukovych and as a signal that the new establishment was distancing itself from extremists.

Poroshenko comes from the mainly Russian-speaking Odessa region in southern Ukraine, although his political stronghold is believed to be in the central Vinnytsya region, where he started his business and political career. He has been elected to parliament several times and has worked with both the pro-European and pro-Russian political camps in Ukraine. He was foreign minister in Ms Tymoshenko’s government from 2009 to 2010, and briefly an economic development and trade minister in 2012 under Yanukovich. He was one of the founders of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, in 2001. However, later that year he left to lead Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine electoral bloc. He was also one of the main figures of the Orange Revolution that brought Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko to power in 2004. This chameleon political careerist, or to be more frankly an interest piloted one, is at the top of a stubbornness government refusing to deal with a fundamental request of autonomy from the East, where the clear anti-Russian stance of some of its supporters and the Western backing are bogging down the country in a fratricidal confrontation with unpredictable consequences. The government is avoiding any discussions on constitutional reforms or for a federation, and its obstinate centralism is favouring paradoxically the disintegration of a united country. On the other, after his victory, Mr Poroshenko promised to forge closer links with the EU and restore peace in restive eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists had severely disrupted voting. He has also pledged to improve relations with Russia. But his first act was an all out military assault on Donetsk and consequent bloodshed.

So the last question is: taking aside the fact that it is without doubt the influence from Washington and the EU, what were the internal reasons for overthrowing Yanukovich?

It has been claimed by many the corruption, but in a country were each president from Kuchma to Yushenko, from Timoshenko to Yanukovich has been accused of stealing or being corrupt, it is very difficult to believe that. Even the claim that Ukraine was a dictatorship is an exaggeration as Yanukovich won legally an election and no constitution or power was suppressed, people were free to move. A powerful element is without any doubt the economy and the silence over this is the reason why both the West and Russia push on nationalist propaganda to mask their responsibilities.

Ukraine is an economy near to collapse, even though has a strong agriculture in the western part, known as the granary of Europe, and a powerful industrial sector in the East. Nevertheless extreme dependence from Russian import / export, gas and energy supply combined with western liberist economy exploiting cheap labor and reduced taxes made Ukraine not a sustainable and independent economy. Ukrainians were frustrated by this rather than the stories created and inflated by the medias. The first protests, when Yanukovich refused to sign with the EU, were genuine only to be then hijacked for strategic and political interests. What Ukrainians also believed, and probably still believe, is that the EU will welcome them in a further enlargement. Whilst Ukrainians are continuously brainwashed by western propaganda of an easy EU access and an economy ready to get back on its feet, a debt is piling up, bankruptcy is just behind the corner; Russia counter measures are already starting with gas payment demands.

The reality is that no one is ready to bail out Ukraine, like Greece, especially after a landslide victory of the anti-EU parties in the recent European parliament elections that put a clear slogan out: no more EU, no more enlargement, no immigration. After the shameful anti Romanian and anti Bulgarian propaganda in the EU of last year, now the new xenophobic and racist parties across Europe are ready to target Ukrainians as the Eldorado that will cash in at next the electoral polls.

 

Eastern Ukraine: A new symphony in Donbas?

This area the powerhouse of Ukraine, and of the former Soviet Union, is in majority Russian speaker and nevertheless they lived peacefully within Ukraine since the independence.

However, it has never been an easy coexistence between the two areas, and this was reflected in history during the WWII and the constant push and back between presidents towards Russia and the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Eastern Ukraine always supported filo Russian presidents and when Yanukovich won the election, the Party of Regions had in the Donbas region its stronghold. The delicate equilibrium that maintained united a fragile architecture was broken suddenly with the Maidan protests, although some cities in the East at first even participated in the change of power, like Kharkiv or Dnepropetrovsk. Eastern Ukraine at first, even though with less enthusiasm, joined protests against Yanukovich, but in the Donbas region everything started to move in the opposite direction with the raising fear of a new power unbalanced towards the West and hostile to Russia, from which this region heavily depends.

When the Maidan protests were increasingly becoming anti Russian and xenophobic, with raising extreme right movements taking the lead with armed groups, Eastern Ukrainians felt the same sense of need for defence and even paranoia that Russia has about an incoming encirclement. This is especially true for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Russian speakers are over 50% and it is known as Donbas or Donetsk basin. Carpe diem was the word following Crimea annexation by Russia and, feeling the moment, they truly believed in an insurrection supported by Russia, arriving to overthrow the local governments and declaring a People’s Republic, followed by a non recognised independence referendum. But, exactly as it happened for the Kiev government, the Donbas region at the crucial moment saw its external sponsor vacillating, being unsure how to step back from this mess. As in western Ukraine believe to EU propaganda, in the Donbas people believed too much in Russia’s involvement and soon found themselves alone. After Crimea annexation it seemed that Russia was ready to take on Ukraine, and thunder words from Putin made the Donbas greater confident, as well as Kiev government inaction. But to repeat Crimea was a dream, as it was Russia going to war against Ukraine, at least for now. The Odessa fire, that was for many the possible signal of all out war with Moscow, in reality was the turning point were both Washington and the Kremlin understood that they push too far and began slowly to settle down. The problem is that the Kiev government and the Donbas region instead raised their stakes and a military confrontation is now on the ground, with a clear risk of degenerating into civil war.

There is a movie by a famous soviet director, Dziga Vertov, called Enthusiasm Symphony of the Donbas that in its Stalinist propaganda was aimed at demonstrating the development and the importance of this region as a centre stage for the construction of socialism. If the movie portrayed a happy and hardworking place with a triumphant soundtrack, today the symphony coming from Donbas is very different and sounds more like the thunder of war.

 

Written by Matteo Figus

03/06/2014 at 22:08

Zimbabwe: The Countdown for Mugabe’s Succession

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Written by Matteo Figus

09/03/2014 at 22:00

Posted in Africa, Analysis

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