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Irwin Cotler On Why He Believes He Was Poisoned In Russia

Irwin Cotler On Why He Believes He Was Poisoned In Russia.

Huffington Post Canada  |  Posted: 03/24/2014 6:26 pm EDT  |  Updated: 03/24/2014 6:59 pm EDT

irwin cotler poison

When Russia issued its blacklist of 13 Canadians on Monday, Irwin Cotler wasquick to express his honour at being included.

“I wear my exclusion from Russia as a badge of honour and am proud to be in such distinguished company,” he said in a statement.

“I have no intention of visiting Siberia. I have no investments in Sochi. I have no desire to visit Moscow and be poisoned as happened on my last trip.”

Yes, poisoned.

HuffPost Canada’s Althia Raj asked the Liberal MP for the backstory, and he said he hasn’t discussed the episode with anyone other than his family and friends until now.

It happened in 2006, when he was in Russia on a parliamentary delegation. He was dining with NDP MP Joe Comartin, who ordered the exact same meal but “nothing at all, happily, happened to him”. However Cotler was not so lucky.

Here’s the story in his own words:

“By the time, I got back to my hotel, I was violently ill. More than I had ever been almost in my life, and I started to throw up blood. I called the people in the hotel and told them I needed a doctor. Instead of sending a doctor, they sent up people to clean up all the blood — in other words, all the evidence that a doctor would need.

“I called the Canadian embassy in Moscow, and they sent a doctor and the doctor looked at me, examined me and told me I had to go right away to the hospital. And they took me into the Russian Medical Centre, the hospital in Moscow and I was held there for several days. I never knew exactly what was being done because I didn’t understand Russian and they didn’t speak English.

“I was subsequently discharged, not feeling well and returned to Canada. Some months later I met a friend of mine who actually had been one of the physicians attending [Soviet defector Alexander] Litvinov, who told me that all my symptoms were the same as Litvinov. Except that they, in my case, probably just wanted to intimidate me and temporarily disable me, but not to kill me.

“There were a number of incidents at that time, of people being poisoned. When I was at my reunion of my Yale Law School class, I learned from talking to my classmate who became a president of the European Court of Human Rights that he too was poisoned around the same time in Russia. So it didn’t appear to be coincidental.

“But then, the final part about this, is rather intriguing. In 2010, during the Intra-Parliamentary Conference to combat anti-Semitism, I called the Russian Embassy in Ottawa because they hadn’t yet given us the names of their parliamentarians to attend the conference and they said, ‘Oh Mr. Cotler, we’re sorry. We want to get two high-ranking people so please call us next week and we will give you the names.’

“And I called them back the next week, and they gave me the names and then they said to me, ‘Why don’t you come visit us in Russia?’

“And I said, ‘You know, the last time when I was there, I was poisoned.’ And then, just like that, the answer was, ‘We’re sorry. That was a mistake, it won’t happen again.’

“So I haven’t been back since then, but now I guess they made it official that I am banned from returning. But it is not the first time — I was arrested and expelled in 1979. I was banned at that time for defending political prisoners in the Soviet Union whom they accused of consorting with criminal elements in the Soviet Union and named them, like the great Andrei Sakharov, the human rights dissident.

“Now I suspect, it has nothing to do with the Ukraine but probably because I tabled a Private Member’s Bill regarding Sergei Magnitsky.”

Magnitsky was an accountant and auditor in Moscow who uncovered a corruption scheme and testified against several senior Russian officials. He was subsequently imprisoned and died in jail in 2009 at the age of 37. Cotler chairs an intra-parliamentary group on Magnitsky, and he says that is like a “red flag” to Russia.

“My sense is that’s probably the retaliatory reason in my case.”

Cotler said some of the Americans also banned by Russia were people who had worked on the Magnitsky file. Cotler has blogged about Magnitsky’s case for HuffPost.

Cotler said he also doesn’t think the sanctions Russia imposed on the 13 Canadians today will have any impact.

“I don’t think it will have any effect. In my case, it only encourages me and inspires me to intensify my advocacy. And I don’t need to go to Russia for purposes of that advocacy. Our intra-parliamentary group for Sergei Magnitsky is international, it contains parliamentarians from over 20 countries.”

Why Does Harper Still Support the Repressive, Misogynistic Saudi Regime? | Yves Engler

Why Does Harper Still Support the Repressive, Misogynistic Saudi Regime? | Yves Engler.

Yves Engler

Writer and Political Activist

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to take “strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.” But, even the most ardent Conservative supporters must wonder what principled position is behind the recent government-sponsored arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will send over $10 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles to one of the most anti-woman and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as its constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in Saudi Arabia are banned from owning Bibles or attending church while the Shia Muslim minority face significant state-sanctioned discrimination.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the “Arab Spring” democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of authoritarian political movements and by deploying 1,000 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain.

The Conservatives have ignored these abuses, staying quiet when the regime killed “Arab Spring” protesters and intervened in Bahrain. Worse still, the Harper government’s hostility towards Iran and backing of last July’s military takeover in Egypt partly reflects their pro-Saudi orientation. In a stark example of Ottawa trying to ingratiate itself with that country’s monarchy, Foreign Minister John Baird recently dubbed the body of water between Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states the “Arabian Gulf” rather than the widely accepted Persian Gulf.

Ottawa hasn’t hidden its affinity for the Saudi royal family. Baird praised a deceased prince for “dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia” and another as “a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.”

I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going,” Ed Fast told the Saudi Gazette in August. On his second trip to the country in less than a year, Canada’s International Trade Minister boasted about the two countries’ “common cause on many issues.”

Fast is not the only minister who has made the pilgrimage. Conservative ministers John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, and Stockwell Day (twice) have all visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes.

These trips have spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. SNC Lavalin alone has won Saudi contracts worth $1 billion in the last two years.

As a result of one of the ministerial visits, the RCMP plan to train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” The Conservatives have also developed military relations with the Saudis. In January 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel and, in another first, Saudi pilots began training in Alberta and Saskatchewan with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada in 2011.

The recently announced arms deal will see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada deliver Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement, it’s reportedly worth $10-13 billion over 14 years.

The LAV sale is facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. The Conservative government has okayed and underwritten this deal even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

This sale and the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate exactly what principles Harper supports: misogyny, military repression, monarchy over democracy and commercial expediency, especially when it comes to the profits of a U.S.-owned branch plant arms dealer.

Why Does Harper Still Support the Repressive, Misogynistic Saudi Regime? | Yves Engler

Why Does Harper Still Support the Repressive, Misogynistic Saudi Regime? | Yves Engler.

Yves Engler

Writer and Political Activist

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to take “strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.” But, even the most ardent Conservative supporters must wonder what principled position is behind the recent government-sponsored arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will send over $10 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles to one of the most anti-woman and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as its constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in Saudi Arabia are banned from owning Bibles or attending church while the Shia Muslim minority face significant state-sanctioned discrimination.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the “Arab Spring” democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of authoritarian political movements and by deploying 1,000 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain.

The Conservatives have ignored these abuses, staying quiet when the regime killed “Arab Spring” protesters and intervened in Bahrain. Worse still, the Harper government’s hostility towards Iran and backing of last July’s military takeover in Egypt partly reflects their pro-Saudi orientation. In a stark example of Ottawa trying to ingratiate itself with that country’s monarchy, Foreign Minister John Baird recently dubbed the body of water between Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states the “Arabian Gulf” rather than the widely accepted Persian Gulf.

Ottawa hasn’t hidden its affinity for the Saudi royal family. Baird praised a deceased prince for “dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia” and another as “a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.”

I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going,” Ed Fast told the Saudi Gazette in August. On his second trip to the country in less than a year, Canada’s International Trade Minister boasted about the two countries’ “common cause on many issues.”

Fast is not the only minister who has made the pilgrimage. Conservative ministers John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, and Stockwell Day (twice) have all visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes.

These trips have spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. SNC Lavalin alone has won Saudi contracts worth $1 billion in the last two years.

As a result of one of the ministerial visits, the RCMP plan to train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” The Conservatives have also developed military relations with the Saudis. In January 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel and, in another first, Saudi pilots began training in Alberta and Saskatchewan with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada in 2011.

The recently announced arms deal will see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada deliver Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement, it’s reportedly worth $10-13 billion over 14 years.

The LAV sale is facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. The Conservative government has okayed and underwritten this deal even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

This sale and the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate exactly what principles Harper supports: misogyny, military repression, monarchy over democracy and commercial expediency, especially when it comes to the profits of a U.S.-owned branch plant arms dealer.

Vladimir Putin Ignores Ukraine Warnings From Obama

Vladimir Putin Ignores Ukraine Warnings From Obama.

WASHINGTON – One by one, President Barack Obama’s warnings to Russia are being brushed aside by President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be speeding up efforts to formally stake his claim to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

In the week since Obama first declared there would be “costs” if Putin pressed into Crimea, Russian forces have taken control of the region and a referendum has been scheduled to decide its future. Obama declared the March 16 vote a violation of international law, but in a region where ethnic Russians are the majority, the referendum seems likely to become another barrier to White House efforts to compel Putin to pull his forces from Crimea.

“The referendum vote is going to serve for Putin, in his mind, as the credibility and legitimacy of Russia’s presence there,” said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If Crimea votes to join Russia, the referendum could also put Obama in the awkward position of opposing the outcome of a popular vote.

The White House has tried to match Russia’s assertive posture by moving quickly to impose financial sanctions and travel bans on Russians and other opponents of Ukraine’s new central government. U.S. officials have also urgently tried to rally the international community around the notion that Russia’s military maneuvers in Crimea are illegal, even seeking support from China, Moscow’s frequent ally against the West.

“I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our determination to oppose actions that violate international law and to support the government and people of Ukraine,” Obama said Thursday.

The European Union also announced Thursday that it was suspending talks with Putin’s government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc — a long-standing Russian objective.

The White House says it still believes a diplomatic solution to the dispute with Russia is possible. Obama spoke with Putin for more than an hour Thursday, outlining a potential resolution that would include Russia pulling its forces back in Crimea and direct talks between the Kremlin and Ukraine.

But the fast-moving developments in Crimea may mean that the ultimate question facing Obama is not be what the U.S. can do to stop Russia from taking control of Crimea, but what kind of relationship Washington can have with Moscow should that occur.

White House advisers insist the U.S. could not go back to a business as usual approach with Russia if Moscow were to annex Crimea or recognize its independence. But that may be seen as empty threat to the Kremlin after the U.S., as well as Europe, did just that in 2008 after Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway territories of Georgia. Russia also continues to keep military forces in both territories.

Privately, U.S. officials say Russia is running a similar playbook as it seeks to increase its influence in Crimea. And regional experts say Putin also appears to have a larger goal: influencing central government lawmakers in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as they prepare for elections later this spring.

“It says to the Ukrainians, Don’t mess with me or I’ll slice off a finger,” said Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The months-long political crisis in Ukraine bubbled over late last month when protesters in Kyiv ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Amid the chaos, thousands of Russian forces took control of Crimea, a strategically important outpost in the Black Sea where Moscow has a military base.

The outcome of the Crimea referendum is not guaranteed, but there are clear indications the region will choose to side with Russia. About 60 per cent of Crimea’s population already identifies itself as Russian. And Crimea’s 100-seat parliament voted unanimously Thursday in favour of joining Russia.

The referendum had been scheduled for March 30, but was pushed up two weeks. And while the original vote was only on whether Crimea should get enhanced local powers, the peninsula’s residents will now also vote on whether to join Russia.

U.S. officials say they believe Putin was involved in orchestrating the referendum, though the Russian leader made no public statements about the planned vote. Earlier in the week, Putin said Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea, while insisting its population has the right to determine the region’s status in a referendum.

U.S. officials say they also see an unlikely ally emerging in China, which has frequently sided with Russia at the United Nations Security Council in blocking Western actions. While China has not condemned Russia’s actions outright, Beijing’s ambassador to the U.N. this week said it supported “noninterference” and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, spoke this week with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi. The White House said the officials agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution to the dispute that “upholds Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

It appears unlikely China would actually take punitive actions against Russia. U.S. officials say Beijing is largely acting out of self-interest and appears to view the developments in Crimea through the prism of a nation that also has ethnic minorities who live in border regions and identify more closely with neighbouring countries.

Tories Deliberately Disrupted Elections Watchdog's Testimony: NDP

Tories Deliberately Disrupted Elections Watchdog’s Testimony: NDP.

OTTAWA – The Harper government is being accused of trying to limit the chief electoral watchdog’s testimony on its proposed overhaul of election laws.

Marc Mayrand, who has been highly critical of the reforms, was supposed to have 90 minutes this morning — half an hour longer than usual — to testify on the reforms at the Commons procedure and House affairs committee.

The Conservatives agreed to the extra 30 minutes earlier this week as part of a deal to end a filibuster at the committee by New Democrat MP David Christopherson.

But the Conservatives have moved this morning to limit debate on two other bills, requiring votes in the House of Commons at the same time that Mayrand’s testimony was to begin.

Debate and votes on the time allocation motions have now left Mayrand cooling his heels for an hour, with no end in sight.

NDP MP Paul Dewar accuses the Conservatives of orchestrating the timing of the votes to disrupt Mayrand’s testimony.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan calls that a baseless conspiracy theory, saying the committee is free to rearrange its business to give Mayrand as much time as it pleases.

And he says the NDP has some nerve to complain about the disruption, considering Christopherson’s filibuster delayed the chief electoral officer’s appearance at committee for more than a week.

The filibuster was aimed at forcing the government to agree to cross-country hearings on its controversial proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act, which the NDP believes are designed to stack the deck in the Conservative party’s favour.

Among other things, the reforms would impose stiffer voter identification requirements, eliminate the ability of people to vouch for voters who don’t have proper identification, and increase the amount of money political parties can spend during election campaigns.

As well, Mayrand has said he fears the changes would muzzle him, allowing him to communicate with Canadians only for the purpose of explaining how, where and when to vote.

Tories Deliberately Disrupted Elections Watchdog’s Testimony: NDP

Tories Deliberately Disrupted Elections Watchdog’s Testimony: NDP.

OTTAWA – The Harper government is being accused of trying to limit the chief electoral watchdog’s testimony on its proposed overhaul of election laws.

Marc Mayrand, who has been highly critical of the reforms, was supposed to have 90 minutes this morning — half an hour longer than usual — to testify on the reforms at the Commons procedure and House affairs committee.

The Conservatives agreed to the extra 30 minutes earlier this week as part of a deal to end a filibuster at the committee by New Democrat MP David Christopherson.

But the Conservatives have moved this morning to limit debate on two other bills, requiring votes in the House of Commons at the same time that Mayrand’s testimony was to begin.

Debate and votes on the time allocation motions have now left Mayrand cooling his heels for an hour, with no end in sight.

NDP MP Paul Dewar accuses the Conservatives of orchestrating the timing of the votes to disrupt Mayrand’s testimony.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan calls that a baseless conspiracy theory, saying the committee is free to rearrange its business to give Mayrand as much time as it pleases.

And he says the NDP has some nerve to complain about the disruption, considering Christopherson’s filibuster delayed the chief electoral officer’s appearance at committee for more than a week.

The filibuster was aimed at forcing the government to agree to cross-country hearings on its controversial proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act, which the NDP believes are designed to stack the deck in the Conservative party’s favour.

Among other things, the reforms would impose stiffer voter identification requirements, eliminate the ability of people to vouch for voters who don’t have proper identification, and increase the amount of money political parties can spend during election campaigns.

As well, Mayrand has said he fears the changes would muzzle him, allowing him to communicate with Canadians only for the purpose of explaining how, where and when to vote.

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart.

Jackson Doughart

Posted: 03/05/2014 5:16 pm

The West, and especially the English-speaking West, has wrongly taken sides in the present conflict in Ukraine. On the one hand, our leaders have mimicked the line of the news media, which simplistically represent the revolutionary ouster of President Yanukovych as an occasion of desperate democratic action against a corrupt leader. On the other hand, various pundits have elevated Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the status of enemy, whose actions must be “contained” as an apparent foreign-policy sine qua non.

For instance, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer argues that President Obama “sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to alter the increasingly autocratic trajectory of the region, allow Ukrainians to join their destiny to the West, and block Russian neo-imperialism.”

In response to the Administration’s claim that democracy “must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own,” Krauthammer writes: “Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.”

But this “authentic Ukrainian polity” is wrought with ethnic divisions, particularly concerning the Crimean peninsula, which is populated in a majority by ethnic Russians. The pro-Europe posture of the protesters is a reflection less of a considered moral preference than of a country torn in politics and identity between East and West. Krauthammer also fails to mention that the “Russian pressure” involved here is not a mere exercise in imperial Realpolitik. What’s really involved is the fear of Ukrainians that they may be unduly influenced by Russia, or worse, that they may lose territory. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Russians fear that a more nationalist government will leave them with less clout and fewer political rights, such as the regional language recognition that the new parliament has just taken away from them.

Putin isn’t going to leave the Russian residents of the Ukraine, and especially those in Crimea, proverbially out to dry. It’s a matter of legitimate interest for Russia, whose ethnic brethren was stranded from the homeland when Ukraine declared independence, to use its geopolitical might to protect them. (One remembers that it was only in 1954 that Crimea was tacked onto the Ukrainian SSR — a fact of little importance when the entire country was run by the Kremlin, but of great importance now.) But so too it is legitimate for the new Ukrainian government to fight any specter of partition in Crimea. It will want to preserve the territorial integrity of its state and ensure that the substantial Ukrainian minority in that region remains within its sovereign borders.

Where does this leave Western countries and their national interests? As a rule, these kind of ethno-territorial conflicts involve deep-seated animosities that are scarcely appreciable to those unfamiliar with their histories. They also invariably involve the atrocious use of force by both sides, contrary to the tendency of news organizations and other media to portray such conflicts as one of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Evidently, not all human conflicts can be boiled down to matters of good versus evil.

A salient example is that of the Kosovo conflict of some 15 years ago. After having foolishly maintained an arms embargo that favoured the Serb forces over the Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian War, and subsequently intervening in pursuit of a peace agreement in 1995, the West came down like a ton of bricks on Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, which employed force to put down secessionist uprisings in the south. The Muslim Kosovar-Albanians formed a majority in the region and wished to break away from Serbia, either to form an independent state or to join Albania. The Christian Serbs, who formed a minority in Kosovo but a majority in the country, understandably wanted to keep Kosovo as part of their territory.

In hindsight, it remains remarkably unclear why the West was so decisively on the side of the Kosovar-Albanians. Perhaps we thought that extending a helping hand to the Kosovo Liberation Army would earn us sympathies in the Muslim world. Another idea, which is persuasive to me, is that the Western media collectively decided that Slobodon Milosevic was evil, which meant that any action his country took, however legitimate, was also evil. Today, Vladimir Putin has been deemed evil by our opinion-makers, meaning that any enemy of his is supposedly a friend of ours.

The Kosovo War had a further implication. When the United States and its allies directed NATO to perform air strikes on Serbia, it did so without the permission of the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent and veto-wielding member. Perhaps more importantly, that case established the ability of a powerful state to choose one side in an ethnic conflict and commit military force in its support, seemingly without any overarching geopolitical reason.

Ironically, this plays directly into the hands of the loathed Mister Putin, who has called Obama’s bluff by first moving his troops to the Ukrainian border, and then into Crimea itself. Given the brazenness of our intervention in Kosovo, with its ignorance of international law as well as the wishes of other powerful states, on what remaining leg will we stand if Putin decides to forcibly remove Crimea from Ukraine? Such action, after all, would be ostensibly in support of a beleaguered minority seeking refuge from a nationalist government.

This is a very irresponsible way to even think about, and let alone conduct, foreign affairs. One doesn’t have to be an isolationist to see that some conflicts are not of paramount importance to the national interest, and hence to the calculation of sacrificing blood and treasure overseas. To the contrary, many such situations are, to use Krauthammer’s scornful words, “merely a crisis to be managed.”

Instead of making empty promises or threats, our message should be clear and decisive: “What is happening in Ukraine is a matter that its population has to sort out for itself. But, if asked, we will work with all interested parties to mediate a speedy and peaceful resolution.” No more, no less.

~
This piece also appears in the Prince Arthur Herald.

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart

The West Should Butt Out of Ukrainian Politics | Jackson Doughart.

Jackson Doughart

Posted: 03/05/2014 5:16 pm

The West, and especially the English-speaking West, has wrongly taken sides in the present conflict in Ukraine. On the one hand, our leaders have mimicked the line of the news media, which simplistically represent the revolutionary ouster of President Yanukovych as an occasion of desperate democratic action against a corrupt leader. On the other hand, various pundits have elevated Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the status of enemy, whose actions must be “contained” as an apparent foreign-policy sine qua non.

For instance, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer argues that President Obama “sees Ukraine as merely a crisis to be managed rather than an opportunity to alter the increasingly autocratic trajectory of the region, allow Ukrainians to join their destiny to the West, and block Russian neo-imperialism.”

In response to the Administration’s claim that democracy “must not be imposed by outside intervention but develop on its own,” Krauthammer writes: “Ukraine is never on its own. Not with a bear next door. American neutrality doesn’t allow an authentic Ukrainian polity to emerge. It leaves Ukraine naked to Russian pressure.”

But this “authentic Ukrainian polity” is wrought with ethnic divisions, particularly concerning the Crimean peninsula, which is populated in a majority by ethnic Russians. The pro-Europe posture of the protesters is a reflection less of a considered moral preference than of a country torn in politics and identity between East and West. Krauthammer also fails to mention that the “Russian pressure” involved here is not a mere exercise in imperial Realpolitik. What’s really involved is the fear of Ukrainians that they may be unduly influenced by Russia, or worse, that they may lose territory. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Russians fear that a more nationalist government will leave them with less clout and fewer political rights, such as the regional language recognition that the new parliament has just taken away from them.

Putin isn’t going to leave the Russian residents of the Ukraine, and especially those in Crimea, proverbially out to dry. It’s a matter of legitimate interest for Russia, whose ethnic brethren was stranded from the homeland when Ukraine declared independence, to use its geopolitical might to protect them. (One remembers that it was only in 1954 that Crimea was tacked onto the Ukrainian SSR — a fact of little importance when the entire country was run by the Kremlin, but of great importance now.) But so too it is legitimate for the new Ukrainian government to fight any specter of partition in Crimea. It will want to preserve the territorial integrity of its state and ensure that the substantial Ukrainian minority in that region remains within its sovereign borders.

Where does this leave Western countries and their national interests? As a rule, these kind of ethno-territorial conflicts involve deep-seated animosities that are scarcely appreciable to those unfamiliar with their histories. They also invariably involve the atrocious use of force by both sides, contrary to the tendency of news organizations and other media to portray such conflicts as one of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Evidently, not all human conflicts can be boiled down to matters of good versus evil.

A salient example is that of the Kosovo conflict of some 15 years ago. After having foolishly maintained an arms embargo that favoured the Serb forces over the Croats and Muslims during the Bosnian War, and subsequently intervening in pursuit of a peace agreement in 1995, the West came down like a ton of bricks on Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, which employed force to put down secessionist uprisings in the south. The Muslim Kosovar-Albanians formed a majority in the region and wished to break away from Serbia, either to form an independent state or to join Albania. The Christian Serbs, who formed a minority in Kosovo but a majority in the country, understandably wanted to keep Kosovo as part of their territory.

In hindsight, it remains remarkably unclear why the West was so decisively on the side of the Kosovar-Albanians. Perhaps we thought that extending a helping hand to the Kosovo Liberation Army would earn us sympathies in the Muslim world. Another idea, which is persuasive to me, is that the Western media collectively decided that Slobodon Milosevic was evil, which meant that any action his country took, however legitimate, was also evil. Today, Vladimir Putin has been deemed evil by our opinion-makers, meaning that any enemy of his is supposedly a friend of ours.

The Kosovo War had a further implication. When the United States and its allies directed NATO to perform air strikes on Serbia, it did so without the permission of the United Nations Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent and veto-wielding member. Perhaps more importantly, that case established the ability of a powerful state to choose one side in an ethnic conflict and commit military force in its support, seemingly without any overarching geopolitical reason.

Ironically, this plays directly into the hands of the loathed Mister Putin, who has called Obama’s bluff by first moving his troops to the Ukrainian border, and then into Crimea itself. Given the brazenness of our intervention in Kosovo, with its ignorance of international law as well as the wishes of other powerful states, on what remaining leg will we stand if Putin decides to forcibly remove Crimea from Ukraine? Such action, after all, would be ostensibly in support of a beleaguered minority seeking refuge from a nationalist government.

This is a very irresponsible way to even think about, and let alone conduct, foreign affairs. One doesn’t have to be an isolationist to see that some conflicts are not of paramount importance to the national interest, and hence to the calculation of sacrificing blood and treasure overseas. To the contrary, many such situations are, to use Krauthammer’s scornful words, “merely a crisis to be managed.”

Instead of making empty promises or threats, our message should be clear and decisive: “What is happening in Ukraine is a matter that its population has to sort out for itself. But, if asked, we will work with all interested parties to mediate a speedy and peaceful resolution.” No more, no less.

~
This piece also appears in the Prince Arthur Herald.

Ukraine Crisis: Harper Says Canada Sending Observers To Crimea

Ukraine Crisis: Harper Says Canada Sending Observers To Crimea.

OTTAWA – Canada will send two observers to join an unarmed military mission in Ukraine and will impose more sanctions on the regime of fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law,” Harper said in a statement.

“Canada will contribute observers to an important military observer mission in a co-ordinated effort to better monitor the Russian military intervention in Crimea.”

The two observers will deploy immediately under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, he said.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko, told The Canadian Press earlier this week that many governments are looking for a first-hand look at the situation in Crimea.

He said the Ukrainian government wants to disprove the Russian claim that their invasion is in support of civilians in the Crimean peninsula.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also affirmed that Canada would once again contribute a large contingent of election observers for Ukraine’s next scheduled election in May.

Baird told the Commons that on his recent trip to Kyiv he offered Ukraine’s new prime minister and president “our full support in the conduct of the presidential election on May 25.”

“We have provided substantial assistance in the past, and we will obviously provide long-term and short-term election observers to ensure that the will and courage of the Ukrainian people be fully respected by the international community.”

Canada last sent a large observer force of hundreds to Ukraine in 2012 to monitor parliamentary elections, a regular occurrence that started in 2004 when former Liberal prime minister John Turner led a large team of international election monitors.

Harper also announced additional economic sanctions Wednesday against members of the Yanukovych regime, which he said came “at the request of the prosecutor general of Ukraine.”

Canada is also prepared to offer financial assistance and co-operation with its allies, including collaboration with the International Monetary Fund. Harper said it is critical that Ukraine receive financial assistance.

The prime minister said Canada is also suspending its participation in a joint commercial venture with Russia. The Canada-Russia Intergovernmental Economic Commission had been established to promote bilateral trade.

“Our actions with respect to the IEC, the freezing of assets of corrupt Ukrainian officials held in Canada and our involvement in the OSCE mission are further examples of our support for Ukraine and our goal of stabilizing the tense situation in Crimea,” his statement said.

“President (Vladimir) Putin must now immediately withdraw his forces to their bases and refrain from further provocative and dangerous actions.”

Harper earlier discussed the Ukraine crisis with Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“The two leaders discussed developments in Crimea,” Harper’s office said. “They condemned in the strongest terms President Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine, noting that a de-escalation of the situation is in the best interest of the entire international community.”

The United States also announced support for its allies in Europe, including joint training with the Polish air force.

The Pentagon is increasing U.S. participation in NATO air missions in support of Baltic countries.

NATO said that it is suspending most of its meetings and reviewing all of its co-operation with Russia.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said its 28 members also decided “to intensify our partnership with Ukraine.”

Today’s Liberals Could Ruin Canada | Jason Clemens

Today’s Liberals Could Ruin Canada | Jason Clemens.

Posted: 02/26/2014 5:28 pm

The policy direction of the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader Justin Trudeau, as evidenced by the speeches, motions, and debate at the recent national party conventionseem to indicate that the party is rejecting the successful pragmatism of the 1990s. Instead, the federal Liberals favour a more interventionist and activist government, much like that of the current Ontario Liberal government. If such policies are enacted, the results would be ruinous for Canada.

One of the central themes repeated consistently at the convention was the need for the federal government to incur more debt in order to finance infrastructure and other long-term spending. Mr. Trudeau and his policy advisers seem to have been influenced greatly by U.S. economist Larry Summers. Mr. Summers, who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, is a vocal advocate for more expansive government spending using debt as a method by which to stimulate the economy.

One problem of many for this approach is that it belies history, both in the U.S. and Canada. Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien enjoyed enormous economic and political successby doing the opposite. U.S. President Obama and the Ontario Liberals have struggled with a weak economy by doing exactly what Mr. Trudeau now proposes for the entire country.

Beginning in 1995, the Chretien Liberals cut program spending by almost eight per cent in just two years and continued to constrain spending even after balanced budgets were achieved for the following three years. Federal program spending as a share of the economy declined from over 17.1 per cent in 1992-93 to just under 12 per cent by the end of the decade. Federal debt was reduced from 67.1 per cent in 1995-96 to roughly 30 per cent by the time the Tories took over. And critically, the Liberals enacted a series of tax cuts and reforms aimed at making our economy more efficient and competitive.

The results, contrary to the rhetoric of Mr. Summers, were stunningly positive. Over the decade spanning 1997 when the federal budget was first balanced to roughly 2007, Canada led the G7 in both economic growth and business investment. Our record on job creation was unparalleled, more than doubling the U.S. rate and higher than any G7 country. And poverty rates fell by more than 40 per cent.

These actual results stand in stark contrast to the predictions of Mr. Summer: “To start, this means ending the disastrous trend towards less and less government spending and employment each year and taking advantage of the current period of slack to renew and build out our infrastructure.”

Of additional concern is the naiveté that Mr. Summers continues to display and has apparently now infected Mr. Trudeau with in terms of the actual ability of governments to do the things he advocates. Mr. Summers was front and centre in advocating for and shepherding through the Obama stimulus, which contained hundreds of billions of dollars for “shovel-ready” projects. Mr. Summers insisted that the mark of success of such policies were that they were timely, temporary, and targeted. The reality of what happened is that, not surprising, politics affected the program. High priority projects were shelved for more politically expedite ones. Projects were delayed and hung up in red tape and bureaucrat infighting. The assumption that government can simply flick a switch and spend efficiently is both conceptually and historically false.

Mr. Summers can be forgiven for not being aware of the actual experience in Ontario. The same cannot be said of Mr. Trudeau. The large and continuing deficits in Ontario, despite economic growth, coupled with heavy-handed interventionism in a host of sectors has placed Ontario on a path of decay, not prosperity. Economic growth in the province has remained sluggish despite large-scale deficits and debt accumulation. (As a measure of the province’s problems — Ontario is markedly worse on every measure of indebtedness compared to California.)

It’s not at all clear how the country will benefit from Ontario-style policy when such policies have been an abject failure. The country would benefit from a return to the sound policies of the Chretien era in the 1990s — balanced budgets, reducing debt, decentralization of responsibility and authority for services to the provinces, better value-for-money focused spending by the federal government, and incentive-based tax relief and reform. That’s a recipe for success for any government, or government in waiting. The Trudeau Liberals should look back to this period rather than down south for their policy ideas.

This piece was co-written by Milagros Palacios, Senior Research Economist, Fraser Institute.

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