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Next Steps in the Ukraine Crisis | Jeffrey Sachs

Next Steps in the Ukraine Crisis | Jeffrey Sachs.

There is a stark and obvious asymmetry in the Ukraine crisis. Russia will use military force to get its way. The West will not and should not. There is no doubt that Russian militarized bullying can lead to the de facto division of Ukraine, an event that would be of grave long-term consequences not only for Russia and Ukraine but for the world. The practical question at hand is whether international law can still function to stop this from occurring. In my view, the answer is yes.

The problem with international law is that the great powers, including both the US and Russia, give it allegiance opportunistically, only when it is to their short-term convenience. The US launched the Iraq War against international law. The US has recently destabilized many regimes against international law that protect the sovereignty of UN member states. The US is supporting a violent insurgency in Syria to bring down the regime against international law.

Now it is Russia’s turn to violate international law. Russia’s actions in the Crimea are perfectly intelligible in terms of Russia’s interests and foreign policy traditions, but they are also clearly in violation of international law. Russia has high stakes in Ukraine, and the extra-constitutional toppling of Yanukovich was against Russian interests and provoked Russia’s response in Crimea. The West should acknowledge Russia’s valid economic and security concerns in Ukraine, but it should not accede to Russia’s unilateral and illegal actions in Crimea (and still less if they spread to Eastern Ukraine).

The most important governing law in this immediate case is both explicit and extremely important. It is the treaty-backed agreement reached by four powers in 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, known as “The Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” It is filed with the UN Security Council as S/1994/1399, on December 19, 1994.

The issue at hand in 1994 was as important as any issue of international law: the management of nuclear arms. Ukraine and Russia had just recently become independent after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Ukraine had inherited a nuclear arms stockpile. In the interest of nuclear non-proliferation and to prevent accidents, terrorism, or a nuclear showdown in the post-Soviet region, the US and Russia prevailed on Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons and hand them to Russia.

The quid pro quo, at stake today, was Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons on the assurance that it would remain sovereign and secure, including from Russia. As Ukraine renounced nuclear weapons and joined the NPT, Russia, the US, and UK, “reaffirmed their commitment … to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” Moreover, the parties reaffirmed:

their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;

As for threats of energy cutoffs or other economic sanctions, the parties reaffirmed:

to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind;

Crucially, the memorandum made clear that the four parties (including Ukraine) would “consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.”

This international agreement is the basis for Russia to return to its base in Crimea, and for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine. It is the guarantee of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is the bulwark against economic blackmail. In short, it is the place where peaceful nations must take their stand in the current crisis.

The United States should make the legal case, again and again, in the UN Security Council. It should explain the global agreements in detail to the American people, the UN member states, and the world. It should require that Russia explain its actions in light of its clear responsibilities to consult with Ukraine, not as a matter of good neighborliness, but as a matter of solemn international obligation.

There are three weaknesses in this approach. First, international law works slowly, while armaments and events move quickly. No doubt that is true. Second, and just as important, the US is a frequent violator of international law. Invoking it is a double-edged sword: Many US initiatives will be called into question (e.g. in Syria). Third, Russia is not especially lawyerly in its foreign policy. Yet its record of abiding by international treaties is actually much stronger than is widely known.

The West acted foolishly in Ukraine, thinking that a popular upheaval could sweep a pro-Russian government from power and yet not prompt a hostile Russian reaction. The EU was naïve in thinking it could spring Ukraine from Russian influence through a mere association agreement or a loan. Any government in Ukraine must pay attention to the security and economic interests of its powerful neighbor to the East. The West should not feed fantasies held by segments of Ukrainian society.

Yet the West should not accede to Russian demands. Upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty is not just about Ukraine. It is about the non-proliferation treaty itself, and global safety in a nuclear-armed world.

Yet there can be no military response from the West. Analogies to Munich 1938 are not correct. In a nuclear world, Russia will not invade the West nor can the West triumph militarily over Russia.

Similarly, sanctions will not play any real role except dig both sides deeper into confrontation. Visa restrictions are less than pin pricks, signs of silliness not policy. The UN Security Council should insist on reason from Russia, and West should insist on reason and moderation from Kiev.

All sides will lose in a deepening confrontation and horrible mistakes would be possible. Russia’s security interests should be respected, but Russia should abide by international law, and the US should do so in Syria and other areas of Russian concern. For the entire world, international law is the key to long-term survival. It may be a slender thread, but it is the only thread we have.

Follow Jeffrey Sachs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffDSachs

Next Steps in the Ukraine Crisis | Jeffrey Sachs

Next Steps in the Ukraine Crisis | Jeffrey Sachs.

There is a stark and obvious asymmetry in the Ukraine crisis. Russia will use military force to get its way. The West will not and should not. There is no doubt that Russian militarized bullying can lead to the de facto division of Ukraine, an event that would be of grave long-term consequences not only for Russia and Ukraine but for the world. The practical question at hand is whether international law can still function to stop this from occurring. In my view, the answer is yes.

The problem with international law is that the great powers, including both the US and Russia, give it allegiance opportunistically, only when it is to their short-term convenience. The US launched the Iraq War against international law. The US has recently destabilized many regimes against international law that protect the sovereignty of UN member states. The US is supporting a violent insurgency in Syria to bring down the regime against international law.

Now it is Russia’s turn to violate international law. Russia’s actions in the Crimea are perfectly intelligible in terms of Russia’s interests and foreign policy traditions, but they are also clearly in violation of international law. Russia has high stakes in Ukraine, and the extra-constitutional toppling of Yanukovich was against Russian interests and provoked Russia’s response in Crimea. The West should acknowledge Russia’s valid economic and security concerns in Ukraine, but it should not accede to Russia’s unilateral and illegal actions in Crimea (and still less if they spread to Eastern Ukraine).

The most important governing law in this immediate case is both explicit and extremely important. It is the treaty-backed agreement reached by four powers in 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, known as “The Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT).” It is filed with the UN Security Council as S/1994/1399, on December 19, 1994.

The issue at hand in 1994 was as important as any issue of international law: the management of nuclear arms. Ukraine and Russia had just recently become independent after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Ukraine had inherited a nuclear arms stockpile. In the interest of nuclear non-proliferation and to prevent accidents, terrorism, or a nuclear showdown in the post-Soviet region, the US and Russia prevailed on Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons and hand them to Russia.

The quid pro quo, at stake today, was Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons on the assurance that it would remain sovereign and secure, including from Russia. As Ukraine renounced nuclear weapons and joined the NPT, Russia, the US, and UK, “reaffirmed their commitment … to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” Moreover, the parties reaffirmed:

their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;

As for threats of energy cutoffs or other economic sanctions, the parties reaffirmed:

to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind;

Crucially, the memorandum made clear that the four parties (including Ukraine) would “consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.”

This international agreement is the basis for Russia to return to its base in Crimea, and for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine. It is the guarantee of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is the bulwark against economic blackmail. In short, it is the place where peaceful nations must take their stand in the current crisis.

The United States should make the legal case, again and again, in the UN Security Council. It should explain the global agreements in detail to the American people, the UN member states, and the world. It should require that Russia explain its actions in light of its clear responsibilities to consult with Ukraine, not as a matter of good neighborliness, but as a matter of solemn international obligation.

There are three weaknesses in this approach. First, international law works slowly, while armaments and events move quickly. No doubt that is true. Second, and just as important, the US is a frequent violator of international law. Invoking it is a double-edged sword: Many US initiatives will be called into question (e.g. in Syria). Third, Russia is not especially lawyerly in its foreign policy. Yet its record of abiding by international treaties is actually much stronger than is widely known.

The West acted foolishly in Ukraine, thinking that a popular upheaval could sweep a pro-Russian government from power and yet not prompt a hostile Russian reaction. The EU was naïve in thinking it could spring Ukraine from Russian influence through a mere association agreement or a loan. Any government in Ukraine must pay attention to the security and economic interests of its powerful neighbor to the East. The West should not feed fantasies held by segments of Ukrainian society.

Yet the West should not accede to Russian demands. Upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty is not just about Ukraine. It is about the non-proliferation treaty itself, and global safety in a nuclear-armed world.

Yet there can be no military response from the West. Analogies to Munich 1938 are not correct. In a nuclear world, Russia will not invade the West nor can the West triumph militarily over Russia.

Similarly, sanctions will not play any real role except dig both sides deeper into confrontation. Visa restrictions are less than pin pricks, signs of silliness not policy. The UN Security Council should insist on reason from Russia, and West should insist on reason and moderation from Kiev.

All sides will lose in a deepening confrontation and horrible mistakes would be possible. Russia’s security interests should be respected, but Russia should abide by international law, and the US should do so in Syria and other areas of Russian concern. For the entire world, international law is the key to long-term survival. It may be a slender thread, but it is the only thread we have.

Follow Jeffrey Sachs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffDSachs

Russia Vetoes, China Abstains From UN Security Council Resolution On Ukraine | Zero Hedge

Russia Vetoes, China Abstains From UN Security Council Resolution On Ukraine | Zero Hedge.

In a rather concerning (though not entirely surprising) turn of events, the United Nations (which may well need to be renamed after this) is making headlines:

  • *RUSSIA REJECTS U.S. DRAFT RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE, CHURKING SAYS
  • *U.S. DRAFT DOES NOT DIRECTLY BLAME RUSSIA FOR CRISIS IN UKRAINE
  • *RUSSIA VETOES UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE CRISIS
  • *CHINA ABSTAINS ON UN RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE

And then the US comes over the top:

  • *POWER SAYS UN VOTE SHOWS RUSSIA ‘ISOLATED, ALONE, WRONG’

Well “isolated and alone” with China?

#UK: ‘#Russia stands isolated in this Council & in the intl comm’ ‘ball is firmly in Russia’s court’ #Ukraine #Crimea pic.twitter.com/m3xBGDDXS9

— Ukrainian Updates (@Ukroblogger) March 15, 2014

It is hardly surprising since the UN Resolution declared Sunday’s referendum on Crimea as invalid but China’s abstention makes it clear that the 2nd largest economy in the world is in no way supportive of the West’s plans and is siding more with Russia (albeit in a diplomatically safe way – for now).

Here is The Diplomat’s Wei Zongyou on China’s potential role to offer some constructive diplomacy to resolve the impasse:

Though far away from China, and definitely not affecting China’s “core interests,” Ukraine crisis is increasingly placing China in a diplomatic dilemma. On the one hand,  the crisis aggravated by the “peaceful entry” of Russian soldiers into Crimea and the latter’s plan to break away from Ukraine through a referendum is diametrically opposed to China’s long-held principle and position of non-interference and anti-separatism; on the other hand, if China sympathizes with Kiev’s new government or the West’s view of point, it will surely alienate Russia, with which China has forged close strategic relations in recent years. What’s more, as Russia and the United States are both wooing China for support and as the situation in Ukraine goes from bad to worse, how could China still stand on the fence while not alienating either and transgressing on its own long held principle?

In view of the delicacy of the situation and the inherent dilemma, China’s response, so far, has been very cautious and intentionally ambiguous. However, as the United States and Europe push for tougher measures and sanctions against Russia, and if Kiev decides to put its case before the UN Security Council, which would seem very likely, China’s diplomatic leeway will be increasingly squeezed. Beijing will have to make its position more clearly heard and play a more active role, as new Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested at a People’s Congress press conference.

The good news is that there is still some room for diplomacy:

First, neither the West nor Russia wants war, even cold war. For a post-modern Europe, a war with a nuclear-armed Russia is unthinkable. Even a cold war of some form would be unbearably costly, if not an outright disaster, for the struggling European economy. Britain, France and Germany each have huge economic interests with Russia. The budget-constrained Obama administration, meanwhile, just doesn’t have the means or the will to wage or even imagine a small, conventional war with Russia. For Russia, although it is disillusioned with the West, it is not prepared physically or psychologically to have a war, hot or cold, with Western powers.

Second, the United States, Europe and Russia all want to find a reasonable way out of the current crisis, as of course does the Ukraine government. No doubt, Russia’s action in Crimea surprised both the U.S. and Europe, which find themselves pressed by world opinion to take firm action, even though they are not prepared and reluctant to do so. And while they push for some kind of economic sanctions against Russia, they still don’t want to shut the door of negotiation and push Moscow into corner. As for Russia, though it did expect some resentment and criticism from the West, it is not prepared to face the prospect of tough economic sanctions and political isolation. If offered a decent solution, Russia will not be foolhardy.

Third, an autonomous Crimea within Ukraine, within which Russia’s military presence can be guaranteed, is in the best interests of Ukraine, Russia and the international community. Under the current situation, what worries Kiev most is the possible loss of Crimea and the Russian threat to its territorial sovereignty and integrity. In its turn, Russia’s nightmare is a pro-West Ukraine, hostile to Russia and opposed to its military presence in Crimea. If each can get what it wants to and avoid what it fears, a solution may be found.

Given these common interests, China can play an active role in facilitating a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

First, China could embark on a quiet diplomacy, taking advantage of its close strategic relations with Russia. At present, in the shadow of looming economic sanctions from the U.S and Europe, the chance of Russia backing down in bilateral or multilateral dialogues with the West is very slim. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not going to bow to the West because of sanctions. However, if China can quietly offer Russia a helping hand, talking from the perspective of a close friend of what is in Russia’s best interest concerning Ukraine, something Putin knows better than anybody else, the perhaps the Russian president will be more willing to listen. And Chinese President Xi Jinping can reciprocate Putin’s phone call and offer his advice as a friend.

Second, if Putin is interested in China’s advice, Beijing should seek Washington’s promise or even guarantee of the status of Russian military base in Crimea and the cancellation of economic sanctions.

Third, once a promise or even guarantee is secured, China should work together with Germany, whose position and attitudes are somewhat different from those of the United States and other European countries, to persuade Russia to de-escalate the situation and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Of course, if Russia is unwilling to take China’s advice as a friend, Beijing should also be straight with Moscow, telling it that China will not be comfortable with, let alone support, the secession of Ukraine territory, which would be contrary to China’ s long-held principle. And Beijing should also be frank in conveying that Russia cannot count on China’s vote if the case of Crimea’s independence or secession is put before the Security Council by the Ukraine government.

And indeed they did not get their vote – but clearly China is still playing the game with their abstention.

Russia Vetoes, China Abstains From UN Security Council Resolution On Ukraine | Zero Hedge

Russia Vetoes, China Abstains From UN Security Council Resolution On Ukraine | Zero Hedge.

In a rather concerning (though not entirely surprising) turn of events, the United Nations (which may well need to be renamed after this) is making headlines:

  • *RUSSIA REJECTS U.S. DRAFT RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE, CHURKING SAYS
  • *U.S. DRAFT DOES NOT DIRECTLY BLAME RUSSIA FOR CRISIS IN UKRAINE
  • *RUSSIA VETOES UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE CRISIS
  • *CHINA ABSTAINS ON UN RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE

And then the US comes over the top:

  • *POWER SAYS UN VOTE SHOWS RUSSIA ‘ISOLATED, ALONE, WRONG’

Well “isolated and alone” with China?

#UK: ‘#Russia stands isolated in this Council & in the intl comm’ ‘ball is firmly in Russia’s court’ #Ukraine #Crimea pic.twitter.com/m3xBGDDXS9

— Ukrainian Updates (@Ukroblogger) March 15, 2014

It is hardly surprising since the UN Resolution declared Sunday’s referendum on Crimea as invalid but China’s abstention makes it clear that the 2nd largest economy in the world is in no way supportive of the West’s plans and is siding more with Russia (albeit in a diplomatically safe way – for now).

Here is The Diplomat’s Wei Zongyou on China’s potential role to offer some constructive diplomacy to resolve the impasse:

Though far away from China, and definitely not affecting China’s “core interests,” Ukraine crisis is increasingly placing China in a diplomatic dilemma. On the one hand,  the crisis aggravated by the “peaceful entry” of Russian soldiers into Crimea and the latter’s plan to break away from Ukraine through a referendum is diametrically opposed to China’s long-held principle and position of non-interference and anti-separatism; on the other hand, if China sympathizes with Kiev’s new government or the West’s view of point, it will surely alienate Russia, with which China has forged close strategic relations in recent years. What’s more, as Russia and the United States are both wooing China for support and as the situation in Ukraine goes from bad to worse, how could China still stand on the fence while not alienating either and transgressing on its own long held principle?

In view of the delicacy of the situation and the inherent dilemma, China’s response, so far, has been very cautious and intentionally ambiguous. However, as the United States and Europe push for tougher measures and sanctions against Russia, and if Kiev decides to put its case before the UN Security Council, which would seem very likely, China’s diplomatic leeway will be increasingly squeezed. Beijing will have to make its position more clearly heard and play a more active role, as new Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested at a People’s Congress press conference.

The good news is that there is still some room for diplomacy:

First, neither the West nor Russia wants war, even cold war. For a post-modern Europe, a war with a nuclear-armed Russia is unthinkable. Even a cold war of some form would be unbearably costly, if not an outright disaster, for the struggling European economy. Britain, France and Germany each have huge economic interests with Russia. The budget-constrained Obama administration, meanwhile, just doesn’t have the means or the will to wage or even imagine a small, conventional war with Russia. For Russia, although it is disillusioned with the West, it is not prepared physically or psychologically to have a war, hot or cold, with Western powers.

Second, the United States, Europe and Russia all want to find a reasonable way out of the current crisis, as of course does the Ukraine government. No doubt, Russia’s action in Crimea surprised both the U.S. and Europe, which find themselves pressed by world opinion to take firm action, even though they are not prepared and reluctant to do so. And while they push for some kind of economic sanctions against Russia, they still don’t want to shut the door of negotiation and push Moscow into corner. As for Russia, though it did expect some resentment and criticism from the West, it is not prepared to face the prospect of tough economic sanctions and political isolation. If offered a decent solution, Russia will not be foolhardy.

Third, an autonomous Crimea within Ukraine, within which Russia’s military presence can be guaranteed, is in the best interests of Ukraine, Russia and the international community. Under the current situation, what worries Kiev most is the possible loss of Crimea and the Russian threat to its territorial sovereignty and integrity. In its turn, Russia’s nightmare is a pro-West Ukraine, hostile to Russia and opposed to its military presence in Crimea. If each can get what it wants to and avoid what it fears, a solution may be found.

Given these common interests, China can play an active role in facilitating a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

First, China could embark on a quiet diplomacy, taking advantage of its close strategic relations with Russia. At present, in the shadow of looming economic sanctions from the U.S and Europe, the chance of Russia backing down in bilateral or multilateral dialogues with the West is very slim. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not going to bow to the West because of sanctions. However, if China can quietly offer Russia a helping hand, talking from the perspective of a close friend of what is in Russia’s best interest concerning Ukraine, something Putin knows better than anybody else, the perhaps the Russian president will be more willing to listen. And Chinese President Xi Jinping can reciprocate Putin’s phone call and offer his advice as a friend.

Second, if Putin is interested in China’s advice, Beijing should seek Washington’s promise or even guarantee of the status of Russian military base in Crimea and the cancellation of economic sanctions.

Third, once a promise or even guarantee is secured, China should work together with Germany, whose position and attitudes are somewhat different from those of the United States and other European countries, to persuade Russia to de-escalate the situation and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Of course, if Russia is unwilling to take China’s advice as a friend, Beijing should also be straight with Moscow, telling it that China will not be comfortable with, let alone support, the secession of Ukraine territory, which would be contrary to China’ s long-held principle. And Beijing should also be frank in conveying that Russia cannot count on China’s vote if the case of Crimea’s independence or secession is put before the Security Council by the Ukraine government.

And indeed they did not get their vote – but clearly China is still playing the game with their abstention.

Crimea Military Post Taken Over By Russians

Crimea Military Post Taken Over By Russians.

 

A woman passes by a WWII memorial, the actual Russian tank that was first to enter Simferopol in 1944 as the Red Army was advancing, in Simferopol, Ukraine, Friday, March 7, 2014. Ukraine lurched toward breakup Thursday as lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days. President Barack Obama condemned the move and the West answered with the first real sanctions against Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)


MOSCOW/SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine, March 8 (Reuters) – Russia said any U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine will boomerang back on the United States and that Crimea has the right to self-determination as armed men tried to seize another Ukrainian military base on the peninsula.

In a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “hasty and reckless steps” that could harm Russian-American relations, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

“Sanctions … would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang,” it added.

Kerry stressed the importance of resolving the situation through diplomacy and said he and Lavrov would continue to consult, the State Department said.

It was the second tense, high-level exchange between the former Cold War foes in 24 hours over the pro-Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after an hour-long call with U.S. President Barack Obama that their positions on the former Soviet republic were still far apart. Obama announced the first sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

Putin, who later opened the Paralympic Games in Sochi which have been boycotted by a string of Western dignitaries, said Ukraine’s new, pro-Western authorities had acted illegitimately over the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions.

“Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,” he said.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the Ukrainian border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared with the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.

The Pentagon estimated as many as 20,000 Russian troops may be in Crimea.

On Friday evening armed men drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile defence post in Sevastopol, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene. But no shots were fired and Crimea’s pro-Russian premier said later the standoff was over.

Putin denies the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command, although their vehicles have Russian military plates. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

The most serious East-West confrontation since the end of the Cold War escalated on Thursday when Crimea’s parliament, dominated by ethnic Russians, voted to join Russia and set a referendum for March 16. The conflict resulted from the overthrow last month of President Viktor Yanukovich after protests in Kiev that led to violence.

JETS, DESTROYER

Turkey scrambled jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast and a U.S. warship passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus straits on its way to the Black Sea, although the U.S. military said it was a routine deployment.

The head of Russia’s upper house of parliament said after meeting visiting Crimean lawmakers on Friday that Crimea had a right to self-determination, and ruled out any risk of war between “the two brotherly nations”.

European Union leaders and Obama said the referendum plan was illegitimate and would violate Ukraine’s constitution. Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel from his Florida vacation on Friday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

“The leaders reiterated their grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of international law through its military intervention in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama ordered visa bans and asset freezes on Thursday against so far unidentified people deemed responsible for threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty. Earlier in the week, a Kremlin aide said Moscow might refuse to pay off any loans to U.S. banks, the top four of which have around $24 billion in exposure to Russia.

Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute “a threat to international peace and security,” after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious, saying economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis and avoiding comment on the Crimean referendum.

The EU, Russia’s biggest economic partner and energy customer, adopted a three-stage plan to try to force a negotiated solution but stopped short of immediate sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded angrily on Friday, calling the EU decision to freeze talks on visa-free travel and on a broad new pact governing Russia-EU ties “extremely unconstructive.” It pledged to retaliate.

“GUERRILLA WAR?”

Senior Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison after Yanukovich’s overthrow, met Merkel in Dublin and appealed for immediate EU sanctions against Russia, warning that Crimea might otherwise slide into a guerrilla war.

Brussels and Washington rushed to strengthen the new authorities in economically shattered Ukraine, announcing both political and financial assistance. The regional director of the International Monetary Fund said talks with Kiev on a loan agreement were going well and praised the new government’s openness to economic reform and transparency.

The European Commission has said Ukraine could receive up to 11 billion euros ($15 billion) in the next couple of years provided it reaches agreement with the IMF, which requires painful economic reforms such as ending gas subsidies.

Promises of billions of dollars in Western aid for the Kiev government, and the perception that Russian troops are not likely to go beyond Crimea into other parts of Ukraine, have helped reverse a rout in the local hryvnia currency.

In the past two days it has traded above 9.0 to the dollar for the first time since the Crimea crisis began last week. Local dealers said emergency currency restrictions imposed last week were also supporting the hryvnia.

Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said Ukraine had not paid its $440 million gas bill for February, bringing its arrears to $1.89 billion and hinted it could turn off the taps as it did in 2009, when a halt in Russian deliveries to Ukraine reduced supplies to Europe during a cold snap.

In Moscow, a huge crowd gathered near the Kremlin at a government-sanctioned rally and concert billed as being “in support of the Crimean people.” Pop stars took to the stage and demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “Crimea is Russian land” and “We believe in Putin.”

IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said no one in the civilised world would recognise the result of the “so-called referendum” in Crimea.

He repeated Kiev’s willingness to negotiate with Russia if Moscow pulls its additional troops out of Crimea and said he had requested a telephone call with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

But Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ridiculed calls for Russia to join an international “contact group” with Ukraine proposed by the West, saying they “make us smile.”

Demonstrators encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede.

Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure.

“I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.”

Unarmed military observers from the pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were blocked from entering Crimea for a second day in a row on Friday, the OSCE said on Twitter.

The United Nations said it had sent its assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, to Kiev to conduct a preliminary humans rights assessment.

Ukrainian television has been replaced with Russian state channels in Crimea and the streets largely belong to people who support Moscow’s rule, some of whom have harassed journalists and occasional pro-Kiev protesters.

Part of the Crimea’s 2 million population opposes Moscow’s rule, including members of the region’s ethnic Russian majority. The last time Crimeans were asked, in 1991, they voted narrowly for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.

“With all these soldiers here, it is like we are living in a zoo,” Tatyana, 41, an ethnic Russian. “Everyone fully understands this is an occupation.” (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Simferopol, Lidia Kelly in Moscow, Luke Baker and Martin Santa in Brussels, Roberta Rampton and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Lina Kushch in Donetsk and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Writing by Paul Taylor and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker)

New Internet law in Turkey sparks outrage – Features – Al Jazeera English

New Internet law in Turkey sparks outrage – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Controversial web controls implemented after phone-recording leaks raise questions and stoke public anger.

 Last updated: 25 Feb 2014 13:10

Street protests and anti-censorship campaigns have been launched to oppose Turkey’s internet law [AFP]
Turkey’s new law tightening the state’s grip on the Internet has gone into force after President Abdullah Gul approved the controversial legislation pushed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.The legislation changes Turkey’s original 2007 Internet law, and has sparked street protests and various public campaigns against the new online controls.

The conservative government has rejected claims that the law will lead to censorship, arguing instead that it aims at protecting individual rights and privacy. “There is no censorship on the Internet. Freedoms are not restricted. We are only taking precautions against blackmail and immorality,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said.

“If the Internet and computers are not used in a proper way under certain monitoring and order, they do not constitute beneficial or educational tools anymore. Instead, they turn into dangers with bitter results.”

Last year’s Gezi Park protests against the Turkish government were largely organised through social media, which Erdogan at the time called “the worst menace to society“.

#UnFollowAbdullahGul

A Twitter campaign – #UnFollowAbdullahGul – was launched after Turkey’s tech-savvy president approved the proposed Internet bill, despite his expressed concerns. His follower count dropped by more than 100,000 in two days last week.

In another campaign named #4Saat (“four hours” in Turkish), liberal newspaper Radikal started self-censoring various news stories on its website every four hours – the time needed to block a URL under the new administrative process – to protest against the legislation.

Critics of the new law organised several protests

Eyup Can, the editor-in-chief of Radikal, told Al Jazeera the digital campaign aims at providing the Turkish public with a better understanding of the new law.

“As the legislation is highly technical both in terms of law and technology, sometimes it is not easy for the public to understand. We wanted to display the practical future outcomes of the law and make the Turkish public grasp what changes it would make in our lives,” he said.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, has repeatedly declared it would take the legislation to the Constitutional Court.

“The AKP government, striving to restrict freedom in every domain, is stepping up its pressure on the Internet, which is becoming increasingly important in our daily lives,” CHP said in a statement.

Turkey is an Internet-savvy country with 21.9 million broadband Internet subscriptions as of last September, according to a report by Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority. There are 68.4 million mobile-phone subscriptions and 47.5 million 3G subscriptions in a country with 75 million people.

The European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations have expressed concern over the legislation, along with rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

A similar bill proposed by the government in 2011 was shelved following mass street protests. This time, however, the government decided to go forward despite a similar reaction.

What is new?

The legislation allows Turkey’s telecommunications authority (TIB) to block websites without first obtaining a court order. With a complaint filed for breach of “privacy of persons”, TIB has the power to order the blocking of a URL, which will be carried out by Internet service providers within four hours.

A court order must then be sought by the telecommunications authority within 24 hours. However, the web page remains offline until the court makes a decision.

The president of the TIB can also block URLs without complaints having been filed, if prospective plaintiffs are not capable of applying, or if a delay could cause “irreversible consequences”.

Gokhan Ahi, a lawyer and lecturer specialising in Internet law, told Al Jazeera the TIB could use its newly given authority anyway it sees fit. “Will it monitor delays of complaints [over breaches of privacy] for every citizen, or only for the government? By law, this institution works under the jurisdiction of the government, and it would carry out any written order from it to block a web page when it has such a power,” Ahi said.

Blocking web pages immediately after complaints are lodged creates a legal basis to sweep news reports and other online information under the carpet, Ahi said, pointing out that the ensuing court process ensures the URLs stay blocked for some time.

The rush of phone recordings to the Internet is so disgusting that, I believe, accelerating the legal decision-making mechanism [for blocking URLs] is in line with the principle of right to privacy.- Hilal Kaplan, columnist

Data will be stored

The law also requires Internet service providers to collect all data on web users’ activities for up to two years, and to provide authorities with the data in question on demand.

Users’ information on Internet traffic will be collected based on IP and subscriber numbers, instead of URLs, which was criticised as being more intrusive. The collected data will only be accessible by court order.

The law allows single URLs to be blocked, as opposed to entire websites, as directed by the old legislation. The blocking of YouTube from 2007 until 2010 for videos insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was a significant example of that.

It also removes prison sentences for content and access providers who violate the law, which was a big obstacle for foreign investors in the sector. However, prison sentences can still be handed down if violators do not pay fines they incur under the law.

According to Can of Radikal, there is nothing wrong with regulating the Internet as long as it doesn’t restrict freedom of information.

“Through this law, the job [to block web pages] has been left to the initiative of a public employee heading a state institution, and this creates an arbitrary situation,” Can said.

Leaked recordings

The swift adoption of the new Internet law comes after the online leak of phone recordings that allegedly document corruption in state tenders and bribery involving businessmen and the Turkish government.

The latest recording, which was leaked on Monday, purports to be a conversation between Erdogan and his son Bilal, in which the prime minister asked him to move money from his and his relatives’ homes. Bilal supposedly said in the recording that some 30m euros ($41m) still remain to be disposed of. The prime minister has said the recording is fake.

Other recordings have revealed Erdogan’s direct intervention in mainstream media coverage. He confirmed one of these conversations at a recent press conference.

Some of these recordings were released through court orders and publicised by the CHP, the main opposition party. Others were leaked anonymously on social media and video-sharing websites, and their authenticity has not been challenged by the government.

Listening Post: Turkey’s media pressure points

In mid-December, the government was hit by unexpected and comprehensive corruption probes, mainly targeting the sons of ministers, bureaucrats and prominent businesspeople.

The government alleged the investigations were organised by a “parallel state”, an apparent reference to Gulen, a religious group formerly allied with the AKP whose followers are widely believed to wield significant influence over Turkey’s police and judiciary.

Erdogan linked the phone leaks several times to the Gulen Movement.

The government’s reaction to the corruption investigations was to initiate a country-wide comprehensive reshuffling in the Turkish Police Forces, which, according to media reports, halted a planned second and third wave of detentions. Prosecutors who launched the investigations were removed, and the AKP-dominated parliament recently adopted a new law increasing its influence over the judiciary.

Hilal Kaplan, a pro-government columnist for the Yeni Safak daily, linked the revamped Internet law to the recent phone leaks. “The rush of phone recordings to the Internet is so disgusting that, I believe, accelerating the legal decision-making mechanism [for blocking URLs] is in line with the principle of right to privacy protected by Article 20 of the constitution,” she recently wrote.

The government has rejected any link between the phone leaks and the new legislation, saying it had worked on the text of the law for the past two years.

Radikal’s editor Can disagreed, however, saying the leaked recordings had spurred the government to push through the new Internet controls before local elections scheduled for March 30.

“The government would not bring the bill to the parliament this fast if it was not for the recent developments. It is an issue that should have been widely discussed in the country, as there are no certain global norms about the use of the Internet,” he said.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Thriceee

Snowden Docs: U.S. Spied On Negotiators At 2009 Climate Summit

Snowden Docs: U.S. Spied On Negotiators At 2009 Climate Summit.

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency monitored the communications of other governments ahead of and during the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, according to the latest document from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document, with portions marked “top secret,” indicates that the NSA was monitoring the communications of other countries ahead of the conference, and intended to continue doing so throughout the meeting. Posted on an internal NSA website on Dec. 7, 2009, the first day of the Copenhagen summit, it states that “analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as the deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiation strategies.”

“Second Party partners” refers to the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, with which the U.S. has an intelligence-sharing relationship. “While the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference remains uncertain, signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well informed as possible throughout the 2-week event,” the document says.

The Huffington Post published the documents Wednesday night in coordination with the Danish daily newspaper Information, which worked with American journalist Laura Poitras.

The December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen was the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which brings together 195 countries to negotiate measures to address rising greenhouse gas emissions and their impact. The Copenhagen summit was the first big climate meeting after the election of President Barack Obama, and was widely expected to yield a significant breakthrough. Other major developed nations were already part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions limits, while the United States — the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases when the protocol went into effect in 2004 — had famously declined to join. The two-week meeting was supposed to produce a successor agreement that would include the U.S., as well as China, India and other countries with rapidly increasing emissions.

The document indicates that the NSA planned to gather information as the leaders and negotiating teams of other countries held private discussions throughout the Copenhagen meeting. “[L]eaders and negotiating teams from around the world will undoubtedly be engaging in intense last-minute policy formulating; at the same time, they will be holding sidebar discussions with their counterparts — details of which are of great interest to our policymakers,” the document states. The information likely would be used to brief U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama, among others, according to the document.

The document does not detail how the agency planned to continue gathering information during the summit, other than noting that it would be capturing signals intelligence such as calls and emails. Previous disclosures have indicated that the NSA has the ability to monitor the mobile phones of heads of state. Other documents that Snowden has released indicate that the U.K.’s intelligence service tapped into delegates’ email and telephone communications at the 2009 G-20 meetings in London. Other previous Snowden disclosures documented the surveillance of the G-8 and G-20 summits in Canada in 2010, and the U.N. climate change conference in Bali in 2007.

The document also refers to some intelligence gathered ahead of the meeting, including a report that “detailed China’s efforts to coordinate its position with India and ensure that the two leaders of the developing world are working towards the same outcome.” It refers to another report that “provided advance details of the Danish proposal and their efforts to launch a ‘rescue plan’ to save COP-15.”

The Danish proposal was a draft agreement that the country’s negotiators had drawn up in the months ahead of the summit in consultation with a small number key of countries. The text was leaked to The Guardian early in the conference, causing some disarray as countries that were not consulted balked that it promoted the interests of developed nations and undermined principles laid out in previous climate negotiations. As Information reports, Danish officials wanted to keep U.S. negotiators from seeing the text in the weeks ahead of the conference, worried that it may dim their ambitions in the negotiations for proposed cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Danes did share the text with the U.S. and other key nations ahead of the meeting. But the NSA document noting this as “advance details” indicates that the U.S. may have already intercepted it. The paragraph referring to the Danish text is marked “SI” in the Snowden document — which most likely means “signals intelligence,” indicating that it came from electronic information intercepted by the NSA, rather than being provided to the U.S. negotiators.

That could be why U.S. negotiators took the positions they did going into the conference, a Danish official told Information. “They simply sat back, just as we had feared they would if they knew about our document,” the official said. “They made no constructive statements. Obviously, if they had known about our plans since the fall of 2009, it was in their interest to simply wait for our draft proposal to be brought to the table at the summit.”

Members of the Danish delegation indicated in interviews with Information that they thought the American and Chinese negotiators seemed “peculiarly well-informed” about discussions that had taken place behind closed doors. “Particularly the Americans,” said one official. “I was often completely taken aback by what they knew.”

Despite high hopes for an agreement at Copenhagen, the negotiations started slowly and there were few signs of progress. Obama and heads of state from more than 100 nations arrived late in the second week in hopes of achieving a breakthrough, but the final day wore on without an outcome. There were few promising signals until late Friday night, when Obama made a surprise announcement that he — along with leaders from China, India, Brazil and South Africa — had come up with the “Copenhagen Accord.”

The three-page document set a goal of keeping the average rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius, but allowed countries to write their own plans for cutting emissions — leaving out any legally binding targets or even a path to a formal treaty. Obama called the accord “an unprecedented breakthrough” in a press conference, then took off for home on Air Force One. But other countries balked, pointing out that the accord was merely a political agreement, drafted outside the U.N. process and of uncertain influence for future negotiations.

The climate summits since then have advanced at a glacial pace; a legally binding treaty isn’t currently expected until 2015. And the U.S. Congress, despite assurances made in Copenhagen, never passed new laws cutting planet-warming emissions. (The Environmental Protection Agency is, however, moving forward with regulations on emissions from power plants, but a new law to addressing the issue had been widely considered as preferable.)

The revelation that the NSA was surveilling the communications of leaders during the Copenhagen talks is unlikely to help build the trust of negotiators from other nations in the future.

“It can’t help in the sense that if people think you’re trying to get an unfair advantage or manipulate the process, they’re not going to have much trust in you,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a seasoned veteran of the U.N. climate negotiations. Meyer said he worried that the disclosure might cause the parties to “start becoming more cautious, more secretive, and less forthcoming” in the negotiations. “That’s not a good dynamic in a process where you’re trying to encourage collaboration, compromise, and working together, as opposed to trying to get a comparative advantage,” he said.

Obama has defended the NSA’s work as important in fighting terrorism at home and abroad. But the latest Snowden document indicates that the agency plays a broader role in protecting U.S. interests internationally.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment directly on the Snowden document in an email to The Huffington Post, but did say that “the U.S. Government has made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.” She noted that Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on the NSA “laid out a series of concrete and substantial reforms the Administration will adopt or seek to codify with Congress” regarding surveillance.

“In particular, he issued a new Presidential Directive that lays out new principles that govern how we conduct signals intelligence collection, and strengthen how we provide executive branch oversight of our signals intelligence activities,” Hayden said. “It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of our companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis, so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by the President’s senior national security team.”

Cambodia police use force to break up rally – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Cambodia police use force to break up rally – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Cambodia imposed an indefinite ban on demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January [AP]
At least eight people have been injured in Cambodia’s capital as police fired smoke grenades and used electric batons to break up an anti-government demonstration.Several hundred people, led by radio station owner Mam Sonando, gathered in front of the Ministry of Information on Monday to press demand for the government critic to be allowed a license for a television channel.

The government last week rejected the application, saying there was no frequency available. All existing stations are closely linked to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodia has been accused of only granting television licences to pro-government media.

Protesters and journalists were hit by police batons during Monday’s rally, according to rights activists.

Activist Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho condemned the crackdown on the protesters as a “serious violation of human rights”.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said police dispersed the protest because it had not been permitted and could have led to violence.

Protest ban

The government imposed an indefinite ban on street demonstrations in Phnom Penh after a wave of protests in early January challenging the results of last year’s election, which the opposition alleges was rigged.

It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the lawLong Dimanche, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman

“It was illegal demonstration. So the authorities just implemented the law,” Long Dimanche said.

Sonando, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was convicted in October 2012 on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.

He was released from jail last March after a court cleared him of a secessionist plot, slashing his 20-year jail term and ordering his release from prison.

Baton-wielding police clashed on Sunday with protesters – including Buddhist monks – demanding higher wages for garment workers and the release of 23 people arrested during a recent bloody crackdown on striking garment workers, which left at least four civilians dead.

Authorities have quelled recent street protests against Hun Sen. He faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government’s suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the recent actions by the Cambodian government and is urging the United Nations member countries to press the country’s leadership to abide by previous commitments and fulfil new rights pledges.

Cambodia is scheduled to appear before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Tuesday.

“Hun Sen’s government violates human rights on a daily basis by violently preventing the opposition, trade unions, activists and others from gathering to demand political change,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.

Media Spin Machine in High Gear: Top Three Media Lies About the Syrian Peace Talks | Global Research

Media Spin Machine in High Gear: Top Three Media Lies About the Syrian Peace Talks | Global Research.

The media spin machine is again kicking into high gear, perfectly timed to accompany the “Geneva II” Syria peace talks. The lies are necessary to give the Obama administration an upper hand in the peace negotiations, which are not being used to pursue peace, but instead, to accomplish the Obama administration’s longstanding goal of Syrian regime change. Here are the top three Western media lies about the Syrian peace talks. 

 1) The removal of Syrian Bashar al-Assad was an agreed upon “precondition” for the Geneva II peace talks. 

This lie has been repeated over and over by government and media alike. It has zero basis. The Obama administration claims that this precondition was expressed in the “Geneva communiqué,” which was a road map agreement meant to guide the Geneva II peace talks, agreed upon by some of the major parties of the negotiations, including Russia.

The communiqué does indeed call for a negotiated political transition, but nowhere does it state that such a transition cannot include President Assad. Such a condition would have been outright rejected by Russia.

In fact, the Geneva communiqué includes this crucial statement:

“[a transition government] could include members of the present [Syrian] government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.” Nowhere does it specifically mention or imply President Assad.

The Los Angeles Times recently stepped out of line and exposed this lie:

“[John] Kerry regularly cites the “Geneva communiqué,” a kind of peace road map hammered out in June 2012 during a United Nations-organized summit. But the document does not explicitly call for Assad’s ouster.”

The Obama administration’s constant repeating of this lie only causes divisions in the peace process, undermining the chances that the peace process will succeed.

The Obama administration is especially adamant about this “Assad must go” pre-condition because it knows that, if free and fair elections were held tomorrow in Syria — as part of a UN-backed “transitional process”— President Assad would likely win. This is the result of the ethnic and religious minorities in Syria that have rallied behind President Assad, since they’ve witnessed the consistent religious sectarian atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed rebels (which the U.S. media loves to ignore or minimize).

Assad would probably win an election since there is also simply no one else on the government side or the opposition side with his name recognition or popularity. The U.S.-backed rebel war in Syria has vastly strengthened Assad’s political hand, but you wouldn’t know it from the Western, anti-Syrian media.

Demanding Assad’s ouster also does not reflect the situation on the ground.  The U.S.-backed rebels have never controlled more than one Syrian city, namely Raqaa, which is dominated by al-Qaeda and is governed under a Taliban-style interpretation of Islamic law, which includes a strict ban on music. Thus, the rebels don’t have the ground power that would even enable them to make the demand that “Assad must go”.

2) The U.S.-backed rebel militias are “moderate” Islamic groups.

The fact that this lie can even be uttered publicly without encountering ridicule is a major success of Western media propaganda. The media narrative paints the U.S.-backed “good” rebels fighting both the Syrian government and the “bad” al-Qaeda linked rebels.

But the “good” rebels in the U.S.-backed Islamic Front share the same vision for Syria’s future as the al-Qaeda rebels: a fundamentalist version of Sharia law, where women live in virtual house arrest and where religious minorities are second class citizens (non-Sunni Muslims would simply be butchered, as they are on a regular basis in Syria, which is again minimized or ignored in the Western media.)

The “moderate rebel” lie was further exposed recently when a top leader in the most powerful militia, Ahrar al Sham, within the Islamic Front declared Ahrar al Sham to be the “real” representative of al-Qaeda in Syria, as opposed to the rival al-Qaeda faction that the Islamic Front had recently begun fighting.

Ahrar al Sham has long been known to be an al-Qaeda type Islamist extremist group; the Western media simply chose to ignore it. But when it was recently made official, the U.S. media chose to continue its ignoring stance, since actually reporting on it would destroy their “moderate rebel” lie. The Western media also continues to ignore the fact that the “moderate” U.S.-backed Islamic Front issued a joint statement that aligned itself to the extremist views of Ahrar al Sham, the “real” al-Qaeda.

3) New Evidence of Syrian government “industrial scale” torture.   

The Western media recently blasted the “breaking news” of brand new evidence showing massive “NAZI-like” torture and murder by the Syrian government, released at the beginning of the Syrian peace talks. This may or may not be true, but the lie here is that the Western media promoted the “evidence” as being unquestionably true, when the story doesn’t reach first base when it comes to evidence-based journalism.

All we really know is that there are hundreds of pictures of dead people that a “trusted source” says were killed by the Syrian government. The trusted source was designated as such by pro-Western intellectuals, who have earned professional “credibility” by helping convict war criminals in the International Criminal Court [ICC]. But as author Diane Johnstone pointed out in her excellent book “Fools Crusade,” about the war against Yugoslavia — as well as in other articles — the ICC has long been used by western powers as a tool to create a pretext for war, or a tool to justify a war after the fact.

The evidence of the “NAZI-like” atrocities was written in a study paid for by the government of Qatar, which has long funneled cash, guns, and Jihadis to Syria in aid of the anti-government rebels.

Again, we don’t know if the story is true or not. But such an important investigation should be conducted by the UN or another more objective institution. The same biased dynamic occurred in relation to the infamous chemical weapons attack, where no real evidence was provided, though an unending string of “experts” were quoted in the Western media, testifying to the guilt of the Syrian Government. But when Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the Obama administration lied about the rebels not having the capacity to perform such an attack, the Western media simply ignored the legend of journalism. The wrench in the propaganda machine was simply dislodged.

How do these lies become such permanent fixtures in the Western media? An excellent article in the Guardian newspaper recently discussed in depth the principal sources the Western media has used to understand the Syrian conflict.

The article exposed the incredible bias of some of the most important Western media sources on Syria, which is why they were handpicked in the first place to be “expert” sources: they had political agendas that were aligned with the U.S. government’s foreign policy decisions. The other side of the conflict was completely ignored, except when it was targeted for ridicule. Thus, Americans and Europeans have a completely one-sided, if not fantasy-based perspective of what is happening in Syria. This has been systematic since the beginning of the conflict, as happened with the Yugoslav, Afghan, Iraq, and Libya wars.

The result of this media-led ignorance could result in yet more unnecessary deaths in a country that now has millions of refugees and over a 100,000 dead. Obama seems like he intends to exploit these peace talks with the intention of blaming the Syrian government for their failure. Having failed to defeat Assad on the battlefield in a proxy war, the Obama administration is trying to win the propaganda war. And once peace talks have failed, talk of war will resume, since “all other options have failed.”

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

Notes

http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueActionGroupforSyria.pdf

http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-syria-talks-20140123,0,992030.story

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/01/isis-raqq-ban-music-smoking-impose-veil.html

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/01/17/4620554/key-anti-assad-rebel-leader-acknowledges.html#.Uts02BAo7RY

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByBt2sGl4U4hU2lrZGFoeUtkV1k/edit

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/20/world/syria-torture-photos-amanpour/

http://www.amazon.com/Fools-Crusade-Yugoslavia-Western-Delusions/dp/158367084X

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/05/06/do-we-really-need-an-international-criminal-court-2/

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/12/syrian-opposition-doing-the-talking

UN expert: CAR risks spiralling into genocide – Africa – Al Jazeera English

UN expert: CAR risks spiralling into genocide – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

The UN chief’s special adviser on genocide prevention has warned of a “high risk of crimes against humanity and of genocide” in the Central African Republic.

Adama Dieng and other UN officials briefed the Security Council on Wednesday on the continuing and unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims in the country.

More than half the country’s 4.6 million people need assistance, according to the UN, and nearly one million have fled their homes after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March coup d’etat that ousted former President Francois Bozize.

Christian self-defence groups known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) have taken up arms against them, and the UN estimates that retaliatory violence has claimed thousands of lives.

The officials spoke of children being beheaded, entire villages burned and a complete breakdown of law and order, and they urged the deployment of more peacekeepers as soon as possible.

“The level of hatred between these communities shocked me,” Dieng said, listing widespread reports of summary executions, mutilation and sexual violence among the “widespread and massive” human rights violations.

Bodies dumped

Restoring peace will be difficult “without addressing the current culture of impunity,” he added.

 

Dieng and the other officials spoke after a visit last month as violence spiralled.

Despite the dark outlook for the country, they expressed hope at this week’s election of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president, and at the $496m in humanitarian assistance newly pledged by international donors.

They also welcomed the approval by European Union foreign ministers this week of a potential joint military force of about 500 troops to assist the roughly 1,600 French troops and about 4,600 African troops trying to restore order.

Samba-Panza pledged after her election to hold talks with armed groups.

“I want to meet with the armed groups and listen to them,” she told reporters. “If they took up arms, then there is a reason for that.”

The statements came as the Red Cross said it had found 11 corpses, most burnt beyond recognition, dumped in the capital Bangui.

Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of the Central African Red Cross Society, said nine of 11 bodies collected from Bangui’s mostly Muslim northern neighbourhood of PK11 earlier this week had been set alight.

He added that the Red Cross had collected 87 bodies in the past five days across the country.

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