Daily archives: June 1, 2007

Blair Brings Back Colonialism to Africa

Interview from The London Project http://londonproject.co.uk/article/murray

Colonialism Returns To Africa Says Ex-Diplomat

By Mattia Bagnoli

June 1st, 2007

in Issue 1 Today

As Tony Blair was feted as an ‘honorary chief’ in Sierra Leone this week, not everyone in London was as congratulatory towards the prime minister’s chequered foreign policy. “To me it sounds like colonialism has returned to Africa”, says Craig Murray, former British ambassador referring to the British intervention that brought the civil war in Sierra Leone to an end.

In 2000 Blair ordered the British Army into Sierra Leone to support government soldiers in the bloody civil war that had wrecked the diamond rich West African nation. “We managed to bring the war to halt, it’s true. But the price is that colonialism has returned to Africa. Is this the pattern we want? We now have troops in Sierra Leone; the head of the police is a British citizen, not to say that the government enjoy the help of British officers. Is the solution for Africa to have the Europeans come back?” says Murray.

Craig Murray was relieved of his post at the height of the Iraqi invasion in 2004 following public disagreements with then Home Office Secretary Jack Straw. Uzbekistan backed the US led invasion in the Gulf, conceding its strategic air-force base to the Americans, in return for much needed economic support. Tashkent’s poor record involving human rights was not considered an obstacle in the ‘pay off’. The former Ambassador was moved to voice his concerns bringing him into direct conflict with his own government.

Murray an experienced career diplomat served as British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra, Ghana and subsequently led the peace-talk delegation which brought a solution to the civil war in Sierra Leone.

“Sierra Leone is seen by supporters of intervention as a big achievement yet it can be seen as an example of the rather childish division of the world into bad guys and good guys often made by Mr Blair”, says Mr Murray.

Britain sent a battalion of 800 paratroopers to Sierra Leone in May 2000 – not as peacekeepers but, in effect, as combatants. They backed the democratically elected government, whose army had fallen into disarray, fighting a rebel army with a record of recruiting child soldiers, terrorising civilians, inflicting terrible deaths on innocent victims.

“Rebels have done truly horrific things but it cannot be forgotten that the elected government was also terrible, in terms of corruption, even by African standards. For instance, 90 per cent of the diamond trade revenues were shared between Sierra Leone’s elite and foreign companies which were operating there,” Murray said.

Murray claimed the money remained untouched in bank accounts, nonetheless the government was restored.

Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest nations in Africa and the world, despite its abundant mineral wealth. In the interior the diamond mines are working again and people wonder where that wealth is going. According to Alan Little, BBC’s correspondent in Sierra Leone, “the government has presided over a system of entrenched corruption in which the political elite grows rich while the mass of the people remain poor”.

“Mr Blair did not want to see this aspect”, recalls Mr Murray. “He wanted to find the good guys and then support them with a military solution. He adopted the same mindset to Iraq, where this simplistic view exploded – a rather ‘cow-boy’ approach I think”.

In his main speech on his farewell tour of Africa, Mr Blair, who has sent UK troops into action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq while prime minister, said it was in countries’ self interest to intervene in failing states. He said: “I believe in the power of political action to make the world better and the moral obligation to use it.”

Mr Blair will fly back to London later after his four-day final trip to Africa before leaving Downing Street on 27 June.

After leaving the Diplomatic Service, Craig Murray turned to writing. His latest book, ‘Murder in Samarkand’ tells the story of his mission to Tashkent in the years between 2002 to 2004 where he became a firm opponent of Uzbek’s reckless regime and helped to expose its horrific tortures against political dissidents as well as helpless citizens – including boiling them to death. He also contributes to various newspapers and broadcasters.

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Russian Journalist Murders, and Gazprom

I believe I may have found the way to post the original text of my Recent Mail Russian articles, without taking over the whole weblog:

Two months ago, 51 year old Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, came home from work. He had bought a few groceries on the way, apparently for the evening meal. On the street where he lived, as he passed the chemist’s shop in front of the cluster of grim Soviet era apartment blocks, he met his neighbour, Olga Petrovna. She tells me that he smiled from under his hat and nodded to her. After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held his carrier bag of groceries in one hand while the other clutched the lapels of his coat closed against the snow. Fifty yards further on he arrived at the entrance to his block, and punched in the code – 6 and 7 together, then 2 which opened the mechanical lock of the rough, grey metal door at the entrance to the concrete hallway. He passed on into the gloomy dank corridor.

The identification this week of a ‘former’ KGB officer, Andre Luguvoi, as the chief suspect in the murder in London of dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and Russia’s curt refusal to extradite him, reflects once again just how ruthless and audacious Putin’s Russian has become and how little we can do about it. But in fact there is a less obvious, but more sinister, danger from the Kremlin that threatens the future security of every British citizen.


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Murky Murder

It is worth noting that, just because the UK has requested his extradition, does not make Andrei Lugovoi guilty. Despite Blair’s obsession with rebalancing the legal system against the suspect, accused does not yet equal guilty.

Lugovoi made a number of interesting points in his lengthy press conference yesterday. http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=21833 For me, his strongest point was that he had his wife and child with him and they had also required treatment for contamination. It is a good point, and he should have the confidence to come over and put it to a jury.

Some of Lugovoi’s other points are interesting. As a former middle ranking Russian Security Service (FSB) officer, Litvinenko was effectively a defector and MI6 will certainly have used him for information. That is their job, after all. That does not technically make him an “agent”. Whether MI6 were still running him as a conduit for former colleagues I doubt. Litvinenko would no longer have access himself, and be too hot for others still inside to approach. MI5 could have been using him for info on Russian exiles, but it wouldn’t be their style to run someone so high profile.

I therefore very much doubt that Litvinenko was a current agent, and I can see no obvious motive for the British state to bump him off. But we should bear in mind that for Lugovoi to react by counter-accusation, still does not make him guilty. He may or may not be.

Insofar as people remember anything Litvinenko said, it is his alliance with Anna Politkovskaya on the issue of the apartment bombings in Russia in 2000 which were almost certainly the work of the FSB. One – in Ryazan – failed to go off because local residents found it and local bomb disposal defused it. That was indubitably planted by the FSB, who admitted it when their agents were caught, and claimed the bomb was a dummy. The bomb disposal team said it was a real bomb, and had the same chemical signature as the other, “Chechen” bombs.

But that wasn’t actually what led Litvinenko to quit. I have a great interest in this, as he was working on a problem on which I was working from the other end. Vast amounts of heroin come from Afghanistan, in particular from the fief of (now) Head of the Afghan Armed Forces General Dostum, in North and East Afghanistan. Dostum is an Uzbek, and the heroin passes over the Friendship Bridge from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, where it is taken over by President Karimov’s people. It is then shipped up the railway line, in bales of cotton, to St Petersburg and Riga.

Litvinenko uncovered the St Petersburg end, and was stunned by the involvement of the city authorities and local police and security services, at the most senior levels. He reported in detail to Putin. Putin is of course from St Petersburg, and the people Litvinenko named were among Putin’s closest political allies. That is why Litvinenko, having miscalculated badly, had to flee Russia.

I had as little luck as Litvinenko in trying to get official action against this heroin trade. At the St Petersburg end he found those involved had the top protection. In Afghanistan, General Dostum is vital to Karzai’s coalition, and to the West’s pretence of a stable, democratic government. The truth is that the vast majority of heroin produced in Afghanistan is produced by members of the Afghan government, which our soldiers are dying to protect.

This year will be the largest ever opium harvest. Our attempts to blame this on the Taliban are pathetic – the Taliban are capable of raiding, but actually have very little territorial control. They are not major players in narcotics production.

Afghanistan now exports very little opium. It has instead gone into value added – it exports heroin. This is on an industrial scale, in factories not kitchens. The scale of heroin production requires millions of tonnes of liquid precursors, ferried in by hundreds of tankers. This involves active cooperation of Afghan government ministers.

I am not sure who killed Litvinenko – there are too many suspects. But I do know that we prosecute some international criminals, and protect others.

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Blair is no Democrat

Blair’s profound anti-democratic tendencies are no secret, particularly given his increasingly open campaign to overturn centuries of our legal tradition and profoundly tilt the legal system against the accused. But a small exchange in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, between Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister, and Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, illustrated just how undemocratic Blair’s instincts are.

Since Alex Salmond became Scottish First Minister – over two weeks ago – Tony Blair has not been in touch with him to congratulate him on his victory or his appointment, or to discuss Scotland.


This shows a profound contempt, not just for the SNP, but for Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. More than this, it shows a profound contempt for democracy. Blair is only in favour of it when it gives the “right” result – ie the one he wants. That has been evident in Iran and Palestine. It is now evident in Scotland.

Blair and Brown are also showing just how unpleasant New Labour in Scotland have become. They still refuse to acknowledge that they lost Scotland after fifty years of dominance. Blair and Brown’s failure to congratulate Alex Salmond on his victory is a denial of all the politenesses and decencies that are necessary to the smooth running of a democracy, and which are understood by democratic politicians everywhere. They are showing both their nastiness and their pettiness.

In contrast the Conservatives – including David Cameron and Annabel Goldie – have behaved well and graciously.

It should not be forgotten that key to the SNP’s vcitory was their profound opposition to the War in Iraq and to Trident nuclear missiles, and their replacement. The SNP showed what happens when a genuine choice on these issues is given to voters. That is a huge threat to the conservative establishment in the UK, and explains Blair’s arrogant hostility.

That can also be seen from the reaction of the other parties to the SNP’s new ascendancy, both nationally and in local councils. One of the worst examples is in Dundee, where an unholy alliance of all the conservative parties – New Labour, Liberal and Conservative – has formed an administration to keep out the largest party, the SNP, and incidentally to keep in power the people who have run for years one of Scotland’s most notoriously corrupt local administrations.

In the short term, it makes me puke. In the long term, this is not harmful. It will clarify that Scotland has only two real choices – Independence, or the conservative establishment, whatever they call themselves.

The attitude of the Lib Dems in all this is particularly appalling. Under the uninspiring leadership of Nicol Stephen – a man with all the charisma of a tailor’s dummy – they lost ground in the election. They then refused to enter into a coalition with the SNP.

The difficulty with this is that, if you believe in Proportional Representation, which I do, then that places a duty upon the middling parties to act responsibly in politics and help to form an administration. Otherwise the system just doesn’t work. Stephen had been very happy indeed with his coalition with New Labour, with whom he got on famously, having the same attitude with them on – well, everything. Stephen looks and acts exactly like what he is, a middle level management consultant with Deloitte Touche. Nobody can doubt that, had New Labour been the largest party, the Lib Dems would have re-entered coalition with NuLab with alacrity.

Instead, Stephen said they could not work with the SNP because of the SNP insistence on a referendum on Independence. Not Independence itself, just a referendum on it. Something to which most democrats would feel the Scottish people are entitled (opinion polls show consistently that a large majority of Scots want a referendum on Independence, but would vote against Independence). To make Stephen’s position still more ludicrous, the SNP were offering a three question referendum – the status quo, more powers for the Scottish Parliament or Independence. The middle option is the one which Stephen’s party pretends to support, and which all opinion polls show would actually win the proposed referendum by a mile.

Nicol Stephen’s real motive was simple; he is a deeply conservative supporter of the Establishment. He announced that “The Scottish Liberal Democrats are a Unionist Party, and the Scottish Parliament has a clear Unionist majority.”

I was brought up in the British Liberal tradition. If you are not from that tradition, it is difficult to explain to you how astonishing that statement is. Ever since Gladstone’s struggle for Irish Home Rule – which cost him two of his four premierships – there has been a profound antipathy between Liberalism and Unionism. Chamberlain led the Unionists out of the Liberal party and into the Conservative Party, which became the Conservative and Unionist Party. Gladstone’s successor Rosebery in many ways kick-started modern political Scottish nationalism.

Official Lib Dem policy is for a highly devolved Federal United Kingdom and a very strong, arguably Federal Europe. In this scenario the devolution of powers down from Westminster and the remove of powers up to Brussels leaves Westminster largely to wither away. But there is no shortage of Scottish Liberal Democrats who would go further and would wish one day to see Scotland as an acknowledged nation with its own seat on the EU Council and in the UN.

The one thing the Lib Dem position cannot be described as is Unionist. Nicol Stephen’s claim to be leading a Unionist Party is as shocking, to anyone with any feel for our political history, as if David Cameron claimed the Conservatives to be a Communist Party. Thatcher and Paisley are in the Unionist tradition, and proud to proclaim it. Liberals are not.

Sadly, of course, the Lib Dems at the UK level are also under deeply conservative leadership. I am worried about the ageism that surrounds discussion of Menzies Campbell. There are plenty of highly dynamic and effective sixty year olds. Mogadon Ming was a boring second rater when he was forty. Age has nothing to do with it.

To return to Blair, as we talk of his legacy, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are always high on the list of his achievements. This is ludicrous. They were key policies of John Smith which he inherited and could not ditch because of the powerful Celtic lobby in his party. Robin Cook and Donald Dewar held him to it. In fact he was always deeply hostile, and his real attitude was revealed in his attempt to impose a leader on the Welsh and keep out Rhoddri Morgan, and on his attitude to Alex Salmond now. Just as he stymied reform of the House of Lords by his profound belief it should be appointed (by him) and not elected.

Tony Blair is no democrat.

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