Add together the cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk and you don’t reach the economic output of Dundee. World domination it isn’t. Unfortunately both in the Kremlin and on Capitol Hill they, and their satraps, think it is. Neither side cares at all about the millions of ordinary people in the zone of potential conflict.
The spiral of death in Ukraine is very worrying. Following the tragic deaths in Odessa, the ball is very much in Putin’s court. His bluff has very much been called. We will now learn whether he was stoking clashes in Eastern Ukraine and massing forces on his border in order to give a pretext for invasion – which pretext he now has – or in order to destabilize and intimidate Kiev into moving away from relationships with the EU.
This has been a discussion of the deaf even more within intellectual circles in the West than between Washington and the Kremlin, where at least the Machiavellians understand full well what they are doing. But their followers either, on the one hand, deny that there are any far right elements on the Ukrainian side or any CIA assistance, or alternatively deny that there are many millions of ordinary Ukrainians who genuinely want to be at peace in their own country and move towards the EU. They either claim that all the separatists are Russian agents and deny the genuine minority population which yearns for the Soviet Union or Russia, or they deny the existence of Russian agents and special forces in Ukraine, and that most of the Russian nationalists are every bit as right wing and appalling as the equivalent tendency on the Ukrainian side.
First, some history. The Ukrainian people really do exist. They have been a subjugated people for centuries, most lastingly by the great Polish-Lithuanian Empire and then by the Russian Empire. That does not mean they did not exist. Consider this: until 1990 there had not been an independent Polish state for over two hundred years, except for a fleeting twenty years between the two world wars. Yet nobody doubts the Poles are a real nation. I shan’t start on Scotland again …
None of modern Ukraine was Russian until the 18th century, when the expansion of the Russian empire and decline of the Polish took in these new colonies. As Putin famously remarked, it was called New Russia. Yes, Vladimir, note it was New. That is because it was a colony. Just like New York. Because it was called New Russia gives you no more right to it than the Channel Islands have to New Jersey. Ukraine had been Russian seven hundred years before its 18th century reconquest, but that population had migrated to Muscovy.
The expansion of the Russian Empire was exactly contemporary with the expansion of the British and American Empires, and other bit players like the French. Like most of the American, most of the Russian Empire was a contiguous land mass. The difference between the Russian and British Empires, on the one hand, and the American Empire on the other, was that the Russians and British did not commit genocide of the existing populations. The difference between the Russian and the British Empires is that the British gave almost all of theirs back in the post-colonial period (a process that needs to be urgently completed). Russia gave back much of her Empire at the fall of the Soviet Union, but still retained a very great deal more than the British. It is to me inarguable that, in a historical perspective, Putin is attempting to recover as much of the Russian Empire as possible, including but by no means solely by the annexation of Crimea and his actions in Ukraine.
Crimea, incidentally, had maintained its own independent existence as the last remnant of the Mongol Horde right up until the 19th century. Despite the Russian colonisation of Crimea in the 19th century, it still had a majority Tatar population until the 1940’s, when Stalin tried his hand at genocide on them. The Tatars were branded Nazis. Opponents of the Russian Empire are always “Nazis” or “Jihadists”. The deportation of the Tatars from Crimea was only twenty years before the British did the same genocide to a smaller people in Diego Garcia. I call for the restitution of both. Those who call for the restitution of one and not the other are appalling hypocrites.
Equally hypocritical are those who call for a referendum on Russian union for East Ukraine, but not for referenda on independence for Dagestan and Chechnya. It is an irony insufficiently noted, that in Russia to call or campaign for the separation of any part of the state is a crime punishable by up to 22 years’ imprisonment. There are over 7,000 people from the Caucasus imprisoned under that law.
There is absolutely no movement among the large minority Russians of the Baltic States to rejoin Mother Russia, because living conditions in the EU are just so much better. As I have blogged before, it is undeniably true that living conditions for ordinary people in Poland have vastly improved as a result of EU membership, and are much better than in Ukraine – or Russia.
GDP per capita figures for Russia look quite good, but do not give a true reflection of living standards because of astonishing levels of inequality of wealth. This is very bad in the West, and getting much worse rather rapidly, but is nowhere near as bad as in Russia which is the most viciously capitalist state in the world, made worse by its commodity dependency. The Russian economy is completely non-diversified, manufacturing and services are miniscule and it is overwhelmingly a raw commodity exporter in energy, metals, grain etc. That leads to extreme concentration of profit and a lack of employment opportunity. Combine that with mafia state corruption and you have the oligarchs’ paradise. Russia is a gangster state. On top of which, if I were a Russian who campaigned against the Russian government in the same way that I do against my own, I would be dead.
The desire of ordinary Ukrainians to join the EU one day, and move closer to it now, is understandable and indeed commendable. It was also the desire of Yanukovich. Those who claim Western pressure on Yanukovich forget – or choose to ignore – that Yanukovich’s government had actually, quite independently and voluntarily, negotiated the EU co-operation agreement and were on the point of signing it, when Yanukovich was summoned to Moscow by Putin and informed that if they signed the agreement, the energy supplies to Ukraine would immediately be cut off in mid-winter and debt called in.
That is a fact. It was not illegal for Putin to do that; it was perhaps even legitimate for those who believe in a Machiavellian approach to great power politics. Yanukovich temporized, between a rock and a hard place. Ukraine seemed to be at a key moment of balance, hung between the EU and Russia. The capital being in West Ukraine and overwhelmingly ethnic Ukrainian, pro-EU crowds started to build up. Then things started to get wildly out of control.
Were western governments encouraging pro-western groups in Ukraine? Yes, that’s their job. Did this include covert support? Yes. Were the Russians doing precisely the same thing with their supporters? Yes, that’s their job too. Did the Americans spend 5 billion dollars on covert support? Of course not.
Victoria Nuland claimed in a speech America had put 5 billion dollars into Ukraine. I used to write those kind of speeches for British ministers. First you take every bit of money given by USAID to anything over a very long period, remembering to add an estimate for money given to international projects including Ukraine. Don’t forget to add huge staff costs and overheads, then something vast for your share of money lent by the IMF and EBRD, then round it up well. I can write you a speech claiming that Britain has given five billion dollars to pretty well anywhere you claim to name.
The problem is that both the left and right have again, equal but opposite motives for believing Nuland’s bombast about the extent of America’s influence on events. I have been in this game. You can’t start a revolution in another country. You can affect it at the margins.
A military coup you certainly can start. One thing we don’t really know nearly enough about is what happened at the end, when Yankovich had to flee. The Maidan protestors would never have caused a government to fall which retained full control of its army. The army can fail the rulers in two ways. First is a revolutionary movement among normal soldiers – the French revolution model. Second is where the troops remain disciplined but follow their officers in a military coup. The latter is of course a CIA speciality. More evidence is needed, but if this is the second model, it is unusual for it not to result in military control of government. Egypt is the obvious current example of a CIA backed coup.
After Yanukovich we had entered the world domination game. Putin seemed to have lost. The annexation of Crimea was a smart move by Putin in that game, because there probably is a genuine small majority of the population there who would like to join Russia. I have no doubt whatsoever that Putin himself does not believe the 93% for a moment. As I said, the Machiavellian players of world domination are realistic; it is their purblind followers on either side who buy their propaganda.
The Kiev government and the West should have conceded Crimea before Putin moved his troops into it. The sensible thing for the new Kiev government to have done would have been to offer a referendum in Crimea itself, under its own auspices. That would have got the most hardline pro-Russian voters out of the country for good. But by that time, everyone had gone into Macho mode, which is where we still are.
None of the remaining provinces would opt to join Russia given the choice. There is no shortage of existing and historic opinion poll evidence on that. Crimea was the only province with an ethnic Russian majority. The Eastern provinces have Russian speaking majorities, but most are ethnic Ukrainian. I base ethnicity here purely on self-identification in census (and, as I have repeatedly explained, absolutely everybody in the former Soviet Union knows precisely what is asked in the questions of Gradzvanstvo and Narodnosch). Just as some Welsh people speak English, some Ukrainians speak Russian but do not consider themselves Russian. Putin’s frequent references to the Russian-speaking peoples coming back to Russia are as sinister as if we started talking of re-uniting all the English speaking people in the world.
As almost always with colonies, the minority ethnic Russian populations in the East of Ukraine are more concentrated in urban areas. Hence it has been possible in regional capitals to mobilise gangs of disaffected and unemployed Russian young men (in view of Ukraine’s basket case economy there are plenty), and with a slight stiffening of Russian forces take control of town centres. There is a significant minority, and possibly a majority in town centres, willing to support. It is, I think, extremely important to understand that the thugs on both sides are very unpleasant. I have the particular experience of relations with a lot of Uzbeks, and the incidence of racial attacks by Russian nationalist thugs within Russia itself is absolutely horrifying and almost completely unreported. The swastika is a popular symbol among young macho men throughout all of former Eastern Europe including Russia. I absolutely guarantee you that an equally significant proportion of the pro-Russians who have been attacking anyone who tries to show support for Ukraine within Eastern Ukrainian cities, are no more and no less right wing, racist and vicious than the appalling Pravy Sektor thugs included on the other side. We have plenty within the EU – there is a serious problem, for example, with the official encouragement given to commemorations of pro-Nazi forces within the Baltic states which often have a distinctly neo-Nazi tinge.
Putin’s campaign of controlling the urban centres appears to have gone wrong in Odessa, which is simply too large for the numbers of available young men armed with baseball bats to take control. The pro-Russians were badly beaten in precisely the same street fighting they had been winning elsewhere. The culmination of this was the terrible fire and deaths. My expectation is there will not be many women, children or old people among the dead, but also there will not be many non-Ukrainian nationals. I expect these will prove to have been local Russian young men.
Putin now has a real problem. His own rhetoric has indicated that he will sweep in and defend these Russians, but there is one thing anyone with half a brain should have worked out by now. The ruling 1%, the ultra-wealthy, in both Russia and the West are so interconnected with each other that they are playing the game of world domination while trying at the same time to make sure nobody super-rich really loses his money. Hence the strange obviously bogus sanctions regimes. Real stock market disruption and confiscation of corrupt assets would be difficult to avoid if the tanks start rolling in earnest. We may be saved from utter disaster by the sheer scale of global corruption, which is a strange conclusion.
I would like to think the awful deaths of the last few days would lead both sides to step back from the brink. The time has come for a peacekeeping force. Negotiations should be held urgently to make the Kiev interim government more inclusive of opposition elements from the East – and they must oust the far right at the same time. The UN Security Council should then send in UN peacekeepers, which must include both Russian and western forces in close integration, to keep the peace while genuine elections are held. I can see no other way forward which does not risk disaster.
Now the military observers have been released, it might be helpful to clarify their status as an illustration of how both media bias and internet passions on both sides of the Ukrainian conflict obscure the truth. If you think you get the truth on CNN and BBC you are not paying attention. If you think you get the truth on Russia Today you are equally not paying attention.
It is wrong to call the men “OSCE observers” in that they are not on a mission initiated and organized by the OSCE. The casual use of the phrase by almost all the mainstream media is not just incorrect, but culpable in that it gives a deliberate impression of neutrality and authority.
However it is equally wrong to characterize them as “NATO spies”, and they had every right, indeed a duty, to be in Ukraine doing what they were doing. The purpose of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which the Soviet Union was a founding member, is to prevent conflict and improve governance. (I have a dim recollection that some but not all of the Soviet Socialist Republics, including Ukraine, were individually represented when it was first founded as the CSCE. Ukraine, and of course Russia, has certainly been an important member since it became the OSCE in 1994).
I should say I strongly support the OSCE. Those who claim it is an American or neo-con front have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. I was invited to give oral evidence to the OSCE on extraordinary rendition, which I did. That contrasts with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee who conducted an inquiry into extraordinary rendition and refused to accept either written or oral evidence from their Ambassador who had just been sacked for blowing the whistle on the subject (Don’t you love Jack Straw and New Labour). The OSCE do a lot of good work on protecting the Roma, and recently rebuked the French. Their election monitoring work is first class – if only the UK government would allow them into Scotland.
A key OSCE treaty is the Vienna Document on Military Transparency of 1999. Under this document, member states notify each other of their forces’ dispositions, and any member state can send verification missions of military officers to any other member state three times a year.
This is not some obscure or obsolete clause which was being used to justify extraordinary snooping in Ukraine. It is a mechanism in permanent operation. Russia, for example, sends military observers around UK and US installations all the time, and vice versa.
The whole point of the agreement is to make sure people know and are comfortable with where other people’s weapons are and what they are doing, so as to avoid wars starting by misunderstanding. This is especially important in times of heightened tension. So in times of escalating tension or unusual military activity, the agreement specifically allows for increased activity and extra missions to ensure people understand what is happening. Plainly the disputes for control of Ukrainian military bases and their weapons were precisely the kind of situation where missions were called for. So the observers not only had a right to be there, they had a duty.
Here am I talking about independence with Michael Greenwell for his excellent Scottish Independence Podcast project. I always find it a bit painful to listen to my own speaking voice. I was terrifically conscious of my slight speech defect as a boy and young man. I never think about it any more, except when I hear myself recorded. I also appear to have developed a very annoying nervous giggle. If you can put up with all that, I hope you might find the link interesting.
Every half hour BBC News is running a three minute puff piece which is even more sinister for what it hides than for what it says – and By God! That is sinister enough.
“Now the BBC has learned about an alternative No campaign which calls itself No Borders a group determined to rouse the emotions many feel about being Scottish but also British. Gavin Essler has this exclusive report:”
GAVIN ESLER: “A recording studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A group of musicians putting the finishing touches to a song which they hope could save the United Kingdom”
(Pretty girls caterwauling unpleasantly). The song is part of a new campaign called No Borders. Their website goes live today on the anniversary of the Union”
(Long speech by Malcolm Offord of No Borders – not a single question asked).
GAVIN ESLER (orgasmic voice): “Here in the very heart of Glasgow in fact almost anywhere you go anywhere in Scotland you’re never far away from our three hundred years of shared British history…. Putting the passion into the campaign to save the United Kingdom is exactly what No Borders say they are about.”
(Another statement from Malcolm Offord. Still not asked any questions).
GAVIN ESLER ‘The idea is a grassroots campaign to rival that of the pro-independence campaign, based on those who wish to remain in the UK. A retired care nurse from Glasgow Elizabeth Bashir is one of those who has given her testimonial.
(Pro-union view from sweet old lady.)
(14 seconds to spokesman for Yes campaign – presumably this is BBC “balance”.)
(Pretty Girls Caterwauling Again).
GAVIN ESLER “In the music industry they say you should never rewrite a hit, and No Borders say the Union has been a great hit worldwide for three hundred years. But others say it might be time to sing a new song.”
Now this long propaganda piece for the No campaign is disgusting in itself for its internal bias, and for the fact that the very much larger grassroots movement the Radical Independence Campaign has never been given any publicity by the BBC (and the failure to reference the longstanding anarchist No Borders movement). It is not even news – it is two days since “Vote No Borders” was given an even longer bout of free publicity on Newsnight Scotland.
But what makes this propaganda utterly unforgiveable is that Vote No Borders is not a grassroots campaign at all but a government organized campaign which has mysteriously acquired start-up cash of 400,000 pounds with no declared origin.
The registered office of Vote No Borders, a private limited company, is at 24 Chiswell Street, London, EC2Y 4YX . Which is perhaps surprising for a “Scottish grassroots campaign”. The directors are Malcolm Offord and Fiona Gilmore.
Now pay close attention: Fiona Gilmore is chief executive of Acanchi a PR Consultany which specializes in “Country Branding”. Its clients include Israel, Dubai, Bahrain and “England”. Yes, it actually specifies “England” on the company website. Acanchi also works for DFID – in short, it gets UK taxpayers’ money, plus Israeli and Gulf Arab money. Are you familiar with the word fungibility?
Malcolm Offord, it turns out, has donated over 120,000 pounds to the Conservative Party plus made personal donations to Michael Gove. He is the author of the report “Bankrupt Britain” on the Conservative Home website. In his paper Offord suggests that further cuts in UK public spending should continue to be made even after the present debt crisis has been passed and urges government to:
“Reform the bloated benefits system of this country to reduce the burden on the state and, just as importantly, boost the growth rate of the country”
And the wee retired care home nurse Elizabeth Bashir? Well, she’s not quite as “grassroots” as shown by the BBC either.
That picture is definitely the “grassroot” Elizabeth Bashir interviewed by the BBC. There is also an Elizabeth Bashir from Glasgow on Facebook who “likes” Vote No Borders [reference here deleted as it has been pointed out, I think fairly, it was to something probably meant as a joke]. This lady has expensive tastes for a grassroot, her other “likes” are Svarovski Crystal, the swanky Aura club in Mayfair and Faz Collection clothes. Strangely although she calls herself Elizabeth Bashir, Glasgow and supports Vote no Borders, everything she “likes” which has a geographical location is in London. It is conceivably a different Elizabeth Bashir from Glasgow, perhaps a daughter, but the coincidence of the Vote No Borders like is very strong.
It took me an hour with google to find all this. That the BBC continues to propagandise this fake “grassroots campaign” without revealing Offord’s Tory Party credentials, his belief in never-ending cuts in public spending and welfare benefits, and Acanchi being a consultant paid by government to boost the UK image is completely beyond anything that can remotely be described as legitimate.
It is the most abhorrent example of a fake story, entirely contrived state propaganda, being put out by a state broadcaster.
From commenters below: The “Vote No Borders” website domain was registered by Gary Waple, who works in the Prudential Regulatory Authority of the Bank of England!!!! Before that he worked at the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates – that British government and Gulf money connection pops up again.
The Guardian also is pushing it. Amazing how neither the BBC nor the Guardian noticed who Mr Offord was, or who his fellow director is, or asked where the money came from. We have a huge responsibility in social media to combat the ultra-powerful combination of the entire mainstream media with the British state, the City of London and their overseas neo-con allies.
I ask every single person who reads this to do what they can do to get this news out – it may open eyes about the BBC, media in general and the hidden hands behind the No campaign. Feel free to copy and paste anywhere you want. But please everybody either blog or tweet about it, put it on your facebook page, email people about it or if you can’t do any of those, just tell three people. The only way we can beat the massed forces of the state and the ultra-rich is by a deliberate and purposeful exercise of people power. That will never happen unless everybody tries. Do something. Now. It does not matter where you are in the world. Knowledge is universal – that is the root of every power the people can hope to have.
Brilliant! This post is currently being read by more than one person every two seconds. I hope it’s being read some other places by now too. Don’t stop, we need much more than that to equal the numbers who will view the execrable mainstream propaganda.
The actions of the Guardian in complying with the demands of the security services to destroy the computers containing Snowden’s revelations were cowardly in the extreme. There was a principle at stake here. The existence of other copies elsewhere is not the point. That does not make the hard drive destruction better, any more than Nazi book-burning was made OK by the existence of other copies of the books.
Freedom of the press has only ever been won by extremely brave journalists willing to be beaten, imprisoned or jailed for it. If editors had always given in to legal threat, there would be no freedom of the press now. That is why the Guardian’s pathetic excuse that it was legally compelled to destroy the hard drives is of the essence. States always have the sanction of law: standing to advance freedom has always meant not being intimidated by law.
I was threatened with the Official Secrets Act if I insisted on exposing the use of intelligence from torture. I considered and decided it was worth going to jail for. I published. Jack Straw backed down. The difference between Alan Rusbridger and I is that one of us is not an abject sniveling coward.*
The Guardian not only destroyed the Snowden hard drives, but spent an entire month hiding the fact from the public. They only came clean and published after the arrest of David Miranda led Glenn Greenwald to refuse to keep it quiet any longer. Remember this is the same newspaper which sent the young and extremely brave whistleblower Sarah Tisdall to prison rather than protect their source.
Now Rusbridger p0ses as though smashing the computers was an act of defiance. I couldn’t resist a comment on this appalling piece of hypocrisy in the Guardian thread below that link.
Then something extraordinary happened. A reply defending the Guardian was posted to my comment, and this reply extremely quickly gathered 232 recommends. Now the next highest number of recommends for any comment on that thread is just 57. That 57 recommend comment is on the main subject of the article – the fall in the UK’s rating for freedom of the press. My comment is tangential to the article, and the reply to it is somewhat banal. The vastly disproportionate “recommends” for that reply are as believable as the 97% vote in the Crimea!
There was a time when the Guardian was something more than just another neo-con mouthpiece. Now its business model depends entirely on racking up internet clicks in the United States and this influences its content. It has run, for example, over two dozen extremely one-sided articles in praise of the vicious American murderess Amanda Knox. It seems increasingly devoted to Israel. I was at the time genuinely shocked by The Guardian’s refusal to publish the true facts of all the meetings between Liam Fox, Matthew Gould and Adam Werritty.
I understand now that Rusbridger is entirely a neo-con tool, and that their efforts with Assange, Snowden and Greenwald were no more than control and channeling, and broke down when that became obvious.
*There are other differences. I don’t wear a wig, and I was not implicated in promoting and defending Tony Blair.
I only today realized that the “Eeny meeny” rhyme contains the word nigger – despite having said it many times in my childhood. I really attached no meaning at all to the word then – I though it was just nonsense like “eeny meeny’. I certainly had no idea it meant a black person. I had only ever met two or three black people, and did not think of them as any different.
Once I did know the word “nigger” and its hateful sense – probably from TV – I never made the cognitive connection between it and that old nursery rhyme. Absolutely not until today when I read about Jeremy Clarkson. I then closed my eyes and said the rhyme. I was genuinely astonished – and horrified – to find myself saying:
Eeny meeny miney moe
Catch a nigger by the toe
If he squeals let him go
Eemy meeny miney moe
I am quite sure that was the version I chanted as a child when counting out a random choice. It was just a counting rhyme. I had as a small child no associations at all with its meaning, any more than I associated “ring a ring of rosies” with bubonic plague, or “Here we go round the mulberry bush” with pagan fertility rituals.
Clarkson said the rhyme in the context of making the point that there was nothing to choose between two cars, as a way of indicating the choice would be random – an entirely natural context for the rhyme to spring to mind. Plainly he realized what he had done, and recorded another version. Clarkson is even older than me. I might very well have made the same error. He denies he ever said the word “nigger”. I can conceive I might have done it without realizing it is there, until too late. If that sounds incredible, I think it is because you are not taking into account the way children learn and continually repeat rhythmic counting rhymes.
Naturally I hope that version of the nursery rhyme is never used again. There can be few things harder to eradicate than ancient playground chants, but parents and teachers must explain why it is wrong if they hear it. I don’t know if children still use it. But while we may deplore attitudes of the past, we have to exercise wisdom in dealing with people who were products of a very different environment. Like Clarkson. Oh, and me.
Which leads me to a further thought. I am pretty sure I had no concept of people’s colour as a small child, and the following I know for certain. My elder children attended a primary school in Gravesend in which a little over half the children were Sikh. By age seven, they had absolutely no conception of any racial difference between themselves and any others in their class. It is a slender piece of evidence, but I am generally fairly convinced that racial difference is a taught construct.