craig


Don’t Look Back in Anger 188

The new bid for Scottish Independence is started. It does not matter how each of us got here, who had which idea first, what might be a better plan, who stabbed who in the back. It is gone. Let it be.

Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn before the high altar of a church during peace talks in an agreed truce. That is, to coin a phrase, the gold standard of bad political behaviour. But he remains our most revered political leader, because he won Independence. Scots did not refuse to fight at Bannockburn because Bruce was a nasty man. There is of course a real argument that the Bruce being a violent psychopath was essential to Scottish victory.

There is an argument from realpolitik here. We will only gain Independence through using mechanisms of political power, short of popular revolution which is not in play at present. The only person who can currently move those levers of political power for Independence is Nicola Sturgeon. The only practical short term option available to those of us whose hearts are set on Independence, is to get behind the plan Sturgeon has now set in motion.

Naming a date for a consultative referendum – 19 October 2023 – gets the campaign clearly underway. All referenda in the UK are consultative (including the Brexit one which you will recall had to be implemented by the Westminster parliament before it took effect) so the nomenclature is unimportant.

I suspect the Supreme Court will strike down the referendum. That really does not matter. Two things do matter.

The first is that Sturgeon has endorsed “Plan B”, which is that if a referendum is denied, the Westminster election will be fought as a plebiscite, on the grounds that every vote for the SNP is a vote for Independence. The concomitant of that, must of course be that Independence will be declared if that election is won. Anything else would be a betrayal of the Scots people.

The second and far more important point is that, now there is a date, campaigning can start in earnest. I am already looking to make plans to speak around the country again. Once people actually hear the case for Independence, they move towards supporting. Famously the last Independence campaign started with polls showing 28 to 32% in support of Independence, and finished on polling day on 45%.

I confidently expect a similar effect. We must also replicate the extent to which social media and old fashioned town meetings and street campaigning shaped that 2014 surge.

95% of the mainstream media, both state and corporate, will be resolutely, implacably biased and hostile to Independence. Our strength is with the people, not with the media bosses and the BBC. That is where the SNP need the wider Yes movement, who are the heart and soul of the street and social media effort.

If we all come together we can generate unstoppable popular momentum towards Independence, which can sweep away opposition and will itself negate both the dangers of the Supreme Court and Westminster foiling a referendum, or of certain MPs using the fallout merely to get their feet back under the table. Of course I see the potential pitfalls in the Sturgeon plan, but popular enthusiasm is the way to storm over them.

So I urge all Independence supporters, including those distrustful and bruised by factional infighting, to drop any grudges and get with the programme. Now is the time to work wholeheartedly for Independence, alongside others who believe in it, irrespective of other issues. We have a battle to win; criticism from armchair generals is not going to be helpful here.

Bluntly, if anyone has a right to feel hard done by it is me, and if I can put it aside, so can you.

Scotland can be a normal size Nordic style country, blessed with strong abundant resources and a talented, educated population. For my English friends, the loss of Scotland will hopefully give the seismic political shock that England needs to end the dominance of the Tories and bring a better choice than the anti-worker’s rights Keir Starmer. Scotland will also point the future for Welsh Independence and Irish reunification.

But Independent Scotland will not be a paradise. In every country on earth there are charlatans in politics. In every country on earth there are sociopaths attracted to wielding the power of the state. In every country on earth there are people in high positions secretly in the pay of another state.

Scotland will not be immune from those things, and perhaps since 2014 we have become less caught in the Utopian dream that seemed then almost within reach.

There will even be some Tories still in an Independent Scotland. The difference to now will be that the Tories will have no power over us.

Friends, rally round. It is time to unite.

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The Pointless Keir Starmer 136

On Thursday, Labour under Keir Starmer got a lower percentage of the vote in Wakefield than they did in 2017 under Jeremy Corbyn. In 2017 Labour got 49.7%. On Thursday they got 47.9%. I want you to think that through.

Inflation is soaring. Consumer confidence in the economy has gone through a steeper plummet, and to a lower level, than at any time since it was measured. Worse than the 2008 banking collapse. Worse than the height of the covid panic.

The Tory government of Boris Johnson is highly unpopular. The electorate has formed the view that Boris Johnson is an untrustworthy liar and plain chancer. 18th century levels of corruption have not just returned, but been plainly exposed.

There could not possibly be a more fertile ground for an opposition party in a mid-term by-election, when swings against the government are almost invariably much higher than at subsequent general elections. For Labour in these circumstances to still get a lower vote share in Wakefield than they did in the 2017 General Election which they narrowly lost, is a terrible performance.

The attempts to boost the hapless Starmer off the back of it are pathetic.

Starmer’s role has been simply to emasculate the Labour Party, and to purge it of any elements that might seek to pose a threat to rampant neo-liberalism and wealth inequality. His efforts to ban Labour MPs from supporting striking railway workers must be anathema to anybody who has the slightest feel for the history and traditions of that party and indeed the most basic understanding of its very raison d’etre.

This Tony Benn quote from the 1980’s has come into vogue because it is prophetic, and the process appears now complete:

If the Labour Party could be bullied or persuaded to denounce its Marxists, the media – having tasted blood – would demand next that it expelled all its Socialists and reunited the remaining Labour Party with the SDP to form a harmless alternative to the Conservatives, which could then be allowed to take office now and then when the Conservatives fell out of favour with the public. Thus British Capitalism, it is argued, will be made safe forever, and socialism would be squeezed off the National agenda. But if such a strategy were to succeed… it would in fact profoundly endanger British society. For it would open up the danger of a swing to the far-right, as we have seen in Europe over the last 50 years.

Starmer is in one sense the apotheosis of this process. Not only has he acted to purge the Labour Party of socialism, he also offers so very little of a meaningful alternative to the Tories that there is very little danger of the Tories being voted out of office. Not only is he a safe right-wing backstop, he is a self-redundant safe right-wing backstop.

Just as Jeremy Corbyn did before being felled by the entirely fake anti-Semitism crusade of the united state and corporate media, Mick Lynch has this week been showing how attractive the electorate find left-wing thinking, and the notion of greater wealth equality, if they could only get to hear it.

YouTube is full of clips of Mick Lynch besting the furious and unintelligent attacks of the media hacks. The moment I found most interesting was on Peston, where he was again being pushed to reveal himself as an evil Marxist who could thus be pigeonholed and ignored. Asked who his political hero was, he replied “James Connolly, the Irish Republican Socialist”.

Regular readers know Connolly is one of my heroes too. What I found most striking is that the highly paid political journalists on Peston had never heard of Connolly. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, I suppose if they had heard of Connolly, they would not be sitting where they are sitting. Knowledge of working class auto-didactic leadership is not a requirement to propagandise for the elite.

The knowledge that the British strapped a dying man to a chair so they could shoot him again might lead to all kinds of unauthorised thought.

Doubtless Starmer would ban his MPs from mentioning it, if he knew.

Here in his native Edinburgh, school children are not taught about Connolly either. My son Cameron was last year taught all about Burke and Hare in school in local history, a suitably grisly and cautionary tale of the Irish working class in Edinburgh. They were taken to Surgeon’s Hall and shown the book bound in Burke’s skin.

Five minutes walk further they could have been at Connolly’s damp birthplace on the Cowgate, and learnt of his life and teachings. The curriculum does not do that.

Which brings me to Scotland. Everything I have said about the Tory crisis and Starmer’s failure to inspire and seize the moment, is true in spades about Scotland. There simply could never be a more propitious time to strike for Independence. Pushed by their activists, the SNP at last claims to have “fired the starting gun” on an Independence referendum.

I see no political alternative but to take them at their word. I quite understand the suspicions of procedural trickery of my closest political friends, but my strong view is that we have to set aside doubt and make the campaign a real one, which acquires its own popular momentum and becomes unstoppable. When Wallace arrived at Stirling Bridge, the more established Scottish political leadership were not necessarily seeking a pitched battle. Let’s get this fight started.

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Your Man in Saughton Jail Part 2 107

I was walking down that improbably long central corridor in a group of about eight mainstream prisoners heading for legal visits, when panic broke out among the escorting guards. About a hundred yards further down, and coming towards us, was an overweight and bearded old man walking with a zimmer frame and wearing the maroon shirt of a protected prisoner.

Pandemonium broke out as the prisoners I was with saw him; they yelled, screamed and made barking noises. A couple made as though to break from the guards and run down the corridor to attack him, but they stopped after only a few yards and hurled abuse. One of them shouted “you bloody foster carer!”. It seemed a strange term of abuse, but it was for me a moment of epiphany.

Putting that together with a couple of conversations I had heard in the dinner queue and exercise yard, I suddenly realised that the reason sexual offenders are so hated in jail is that a high proportion of the prisoners, coming from whole lives of various forms of state institutionalisation, had been victims of child sexual abuse themselves. As I realised it, so much that I had witnessed became less confusing, and I understood the community I found myself in with a new clarity.

A couple of months later I had the opportunity to discuss this revelation with the prison psychiatrist and he confirmed to me that a high proportion of prisoners were indeed childhood sexual abuse victims.

I also took the opportunity of testing this insight on a couple of prisoners with whom I had become friendly and who I judged would not react badly to the subject. Both confirmed the truth of it, and one welled with tears. It is, he said, one of those things everyone in jail knows but nobody says and I would be well advised to follow that while in Saughton, and not raise it with anybody else.

The truth is that most of the prisoners have been in the crosshairs of the state for their entire lives. Almost all were born into poverty, frequently born into addiction, had been the subject of care worker supervision since infancy, had troubled and sometimes infrequent schooling, and very often had transitioned from care worker to foster or care home, to young offenders’ institution, to jail. Almost all had acquired substance addictions from childhood.

Institutionalisation was their life, with brief respites back in close knit urban communities, where the state is seen as a threat as much as a helper.

Once you have been jailed once or twice, judges impose jail sentences for the most trivial of offences. About a quarter of the people I met in Saughton were there for breach of bail conditions. Many others were there for shoplifting, petty burglary or lowest level drug dealing, largely to feed their own addiction.

Think of every sensible thing you think you know about prison. Think of education, training, rehabilitation. It is all completely ignored by the Scottish Prison Service. I am telling you I saw none of it at all in Saughton jail. Nothing, zilch.

What I saw was levels of security and cruel and harsh conditions that differ little from Victorian times, apart from the plumbing. All prisoners are subjected to utterly unneccessary levels of security and physical discomfort.

In the cell block next to mine was kept Peter Tobin, Scotland’s most notorious serial killer, repeat sexual abuser and murderer of little girls. He was kept in precisely the same conditions and security levels as the shoplifter and the seller of little packets of cannabis. Peter Tobin was held in exactly the same conditions as me, a journalist in jail as a civil prisoner.

The conditions of Peter Tobin may be appropriate to a mass murderer – locked in a tiny barred cell for 23 hours a day, never allowed anywhere unescorted, held behind multiple walls and razor wired fences, with eight locked and guarded gates and metal doors between him and freedom. That is very harsh, but not unreasonable for a dangerous mass murderer.

But why is a shoplifter locked in a tiny barred cell for 23 hours a day, never allowed anywhere unescorted, held behind multiple walls and razor wired fences, with eight locked and guarded gates and metal doors between him and freedom?

That is barbaric, an utterly, ludicrously harsh level of punishment. It is perpetrated upon “criminals” who are in reality often amongst the most vulnerable people in society, who come from extreme poverty and deprivation, who the police and justice system treat with scarce respect for their rights or their dignity.

The large majority of prisoners I met were people needing treatment for addiction and mental health conditions, and needing an alleviation of extreme poverty and lack of education. Instead, society finds it easier to lock people up and forget about them. In prison they are subject to constant humiliation and denigration; they are infantilised and deprived of self-worth. How this is supposed to improve society I could not in any way tell. There was not one single person in jail that I met who I felt needed or deserved the level of brutal security provided.

People who have never been a physical threat of assault to anybody, are held in conditions that would be viewed as barbaric and unenlightened for that class of prisoner by almost any other European state. I, a journalist and civil prisoner, was locked in a tiny barred cell for 23 hours a day, never allowed anywhere unescorted, held behind multiple walls and razor wired fences, with eight locked and guarded gates and metal doors between me and the outside world.

This is Barlinnie rather than Saughton, but it gives a fair idea of the kind of space in which I was held 23 hours a day

What was the point of that level of security? I remember on day one, as I plodded around the exercise yard, ankle deep in sloppy rubbish, with four guards supervising just me, I was thinking that in time, once they have done their threat assessments, this will alleviate. It did, in that later I only had two guards supervising me plodding around the yard.

The truth of the matter is that Scotland, with a single small exception, has no other kind of prison than what are, in truth, maximum security prisons in all but name. A number of smaller and less harsh institutions have been deliberately closed down over the past eight years as Scotland concentrates on large, vastly overcrowded, megaprisons.

The only vaguely amusing thing about this is that the Scottish Prison Service makes it a boast that now “all prisoners are treated equally”. As though treating poor shoplifters as though they are Peter Tobin is a proud, democratic thing rather than a prime example of callous, unimaginative, bureaucratic stupidity, combined with cruelty.

The eight foot by twelve cells in Saughton are all designed as single cells. Over 90% have two people crammed into them. That is the extent of overcrowding. This is a product, not of high crime rates, but of a completely unimaginative and brutal justice system that resorts to imprisonment far too readily.

It is also, of course, a result of the failed policy of the “War on drugs” and the attempt to fight addiction through criminalisation. You see the results of that failed policy in Scotland’s high drug deaths and in the misery on the streets of our cities. You also see it in the overcrowded jails.

One third of the people suffering from this extreme regime in Saughton have not been convicted of anything. They are remand prisoners awaiting trial. The average remand prisoner currently spends 11 months in jail before being tried – against a maximum “target” of eight months. Some spend much longer. One prisoner in Saughton had been on remand for over three years.

If you have previous convictions, you will almost certainly be held on remand, no matter how trivial your current alleged offence.

One prisoner I got to know, had committed the following offence. He had been extremely drunk with his friends in a pub one afternoon, a regular situation for them. He had brought a £25 round using his friend’s contactless card. He believed his friend had asked him to as it was his round. The friend disagreed. There followed an argument, and a bit of a scuffle. Nobody was hurt.

The police were called, he was arrested, and charged with several counts of violent disorder. He was in Saughton for 11 months on remand. At the end of 11 months, at trial, he was found guilty of some kind of minor affray and fined £75. After 11 months in prison. Think of that.

You see, nobody does think of that. He was one of Edinburgh’s underclass, and nobody cares.

The prisoner with whom I became most friendly was charged with kidnapping and assorted other offences. He was one of the few non-addicts in the jail, but his girlfriend was an addict. There had been a row where he bundled her into his car to drive her away from her drug dealer. A friend of hers, also addicted, had reported this to police and he found himself charged with kidnapping.

He was in jail for over a year on remand before being found not guilty by the jury at trial. He is an entirely respectable member of society. He too had been held in the same security conditions as a mass murderer.

Another prisoner I got to know, only by conversations through his cell window, had been on remand for over fifteen months and still had no trial date. He was in jail for breaching an order against seeing his children. He claimed – and I believe him – that he simply met them by accident when taking his everyday route home from work. There is no accusation he did anything wrong when he saw them, other than pick up his infant daughter for a brief hug.

The problem with jailing people for domestic abuse is that they are simply locked away; nothing is done to alter their behaviour. In fact, the opposite is true. They are put into an environment where their behaviour is reinforced, even approved. While perpetrators of sexual violence are universally loathed, perpetrators of non-sexual domestic violence are much sympathised with by fellow prisoners, and viewed as victims of undue police interference.

One direct quote I can give you, overheard in the exercise yard from a prisoner explaining his case to a small knot of others, was “I gave her a slap, as anybody would”. This brought grunts and nods of agreement.

Why society thinks it is helpful to put domestic abusers into this prison community I fail to understand. There was no concerted effort that I could perceive to tackle these attitudes. There were no classes, no meetings with victims of domestic abuse, no attempts to explain why it is wrong or to make the prisoner think differently about the role of women in society and in his own life.

Eventually the prisoner is released back into society, with his views reinforced plus an added, much stronger, layer of resentment against women for having put him inside.

Simple imprisonment is completely counter-productive as a means of tackling violence against women. There is no education on equal rights; there is no meeting with victims to understand the impact on them; there are no seminars teaching the effect of domestic abuse on the children. There is simply nothing to correct the behaviour. After the embittering experience of harsh prison, they are simply let out. Then the justice system feigns alarm that they do it again.

The Scottish Parliament has not intended that prison conditions in Scotland should be as hard as they are. The Prison Rules approved by parliament contain much that is good provision for prisoners’ rights. Yet almost every single provision in the rules that assists prisoners has been systematically and deliberately negated by the Scottish Prison Service, drawing on the sweeping powers given to Governors to ignore the rules on security grounds.

The comprehensive extent of this denial of rights is truly astonishing. I shall elaborate on that in my next episode.

I am aware it has taken six months to produce this instalment. The truth is that I find the subject very emotionally disturbing, not because of what happened to me, but because of those I left as all those gates and metal doors slammed shut again behind me. I was finally shamed into producing this by an ex-prisoner I met at the Eden Festival.

He told me that there are many people inside jail who had been waiting for me to expose these abuses, and that I had a moral duty to speak on behalf of those who had no ability to express these things themselves, or occupied a place in society where nobody listened. I am grateful to him for the reminder.

If you have not read it, you can find the first part of my prison experience written up here.

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No Debt 125

Ukraine inherited none of the Soviet Union’s debt, just as Scotland will inherit none of the United Kingdom’s debt.

Russia was the successor state to the Soviet Union, and thus got to keep the seat on the UN Security Council, the nuclear weapons and all Soviet overseas assets. On the other side of the ledger, as the successor state, it means that Russia got to keep all of the debt also. The agreement was finalised in 1993.

It appears certain that Westminster will insist upon being the successor state to the United Kingdom, and thus keep the seat on the UN Security Council, the nuclear weapons and the colonies. On the other side of the ledger, as the successor state, Westminster will get to keep the entire national debt too.

The independence of a state is a factor of its relationship to other states. It is governed by international law, not by domestic law. The position on debt is entirely clear.

The unionist media has raced to kickstart Project Fear by highlighting an individual who knows nothing whatsoever of international law, an Oxford University Professor of Economics, John Kay, who has conducted the utterly irrelevant exercise of dividing the UK’s national debt by 10. He states:

“It may be reasonable to assume that Scotland would begin independent life carrying, explicitly or implicitly, a pro-rata share of UK debt, which might be in the region of £180 billion”.

The depth of ignorance that lies behind those words “it may be reasonable to assume” is in direct proportion to his ludicrous confidence in stating this completely false premiss. It is worth bearing in mind that Economics Professor John Kay of Oxford University is in precisely the position occupied by the academic arses who taught Johnson, Cameron and Osborne to bullshit nonsense with an air of entitlement.

We are in for many months of posh twits from Oxford telling us lies and expecting us to tug our forelocks at their superior demeanour. Buckle up folks.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Standards 77

A brief thought.

Can anybody explain to me why Alex Salmond reaching out to ping somebody’s hair was charged as sexual assault and unsuccessfully prosecuted in court, but this by an SNP MP:

“It was quite a nice night until towards the end of the evening. I was sitting on a couch in the pub with three or four colleagues, and then Patrick perched himself on the arm of the couch and proceeded to start touching me.

“He was playing with my hair and making comments about how he wished he had hair. He was putting his fingers on the back of my neck, behind my shirt collar, quite forcefully, and you know, at that time when I was 19, I didn’t know how to deal with it.

was not viewed as criminal at all? There are no texts from SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell to his deputy Sue Ruddick instructing her to put pressure on the Met Police to bring charges against Patrick Grady.

There is a genuine question here. How is a citizen supposed to know what conduct is criminal and what conduct is not, when whether you are charged or not depends so clearly not on what you do, but on who you are?

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Biden Works to Prolong Ukraine War 638

I was in Turkey to try to further peace talks, as an experienced diplomat with good contacts there, and as a peace activist. I was not there as a journalist and much of what I discussed was with the understanding of confidence. It will be probably be some years before I judge it reasonable and fair to reveal all that I know. But I can give some outline.

Turkey continues to be the centre of diplomatic activity on resolving the Ukraine war. It is therefore particularly revealing, and a sign of Western priorities, that I did not come across a single western journalist there trying to follow and cover the diplomatic process. There are hundreds of Western journalists in Ukraine, effectively embedded with the Ukrainian authorities, producing war porn. There appear to be none seriously covering attempts to make peace.

There was a sea change two weeks ago when Ukraine shifted to a public stance that it would cede no territory at all in a peace deal. On 21 May, Zelensky’s office stated that “The war must end with the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” Previously while they had been emphatic that no territory in “the East” would be ceded, there had been studied ambiguity about whether that referred to Donbass alone or also the Crimea.

The new Ukrainian stance, that there will be no peace deal without recovering the Crimea, has ended for now any hopes of an early ceasefire. It appears to be a militarily unachievable objective – I cannot think of any scenario in which Russia de facto loses Crimea, without the serious possibility of worldwide nuclear war.

This blow to the peace process was a setback in Ankara, and I should say that every source I spoke with believed the Ukrainians were acting on instructions conveyed from Washington to Zelensky by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who openly stated he wanted the war to wear down Russian defence capabilities.

A long war in Ukraine is of course massively in the interest of the US military industrial complex, whose dripping roasts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have gone rather off the heat. It also forwards the strategic objective of severely damaging the Russian economy, although much of that damage is mutual. Why we live in a world where the goal of nations is to damage the lives of inhabitants of other nations is a question which continues to puzzle me.

Turkey has for now turned towards the more limited goal of ensuring that grain supplies can be shipped out from the Black Sea through the Bosphorus. This is essential for developing nations and essential for world food supplies, which were already under pressure before this war began. Turkey is offering to clear sea lanes of mines and to police the ships carrying grain from the port of Odessa, which is still under Ukrainian control. Russia has agreed to the deal.

Ukraine is objecting to this plan to export its own wheat, because it objects to the removal of the mines, which I should be clear were put down in the sea lanes by Ukraine to prevent amphibious attack on Odessa. There is monumental hypocrisy by the West on this, blaming Russia for preventing the export of the grain while it is actually blocked in by Ukraine’s own mines, which they currently refuse to allow Turkey to remove.

On 19 May this was the headline of a UN press release:

Lack of Grain Exports Driving Global Hunger to Famine Levels, as War in Ukraine Continues, Speakers Warn Security Council

As it states, Ukraine and Russia together account for one third of world grain exports and two thirds of world sunflower oil exports. Many of those who die from this war are likely to do so in developing countries, from hunger. The decision of the EU and US to target Russian and Belarussian agricultural exports for sanctions displays an extraordinary callousness towards the very poorest human beings on the globe, who cannot afford rising food prices.

Well, the headline here is that the USA and EU are pushing Ukraine to block any food deal, based on a number of objections including the reduction in the security of Odessa and the claim that Russia will sell looted Ukrainian grain. The view in both Ankara and the developing world is that the big picture, of millions facing starvation, is being lost.

The experience has made me so cynical that I am left wondering if the interests of the powerful agricultural lobbies in both the EU and USA are influencing policy. High world food prices benefit some powerful interests.

I blame Putin for starting a war that does nothing to redress Russian long term security concerns. But the truth is that politicians in the West are equally keen on this war. Boris Johnson yesterday was blatantly promoting it for his own survival. Anybody who makes any effort to stop the killing – Presidents Macron and Erdogan in particular – are immediately and universally denounced by the “liberal” media.

Yet what is the end result that the liberal warmongers wish to achieve? When we reach the stage that Henry Kissinger is a comparative voice of sanity, the political situation is indeed dire.

————————————————-

 
 
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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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A Revolutionary Act 205

There is no Establishment pathway to the final destruction of the Imperial British state. It will be momentous; the daft pomposity of the Jubilee celebrations reminds us of how powerful the United Kingdom once was. Only real power can prevent such forms from looking ludicrous. The show continues with the power behind it gone.

The British decline from being the greatest world power to the collapse of the metropolitan state has taken only a century. It held world pre-eminence for less than two centuries, approximately Plassey to Hiroshima. This ephemeral parade of military conquest, rape, looting and systematic economic exploitation is drawing to the most inglorious of closes. Empires do that.

Who remembers the details of the final Roman Emperors, the sackings of Rome, the alliances, the purple seized by outsiders? Very few. We recall Rome’s heyday; Pompey, Caesar, Antony, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Claudius. Of later Emperors, Constantine and Hadrian have name recognition. But the last three Emperors in Rome were Glycerius, Julius Nepos and Romulus Augustus. Even I had to look them up (and that isn’t the Romulus nor the Augustus that you have heard of – he appropriated the names).

Similarly I expect that a millennium hence not much will be heard of Boris Johnson; Walpole, Pitt, Peel, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George and Churchill will be names known to history students. Johnson will be just an opportunity for historians to pen amusing footnotes.

Historians will write sagely, scathingly or amusingly of the unbelievable mess at the very end of the UK. The extraordinary paralysis of government caused by Brexit, the brazen corruption on an enormous scale in PPE contracts, these will be briefly referenced. Johnson will get fleeting mentions as the epitome of the collapse of standards in public life at the UK’s decline; an inveterate liar. There will be scoffing at Partygate and the uncertain number of his children.

But one thing will puzzle historians. Why did the UK have enough strength to hold together for some time once the fissiparous forces had become overwhelming?

Given a Brexit which Scotland strongly opposed, a whole succession of very right wing Tory governments which Scotland also strongly opposed, and the utter mess of the May and Johnson governments which were hated in Scotland, how did a wasted decade (at least) pass after 2014 without Scotland moving to Independence. What held the union together?

The answer, of course, will be that Nicola Sturgeon held the union together. In the year 3000, first year history students at Dundee University will be sitting down to an essay question that reads “Nicola Sturgeon – Coward or Traitor? Discuss”.

The argument I have frequently seen used by those nowadays in the SNP for not moving towards Independence is that public opinion is not yet strongly enough in favour. What I do not understand is how they think public opinion will shift in favour without a campaign, when corporate and state media are so overwhelmingly biased against Independence.

The SNP justifies its period of taking huge personal emoluments from the British state with the argument that by demonstrating a capacity for good government they will encourage people towards Independence. Well, after eight years of power Nicola Sturgeon has moved Independence support from 45% to … 45%.

So if the argument is true that good SNP government will gain support for Independence, it follows that as support has not increased, the SNP is not providing good government. I think that is basically the case.

The problem is that, from an Independence movement bubbling with enormous talent, the paranoid Sturgeon picks people solely based on two criteria. The first is absolute subservience to her. The second is that they are entirely mediocre and could never be a threat. Those genuinely talented are ruthlessly disposed of – Michelle Thomson, Joanna Cherry and of course Alex Salmond come to mind immediately, there are others.

That John Swinney, Keith Brown, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Humza Yousaf hold national office in a country as full of talent as Scotland, is something I struggle to believe. Not one of those could ever aspire to attain mediocrity. They are dunces.

The penny first dropped with me that SNP internal elections are fixed when it was announced that Keith Brown had beaten Tommy Sheppard to be Deputy Leader. The worst example was the alleged victory of Angus Robertson over Marco Biaggi to be MSP candidate for Edinburgh Central. I was a member of the constituency association and literally knew not one single person who was voting for Robertson. Opinion in the SNP club on a Friday night was equally unanimous.

As I discovered when I came second in the SNP Presidency election, there is zero transparency to candidates in the SNP voting process. You are told the result, and that is it (I should make plain I am not suspicious about the victor in my own case).

It is a remarkable fact that the addition of some very weak Green ministers has nevertheless raised the level of the Scottish government. I was noticing that we see them on television much more than we see SNP ministers. Then the penny dropped that the Green ministers can make media appearances without Nicola’s permission, whereas SNP ministers cannot.

Once you realise that, you quickly see just how much Sturgeon monopolises the media and how very little publicity she allows to her ministers. She truly is the most astonishing narcissist. She is never off the media while the minsters, bar the Greens, are virtually invisible.

It cannot be denied that Sturgeon is very good at winning elections. If the goal is sustaining the SNP in power as colonial governors, she most definitely achieves it. If the goal is Independence, she has achieved nothing. In his identical period in office, Alex Salmond moved support for Independence from 28% to 45%. On that measure, Sturgeon has achieved absolutely nothing.

I have enormous respect for Alex Salmond. I did not follow the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial at all – they both seem weird and unpleasant. But what it is impossible to miss is the massive gulf between what ordinary people say on social media they believe, having watched the actual broadcast of the trial, and what the “liberal” media is loudly telling them that they ought to believe.

The difference could not be more stark and it amounts to this. The overwhelming majority of ordinary people reject the notion that you should decide the truth of events based on the gender of those involved. The jury rejected that too. The media persist in telling them they must base who to believe on gender.

How I wish the trial of Alex Salmond had also been televised. People would have seen, as the Salmond jury saw, that accusers were blatantly lying and conspiring. But the mass of people did not see that, and exactly as in the Heard/Depp trial, the media overwhelmingly portrayed the jury as wrong and the verdict as perverse and unethical.

Imagine if all you know of the Heard/Depp trial had been what it said in the Guardian and on the BBC? Public opinion would be overwhelmingly different from what it is. But the public are not fools, and when a trial is truly public and they can see it, they understand.

The Salmond trial was not truly public. What you were permitted to know was strictly controlled. It has only reached people through an entirely and deliberately warped media filter. If you had seen and heard it, your knowledge of the truth would be entirely different. The jury saw and heard it. They gave a true and honest verdict. How I wish the Salmond trial had been televised – that is worth saying again.

The same is of course true of the Assange trials.

As things stand, despite the jury and entirely unfairly, it is the reputation of Alex Salmond which is destroyed and not those of his lying accusers. His Alba Party, of which I am a member, barely registers at the polls. Yet Alex Salmond is, despite his age, starting again from scratch, speaking to audiences of 100 in draughty local halls around Scotland, plugging the case for Independence, as he was doing 50 years ago.

The man has the heart of a lion. The words of Kipling (a much maligned and misrepresented poet) come to mind:

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss”

Salmond is a hero, pure and simple. The sheer evil of what Sturgeon tried to do to him – and in many ways succeeded – is far beyond my comprehension.

I do not believe Sturgeon will hold an Independence referendum in 2023 as promised. I think she will ask Boris Johnson for a Section 30 agreement to hold one, knowing he will refuse. She will then declare herself again against “illegal” and “wildcat” referenda and will urge everybody to vote SNP in the 2024 Westminster elections, to give her yet another “mandate” she will not use and her mates another long ride on the gravy train.

You may be surprised to hear that in one sense I am quite relaxed about this. I am not a believer in referenda, or other forms of direct democracy.

About a month ago I was listening to an interview on Radio 4 with a Brexit voter who was being expelled from Spain. He had lived there for some years, and owned his home there, but he had failed whatever test it was for residency the Spanish government had implemented post Brexit.

The kicker of course was that the man and his wife (who was audibly sobbing) had voted for Brexit. He had no idea, he told the BBC, that it might lead to his expulsion from Spain. The first instinct was to laugh at him, and that was rather the tone of the piece.

But that is, of course, the problem with referenda. They ask simplified questions of people many of whom are incapable of understanding, or not bothered to understand, the ramifications. They also provide a great amplifier for popular prejudice, as witness a series of anti-Muslim decisions in Switzerland.

Indeed (and it always annoys people when I say this), while there is a left wing case for Brexit, many Brexit voters were motivated by simple anti-immigrant feeling. Indeed, a period living in Ramsgate destroyed in me any illusions about the nobility of “the people”.

Even more than I dislike referenda do I dislike Citizens Assemblies, where ordinary people are led by the nose by a battery of “experts” and carefully selected reading material, towards the Establishment’s predetermined objective.

In any event, the conditions for a fair referendum simply do not exist in Scotland – as they did not exist in 2014. The public have been subjected to a lifetime of unionist education and media propaganda, and that would persist throughout the election campaign. In 2014 the BBC achieved the not inconsiderable feat of being even more biased than the corporate media.

Alan Knight’s wonderful documentary on BBC bias in the 2014 campaign, London Calling, was one of the most enjoyable things I have worked on.

Unlike the joyful outburst of popular enthusiasm that characterised the 2014 campaign, Sturgeon is determined to control the Yes movement in the event her party forces her to hold the referendum. To that end she has introduced a committee of compliant Sturgeonistas – people almost entirely invisible in the 2014 campaign – who apparently are now officially the Yes Movement, and have unveiled a pledge of political correctness we all have to sign to take part, all about things entirely unrelated to Independence.

The problem is that Sturgeon’s vision of an Independent Scotland looks an awful lot like the UK. First and foremost it is to be entirely neoliberal and centre right in politics, as witness the reaffirmation of the SNP Growth Commission as the blueprint. That document could have been produced by Fred Goodwin’s Royal Bank of Scotland in 2006. Furthermore Scotland is to be entirely Atlanticist, enthusiastically into NATO and arms sales, and joined at the hip with Westminster in defence policy, while still subservient to a London based monarch and using London currency.

I am not at all sure I see the point of Independence in Nicola’s vision. Nor do I know any Scot genuinely enthusiastic about Independence who sees the future of Scotland in that way. It is a vision of Independence for people who do not actually believe in Independence. It is not a vision that will ever win a referendum campaign.

Let us forget referenda. In constitutional affairs I am in some respects an adherent of the Irish conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. I believe that the best democracy consists of the people voting to choose wise and responsible people to make law, and not in the people trying to make law direct themselves.

Now I admit that Burke’s theory has taken a huge hammering in recent years, as western democracy has declined into sophisticated kleptocracy and elected representatives have become deeply unimpressive charlatans and puppets of the super rich. But I still think leaders should lead.

The conundrum was perhaps solved for me last year by my friend Joseph who remarked “you may think you are a Burkean conservative, Craig, but actually you are a revolutionary vanguardist”. Which I discover is, in important respects, surprisingly much the same thing.

Either way, it boils down to this. Leaders lead. Scotland needs to forget about referenda. It has elected a majority of pro-Independence representatives. They should declare Independence. This could be done by the Scottish Parliament, but I would much prefer a National Assembly to be called combining both MPs and MSPs. The National Assembly should declare Independence and apply to the United Nations for recognition.

While that is pending, and at least six months after the declaration, a confirmatory plebiscite can be held under conditions which Scotland controls.

The SNP can do this, or it can continue to be a super gravy train for otherwise entirely unemployable politicians.

The moment is now. Boris Johnson is uniquely bereft of moral authority. The UK will never be weaker. Never will the UK have a leader who will command so little international and domestic respect and support, should he seek to reassert London control by violence. However should he succeed by violence, nothing could better expedite our eventual success.

It really is time for SNP politicians to stand up. Do you actually want Independence, or are you just stuffing your pockets on the backs of those who do?

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The Power of Lies 332

The comments on Peter Oborne’s excellent article on Julian Assange in the Guardian last week are a damning indictment of the media’s ability to instil near universal acceptance of “facts” which are easily proven lies.

The Guardian chose as its “Guardian pick” to head the section a comment full of these entirely untrue assertions.

If you look through all the comments, they repeat again and again that Wikileaks published unredacted documents, including names of US agents, which put lives at risk. The entire basis of most of the comments is simply untrue – and none of the readers seems to have any information to contradict them.

Julian Assange has never said that governments should have no secrets. That would be a ridiculous position and clearly some information held by government is rightly confidential. He has said that governments should be very much more open to the public, and that most government secrecy is unjustified.

Nor has Wikileaks ever dumped data unread and unedited on to the internet. The commenter is correct to say that Wikileaks has shared editing responsibilities with organisations including the Guardian and the New York Times. This is precisely because the material needs to be edited to avoid revealing inappropriate material, and to make journalistic decisions on what to write stories about.

The notion that Assange was “lazy” because he did not read all the material and do all the editing himself is self-evidently ridiculous. The US diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghan war logs alone constituted over 600,000 documents. It was simply impossible for Assange to read it all personally. He was the editor of Wikileaks. This is tantamount to criticising Katherine Viner for not writing every single article in the Guardian personally.

The extradition hearing of Julian Assange heard numerous highly professional and respected journalists testify to the rigorous nature of Wikileaks’ editing process to remove names. Here is one extract from my reporting of the trial:

John Goetz was the first witness this morning. Senior Investigations Editor at NDR since 2011, he was at Der Spiegel from 2007-11. He had published a series of articles on German involvement in the Afghan War, including one on a bombing raid on Kunduz which massacred civilians, for which he had won Germany’s highest journalism award. In June 2010 he went to London to meet with Wikileaks and the Guardian to work on the Afghan War Logs.

In a series of meetings in “the bunker” at the Guardian with the NYT and the other major media partners, the partnership was formed whereby all would pool effort in researching the Afghan War Logs but each party would choose and publish his own stories. This cooperative venture between five major news organisations – normally rivals – was unique at the time.

Goetz had been struck by what seemed to him Julian Assange’s obsession with the security of the material. He insisted everything was encrypted and strict protocols were in place for handling the material. This had been new territory for the journalists. The New York Times was tasked with liaison with the White House, the Department of Defence and State Department on questions of handling the material.

Asked by Mark Summers to characterise the Afghan War Logs, Goetz said that they were fascinating first-hand material giving low level reports on actual operations. This was eye witness material which sometimes lacked the larger view. There was abundant first-hand evidence of war crimes. He had worked with Nick Davies of the Guardian on the Task Force 373 story.

Julian Assange had been most concerned to find the names in the papers. He spent a lot of time working out technical ways to identify names in the tens of thousands of documents. Mark Summers asked f he had been looking for the names for the purpose of redaction, and Goetz confirmed it was for redaction. He had interviewed Assange on the harm minimisation programme of the operation.

On behalf of the group Eric Schmitt of the NYT had been speaking to the White House and he had sent an email identifying 15,000 documents the White House did not want published to prevent harm to individuals or to American interests. It was agreed not to publish these documents and they were not published. Summers asked Goetz if he was aware of any names that slipped through, and he replied not.

Goetz was not so involved for family reasons when the consortium went through the same process with the Iraq war logs. But he knew that when a large number of these were released in the USA under a FOIA request, it was seen that Wikileaks had redacted those they released more heavily than the Department of Defense did. Goetz recalled an email from David Leigh of the Guardian stating that publication of some stories was delayed because of the amount of time Wikileaks were devoting to the redaction process to get rid of the “bad stuff”.

Further very detailed evidence on this point was given by Professor John Sloboda, by Nicky Hager and by Professor Christian Grothoff.

Yet there is no public awareness that this careful editing and redaction process took at all. That is plain from those comments under the Guardian article. This is because people are simply regurgitating the propaganda that the media has given them. My blog was effectively the only source for detailed reporting of the Assange hearings, which were almost ignored by the mainstream media.

This was deliberate choice – the information was freely available to the mainstream media. This is what the Reuters News Agency, to which they all subscribe, produced on Dr Goetz’s evidence, for example:

WikiLeaks’ Assange was careful to protect informants, court hears
By Reuters Staff

LONDON, Sept 16 (Reuters) – WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange was careful to ensure that the names of informants in hundreds of thousands of leaked secret U.S. government documents were never published, his London extradition hearing was told on Wednesday.

Australian-born Assange, 49, is fighting against being sent to the United States, where he is charged with conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law over the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-2011.

A lawyer for the United States told the court last week that it was requesting Assange’s extradition over the publication of informants’ names, and not for handling leaked documents.

John Goetz, an investigative reporter who worked for Germany’s Spiegel magazine on the first publication of the documents, said the U.S. State Department had been involved in a conference call suggesting redactions, and WikiLeaks had agreed to hold back about 15,000 documents for publication.

“There was sensitivity and it was one of the things that was talked about all the time,” Goetz told the court. Assange was concerned that the media should take measures “so no one would be harmed”, he said.

Goetz said WikiLeaks was later frustrated when a password that allowed access to the full, unredacted material was published in a book by Guardian reporters in February 2011.

Assange made international headlines in 2010 when WikiLeaks published a U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

I can find no evidence that any mainstream media used this report from Reuters, or indeed any of Reuters’ daily news feed that covered the major points for the defence. The BBC managed to report prominently the false claim that has entered public consciousness:

But could not find space for any of the witnesses who contradicted this claim.

It is of course a very delicate subject for the Guardian, whose journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding were in fact responsible for the dumping of unredacted material on the net. The court heard evidence of this from numerous witnesses, of whom Professor Christian Grothoff gave the most detail:

Summers then asked Professor Grothoff whether David Leigh released the password. Grothoff replied that yes, Luke Harding and David Leigh had revealed the encryption key in their book on Wikileaks published February 2011. They had used it as a chapter heading, and the text explicitly set out what it was. The copies of the encrypted file on some mirrors were useless until David Leigh posted that key.
Summers So once David Leigh released the encryption key, was it in Wikileaks’ power to take down the mirrors?
Grothoff No.
Summers Could they change the encryption key on those copies?
Grothoff No.
Summers Was there anything they could do?
Grothoff Nothing but distract and delay.

Grothoff continued to explain that on 25 August 2011 the magazine Der Freitag had published the story explaining what had happened. It did not itself give out the password or location of the cache, but it made plain to people that it could be done, particularly to those who had already identified either the key or a copy of the file. The next link in the chain of events was that nigelparry.com published a blog article which identified the location of a copy of the encrypted file. With the key being in David Leigh’s book, the material was now effectively out. This resulted within hours in the creation of torrents and then publication of the full archive, unencrypted and unredacted, on Cryptome.org.

Summers asked whether Cryptome was a minor website. Grothoff replied not at all, it was a long established platform for leaked or confidential material and was especially used by journalists.

It is telling that in the Guardian itself, scores of commenters on Peter Oborne’s article reference the release of unredacted files, but nobody seems to know that it was the Guardian that was actually responsible, or rather, massively irresponsible. The gulf between public perception and the truth is deeply troubling.

In a related matter, the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal has published an article with that attribution, about the “russiagate” hoax around the 2016 election, which is stunning:

“The Russia-Trump narrative that Clinton sanctioned did enormous harm to the country. It disgraced the FBI, humiliated the press, and sent the country on a three year investigation to nowhere. Putin never came close to doing as much disinformation damage.”

The problem is the Wall Street Journal has one thing wrong. The press is not humiliated – like Boris Johnson it is entirely brazen and has no capacity for humiliation. The press has not been found out, because most of the country still believes the lies they were told and have not seen corrected.

Hillary’s 2016 campaign manager has stated “Russiagate” was a lie knowingly planted by Hillary. Mueller could find no firm evidence of Russian hacking, and the CEO of Crowdstrike, the Clinton appointed firm who made the original claim, testified to congress there was “no hard evidence”. The FBI nor Mueller ever even inspected the DNC servers. The Christopher Steele “peegate” dossier has fallen apart and is now a thing of ridicule. Roger Stone was jailed for false evidence to the FBI – which consisted of him inventing a Wikileaks-Trump link for purposes of self-aggrandisement. The Manafort/Assange story was the most egregious press fabrication since the Zinoviev letter.

But the media who pushed all these false narratives have never backed away from them.

My favourite example ever of almost entirely unreported news was the dismissal by New York federal judge John Koeltl of the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit against Trump and the state of Russia over the 2016 elections. Judge Koeltl rules that nothing whatsoever had been produced which met the bar of evidence.

There is plainly a crisis in western neo-liberal societies. The wealth gap between rich and poor has become so extreme as to be insupportable, and even in the wealthiest countries in the world, people in employment are struggling to achieve decent accommodation, heating and food. The billionaire controlled state and media systems contrived to neuter both Corbyn and Sanders, who sought to restore some social justice.

In consequence, inevitable public discontent has been channelled into populist courses – Brexit, Trump, Johnson – which themselves alarm the establishment, though less than Sanders and Corbyn did. There is a space for comforting fiction to explain the social shock. Therefore the populist wave is explained, not as a result of popular discontent at the extreme economic imbalance of modern neo-liberalism, but by the Deus Ex Machina of hacking or Cambridge Analytica, all of which is then itself sourced back to the designated devil Putin.

Modern society is not really much more rational than the Middle Ages. Myth is still extremely potent; only the means of myth dissemination are more sophisticated.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The Slide Down 201

I am today in Izmir. The last time I was here, eleven years ago, I called on the bereaved family of an aid worker murdered by Israel on the Mavi Mamara. A decade later, as witness the case of Shireen Abu Aqlah, Israel is still carrying out blatant public murder of good people; there has been no progress at all. The only thing that has changed is that the suppression of critics of Israel has become much more intense across social media, mainstream media and political debate.

I have in the last 18 years shared a platform with almost every prominent left wing figure in the UK I can think of. Out of all of them, the one I enjoyed listening to the most was Mhairi Black. I was therefore not in the least surprised by the warm social media reception of her speech in the House of Commons on the slide to fascism.

I endorse what she says, and I think that the strongest evidence is the extraordinary collaboration of billionaire and state owned media in forwarding the neo-liberal political agenda. In a situation as complex as the Ukraine, the absence of any nuance whatsoever across the entire mainstream media is simply staggering.

My own position, for example, is that the invasion is indeed illegal and a war crime – but that does not make Ukraine faultless. The tolerance of Nazism, the anti-Russian language and other policies and failure to implement the Minsk agreements were very real problems. The war on Iraq, as just one example, was equally criminal and NATO expansion is foolish. A negotiated settlement is needed.

These cannot remotely be characterised as crazed or outrageous opinions, whether you agree or not. But you will not find anywhere, in any mainstream media newsroom, any of those views beyond “the invasion is indeed illegal and a war crime”. It is not just that the editorial line is precisely the same in every single mainstream media outlet. It is that dissent from the editorial line is not published. This total harmony of state and corporate media in favour of a rigorous pro-war propaganda is precisely of the essence of fascism.

As recently as the Iraq War, opponents of the war were occasionally allowed on to give another perspective. A few years later I was invited on to all new channels to explain why the UK was wrong in claiming British sailors temporarily arrested by Iran had been in Iraqi waters. The Daily Mail a decade ago published a centre page article on why the war in Afghanistan was about hydrocarbons and about the massive increase of heroin production in NATO controlled areas.

Such pathways for dissent have over the last few years become completely unavailable.

To return to Mhairi, the difficulty is that she belongs to a party which is itself highly intolerant of dissent and has no feel at all for individual liberty. I might instance the banning of protest outside the Scottish parliament, the hate speech act, the SNP initiated jailing of Manni Singh for starting an approved demonstration two hours late, the appalling leadership approved pile-on on Joanna Cherry, the creation of a single centrally controlled police force, the incredibly sinister “named person” plan thankfully struck down by the courts, and the political use of the Crown Office for prosecutions.

I have never heard Mhairi dissent from any of this, and I do not know where she stands. The last time I set eyes on her was at the 2019 SNP conference, where I was a delegate. I went over to say hi, and was headed off by a horde of besuited minders. She appeared to me quite literally captured by the system.

A final thought on fascism. Boris Johnson reminds me not so much of Mussolini as Berlusconi. The latter appeared a ludicrous figure to us, with his outrageous financial self-interest, sexual antics and dishonesty. Yet Berlusconi kept winning elections because he appealed to something deep in the Italian psyche which did not care about all those other things. That seems a real parallel with Johnson, who appeals to enough English – and I mean English – people who feel he reflects their worldview. The rest of the world is mystified, and that includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where even the unionists can’t stand him.

It is to me a cause of deep sadness that having ignored the opportunity for Scottish Independence opened by Brexit, Sturgeon is now ignoring the opportunity provided by antipathy to Johnson. In a fascist state the functions of central political control extend through both public and private sectors and all permitted political institutions, including permitted parties. That is a thought worth considering.

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Nato Expansion and Turkey 337

I am in Turkey because, if there is to be movement in ending the war in Ukraine, it will happen here. President Erdogan’s firm stance on a potential veto of Swedish and Finnish NATO membership is framed in public only in relation to perceived support by those countries for Kurdish resistance groups. But of course it goes much deeper.

Erdogan understands that the spectacular advance by NATO eastward that Finnish enlargement in particular would represent, is a slap in the face for Putin that will make a peace deal in Ukraine far more difficult. Any such deal would have to be based upon Russia giving up some of the Ukrainian territory it holds today. Dramatic NATO expansion is the very opposite of an attempt to create the conditions for that. In fact, that NATO is so actively pursuing this expansion is sufficient evidence that NATO is looking for a long proxy war to bleed Russia, rather than trying to restore peace and stability to Europe.

That the European public are gripped by a wave of emotion over Ukraine was amply demonstrated by the popular vote of tens of millions in the Eurovision song contest. Once the spasm dies down, opinion in Finland and Sweden may revert. It has been obvious for over a decade that Putin has an aim to reintegrate Russian populated areas of the former Soviet Union into the Russian Federation. That agenda is currently causing a ruinous war, but is no military threat to Finland or Sweden.

Turkey retains the prestige of chosen venue and perhaps broker for continuing diplomatic contact between Russia and Ukraine. Erdogan’s robust stance on Finland and Sweden is necessary to maintain Russian trust. Turkey of course has its own lengthy and extremely complex historical and current relationship with Russia, which is much more important than Turkey’s role as a key NATO member might suggest. It is also worth bearing in mind that Turkey is a far more serious military power than Finland and Sweden combined.

There is another, specifically Turkish interest in play here, which is very much a factor in Erdogan’s willingness to stand up to Biden over Swedish and Finnish NATO entry. This of course relates to the permanent tension between NATO members Turkey and Greece.

Turkey is furious over the militarisation of the Eastern Aegean Greek Islands very close to its shores, and the lack of support and understanding it has received from other NATO members over the perceived threat.

The status of Greece’s most Eastern (Dodecanese) islands is not in doubt. It was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1947, to which all the permanent members of the UN security council, and many other states, are parties.

The demilitarisation of the islands is unequivocal, and no treaty since has negated it.

Other Greeks islands including Limnos and Lesbos slightly further West are similarly constrained by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Greece claims this status was modified subsequently by the 1936 Straits Convention. I don’t think that is right but that is a more complex argument than we need to develop just now. The 1947 Treaty is not modified.

Yet Greece had proceeded and is still proceeding with the militarisation of the Dodecanese islands on a large scale, involving tens of thousands of troops in total, military aircraft, and in particular long range surface to surface missiles. Turkey and Russia both regard these as a threat. The Turkish government are privately convinced that this militarisation is being carried out with active United States cooperation, participation and perhaps instigation.

In February, President Erdogan stated that as the Treaties specifying demilitarisation are the very Treaties which give sovereignty over the islands to Greece, then if Greece was repudiating the treaties it brought sovereignty into question. Erdogan was immediately slapped down by the Biden administration.

So Turkish resentment at US behaviour in the Aegean, seen as encouraging a direct military threat, is another reason why Erdogan is not anxious to defer quickly to the US agenda in the Baltic. Turkish exasperation is further fueled by the fact that this really is bad faith by the USA, in refusing to abide by an international treaty to which it is a party (a position complicated by the fact Turkey itself is not a party to the Treaty of Paris 1947).

I have found this last 17 years of blogging that it only takes a little background knowledge, a little research, and a few affable conversations, to find a picture far more complicated and realistic than that carried in the mainstream media. Sadly there are few left in the mould of Robert Fisk.

Speaking of which the most important piece of UK journalism this year is being totally ignored by the mainstream media. Please do read it; you will learn more about how the UK really works than you ever will from the BBC.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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What Might A Ukraine Peace Agreement Look Like? 436

Currently nobody in power wants peace. Both sides believe they might yet improve their position on the ground. Thousands are needlessly dying horrible deaths in Europe. But the West now has a proxy war with Russia itself that is weakening Russia militarily, economically and diplomatically. Putin has to keep going, hoping to show something he can portray as victory and worth all the pain. Meantime the arms manufacturers and related interests are profiting enormously – and never forget that applies to both sides.

NATO is cock-a-hoop with probable expansion to include Sweden and Finland. That is one of very many ways in which Putin’s war is counterproductive for Russia and makes its strategic problems worse.

The most alarming aspect of all this is the blithe brinkmanship with which the West is pushing Putin towards a position where his only chance of claiming victory is to use tactical nuclear weapons. [And yes I have read Scott Ritter, I both know and like him but think he is very wrong about Russian ground superiority].

It does not have to be nuclear Armageddon. There is a more likely scenario where the war carries on for years, and probably Russia inflicts increasing damage on cities with long range weapons. That would be unlikely to involve radical change from current frontlines; we could have hundreds of thousands of casualties over as much as three to five years. I believe this is what NATO actually want to happen. It would in effect leave a frozen conflict looking not too different to today, but with much more destruction.

This is the time that true statesmen would be trying to end the conflict. The only person who in the least appears to have been making genuine efforts is Macron, for which he is reviled. The UN evidently judge it too early to talk about more than ceasefires and humanitarian corridors. Do not be discouraged by or critical of that. These “confidence building measures” – ceasefires, evacuations, prisoner exchanges, humanitarian relief – are how conflict resolution classically starts.

So, if I were in the UN working on an outline peace proposal, what would it look like? Well, here are some first thoughts.

Now I know some people will ask why anybody should look at any proposals from me. Well, plainly I have no current standing. But I do have experience. Together with then Head of UN Peacekeeping, my late friend Kofi Annan, I while Head of Cyprus Section at the FCO drafted the Cyprus peace plan that we then took into proximity negotiation with Denktash and Clerides. We did not have total success but the process did contribute to the island’s current peace and prosperity.

Further as UK Representative to the Sierra Leone Peace Talks, I was deeply involved in the drafting and the negotiation with all sides of the Sierra Leone Peace Accord, as detailed at length in my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. That conflict probably had more casualties than the Ukraine War to date and was just as bitter, with its own extremely complicated history and causes.

So in suggesting ideas for the draft of a “Peace Plan”, this is something I have done in “real life”, not just a fool opining from his armchair. For that look to some of my other posts!

The first and most difficult question is territory, as it is in most armed conflict. Russia currently occupies large areas of Ukrainian territory. This is a powerful negotiating position. Ukraine has recovered significant ground around Kiev following that particular defeated attack, and smaller parcels elsewhere. In the last couple of weeks, gains and losses by both sides have been broadly in balance, though Western media emphasises the Ukrainian gains.

If we are starting from broadly the current territorial position, my basic proposal would be this. Ukraine formally cedes Crimea to Russia, and Russia hands back all other Ukrainian territory, including the Donbass.

This gives Putin a boast he can make to his people – the World, which had refused to recognise the Russian annexation, would now have bowed to Russia’s rule. The US, UK, Germany, all had been made to acknowledge Crimea is Russian and to eat humble pie. It would play well for Putin.

On the other hand, neither the West nor Ukraine would really have lost anything at all but pride. It would simply be bringing the de jure and de facto in line, which is generally a good thing. Few seriously believe the Ukrainian army is going to be able to retake Crimea. To do so would indicate an extremely bloody war, with very serious potential to escalate to the nuclear.

Crimea is in practice now Russian. It makes sense to base a peace deal on acknowledging this reality.

Is Crimea enough of a prize for Putin to give up all of Russia’s other gains? I believe so. There is a realistic chance that Russia could suffer humiliating loss of some of the areas it holds. Much better to negotiate them away while you have them.

Could Zelensky survive giving up the Crimea? Well, his personal prestige is now enormous. His people are brave but would welcome an end to the war, and the number of Ukrainians still in Crimea is now low. In return for getting back all of the Donbass lost in 2014 plus Kherson and Mariupol, and getting an end to the war, I think it is not impossible for Zelensky to sell giving up the Crimea as the price of peace.

The Donbass was of course Putin’s given reason for invasion. It would be hard for Putin to give up Donbass because it is central to his consistent programme of bringing Russophone areas of ex-Soviet states into Russia. But his domestic position in a long war would weaken if not successful. Given guarantees on Crimea and an end to ruinous war and sanctions, I think he could accept it after negotiation, with a number of figleafs.

It is worth noting that a bilateral agreement is not possible. Any agreement is going to need to involve a much wider group of parties, on for examples the lifting of sanctions and recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea.

So here is a start to my proposed bundle:

Ukraine to cede Crimea to Russia
Russia to hand back all other occupied Ukrainian territory
A devolution settlement for Donbass
Russian again to be an official language in Ukraine
Ukraine to be acknowledged as a sovereign state free to join NATO or EU if it chooses
An Arms Control Treaty restricting weapons systems in Ukraine and neighbouring Russia
An end to all EU and US sanctions on Russia imposed following the invasion
A joint War Crimes Commission, and Truth and Reconciliation process, but immunities for agreed persons (including Putin)
An international fund for reconstruction, including provision for relocation assistance for Russian speakers wishing to leave Donbass or Ukrainians wishing to leave Crimea.

Now here is the moral dilemma. If you want to insist on no immunity for war crimes, you would need to be willing to pursue total war to the utter defeat of one side. You cannot get a peace deal that involves putting Putin on trial at the Hague. Equally neither side can get all it wants on any subject without total victory.

Peace otherwise means compromise.

When discussing Cyprus with Kofi Annan, we agreed any peace deal would involve Turkey giving up some land in proportion to its percentage of population. The possibilities were Morphou or Karpass. We realised that this land deal would need to entail some assistance with population relocation of those who wished to move. It is often impossible to resolve a geographic conflict without some element that can be portrayed as endorsement of ethnic cleansing. These are the problems of peace.

I do hope that gives you some material for your own thought. It will no more interest the partisans on either side than it currently does those in power. Thus I sadly expect the killing to continue. I am off to Turkey tomorrow for a briefing on the limited peace talks that have taken place to date. That does not mean I will necessarily be able to spread information further at this stage.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Some Off-Beat Points on Thursday’s Elections 204

The Labour Party’s national projected vote share is 35%, which is the same as the Labour Party’s national projected vote share in 2018 under Corbyn. The “Starmer surge” is a lie, broadcast by the media to perpetuate the myth that a more radical Labour Party would be uniquely unelectable. Tory switching to Lib Dems, Greens or sitting at home helped Labour, but hardly represents Starmer enthusiasm.

(Projected vote share here means an extrapolation of swing trends to areas where no election took place to give a projected total if this were a general election, done by John Curtice.)

Starmer remains the neoliberal insurance policy. But do not go out and bet on him winning the next general election. The Lib Dems look like their vote could finally be recovering from their coalition disaster to something like their “normal” level, which should see them return as the main challengers to the Tories in those parts of Southern England where people do not speak Estuary English. The Greens made real and welcome progress, though from a very low base.

Northern Ireland is the real story of the elections, and I am absolutely delighted to see Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party. It is essential that the unionist knuckle draggers are not now allowed a veto on democracy and that we see Michelle O’Neill properly installed and functioning as First Minister. It should be noted that it is not only that we saw movement from SDLP to Sinn Fein and from DUP to Traditional Unionist Violence (I might have the name slightly wrong). Adding DUP, TUV and UUP together, there was a decline of over 3% in the total unionist vote, which is highly significant.

It is also worth noting that the election has just been won by parties which broadly support the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU. That ought to give pause to Tory efforts to abandon the Protocol, but it probably won’t. The EU, however, will undoubtedly have noted the election result and be strengthened in their opposition in any changes. The Toru hand is weakened, to say the least, given the elected Northern Irish leader is now on the EU side and not the UK side.

I have no doubt the Tories will be discussing with the unionists ways to contrive to prevent O’Neill becoming First Minister. A long period of direct rule by the ultra-unionist oaf Brandon Lewis MP may be in prospect. That will only hasten reunification.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru continue to make steady progress and the more left wing platform of Mark Drakeford continues to outperform Starmer in voter appeal.

As for Scotland – well I remain personally a member of the Alba Party, which continues to make no significant electoral impression. Voters maintain faith in Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP increased its number of councillors significantly. It was also a breakthrough for the Scottish Greens, if from a low base. The net result however is a significant net advance for pro-Independence parties over unionists. That is more important than Labour overtaking the Tories for second place. The alternative to Independence is Westminster rule by Tories. Scottish Labour is irrelevant to that.

After the election Nicola Sturgeon immediately started to make plain there is not going to be an Independence referendum in 2023. This is what she said:

“Look, the Alba Party didn’t register, I didn’t think it would register, I don’t think it’s ever going to register. You know, however much they may want there to be the groundswell of frustration with the SNP over progress to Independence, there’s not. Equally, I think sensible people know that however impatient they may be for Independence, there is no magic solution to make it happen, and you know Alba have actually been perpetuating a fiction on that, so I am not surprised… For me, my job is to get on with leading the SNP, leading Scotland and yes, I hope, leading the country towards Independence.”

Progress “towards” Independence is reduced to a “hope”. I defy anybody to claim those are the words of somebody who is about to launch an Independence referendum. She did not say “Alba are talking nonsense, there will be an Independence referendum next year as stated in our manifesto for the Scottish parliament.” Her words convey the opposite impression.

I would particularly ask you to note the major difference between “towards” – as opposed to “to” – in Sturgeon’s last sentence. That is not an accident.

Instead she positively scoffs at “impatience” and derides the notion that Independence can be quickly attained. The “fiction” which she says Alba are perpetuating is the claim – correct in international law – that Westminster has no veto on Scottish Independence. Sturgeon’s position remains that a referendum cannot be held without Boris Johnson’s say-so, which she knows will not be forthcoming.

Sturgeon seems supremely confident that her latest electoral success endorses her approach. That I think is the key question in Scotland after these elections. It is a question to which I do not know the answer.

Are the SNP voters, like Sturgeon herself, only paying lip service to the idea of Independence without being really concerned to attain it? Is voting SNP a kind of nationalist gesture with no real meaning, a never-ending journey “towards” Independence? Or is it that SNP voters have not noticed that the plausible Sturgeon is just stringing them along with no actual intention of reaching the destination?

I had fondly imagined that SNP voters would “see through” Sturgeon. But is her cosy nationalist posturing, as a colonial governor making a licensed show of nationalist thinking, all that SNP voters really desire?

I think the crunch point will come when she does, eventually, officially abandon the 2023 Indyref date. She will manage that to make it appear Johnson’s decision and then call for yet another “mandate” in the 2024 Westminster elections. I can see clearly what is unfolding, but it seems so far a charade which voters are happy to support.

On a happy note of karma, a notable swing in Glasgow from the SNP to the Greens saw Rhiannon Spear and Mhairi Hunter, two important Sturgeonites, lose their council seats. Both played a crucial role in the jailing of Manni Singh for starting a demonstration a few hours late.

As for Alba, I don’t know if I shall remain a member. There needs to be a vehicle for those for whom Independence is the genuine and overriding political priority, and plainly the SNP is no longer that party. But the ferocity and unkindness of Alba’s stance on trans people – and the extraordinary priority it puts on the issue in campaigning – is something with which I am entirely out of sympathy. I don’t expect to agree with every policy of a party which I join, but this is really very difficult for me. I shall await developments following these sobering elections.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Donziger: A Tale For Our Times 97

Texaco operations in Ecuador from 1962 to 1994 dumped 70 billion litres of “wastewater”, heavily contaminated with oil and other chemicals, into the Amazon rainforest, plus over 650,000 barrels of crude oil. They polluted over 800,000 hectares.

It is one of the worst ecological disasters in history — 30 times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and 85 times greater than the Gulf of Mexico spill by British Petroleum (BP) in 2010. During the supposed clean up in the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, before it left Ecuador, Texaco hid over a thousand different swamps of toxic waste throughout the rainforests, dumping a layer of topsoil over them.

Crude contaminates the Aguarico 4 oil pit, an open pool abandoned by Texaco after 6 years of production and never remediated.

Texaco was taken over by Chevron in 2000. Chevron claims that Texaco only ever extracted $490 million in profit from Ecuador over 30 years. The accounting of that is hotly contested by the Amazon Defense Coalition which claims Texaco made $30 billion profit. One thing for sure is that even the Chevron figure is at historic values, not real terms, and would be worth vastly more today.

The cost of the pollution to the inhabitants of the Amazon is incalculable in simple monetary terms, as is the cost of the environmental catastrophe to the entire world. However in the mid 1990’s Ecuador was firmly under the United States heel and – as Chevron’s legal team assert – in 1995 the Government of Ecuador was persuaded to sign a ludicrous clean-up agreement with Texaco as it left the country, releasing it from all legal obligations at a cost of just US $40 million.

Yes, that really is just $40 million. Compare that to the $61.6 billion that BP paid out for the almost 100 times smaller Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1998 the corrupt, US controlled, government of Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad signed a final release relieving Texaco for all liability from economic pollution. That release has now been upheld by the Court of International Arbitration in the Hague.

How this was achieved by Chevron/Texaco is well explained in a book I highly recommend, a copy of which was sent to me in prison by a supporter:
The Misery of International Law by Linarelli, Salomon and Sornarajah (Oxford University Press 2018).

A Chevron lobbyist in 2008 said that “we can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this”. At the time of this writing, Chevron is the fourth largest company headquartered in the United States, operating in over one hundred countries, with gross revenues twice that of Ecuador’s GDP. When Texaco began operations in Ecuador in 1964, the country was unstable and extremely poor, with bananas as its main export. One lawyer who works for Oxfam had argued that “Texaco ran the country for twenty years. They had the US Embassy in their pocket. They had the military. Politically, there was no way that Texaco was going to be held accountable in Ecuador.” At the time Ecuador needed Texaco’s expertise and technology if it was to extract the oil. The lawsuit alleged that Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the water system in the region, along with 17 billion gallons of crude oil, and left 916 clearly visible unlined toxic waste pits full of black sludge throughout the region. At the time, Texaco’s operations did not violate Ecuadorean law. Ecuador had no real environmental law at the time. While Chevron vigorously contests the facts, the evidence shows that Texaco failed to use environmentally sustainable technologies in its operations in Ecuador. As the former Ecuador Ambassador to the United States Nathalie Cely has put it: “When Texaco left Ecuador, significant profits in hand, it left unprecedented damage to the environment in its wake and no compensation to those affected.”

In my writing I always try to add value when I can by giving my own experience where relevant, and the situation described here reminds me precisely of the impunity with which Shell acted in Nigeria in their similarly massive pollution of the Niger Delta. I witnessed this close up when I was Second Secretary at the British High Commission in Lagos from 1986 to 1990. My brief was “Agriculture and Water Resources” and I therefore encountered the environmental devastation at first hand.

From my privileged diplomatic position I also saw the political power wielded by Shell in Nigeria through corruption and bribery, and I absolutely recognise the description given above of Texaco in Ecuador: “They had the US Embassy in their pocket”. In Nigeria, Shell had the British High Commission in their pocket, throughout decades in which all bar one of Nigeria’s military dictators was trained at Sandhurst, and the exception went to another British military college.

The Chairman and MD of Shell Nigeria, Brian Lavers, was treated as a deity and lived a life of extraordinary power and luxury. The British High Commissioner, Sir Martin Ewans, himself a very haughty man, deferred routinely to Lavers. I recall one occasion when the diplomatic staff were all instructed to attend a private briefing by Lavers in the High Commission. He made some dismissive and complacent comments about the “fuss” over pollution. I, a rather diffident and nervous young man on my first diplomatic assignment, very respectfully queried him on something I knew from direct observation to be untrue. I got a public ticking off from the High Commissioner followed by a massive private bollocking from my boss, and was later told that Shell made a complaint against me to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

So, in brief, I know of what they speak. I should add that I am still extremely upset by all of this because of the subsequent execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, whom I knew, and other indigenous environmental activists, for which I hold Shell in part culpable. 35 years since I got carpeted for raising the shocking effects, and 25 years since the executions shocked the world, Shell’s devastation of the Niger Delta continues. (see Footnote).

29 years ago, in 1993, Steven Donziger, a New York lawyer, visited Ecuador and saw communities who lived their lives with their bare feet and hands permanently covered in oil sludge and other pollutants, whose agriculture was ruined and who suffered high levels of mortality and birth defects. He started a class action against Texaco in the United States, representing over 30,000 local people. Texaco, confident that they had control of Ecuador, requested the US court to rule that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. It also set about obtaining the agreement from the Government of Ecuador to cancel any liability. In 2002 the New York court finally agreed with Texaco (now Chevron) that is had no jurisdiction and the case moved to Ecuador, much to Chevron’s delight.

What Chevron had not bargained for was that corrupt US control of Ecuador might loosen. In 2007 left wing Rafael Correa became President and Chevron’s previously total impunity in the country dissolved. In 2011 Donziger and his team won an award of $18 billion in compensation for the local population from a provincial Ecuadorean court, later reduced to $9.5 billion by the Supreme Court of Ecuador.

Chevron now did two things. Firstly, it invoked the bribery obtained agreements of 1995 and 1998 limiting its liability to the paltry $40 million clean-up operation, and appealed to the international tribunals specified in those agreements. Chevron succeeded, as was fairly certain to happen. The agreements had indeed been signed and did relieve Texaco/Chevron of any liability.

This brings us into precisely the same area as Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements and the ability of huge multinationals to bully or bribe poorer states into signing away their sovereign authority in favour of judgement, not by a multilateral state institution like the International Court of Justice, but of a commercial tribunal formed of western corporate lawyers of strong neo-conservative ideology.

Western governments put enormous pressure on developing countries to succumb to such jurisdiction, including making it a condition of aid flows. The system is so unfair on developing countries that even Hillary Clinton inveighed against it, before she started fund-raising for her Presidential bid.

Big oil apologists are cock-a-hoop that the disgraceful, well-feathered right wing jurists of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague gave Chevron a judgement that their bribed 1998 “Get out of jail free” card did indeed say “Get out of jail free”. This case in itself damns the arbitration system. The truth is, of course, that no developing country has ever initiated surrendering its sovereignty to such a tribunal, and it is strongly in the institutional and financial interest of the tribunal and its members to find in favour of the big western corporations on which their very existence thus depends.

The second thing that Chevron did was to attempt to destroy Steven Donziger personally. In 2011 they filed a suit in New York under the anti-mob Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, arguing that in Ecuador Donziger had bribed a judge, bribed witnesses and plaintiffs, ghost-written the original judgement and subverted expert witnesses.

The case against Donziger now becomes an incredible tale of corrupt judges in both Ecuador and the United States, of whom the most corrupt of all is US District Judge Lewis A Kaplan. It is important to note that the case against Donziger came before Kaplan as a civil case, not a criminal case. Chevron were seeking an injunction to stop Donziger acting further against them. Originally they were suing Donziger for $60 billion in damages, but that was dropped because it would have meant Donziger had a jury. By merely seeking an injunction, Chevron could ensure that Kaplan was unconstrained.

What happened next beggars belief. Kaplan made a ruling setting aside the judgement of the Ecuadorean court on the grounds it was based on racketeering, coercion and bribery. It should be recalled that, at Chevron’s insistence, the New York District Court had nine years earlier ruled it had no jurisdiction over the case, and that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. Kaplan now ruled the opposite; both times Chevron got what they wanted.

So who is Kaplan? From 1970 to 1994 he was in private practice, representing in particular the interests of tobacco companies including Philip Morris – itself, I would argue, sufficient sign of moral bankruptcy. He was also the “trusty” judge the federal government used to rule that years of detention and torture in Guantanamo Bay did not affect prosecutions of detainees there. On the plus side, Kaplan did allow Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit against Prince Andrew to go ahead; but then Andrew is not a US state or commercial interest.

The only testimony of bribery and corruption which Kaplan heard came from a single source, Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra. He claimed he was bribed to support the local plaintiff’s case against Chevron and to ghost write the judgement with Donziger for the trial judge. No other evidence of racketeering or bribery was given before Kaplan.

Guerra was extremely unconvincing in court. In his judgement for Chevron Kaplan stated that:

“Guerra on many occasions has acted deceitfully and broken the law […] but that does not necessarily mean that it should be disregarded wholesale…evidence leads to one conclusion: Guerra told the truth regarding the bribe and the essential fact as to who wrote the Judgment.”

Guerra produced no corroboration of his story. He could not, for example, show any draft of, or work on, the judgement he had allegedly ghostwritten with Donziger. A forensic search of Donziger’s laptop found nothing either. The reason for this was to become clear when Guerra admitted, before the International Court of Arbitration, that he had invented the whole story.

Not only had Guerra invented the whole story, but he had in fact been bribed by Chevron with a large sum for his testimony. Guerra admitted that he had invented the story to Chevron of Donziger offering to buy him for $300,000, simply to raise the price which Chevron would pay him. Before giving evidence in the USA, Guerra spent 51 days being coached on his evidence by Chevron’s lawyers – which Kaplan permitted as it was a civil not a criminal case.

In 2016 the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Kaplan’s verdict for Chevron, on the grounds that Guerra’s evidence had been properly given in a US court, and it had not been recanted in any formal evidence to a US court; while Donziger could not prove, without Guerra’s testimony in court, that Guerra had been paid by Chevron.

Followers of the Assange case will of course note the parallels with Siggi Thordarson, the convicted fraudster who was paid by the CIA to give evidence against Assange that is central to the “hacking” charges under the Espionage Act, but whose open admission that he lied in his testimony the English High Court refused to hear as he has not formally withdrawn his evidence in court.

In the interests of scrupulous honesty, I should note that Chevron seem to me to have one good legal point. There was unlawful coordination between one technical expert in the case in Ecuador and Donziger’s legal team. This was motivated by genuine environmental concern and goodwill, and not by bribery, but was nevertheless unwise. I do not however believe that any reasonable judge would find this in itself sufficient to dismiss the case, given the great weight of other evidence on the pollution and its effects.

Kaplan now set out, at Chevron’s behest, to destroy Donziger as an individual. Extraordinarily in a civil case, Kaplan ruled that Donziger must turn over all of his phones, laptops and communications devices to Chevron, so they could investigate his dealings with others over the Ecuadorean case.

Donziger of course refused on the grounds that he was an attorney representing the local plaintiffs in the case, and the devices held numerous communications covered by attorney-client privilege. Kaplan ruled that the clients were not in US jurisdiction so attorney-client privilege did not apply. He then sought to institute a criminal prosecution of Donziger for contempt of court for refusing to obey his order to hand them over to Chevron.

It should be noted that by this stage Rafael Correa had retired as President of Ecuador as decreed by the constitution, and the CIA was again firmly in control through the traitorous President Lenin Moreno. Not only was Donziger entitled on absolute grounds to refuse to hand over attorney-client communication, there was now a real danger the indigenous people and other locals involved in the case might be targeted for reprisals in Ecuador by Moreno and the CIA.

There is again a startling resonance with the Assange case. When Moreno removed Assange’s diplomatic immunity, and Assange was grabbed from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and imprisoned, all of Assange’s papers were seized by the Ecuadorean government and shipped back to Quito, where they all were handed over to the CIA. These specifically included thousands of documents relating to Assange’s defence against extradition, documents which were covered by attorney-client privilege. Again, when dealing with an “enemy of the state” like Assange or Donziger, the judges decided that this did not matter.

Let me again interpolate some personal experience. Judge Kaplan now decided to transform Chevron’s civil case against Donziger into an explicitly criminal case of contempt of court. In Scotland and throughout the UK, Kaplan could simply have declared Donziger guilty of violating his own Order and sent him to jail, precisely as judge Lady Dorrian did to me. But in the United States – as in every other democracy outside the UK – a judge cannot arbitrarily decide on a violation of their own order.

Kaplan therefore referred Donziger’s “contempt” to the federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York. But they declined to prosecute. Here we had a civil case brought by Chevron over a decision by an Ecuadorean court which the US courts had insisted had jurisdiction, but which Kaplan had repatriated, found for Chevron on the basis of extremely dodgy evidence, and now turned into the criminal trial of an environmental activist lawyer based on a complete repudiation of attorney-client privilege. Federal prosecutors viewed none of this as valid.

So Kaplan now did something for which nobody can provide a convincing precedent. In 2020 he appointed private legal prosecutors, paid for by his court, to bring the criminal case against Donziger which the state prosecutors had declined to bring. Kaplan had personal links to the firm involved, Seward and Kissel, who had been acting for Chevron in various matters less than two years previously. During the prosecution process, Seward and Kissel as prosecutors were in constant contact with Chevron’s avowed lead lawyers, Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, over the case.

For all these reasons the Donziger case has been described as the first private criminal prosecution by a corporation in US history. Chevron’s ability to control the entire judicial and legal process has been terrifying. Every public affairs NGO you can think of, not in the pockets of big oil and climate change denial, has raised serious concerns about the case.

Contrary to convention, though not contrary to law, Kaplan also personally appointed the judge to hear the case for criminal breach of his order, rather than leaving it to the court system. His nominee, Judge Loretta Preska, committed Donziger to house arrest pending trial. On October 21 2021 she sentenced Donziger to six months in prison; the maximum for contempt of court in the USA (I was sentenced to 8 months in Scotland). After 45 days Donziger was released from prison due to Covid, to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. In total, before and after trial, Donziger spent 993 days in detention. He was released two days ago.

Donziger has been disbarred as a lawyer. Chevron have a lien on his home and all his assets for compensation. They have paid nothing to the victims of their pollution of the Amazon.

I really cannot think of any individual story that better incorporates so many aspects of the dreadful corruption of modern western society. We are all, in a sense, the prisoners of corporations which dictate the terms on which we live, work and share knowledge. Justice against the powerful appears impossible. It is profoundly disturbing, and I recommend everyone to take a few minutes to reflect about the full meaning of the Donziger story in all its many tangents.

There is a good interview with Steve Donziger, which understandably concentrates on the personal effect upon him, here.
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Footnote: It would be churlish of me not to mention that when Sir Brian Barder became High Commissioner in Lagos he took a different line on Shell and pollution, much to the annoyance of Tory minister Norman Tebbit. 20 years later I was eventually sacked by the FCO for an excess of dissent, and Brian and Jane immediately invited me to dinner. Brian is no longer with us but his son @owenbarder is well worth following on development issues.

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The Advocates of Death 558

There is a completely crazed article by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian – worrying its “most shared” – calling for “direct, in-country military support” by western powers in Ukraine against Russia.

While Tisdall outlines well the many catastrophic and wide-reaching effects of the Ukraine war, including tangents such as its effect on climate change, he fails completely to acknowledge the rather more obviously catastrophic possibility that direct western military intervention in Ukraine will lead to full scale nuclear war.

But strangely that is not what I find most wrong-headed in Tisdall’s article. What I find culpably unbalanced is this paragraph:

The broader, negative political impact of the war, should it rage on indefinitely, is almost incalculable. The UN’s future as an authoritative global forum, lawmaker and peacekeeper is in jeopardy, as more than 200 former officials warned Guterres last week. At risk, too, is the credibility of the international court of justice, whose injunction to withdraw was scorned by Putin, and the entire system of war crimes prosecutions.

It is as though the illegal invasion of Iraq had never happened, and had not already dealt the severe blow to the moral authority of the United Nations that helps enable Putin’s actions now. And Why is defiance by Putin of the International Court of Justice a severe blow to its credibility, but British refusal to obey its instruction to return the Chagos islands to the survivors of the British genocide there apparently was not a severe blow?

Putin is merely following British and American example. The failure of liberals like Tisdall (whom I generally respect) to acknowledge this I find infuriating. I condemn the invasion of Ukraine and I have no hesitation in calling Putin a war criminal. However for precisely the same reasons so are Bush and Blair. It astonishes me how very few people in the media are prepared, in the current emergency, to acknowledge this. That is perhaps understandable if not readily excusable. But to claim like Tisdall that Putin’s actions are somehow unique and precedent-setting goes beyond omission to active propaganda and lying.

I am returned from holiday with the family, much refreshed, and have decided to revert to the idea that not every article on this website needs to be long form or profound. Shorter, snappier pieces like this to fill the gaps between highly worked articles are also useful to keep brain cells sparking and conversation flowing.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Calling All Rwandans: Calling All Africans 202

UPDATED: The BBC now reports UK to give asylum seekers one-way ticket to Rwanda

Some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on small boats across the Channel will be given a one-way ticket to Rwanda, under new government plans.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is in the African nation to agree a £120m trial involving mostly single men arriving in Britain on boats or lorries.

BBC home editor Mark Easton, reporting from Rwanda, said ministers face legal hurdles and substantial costs.

Refugee organisations have criticised the plans as cruel and urged a rethink.

When the Tory government announced it was in talks with the government of Ghana over opening internment camps for asylum seekers in that country, I was quickly able to confirm with Ghanaian ministers that this was simply a lie; the subject had never been discussed and would not be discussed.

I am hoping that the same may be true of Rwanda, and the Tories may simply again be making up stories to placate their racist base. Certainly the Times reported that Johnson was this week forced to delay an announcement as arrangements were not yet in place. But unlike Ghana, I do not have contacts with the government of Rwanda so I cannot be certain.

What I am sure of is that it would be a massive disgrace to any African country to host prisons for locking up those fleeing persecution – including fellow Africans. I do not wish to believe that any African state would cooperate with the continent’s largest former colonial power, which still retains colonial possessions, in the systematic imposition of racist detention. It would be a terrible blot on the good name of Rwanda, and a terrible blot on the good name of Africa.

We must call on all Rwandans, wherever they may be, to express through your contacts and institutions your unhappiness at any Rwandan involvement in such a scheme. It is only racism that determines that refugees from wars and disaster from Eritrea, Syria or Libya should be treated differently (by the UK) from Ukrainians or political dissidents from Russia (though God knows the UK has failed to offer the real help to Ukrainians it promised).

A policy which is going to include using naval boats to push struggling Africans and others in small craft back in the cruel sea, which will include shackling Africans, who have done nothing except flee war and starvation, to fly them to Rwanda, should not for a moment be entertained by any African country. No amount of money promised by Johnson and his crew is worth selling the souls of the Rwandan nation for this scheme.

We must also call on the African Union to adopt a policy that no African country will host immigration detention camps for former colonial powers. We must call on His Excellency President Macky Sall of Senegal, Chairperson of the African Union, to bring the matter forward. I call on Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa, Nana Akuffo Addo and Muhammadu Buhari to make sure there is a firm African Union policy against this evil. We must especially call on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to follow the Ghanaian example and immediately deny Johnson’s claims.

This really is an issue where Africans, both in Africa and in the diaspora, particularly in the UK, I believe could get a reaction from their governments if everybody feeds in their concern by whatever means is available to them.

Africa has been for many years the victim of white racism. Africans should never act as the facilitator of white racism.

I am contacting a number of people to see if I can organise a delegation to Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and OAU Headquarters in Addis Ababa to lobby against Johnson’s prison camps.

I am very happy to hear from anybody who can contribute in any way to efforts to unite Africa against this shameful proposal.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Striving to Make Sense of the Ukraine War 1384

No matter how hard we try to be dispassionate and logical, our thinking is affected by our own experiences, by the background knowledge we have and by the assumptions they generate. In discussing Ukraine – which arouses understandably high passions – I want to explain to you some of the experiences which affect my own thinking.

I will start with childhood, when my world view was pretty firmly set. I spent much of my young life at my grandparents’ on my mother’s side, in Norfolk. In the spare room in which I would sleep, under the bed there were cardboard boxes full of periodicals that I, as an avid ten year old reader, devoured completely. They included large sets of The War Illustrated and The Boy’s Own Paper.

The War Illustrated was a weekly magazine produced in both the first and second world war, detailing the week’s key events with stories, photos and drawings. This was the second world war collection. It was sometimes remarkably stark – I still recall the report of the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and a companion ship by Japanese aircraft, of which the magazine somehow had aerial photos.

But in the early part of the war, known as the “phony war“, when not a great deal was happening to fill the magazine, it concentrated very heavily on the heroic Finnish resistance against Stalin’s Russia in the Winter War. There were, every week, photos of heroic Finns in white hooded winter gear, against a white snowy background, and stories of how they had skied up and down Soviet armoured convoys, destroying them, and were holding back a massively superior opponent amidst lakes and woods. After reading though many weeks of the periodicals, I felt intimately acquainted with the Mannerheim line and those big brave Finns, whose individual tales of great daring I lapped (no pun intended) up.

Incidentally, after writing that paragraph I read this article in the Guardian about Ukrainian quad bike patrols in the snows and the forests, knocking out Russian tanks with drones. It really is identical in content and purpose to the Finnish ski patrol stories, only updated for modern technology.

Then suddenly, from one issue to the next, the Finns were no longer heroes but were evil Nazis, and the Mannerheim Line was now definitely as German as it sounds. What is more, if marginally more gradually, the evil Communist tyrant Stalin, who had sent army after army unsuccessfully against the Finns and been executing his own commanders, was suddenly genial, wise Stalin. As a ten year old, I found the transition very hard to fathom, and being now romantically fully committed to the Finnish cause, I rather went off the magazines.

I tried to ask my grandfather to explain it to me, but whenever we mentioned “the war”, his eyes filled with silent tears. You see, those magazines had belonged to his only son, my mother’s only brother, who was to die aged 19 in a Mosquito bomber over Italy. That is why those magazines were still under his bed and had never been thrown away. Jack’s absence hung over my childhood, and I often felt myself a very inadequate substitute. Jack had been a very talented footballer, who had signed apprentice forms for Sheffield Wednesday, then perhaps the best team in the country. He had been a very talented musician, like my grandfather. Whereas I failed to excel at, well, anything.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I was fortunate to be loved unconditionally. But I grew up with a real sense of the terrible loss, the waste, the void of war, of young lives lost that can never be replaced. I grew up with a hatred of war and of militarism. And of distrust of the official narrative of who are the goodies and who the baddies in war, when that official narrative can turn on its head in a week, as the magazines did with the Finns.

Well, it is now over 50 years later, and those are still exactly my sentiments today. And that parable of the noble/evil Finns is still relevant today. Because much of what is happening in Ukraine still reflects the failure to resolve who was on which side during World War II, and some pretty unpleasant underlying narratives.

You can see the line of thinking by which nations which had been suppressed, or risked suppression, by the Soviet Union, or by Russia before it, might see an alliance with Nazi Germany as an opportunity. Remember that the second world war was taking place only 20 years after the dissolution of the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern Empires. Even a nation like Poland had only enjoyed 20 years of freedom in the past 150, and that with some fairly dodgy governance.

That the Finns effectively allied with the Nazis has never been fully worked through in Finnish national dialogue, even in that most introspective of nations. Sweden hid from itself the extent of its elite collusion and fundamental integration into the Nazi military industrial complex for, well, forever. Probably no country advanced its comparative economic position more out of World War II than Sweden, that epicentre of smug, condescending European liberalism.

So in this mess you can see how a figure like Bandera, fighting for Ukraine’s freedom, can become a national hero to many of his countrymen for fighting the Soviets, despite fighting alongside the Nazis. The key questions in re-evaluation today, across those nationalities which fought the Soviets at the same time as the Nazis did, ought to be these – how much coordination with the Nazis was there, and to what extent did they participate in, or mirror, Nazi atrocities, doctrines of racial purity and genocide?

This is where Bandera and the Ukrainian freedom fighters must attract unreserved condemnation. They were heavily involved in genocidal attacks on Jews, on Poles in Ukraine and on other ethnic and religious minorities. Ukraine was by no means alone. Lithuania was very similar, and to only slightly lesser extent, so were Estonia and Latvia. In none of these countries has there been a systematic attempt to address the darknesses of the nationalist past. Ukraine and Lithuania are the worst for actual glorification of genocidal anti-semite and racist figures, but the problem is widespread in Eastern Europe.

Even Poland is not immune. Poles are proud of their history, and are very touchy at the fact that the millions of Poles who died in Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps are often overlooked in a narrative that focuses, in Polish nationalist eyes, too exclusively on the Jewish victims. But the Poles are themselves in denial about the very substantial local collaboration between Poles and Nazis specifically against Jews, often with an eye to obtaining their land in rural areas.

This is where the story gets still more difficult. The neo-Nazi nationalists of Ukraine are an extreme manifestation of a problem across the whole of Eastern Europe, where ancient atavistic social views have not been abolished. I say this as someone who loves Eastern Europe, and who has spoken both Polish and Russian fluently (or at least has managed to pass the Foreign Office exams designed to test whether I could). Viktor Orban in Hungary, the religious right government of Poland, and yes, the far right voting electorate of Austria, are all on the same continuum of dark belief as the Nazi worshipping nationalists in Ukraine and Lithuania.

Let me tell you another story from my past, from twenty five years ago. I was First Secretary in the British Embassy in Warsaw. A highly respected elderly Polish lady, from an old family in the city, was our most senior member of local staff. I had asked her to set up a lunch for me with an official from the Polish Foreign Ministry, to discuss eventual EU accession. I made a remark about the lunch being enjoyable as the lady was both very smart and very pretty. Drawing me aside, our most senior member of local staff gave me a warning: “You do realise she’s Jewish, don’t you?”.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. But in four years in Poland I was to become used to bumping into matter of fact anti-semitism, on a regular basis, from the most “respectable” people, and particularly from precisely the forces and institutions that now bolster the current Polish government; not least the Catholic church.

These are highly sensitive issues and I know from experience I will receive furious feedback from all kinds of nationalities. But what I state is my experience. I should add that from my experience of Russia, society there is at least as bad for racial prejudice, especially against Asians, for homophobia, and for neo-Nazi groups. It is a problem across Eastern Europe, which is insufficiently appreciated in Western Europe.

I know Russia too well to have a romanticised view of it. I have lived there, worked there and visited often. I have very frequently expressed my frustration that many of those in the West who understand the ruthless nature of Western leaders, lose their clear sight when looking at Russia and believe it is different in that regard. In fact Russia is even less democratic, has an even less diverse media, even worse restrictions on free expression, and an even poorer working class. The percentage of Russian GDP lost in capital flight to the benefit of oligarchs and Western financial institutions is hideous.

As the West has entered more and more extreme stages of neo-liberalism, the general trend is that the West has become more and more like modern Russia. The massive and ever burgeoning inequality of wealth has seen western oligarchs now overtake their Russian counterparts in terms of the proportion of national GDP represented by their personal fortunes. In the West, multiplying limitations on free speech and assembly, the reduction in diversity of the mainstream media landscape, internet suppression of views through corporate gateways like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, increased direct or indirect reproduction of security service initiated content in the media, these are all making the West more Russia-like. To me, it feels like Western leaders are learning from Putin’s book.

Security service fronts multiply – the Integrity Initiative, Quilliam Foundation, Bellingcat are all examples, as now is the entire Guardian newspaper. Increasingly “journalists” merely copy and paste security service press releases. This is absolutely an echo of Putin’s Russia. In this war in Ukraine, the propaganda from the BBC is as absolutely biased, selective of facts and lacking in nuance as the propaganda from Russian state TV. One is the mirror of the other. Russia pioneered kataskopocracy in this era – the West is catching up fast.

To recount another particular experience, I was very interested two years ago in the arrest for treason of a Russian space official and former journalist, Ivan Safronov. The accusations refer to his time as a journalist, before he joined the space agency, and are that he passed classified information to Czech, German and Swiss recipients. There are parallels between the Russian espionage charges against Safronov and the US espionage charges against Assange.

I am particularly interested because in 2007 I investigated in Moscow the death of Safronov’s father, also called Ivan Safronov, and also a journalist. I believe Safronov was one of a great many journalists killed by various levels of the Putin regime, of which deaths the vast majority have passed completely unnoticed in the West.

Safronov worked for Kommersant, broadly the Russian equivalent to the Financial Times or Wall street Journal. He was defence correspondent and had published a series of investigations into procurement corruption in the Ministry of Defence and the real state of the Russian armed forces (you might see where I am heading with regard to the war in Ukraine).

Kommersant’s general independence had become a great irritant to Putin, and he had arranged for his close adviser Alisher Usmanov to buy up the title on an “offer you can’t refuse” basis. The editorial team was swiftly replaced. The dogged and highly regarded Safronov was more of a problem.

This is from my 2007 report:

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.

So far this is a perfectly normal Moscow scene. But then – and this is the official version of events – Ivan Safronov did something extraordinary. He walked up the communal concrete stairs with their stark iron rail, until he reached his apartment. It is, in British terms, on the second floor. Instead of going in, he carried on walking, past his own door. He continued up another flight and a half of steps, to the top landing, between the third and fourth floors. Then, placing his groceries on the floor, he opened the landing window, climbed on to the sill, and stepped out to his death, still wearing his hat and coat.

Ivan Safronov thus became about the one hundred and sixtieth – nobody can be certain of precise numbers – journalist to meet a violent end in post-communist Russia. In the West, the cases of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinienko hit the headlines. But in Russia, there was nothing exceptional about those killings. It has long been understood that if you publish material which embarrasses or annoys those in power, you are likely to come to a very sticky end…

Safronov had a reputation as a highly professional journalist, meticulous about checking his facts. He was by no means a sensationalist, but had over the years published articles which embarrassed the Kremlin, about bullying, prostitution and suicide among Russia’s conscript armed forces, and about high level corruption which deprives the troops of adequate clothing, rations and equipment.

He had recently returned from a large trade fair in Dubai, attended by senior representatives of Russia’s armed forces and defence industries. He told colleagues at Kommersant that he had learnt something there about corruption in major arms contracts, involving exports to Syria, Iran and other destinations. He had told his editor he had come back with a ‘Big story’. But, as usual, he was carefully checking up on his facts first.

Now his story will never be published.

I walk through the dirty Moscow drizzle to a police station in the foot of the apartment block opposite Safronov’s. The officer in charge is brusque. There are no suspicious circumstances and the case is closed. Why am I wasting his time, and trying to cause trouble? He threatens to arrest me, so I beat a hasty retreat to find Safronov’s flat, past the chemist’s shop, in the footsteps of his last walk. In the muddy yard between the blocks, unkempt drunks squat for shelter at the foot of scrubby trees, drinking cheap vodka from the bottle.

I look up at the top landing window from which Safronov fell. It doesn’t look terribly high. Outside the block entrance, I stop and look down at the patch of ground on which he landed. The surface is an uneven patchwork of brick, concrete, asphalt and mud. Here a passing group of young men found Safronov, writhing on the ground, conscious but unable to speak. It took almost three hours for an ambulance to come. According to Kommersant Deputy Editor Ilya Bilyanov, although plainly alive when finally taken away, he was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

A stout old lady beating her rugs in the rain gives me the combination to go in to the apartment building. Once through the heavy metal door, I am overwhelmed by the smell of fresh paint. . Everything in the stairway – walls, ceilings, rails, doors, window frames – has been covered in lashings of thick oozing paint, as though to cover over any trace of recent events. The paint has been slapped on so thick that, even after several days, it remains tacky.

I pass the door of Safranov’s flat and continue up to the top landing. At the cost of some paint damage to my coat, I pose in the window from which he allegedly threw himself. It is certainly quite easy to open and clamber out, but it is a bad choice for a suicide. Soviet flats are low-ceilinged, and I calculate the window is a maximum height of 26 feet above the ground. I don’t know about you, but if I was to kill myself by jumping, I would choose somewhere high enough to make death instant… As I peer down from the window I realise that, jumping from here, you are almost certain to hit the porch roof jutting out below. That is only about twenty feet down. The Moscow police claim that marks in the snow on the porch roof were the firm evidence that Safranov jumped.

Two middle aged ladies pass with their shopping. I explain that I am investigating Safranov’s death; it seems an improbable suicide. ‘Very strange,’ they agree, ‘Very, very strange.’ They go on to volunteer that Safranov was a pleasant man, had a very good wife, did not drink excessively and was much looking forward to the imminent birth of a grandchild. Plainly, everything they say is questioning the official version, but they do not wish to do so openly. They conclude by shaking their heads and repeating their mantra ‘Very, very strange,’ as they scuttle on into their flats.

Ilya Bilyanov, Safronov’s boss, is more categorical. Safronov was a devoted family man, very protective of his wife and daughter and proud of his son, about to start University. Bilyanov says: ‘He could not have killed himself. He loved his family too much to abandon them.’

For full disclosure, the report was commissioned by the Mail on Sunday. I make no apologies for that, any more than I apologise for appearing on Russia Today. Telling the truth is what matters, irrespective of platform. On the same trip I investigated the killings of half a dozen other individual journalists who had crossed the authorities.

I am fairly sure that today I would not be permitted to go around doing this; walking in to a Moscow police station to ask about such a death, or interviewing passersby in the street and work colleagues, would get me arrested fairly quickly.

I wrote recently about NATO, the western military and the arms industry’s continued interest in exaggerating the strength of the Russian military, and how at the end of the Cold War the new access of British defence attachés led them to find the real capabilities of the Soviet army had been exaggerated on a massive scale. I have repeatedly stated that Russia, with the economy of Italy and Spain, is not a military superpower.

The Safronov case further reinforced my personal knowledge that the Russian military is undermined by massive corruption. I have therefore not been in the least surprised that Russia has had a much harder time subjugating Ukraine than many expected. Some commentators have particularly amused me by claiming that you cannot compare defence spending levels because Russian defence expenditure is more efficient than American. They cited all the corruption in US defence expenditure, such as the famous US$800 toilet seats; as though Russia were not itself spectacularly corrupt.

At just the time of Safronov’s death, Russia brought in as Minister of Defence Anatoly Serdiukov, who made genuine attempts at radical reform and eliminating corruption. This brought him so many enemies he had to be replaced by current defence minister Shoygu, now in power for ten years. Shoygu has adopted a policy of showcasing new weapons systems while not rocking the boat on corruption.

Do not confuse the apparently dazzling achievements at the shiny end of the vast sums of money Russia has pumped in to weapons development, with the day to day business of defence procurement and military supply. Russian hypersonic ballistic missiles may or may not perform as advertised, but more relevant to Ukraine are the creaking vehicles which have not been maintained, the inoperable tyres, the lack of rations, the old fashioned tank armour.

One of the truths about the Ukraine war which western media is suppressing is that, if Russia cannot take on Ukraine without serious embarrassment, then Russia could not possibly take on NATO. It is a ludicrous proposition, outwith full scale nuclear war. It is fascinating to watch the western militarist establishment in full cry, simultaneously crowing over Russian military inadequacies while claiming that the West needs massively to increase the money it pumps in to the military industrial complex because of the Russian threat. The self-evidently fatuous nature of this dual assertion is never pointed out by mainstream media journalists, who currently operate in full propaganda mode.

Another Russian asset has proved as unreliable as its military: Putin’s brain. On 16 December 2021 Ukraine and its US sponsor were not just diplomatically isolated, but diplomatically humiliated. At a vote at the UN General Assembly, the United States and Ukraine were the only two countries to vote against a resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo‑Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. They lost by 130 votes to 2, on a motion sponsored by Russia.

The United States, crucially, was split from its European allies and, almost uniquely, from Israel on this vote. Everyone knew that the vote was about Nazis in Ukraine, not least because the United States and Ukraine both said so in their explanation of vote. The entire world was prepared to acknowledge that the neo-Nazis in positions of power and authority in Ukraine, including the anti-semites of the Svoboda party in ministerial office, were a real problem. There was also a general understanding that Ukraine had reneged on the Minsk agreements and that the banning of the Russian language in official, media and educational use was a serious problem.

(I pause to note the US explanation of vote stated that the US constitution prevented it from voting for a motion calling for the banning of pro-Nazi speech, because of US commitment to free speech and the first amendment. It is worth noting that free speech in Biden administration eyes protects Nazis but does not protect Julian Assange. It is also worth contrasting the protection of free speech for Nazis with the de facto banning of Russia Today in the United States.)

The EU abstained on the vote, but all of the above problems were rehearsed in ministerial discussions that reached that decision. You can add to the above that it was universally acknowledged in diplomatic circles that there was no chance of Ukraine (ditto Georgia) being admitted to NATO while Russia occupied parts of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Given NATO’s mutual defence obligations, to admit Ukraine would be tantamount to entering armed conflict with Russia and it was simply not open to serious consideration.

How Russia might have progressed from this strong diplomatic position we shall never know. There can seldom have been a more catastrophic diplomatic move than Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It can be measured very simply. From winning the proxy vote on Ukraine at the UN General Assembly by 130 votes to 2 on 19 December, Russia plummeted to losing the vote in the same General Assembly demanding immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine by 141 votes to 5 on 2 March.

This diplomatic disaster has been matched by military humiliation. Russia is a far larger country than Ukraine and it is pointless to pretend that Russia did not expect the military campaign to proceed better than it has. To claim now post facto that the attack on Kiev was purely a massive diversion never intended to succeed, is a nonsense. Elsewhere achievements are shaky. Capturing cities is different to holding them, and the myth that Russian speaking populations in Eastern Ukraine were eager to join Russia has been plainly exploded by the lack of popular support in occupied areas.

Putin’s heavy handedness has alienated what potential support for Russia existed outside the Russian controlled areas of Donbass. It is hard now to recall that prior to the coup of 2014, political support in Ukraine was balanced for two decades fairly evenly between pro-Western and pro-Russian camps. Both Russia and the West interfered from 1992 to 2014 outrageously in Ukrainian internal politics, each using the full panoply of “soft power” – propaganda, sponsorship, corrupt payments, occasional proxy violence.

Matters were brought to a head in Ukraine when Yanukovich was flown to Moscow and persuaded by Putin to renounce the EU Association Agreement which Ukraine was entering, in favour of a new trade deal with Russia. This evidently was a key moment of political choice, and Putin overplayed his hand as he lost out in the crisis that ensued. That Russian defeat in 2014 may not have been terminal if Putin had not responded militarily by annexing parts of Ukraine. In doing so, he alienated the large majority of Ukrainians of all ethnicities forever – as I stated at the time.

So now Putin can stride the stage as the macho guy who outfoxed the west and used his military to win Crimea for Mother Russia. But it is an extremely hollow victory. He has gained Crimea, but lost the other 95% of the Ukraine, over which one month ago he exercised a massive political influence.

The current invasion of Ukraine has differed from previous incidents like South Ossetia, Abkhazia or even Crimea in that it has been much more extensive, and entailed an attack on the capital, rather than simply occupation of the targeted areas. If Putin had simply massively reinforced Russian forces in the areas controlled by his breakaway “republics”, there would not be anything like the international reaction which has resulted.

One particularly unsavoury aspect of all this – and here we come back to Finland/Russia and the goodies/baddies narrative – is that all the massive problems of Ukraine are now utterly whitewashed by the western political and media class. There was general acceptance previously, albeit reluctantly, that the “Nazi problem” exists. It is now almost universally reviled as a Russian fiction, even though it is undoubtedly true.

Just a year ago, even the Guardian was prepared to admit that President Zelensky is linked to $41 million in dodgy offshore cash holdings and effectively a front for corrupt oligarch Kolomoisky, who looted $5.5 billion from Privatbank. Now, thanks entirely to Putin, Zelensky is viewed universally as a combination of Churchill and St Francis of Assisi, and any criticism of him whatsoever in the West will get you online lynched.

That the United States is becoming a kataskopocracy is witnessed by the willingness of the Biden administration to rip up the First Amendment in order to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, because the CIA and FBI demand it. It is also witnessed by the role of the security agencies in suppressing the truth about Hunter Biden and his corrupt links to Ukraine. The Biden laptop was, as I stated at the time and is now admitted even by the New York Times, an entirely genuine inadvertent leak.

You will recall that from when his father was Vice President, Hunter Biden was paid $85,000 a month by Burisma, a Ukrainian power company which Hunter never once visited and for which he did no discernible work. When his laptop was given to the New York Post, revealing salacious sex and drugs evidence and more importantly, blatant peddling of his father’s influence, the entire “respectable” mainstream media rubbished it as a fraud and, remarkably, Twitter and Facebook both suppressed any mention of it as “fake news”. This suppression was advocated by the US security services, contacting the media and the internet gatekeepers at top level, and conducting a public campaign through activating retired agents.

This was the CNN headline:

The Biden laptop was leaked on 14 October 2020, three weeks before voting day in the Presidential election. Its suppression by the mainstream media, Twitter and Facebook, at the behest of the security services, is the biggest illegitimate interference in an election in modern western history.

That the Ukraine is the scene of so much of the corruption of Biden and son, but no criticism of the Ukraine is currently considered legitimate, has made now a very good time for the approved media to admit the banned stories were in fact true, while nobody is listening. We are also even seeing credulous articles on why Nazis are not really bad at all.

A Ukrainian oligarch was the biggest single donor to the Clinton Foundation, and the murky links between the American political establishment and Ukraine are still surfacing; it has plainly been a major honeypot for US politicians. The recent Credit Suisse leak, again sadly curated and censored by mainstream media, revealed Ukrainians as the largest European nationality involved, but the media gave us virtually no details – and those confined to two “coincidentally” pro-Russian Ukrainians out of 1,000 Ukrainian accounts. Whatever information on Ukrainian government linked oligarchs was contained in the Credit Suisse documents is suppressed by those who control them, which in the UK includes the Guardian newspaper and James O’Brien of LBC. In Ukraine the material was shared only with pro-government journalists.

I have been criticised severely on Twitter by those who believe that now, in wartime, it is wrong to say anything bad about Ukraine and we must solely concentrate on Russia’s defeat. To be clear, I hold Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to be not only stupid and vicious but also illegal, and to constitute the war crime of aggression. But we come back precisely to the angels and devils simplicity of looking for “goodies” and “baddies”. The Azov Battalion have not suddenly become less racist or brutal or Nazi-worshipping because they are fighting the Russians.

The real danger is that the heroic resistance to Putin’s invasion – and be in no doubt, it is heroic – will be a massive boost to the right in Ukraine, and the cult of “Glory to the heroes!” will be massively reinforced. The far right had more influence than Zelensky wished before this current invasion, and his ability to control them is limited. His personal standing is much enhanced. He may be a deeply fallible human being, but as a war leader he has been brilliant. He has exploited media to boost the morale of his armed forces and to rally his people, and been very effective in using international public pressure to rally practical support from foreign powers. Those are key skills for a war leader, and if “acting” is one of the skill sets needed, that makes it none the less true.

But I very much doubt the enhanced standing of Zelensky will enable him to counter the right wing nationalist wave that will sweep Ukraine, especially if resistance continues to be effective in containing Russian advances. Certainly measures that were previously decried by liberals, like the Russian language ban, now have wide support. I shall be very surprised if, once the dust has settled, we do not see much worse repression of ethnic Russians under the guise of action against “collaborators”. Far from denazifying Ukraine, Putin has boosted its Nazi problem.

Having damaged my own reputation for sagacity by my over-confidence that Putin would not be foolish enough to launch a full scale invasion, I am reluctant to venture any predictions as to outcome, but the most likely must be a frozen conflict, with Russia in control of rather more territory than before the conflict started. The Kremlin has appeared to backtrack its aims to securing the territory of its newly recognised republics, and still appears intent on seizing as much coastline as possible. Without a credible threat to Kiev, Zelensky has little motive formally to agree a ceasefire on this basis. Eventually we will reach some form of de facto stasis.

Now is a good moment to correct the myth that the population of Donbass is ethnic Russian and wishes to be united with Russia. I will make three points.

The first is that there is a difference between Russian speaking and ethnic Russian, and repeated census returns in Ukraine showed the majority in Donbass to identify as ethnic Ukrainian, though Russian speaking.

Secondly, the ethnic Russians were heavily concentrated in the urban centres and thus much more politically visible than the rural Ukrainian majority, and far quicker politically mobilised. This is precisely what happened in 2014 (and failed with tragic loss of life in Odessa).

The third is that many ethnic Russians have resisted the current invasion, and even Russian media has struggled to find evidence of mass enthusiasm in newly “liberated” areas.

In the western world, Russia has served as not only the evil empire that “justifies” massive arms expenditure, but as the evil genius behind all political developments that threaten the smooth course of neoliberalism.

This was brought to its highest pitch by Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous claims that it was Russian hacking that cost her the 2016 election. It was actually the fact that she was an appalling and arrogant candidate, whom the electorate disliked and black voters did not bother to turn out for in their usual numbers, and that she ignored the voters of rustbelt states and their concerns.

The security services were shocked by Trump’s aversion to starting new wars abroad, his maverick inclination to have his own take on relations with Russia and the Middle East, and his general lack of docility in the face of security service advice. (Much of Trump’s foreign policy was terrible, I am not attempting to say otherwise. But he was not the kind of docile, Obama-like tool the security services were used to).

The security services therefore worked against Trump his entire time in office, from boosting the Russiagate election hacking narrative, despite there being no evidence for it whatsoever, to quiet briefings giving credence to the appalling charlatan Steele’s discredited “peegate” dossier, right through to the suppression of the Biden laptop story. The Mueller inquiry failed to come up with any evidence of collusion between Russia and Wikileaks in hacking the DNC emails, because there was no such collusion.

Neither was there collusion between Wikileaks and Trump. The story the UK security services placed in their house journal the Guardian, on secret meetings between Manafort and Assange, was simply a lie. Throughout his Presidency Trump was subjected to a continual drip, drip, drip of briefings to the media from his own security services that he was, in some way, a secret Russian asset, Putin’s puppet.

The CIA commissioned from UC Global 24 hour secret taping of Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy, including in the bedroom, toilet and kitchen. This included meetings with his lawyers, but also many hours of private conversation with myself, with Kristin Hrafnsson and others. This too came up entirely empty on evidence of Russian collusion. Because there was never any such collusion.

Just as “Russiagate” was an utter nonsense, attempting to use Putin to explain the advent of Trump, so in the UK liberals comforted themselves by attempting to use Putin to explain Brexit. Like Trump, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks “must” be secret Russian agents too. The high priestess of this particular cult belief is Carole Cadwalladr. From having done good work in exposing Cambridge Analytica, which targeted political ads to Tory benefit using personal data which Facebook was greatly at fault in making available on its customers, Cadwalladr allowed the subsequent accolades to go to her head and became the security services’ tool in making ever wilder claims of Russian influence.

Cadwalladr’s task was easy because the UK’s liberal middle class simply could not come to terms with Brexit having happened. They could not understand that vast swathes of the working class were so alienated from society by the effects of unconstrained neo-liberalism, that they were led to grasp at Brexit as a possible remedy. That is not a comforting thought. Instead, Cadwalladr offered the much more digestible notion of Putin as an evil exterior cause.

With right thinking liberals on both sides of the Atlantic appalled by the advent of Trump and Brexit, there was no depth of Russophobe fantasy which figures like Cadwalladr and Steele could not plumb as an explanation and still find a willing audience, without being questioned too hard on actual evidence.

Again, I should be plain. Nations do interfere in each other’s democratic processes to try to get results favourable to themselves. It is a fundamental part of the job of spy services and of diplomats. It is what they are paid to do. I did it myself in Poland, and with quite spectacular success in Ghana in 2000 (read my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo).

No nation interferes in other nation’s elections and political processes on the scale that the United States does, every single day. Today it is trying to get rid of Imran Khan in Pakistan as well as continuing its work against the government in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and elsewhere. That there was marginal Russian activity I do not doubt, but not on any grand or unusual scale or with any particularly striking effect. And not involving Wikileaks.

One consequence of the invasion of Ukraine is that every mad Russophobe narrative of the past decade is now, in the public mind, vindicated. Including the remarkably unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Skripal and Navalny. It is now impossible to claim that there is any evil for which Russia is not responsible, without suffering a deluge of online hostility and ridicule. The western military industrial complex, NATO and the Western security services have all been enormously strengthened in their domestic position and control of popular opinion by Putin’s mad invasion.

There are aspects of Putin’s foreign policy which I have supported, and still do. Having inadvertently installed a pro-Iranian Shia regime in Iraq, the West sought to appease its Gulf and Israeli allies and “restore the balance” by replacing the Shia-friendly Assad regime by hardline ISIS and Al-Qaida linked jihadists. This may have been the most stupid foreign policy move in recent history, and thank goodness Putin sent troops into Syria to thwart it. On a more standard diplomatic level, Russia has played a pivotal and entirely commendable role in trying to end the isolation of Iran in nuclear agreement talks.

But I have always consistently opposed Putin’s invasions in the post-Soviet space, including the brutal destruction of Chechnya that brought Putin to power. I support Dagestani and Chechen independence, and have written consistent articles pointing out that Russia remains an Empire, with most of its territory not ethnic Russian and acquired contemporaneously with the conquests of the British Empire. I have consistently called for stronger and more effective sanctions, in response to the occupation of South Ossetia in 2008 and of Crimea in 2014. In 2008 I warned explicitly that the lack of a firm sanctions response to Putin’s aggression would lead eventually to war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s actions are illegal but the US and UK, who launched an equally illegal and much more devastating invasion of Iraq, are ill-placed to be outraged. A de facto Russia annexation of South Ossetia must not be permitted, unless we eventually want a war of Eastern Ukraine.
NATO is part of the cause of the problem, not the solution. By encircling and humiliating Russia, NATO has created the climate in Russia so favourable to Putin.

That last sentence remains a key observation. It is the West’s unremitting hostility to Russia which has caused a Russian nationalist reaction and sustained Putin in power. The West’s military industrial complex needed an enemy, and had Russia developed in a more liberal direction it would have been a disaster for the militarists. So instead of working to plot a path for Russia into the European Union, it was forced to sit in the corner with a hat on saying “designated enemy”, while NATO continually expanded. That is the tragedy of the last three decades.

All of which ignores the fact that China is now the most dominant economic force in the world, and is probably the most dominant military force in the world, although Chinese wisdom in not recently deploying its military might on imperial adventures contrasts sharply with the United States. I am not sure when I last bought anything which was not made in China – including, to my amazement, our second hand Volvo. All this Russia/NATO antagonism will scarcely rate a footnote by mid-century.

I want to conclude with a plea for complex thought. I want to go back to the Finns and Russians at the start of this story, and the truth that “goodies” and “baddies” is not a helpful diagnostic tool for international relations. These things can be true at the same time:

a) The Russian invasion of Ukraine is illegal: Putin is a war criminal
b) The US led invasion of Iraq was illegal: Blair and Bush are war criminals

a) Russian troops are looting, raping and shelling civilian areas
b) Ukraine has Nazis entrenched in the military and in government and commits atrocities against Russians

a) Zelensky is an excellent war leader
b) Zelensky is corrupt and an oligarch puppet

a) Russian subjugation of Chechnya was brutal and a disproportionate response to an Independence movement
b) Russian intervention in Syria saved the Middle East from an ISIS controlled jihadist state

a) Russia is extremely corrupt with a very poor human rights record
b) Western security service narratives such as “Russiagate” and “Skripals” are highly suspect, politically motivated and unevidenced.

a) NATO expansion is unnecessary, threatening to Russia and benefits nobody but the military industrial complex
b) The Russian military industrial complex is equally powerful in its own polity as is Russian nationalism

I could go on, but you get the point. I hold all those points to be true. The media and political class in the UK will trumpet a) and vehemently deny b). Many in the anti-war movement will trumpet b) and vehemently deny a). None of these people have any actual principles. They are simply choosing a side, choosing their “goodies” and “baddies”, their black hats and white hats. It is no more an ethical choice than supporting a football team.

One final thought on the tone of the coverage of the war both of the media and of supporters of the official western line on social media. Though affecting to be sickened by the atrocities of war, their tone is not of sorrow or devastation, it is triumphalist and jubilant. The amount of war porn and glorying in war is worrying. The mood of the British nation is atavistic. Russians living here are forced on a daily basis to declare antagonism to their own people and homeland.

I have had great difficulty in writing this piece – I have worked on it some three weeks, and the reason is a deep sadness which this unnecessary war has caused me. In the course of my typing any paragraph, somebody has probably been killed or seriously injured in Ukraine, of whatever background. They had a mother and others who loved them. There is no triumph in violent death.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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14 Years Ahead of the Game 127

On 14 August 2008 the Independent newspaper published together three comments on the Russian invasion of South Ossetia. They were by John McCain, Mikhail Gorbachev and (checks notes) Craig Murray.

I am proud of my comments all these years later, both by their prescience and by my consistency of view until today. This is what I said:

Craig Murray

Russia’s actions are illegal but the US and UK, who launched an equally illegal and much more devastating invasion of Iraq, are ill-placed to be outraged. A de facto Russia annexatioin of South Ossetia must not be permitted, unless we eventually want a war of Eastern Ukraine.
NATO is part of the cause of the problem, not the solution. By encircling and humiliating Russia, NATO has created the climate in Russia so favourable to Putin.

If you wonder what the two other gentlemen said:

John McCain

I’m not saying we are reigniting the Cold War but this is an act of aggression which we didn’t think we would see in the 21st Century. Of course we have to deal with Russia and deal with Putin. But it has to be on a realistic basis.
I think that it’s very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire. Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire. Russia no longer share any of the values and principles of the G8, so they should be excluded.

Mikhail Gorbachev

By declaring the Caucasus – a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent – a sphere of its “national interest”, the United States made a serious blunder.
Of course, peace in the Caucasus is in the interest of everyone. But it is simply common sense to recognise that Russia is rooted in the region by common geography and centuries of history.
Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in the region.

I have spent the last two weeks writing a lengthy and very considered piece about Ukraine. I hope I might finally publish it today.

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Alex Salmond and the European Court 212

I went to jail in order to expose the fact that Alex Salmond was being framed on false charges, orchestrated within the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s office and testified to by perjury committed by individuals very close to Sturgeon, who made fake claims of molestation. They were seen right through by a largely female jury. But the details of the defence case were reported by nobody but me, (I was jailed for it). The mainstream media, led by the BBC, conducted in unison a campaign to portray Salmond as guilty and the verdict as perverse, by presenting to the public only the prosecution case.

My reports of the actual evidence were removed from the internet by the courts.

Alex Salmond is a remarkable man. Since 1707 nobody has managed to bring Scotland closer to Independence than he. Those who tried to jail him live large on his political legacy, while cooperating with the British state to kill off the Independence movement.

Alex is now a much diminished figure. The effect of the current cultural climate is that any man accused of sexual offence, even if cleared by a jury, even if the accuser was as plainly lying as the truly evil Woman H, can never recover their reputation. There is, extraordinarily, a very serious strain of currently accepted dogma, that a woman must always be believed in such circumstances, whether she is lying or not. This is an abjuration of logic and return to medievalism.

A further strain of thought I have encountered is that nine separate accusers could not possibly have been lying. Well, it is certainly highly unlikely unless they were orchestrated and acting in concert. The evidence they were orchestrated and acting in concert is overwhelming. Much of it remains locked by the court, having been kept even from the rigged Holyrood parliamentary inquiry (and it was excluded from the Salmond trial itself by Lady Dorrian as “collateral”). I hope that my appeal to the European Court of Human Rights will cause this material finally to be produced – and enable me eventually to explain to you, in full, what actually happened in the Sturgeon conspiracy.

It will certainly be a huge relief to be able to fight the legal case away from this cesspool of corruption.

Well, Alex Salmond still battles away, now leading a fringe party. As it becomes obvious that the SNP has abandoned the Independence cause in favour of careerism (and frankly I am astonished by how many good people in the SNP are still in denial), in a year or two Alba may break through suddenly, in the way Sinn Fein took over from the Redmondites. I have joined Alba, though it is generally known I entirely disagree with its enthusiastic espousal of the anti-trans rights narrative. Please don’t discuss that issue in the comments – the entire internet is full of places you can do that.

Most of my readers are not in Scotland, a great many not in the UK. They are much puzzled as to why I went to jail over Alex Salmond. There are two points. The first is that I like to think I should have done the same for anybody who was being framed on false charges by the state, had the matter come to my attention. The second is that I have always admired Alex as the champion of the suppressed Scottish nation.

As I say, he is a much diminished figure at this moment, and here he is addressing the conference of his small party (though I believe the third in Scotland by membership) yesterday. Much of what he says is, by force of circumstance parochial, particularly in the first ten minutes. But I think there may be enough here to give some idea of why the state felt he has to be destroyed.

And why I felt obliged to try and stop them.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. This article, as with all the content of my blog, is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
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BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

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Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Free, Enduring Love 63

UPDATE: Julian Assange – Looking through my photos, I just came across this one of Stella showing the panel on which Vivienne Westwood embroidered her personal wedding message to the couple. I thought you might like to see it.

It was a cheap, white, trestle table, its thin top slightly bowed down in the middle, of the type made of a weetabix of sawdust and glue with a sheet of plastic glued on top and plastic strips glued to the sides, held up on four narrow, tubular, black metal legs. On it was a register. In front of it stood Stella Moris, looking beautiful and serene with delight. She wore a stunning gown in a light lilac, designed for her by Vivienne Westwood. It had a mild satin shimmer, and appeared both sumptuous and tightly tailored, with an expansively lapeled jacket section diving in to a wasp waist, that the apparently soft billows never intruded upon, no matter how she moved.

Close up, the details on the dress were extraordinary. The cloisonne buttons were uniquely designed and commissioned by Vivienne for this gown, and she had herself embroidered a message of solidarity, love and support on one panel. The long veil was hand embroidered, with bright multicoloured words striding across the gauze. These were words chosen by Julian as descriptive of the Power of Love, and they were in the handwriting of close friends and family who were not able to be inside the jail, including Stella’s 91 year old father. I am proud to say one of those handwritings was mine, with the word “inexorable”. It really was embroidered on looking exactly as I wrote it, as witness the fact nobody could tell what it said. Julian’s chosen motif for the wedding was “free, enduring love”.

Stella in the dress, with Julian’s dad John in the background. Photo: Isabell Jezek

By Stella’s side stood Julian Assange, whom she described to me as “simply the love of my life”, outfitted in a kilt, shirt, tie, and waistcoat, again specially designed by Vivienne Westwood in a purple based tartan, and featuring hand embroidery, lacing and cloisonne buttons. Unlike Stella’s dress, which she later showed us in detail, I have not seen the kilt but am told the design is relatively traditional.

There was a two minute delay at the start of the ceremony as Julian had no sporran, and his brother Gabriel, resplendent in full highland dress for the first time, removed his own sporran and put it on Julian. Both Julian and Gabriel are proud of their Scottish heritage, in each case through their respective mothers.

The British authorities had done everything they could firstly to prevent, and then to mess up, this wedding. Permission to marry had first been formally requested of the prison service in 2020, and in the end was only granted by involving lawyers and threatening legal action. There followed a whole list of antagonisms on which I shall not dwell, one minor example of which was banning me from the wedding and then lying about it.

But now, on the wedding day, the ordinary, working staff of the prison were delighted to be hosting such a happy event. The searches of the bride were distinctly token and friendly. At the security checks, Julian and Stella’s three year old son Max managed to tangle himself so comprehensively around the legs of one guard that he fell over, and the large guard and small boy then had a hilarious mock wrestle on the floor. The guards who conducted Stella through the jail did so as though they were the escort of a Queen.

Gates and steel doors opened before the procession and were locked again behind them, until deep in the bowels of this maximum security prison they arrived in a banal room, oppressive and completely windowless, with plain magnolia emulsioned walls. It was about twenty feet by fifteen feet, and is used as a store room for the adjoining Chaplaincy. At the back of the room were piles of Muslim prayer mats, boxes of red-jacketed Christian hymnals, stacks of cheap chairs and folded trestles.

From which that one cheap trestle had been set up, and a single row of eight chairs in front of it. Present were Julian and Stella, and their permitted limit of six invited guests. These were Stella’s mother Teresa and brother Adrian, Julian’s father John, brother Gabriel, and Julian and Stella’s two children, Gabriel (4) and Max (3). One of the torments had been that the UK Ministry of Justice insisted that the two tots counted against the six person limit, contrary to the prison’s original advice.

A very unglamorous photo of the veil I took in Stella’s kitchen, with my illegible “inexorable” in the middle!

Also in the room were the registrar who conducted the civil wedding, the Catholic chaplain and two prison guards, one for each door. Julian was able to hug and hold each of his family as they arrived, even though that was very much against the rules. That kind of physical comfort is something he will have been craving for years, and all eyes were full of tears. Julian’s father John was alarmed by his appearance. Julian was a stooped figure, and worryingly thin, even though obviously very happy in the moment.

The service went ahead as such services do, transcending the grim environment. Light relief was provided by little Gabriel running around and threatening to push each in turn of the room’s two alarm buttons, forcing the guards to chase him around, but in a playful manner. Max, who was disappointed by the slowness in appearance of the promised cake, had fallen asleep bent over at the waist, with his feet on the floor and his head on the chair, as only small children can.

Each person at the wedding was allowed by the registrar to stand up and say a few words about the event and the couple, who having exchanged vows and being pronounced wed, Julian was then invited to kiss the bride, which was perhaps done with more gusto than is usual on these occasions; to the extent that Julian’s brother Gabriel jokingly proffered the bride some tissues!

The legal part of the wedding being over, the couple now received a blessing from the Catholic priest, whose friendship and spiritual and emotional support has been invaluable to Julian during the ordeal of the last few years. The priest had brought a tablecloth and candles, and suddenly the nasty trestle was transformed into an altar. The priest was particularly careful to provide the couple with several more opportunities to kiss during the short ceremony. Then suddenly it was finished.

The authorities had insisted that no wedding photos could be taken, but had eventually agreed that a prison guard could take photos using the prison’s own camera. The prison will eventually give one or two prints of photos of their choosing to Julian, on the condition that they must never be published or made public.

According to the authorities this repression is because photos “could endanger the security of the prison”. Plainly this is a nonsense. How could a picture of the bride and groom, standing in a plain storage room that has no windows, endanger the security of the prison?

Belmarsh prison was comprehensively pictured, including drone footage of the entire jail and lengthy interiors of every part, including the most secure units, in several documentaries including by right wing populist Ross Kemp, in which the Ministry of Justice fully cooperated. The dishonesty of complaining that wedding photos would be a security risk, is a callous and arrogant act by authorities who expect that they can never be held to account.

The truth is that the Establishment has put in years of consistent effort to dehumanise Julian in the public mind. That includes false allegations, ridiculous media stories about him not flushing the toilet, and fake claims that his journalism endangered lives. They simply wish to avoid any public exposure of Julian, the real man, that may challenge their drive to demonise. Wedding photos would never be a danger to the prison, but would be a danger to the state narrative.

This is of course the same reason that Pullitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and I were vetoed by the Ministry of Justice from the original guest list. They did not want words or pictures to convey the love of the occasion or the joy of the family. They could not, however, prevent me from speaking to Stella and to all the guests who were there, and giving you this portrait in words.

After the wedding Julian and Stella were allowed time together – which meant that they were taken to the normal prison visiting room, where they could talk for half an hour amidst the other prisoners who were receiving their visitors, and back with the normal surveillance and restrictions of no touching. This must have been a terrible jolt, preparatory to the still worse jolt of being torn away from the one you love immediately after marrying.

I just cannot imagine how that feels; I suspect few people can.

Stella and Julian’s marriage is indeed a testimony to the power of love, and to the power of hope and human resilience. Just the preceding week their hopes were bruised for the umpteenth time as the Supreme Court refused to hear Julian’s case against the High Court’s agreement with the US appeal on his extradition. Julian faces a possible 175 years in jail under the US Espionage Act, for revealing the war crimes of the very state which is trying to extradite him. As Stella said, to marry in the face of this is both an act of resistance and an assertion of love.

The legal battle goes on, and we shall eventually win.

Those of us who value peace and love and freedom do not often get to feel that we are winning. But we do get days when we can triumph in the affirmation of our values. That Stella and Julian have done. That plain white table witnessed something more romantic than all the tosh of royal weddings and high altars. In Julian’s words, “free, enduring, love”.

They cannot stop that with their steel doors and iron bars.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. This article, as with all the content of my blog, is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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P&O and the Tory Road to Serfdom 241

What has happened to P&O workers is exactly how deregulated Britain is meant to operate. With British regulations abolished or inoperative and EU regulations void, predatory international capitalists are free to treat workers like property, to be picked up or disposed of at whim, with no consideration at all other than the profit of the company.

Politicians have reacted to the public disgust at the summary sacking of 800 people (disguised as redundancy even though they are to be replaced by cheaper labour), by expressions of disgust, but with no proposals at all to do anything about the particular or the general situation. Nobody has contradicted the statement in the Commons by junior Tory transport minister Robert Courts that “P & O’s finances are a matter for them alone”.

Government ministers, most notably Kwasi Kwarteng, have noted that P&O’s actions are probably illegal, but nobody in government seems to feel the slightest urge to intervene to stop a major company deliberately acting illegally and on a major scale. P&O appears to have calculated that the paltry fines and three month extra salary compensation payouts that may result from illegality are outweighed by the savings it will make. Government fury seems to be confined to the vicious way the redundancies were announced.

DP World treats its British workforce with no more consideration than it treats its Pakistani and Bengali labourers in Dubai, and that fact appears to have rattled Tory ministers. But Tory condemnation has been entirely for the way the redundancies were handled, not for the fact of fire and rehire. The leaked fact we now know, that the government was indeed aware of the redundancies before the P&O staff, rather puts the fake indignation in perspective. That makes it even more unlikely that Johnson did not discuss it in when in Dubai the day before.

But this is all precisely how the system is meant to work. DP World are a major player in the governments Freeports initiative. These are zones where companies, with a hub physically in the Freeport zone and satellites virtually “in” the zone, will be even more exempt from regulation than they will be in the rest of the UK. Plans are already in place to build hostels in the Freeports and bring in workers from Colombia and other sources at £1.40 an hour – exactly the kind of system that operates in the Gulf states.

Employment legislation of course is not the only regulation the Tories are seeking to obliterate. Employment, environmental, child safety, food safety, building standards, there are numerous standards the UK is now ready to revoke or water down as part of the “benefits of Brexit”. The Freeports will be the cutting edge, but across the UK the Tories are planning to allow capitalists to use their muscle with minimal protection for the employee, consumer or taxpayer.

P&O is a sign of the times. That we have no political party in Westminster calling for the nationalisation of P&O reflects the collapse of political diversity in the neo-con UK. The Labour Party has returned to Blair’s policy of acquiescing in all the Tory anti-trade union legislation from Thatcher on. Starmer has come up with an empty slogan about a “new deal for workers’ rights” in response to the P&O debacle. His great new idea appears to be a right to flexible working, which is a very good thing for middle-class mums and I am all for it, but not of much practical help to a ferry worker. To be fair there are some Corbyn remnants in Labour industrial policy, but give Starmer time and there will not be.

There is no salvation to be had from the elite and their stranglehold on the political system and the mainstream media. We have to go back to the basics and build again the notion of horizontal solidarity in society. Liberal philanthropy did once assist the development of a more equal society in the UK, which reached its zenith in the 1970’s, but working class self-organisation, particularly through the union movement, was always essential to societal advance.

We now live in a society where liberal philanthropy is reserved for emoting about distant conflicts or channeled into identity, rather than class, politics. We live in a society where inequality in wealth distribution is returning to nineteenth century levels, but many of those left behind consider themselves too genteel to identify with working people and do anything about it.

I do strongly urge everybody to find out today what union you are eligible to join, and to join it. The paradox is that the unions themselves are so desperate to fit in with the new normal that I myself am excluded from joining a union as a dangerous radical. I have yet again applied to join the NUJ. Their current excuse for keeping me out is that people subscribe to my site and I am therefore not paid per article. This seems to be a rule that Michelle Stanistreet has invented unique to me – John Sweeney, Jonathan Cook, Paul Mason and many others run a subscription model. I remain however determined to join and urge you to join a union too.

The government genuinely is angry about P&O, but not because of what it is doing. Simply the startlingly abrupt way that it has acted has brought a harsh spotlight on the deregulation of the UK and what it entails. British Gas did effectively the same thing more smoothly and with far less publicity.

Jacob Rees Mogg is now tasked with pursuing with gusto a bonfire of rights and protections across the whole sphere of government. If you are a billionaire, great times are coming. If you are anybody else at all, welcome to the world your ancestors struggled out of from the 1830’s on.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. This article, as with all the content of my blog, is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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