Friday, 23 October 2015

Soviet Reunion (07/03/14)

I started reading this opinion piece in The Guardian by Seumas Milne but when I got to the paragraph (in bold) about the 'disastrous' break-up of the former Soviet Union I rather lost interest, I have to say.

Because I could understand why someone like Seumas was a political apologist for the old Soviet Union - lots of people on the left were in those days and saw the world in ideological terms as a battle between unfettered Capitalism and state-controlled Socialism.

But the world has since moved on then and despite the recent problems of the global economic recession, no serious politician is now suggests that anything other than a market based system is the basis for organising a modern, productive economy.

Not even China or Russia disagree these days although their political and social systems leave much to be desired as far as civil rights and freedom of expression are concerned. 

So having been an apologist for the old Soviet Union what puzzles me is why Seumas should be such an admirer of Russia when it is such a repressive capitalist country operating under a harsh political system - where minority groups are harassed and punished on a regular basis? 

If anything, Russia is practising and even more brutal and exploitative version of capitalism under Valdimir Putin and the Russian oligarchs. 

And the fact of the matter is that the former satellite countries of the Soviet Union such as Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria and Slovakia (which borders Ukraine) have all become much more democratic and liberal since shaking off Soviet domination.

Whereas Russia, the member states of the Russian Fedearation and satellites countries like Belarus have all gone the other way - they have all become less democratic and more illiberal.

In the case of Iraq of course, prior to any military action being taken there were years of wrangling at the United Nations in an effort to knock some diplomatic sense into the vile Saddam regime.

Yet Seumas has nothing critical to say about the fact that President Putin has ordered boots on the ground in Ukraine at the drop of a hat under the pretext of fascist political activity - while the Dutch UN special envoy (Robert Serry) was chased our of Crimea after being threatened by armed men, so who's kidding who here?  

If you ask me Seumas Milne is really arguing for the political rebirth of this beloved Soviet Union - a kind of Soviet Reunion if you like, under the aegis of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation.   

The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion

The external struggle to dominate Ukraine has put fascists in power and brought the country to the brink of conflict

By Seumas Milne

Troops under Russian command fire weapons into the air in Lubimovka, Ukraine. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Diplomatic pronouncements are renowned for hypocrisy and double standards. But western denunciations of Russian intervention in Crimea have reached new depths of self parody. The so far bloodless incursion is an "incredible act of aggression", US secretary of state John Kerry declared. In the 21st century you just don't invade countries on a "completely trumped-up pretext", he insisted, as US allies agreed that it had been an unacceptable breach of international law, for which there will be "costs".

That the states which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq, in an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000, along with the invasion of Afghanistan, bloody regime change in Libya, and the killing of thousands in drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all without UN authorisation – should make such claims is beyond absurdity.

It's not just that western aggression and lawless killing is on another scale entirely from anything Russia appears to have contemplated, let alone carried out – removing any credible basis for the US and its allies to rail against Russian transgressions. But the western powers have also played a central role in creating the Ukraine crisis in the first place.

The US and European powers openly sponsored the protests to oust the corrupt but elected Viktor Yanukovych government, which were triggered by controversy over an all-or-nothing EU agreement which would have excluded economic association with Russia.

In her notorious "fuck the EU" phone call leaked last month, the US official Victoria Nuland can be heard laying down the shape of a post-Yanukovych government – much of which was then turned into reality when he was overthrown after the escalation of violence a couple of weeks later.

The president had by then lost political authority, but his overnight impeachment was certainly constitutionally dubious. In his place agovernment of oligarchs, neoliberal Orange Revolution retreads and neofascists has been installed, one of whose first acts was to try and remove the official status of Russian, spoken by a majority in parts of the south and east, as moves were made to ban the Communist party, which won 13% of the vote at the last election.

It has been claimed that the role of fascists in the demonstrations has been exaggerated by Russian propaganda to justify Vladimir Putin's manoeuvres in Crimea. The reality is alarming enough to need no exaggeration. Activists report that the far right made up around a third of the protesters, but they were decisive in armed confrontations with the police.

Fascist gangs now patrol the streets. But they are also in Kiev's corridors of power. The far right Svoboda party, whose leader has denounced the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry" and which was condemned by the European parliament for its "racist and antisemitic views", has five ministerial posts in the new government, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the even more extreme Right Sector, at the heart of the street violence, is now Ukraine's deputy national security chief.

Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. But this is the unelected government now backed by the US and EU. And in a contemptuous rebuff to the ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one who runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

From a longer-term perspective, the crisis in Ukraine is a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. As in Yugoslavia, people who were content to be a national minority in an internal administrative unit of a multinational state – Russians in Soviet Ukraine, South Ossetians in Soviet Georgia – felt very differently when those units became states for which they felt little loyalty.
In the case of Crimea, which was only transferred to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s, that is clearly true for the Russian majority. And contrary to undertakings given at the time, the US and its allies have since relentlessly expanded Nato up to Russia's borders, incorporating nine former Warsaw Pact states and three former Soviet republics into what is effectively an anti-Russian military alliance in Europe. The European association agreement which provoked the Ukrainian crisis also included clauses to integrate Ukraine into the EU defence structure.

That western military expansion was first brought to a halt in 2008 when the US client state of Georgia attacked Russian forces in the contested territory of South Ossetia and was driven out. The short but bloody conflict signalled the end of George Bush's unipolar world in which the US empire would enforce its will without challenge on every continent.

Given that background, it is hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp, especially given that Russia's only major warm-water naval base is in Crimea.

Clearly, Putin's justifications for intervention – "humanitarian" protection for Russians and an appeal by the deposed president – are legally and politically flaky, even if nothing like on the scale of "weapons of mass destruction". Nor does Putin's conservative nationalism or oligarchic regime have much wider international appeal.

But Russia's role as a limited counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does. And in a world where the US, Britain, France and their allies have turned international lawlessness with a moral veneer into a permanent routine, others are bound to try the same game.

Fortunately, the only shots fired by Russian forces at this point have been into the air. But the dangers of escalating foreign intervention are obvious. What is needed instead is a negotiated settlement for Ukraine, including a broad-based government in Kiev shorn of fascists; a federal constitution that guarantees regional autonomy; economic support that doesn't pauperise the majority; and a chance for people in Crimea to choose their own future. Anything else risks spreading the conflict.

Flat Earth Politics (30 December 2013)

Here's another offering from the Guardian's comment editor, Seumas Milne, who continues his very one-sided writings which condemn America, Britain and other western countries at every opportunity - yet have nothing to say about the vile regimes which previously controlled Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. 

I discovered only recently that privately educated Seumas was the former editor of the Straight Left magazine - the voice of a ridiculously pro-Soviet sect within the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) during the 1980s. 

So I wonder what Straight Left and/or Seumas had to say about the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1982 because I, for one, would find that very interesting - as background to his relentless criticism of the west. 

In any event, I hardly agree with a word of what Seumas has to say - his reference to the 'justification' used by the killers of Drummer Lee Rigby seem ridiculous to me and no more justified than the reasons given by Anders Breivik for committing mass murder in Norway.

Does Seumas, for example, agree with Michael Adebolajo that Allah chose the off-duty, unarmed soldier - and compelled them to run his victim down with a car before attempting to cut off his head? 

I think not, but why let a casual throwaway reference - get in the way of a good story.

As for the rest of his article, Seumas ignores the fact that al-Qaeda launched its murderous terrorist attack on 9/11 from a safe haven in Afghanistan where the Taliban allowed the group to operate freely, so simply sitting back and doing nothing was never an option from an invasion that was supported by the United Nations.  

In Libya, the former Gaddafi regime (a former ally of the Soviet Union of course) was about to commit mass murder against the country's internal opposition before western countries intervened - yet again the state of the country is down the the 'west' rather than the need for totalitarian, often tribal and religious, states to embrace democratic reforms based on sharing political power and respecting minority rights. 

As far as I can see, according to the word Seumas inhabits the 'west' is responsible for all of the problems of the world and never does right for doing wrong - presumably even in the former Yugoslavia (a former Soviet satellite state) - where ethnic cleansing and mass murder was prevented only by the threat and use of military action by NATO.

The new and peaceful countries which have emerged from the former Yugoslavia - Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Croatia - would no doubt beg to disagree with Seumas and his one-dimensional analysis about the pros and cons of intervention against tyrannical regimes.  

Many years ago I used to think of the followers of Straight Left as supporters of a one dimensional, 'flat earth' politics - and all this time later I've heard nothing to change my mind. 

Mission accomplished? Afghanistan is a calamity and our leaders must be held to account
British troops haven't accomplished a single one of their missions in Afghanistan. Like Iraq and Libya, it's a disaster

By Seumas Milne

'The wars unleashed or fuelled by the US, Britain and their allies over the past 12 years have been disastrous.' Illustration: Matt Kenyon

Of all the mendacious nonsense that pours out of politicians' mouths, David Cameron's claim that British combat troops will be coming home from Afghanistan with their "mission accomplished" is in a class all of its own. It's almost as if, by echoing George Bush's infamous claim of victory in Iraq in May 2003 just as the real war was beginning, the British prime minister is deliberately courting ridicule.

But British, American and other Nato troops have been so long in Afghanistan – twice as long as the second world war – that perhaps their leaders have forgotten what the original mission actually was. In fact, it began as a war to destroy al-Qaida, crush the Taliban and capture or kill their leaders, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

That quickly morphed into a supposed campaign for democracy and women's rights, a war to protect our cities from terror attacks, to eradicate opium production and bring security and good governance from Helmand to Kandahar. With the exception of the assassination of Bin Laden – carried out 10 years later in another country – not one of those goals has been achieved.

Instead, al-Qaida has mushroomed and spread throughout the Arab and Muslim world, engulfing first Iraq and now Syria. Far from protecting our streets from attacks, the war has repeatedly been cited as a justification for those carrying them out – most recently by Michael Adebolajo, who killed the Afghan war veteran Lee Rigby on the streets of London in May.

The Taliban is long resurgent, mounting 6,600 attacks between May and October this year and negotiating for a return to power. Mullah Omar remains at liberty. Afghan opium production is at a record high and now accounts for 90% of the world's supply. Less than half the country is now "safe for reconstruction", compared with 68% in 2009.

Meanwhile, women's rights are going into reverse, and violence against women is escalating under Nato occupation: 4,000 assaults were documented by Afghan human rights monitors in the first six months of this year, from rape and acid attacks to beatings and mutilation. Elections have been brazenly rigged, as a corrupt regime of warlords and torturers is kept in power by foreign troops, and violence has spilled over into a dangerously destabilised Pakistan.

All this has been at a cost of tens of thousands of Afghan civilian lives, along with those of thousands US, British and other occupation troops. But it's not as if it wasn't foreseen from the start. When the media were hailing victory in Afghanistan 12 years ago, and Tony Blair's triumphalism was echoed across the political establishment, opponents of the invasion predicted it would lead to long-term guerrilla warfare, large-scale Afghan suffering and military failure – and were dismissed by the politicians as "wrong" and "fanciful".

But that is exactly what happened. One study after another has confirmed that British troops massively increased the level of violence after their arrival in Helmand in 2006, and are estimated to have killed 500 civilians in a campaign that has cost between £25bn and £37bn. After four years they had to be rescued by US forces. But none of the political leaders who sent them there has been held accountable for this grim record.

It was the same, but even worse, in Iraq. The occupation was going to be a cakewalk, and British troops were supposed to be past masters at counter-insurgency. Opponents of the invasion again predicted that it would lead to unrelenting resistance until foreign troops were driven out. When it came to it, defeated British troops were forced to leave Basra city under cover of darkness.

But six years later, who has paid the price? One British corporal has been convicted of war crimesand the political elite has shuffled off responsibility for the Iraq catastrophe on to the Chilcot inquiry – which has yet to report nearly three years after it last took evidence. Given the dire lack of coverage and debate about what actually took place, maybe it's not surprising that most British people think fewer than 10,000 died in a war now estimated to have killed 500,000.

But Iraq wasn't the last of the disastrous interventions by the US and Britain. The Libyan war was supposed to be different and acclaimed as a humanitarian triumph. In reality not only did Nato's campaign in support of the Libyan uprising ratchet up the death toll by a factor of perhaps 10, giving air cover to mass ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate killing. Its legacy is a maelstrom of warring militias and separatist rebels threatening to tear the country apart.

Now the west's alternative of intervention-lite in Syria is also spectacularly coming apart. The US, British and French-sponsored armed factions of the Free Syrian Army have been swept aside by jihadist fighters and al-Qaida-linked groups – first spawned by western intelligence during the cold war and dispersed across the region by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The wars unleashed or fuelled by the US, Britain and their allies over the past 12 years have been shameful. Far from accomplishing their missions, they brought untold misery, spread terrorism across the world and brought strategic defeat to those who launched them. In the case of Afghanistan all this looks likely to continue, as both the US and Britain plan to keep troops and bases there for years to come.

By any objective reckoning, failures on such a scale should be at the heart of political debate. But instead the political class and the media mostly avert their gaze and wrap themselves in the flag to appease a war-weary public. The first sign that this might be changing was the unprecedentedparliamentary vote against an attack on Syria in August. But the democratisation of war and peace needs to go much further. Rather than boasting of calamitous missions, the politicians responsible for them must be held to account.