Maltreated prisoners of war, prisoners of conscience rotting in Ukrainian detention centers

In the past two weeks, the United States and NATO countries have opened still another line of attack on Russia in their ongoing high pitch information war:  the seizure by the Russian navy of three Ukrainian vessels attempting unsanctioned entry to the Kerch Straits, together with the arrest of their crews who have been treated medically, as necessary, and dispatched to a prison in Moscow for interrogation.

In light of the sound and fury over the Ukrainian sailors,  it seems to me that the moment is especially opportune to bring to the attention of the world community, and in particular to the attention of Amnesty International,  the Council of Europe and other institutions and political forces defending the cause of human rights the following inhumane treatment by the government in Kiev of prisoners of war and prisoners of conscience.  Here the objective is not to score propaganda points but to secure urgently needed assistance to named individuals currently in Ukrainian detention centers.

As happens in cases like this, I received the list from friends of friends serving in the Moscow embassy of an EU country. Accordingly I have every reason to believe in its accuracy and impartiality.

List of prisoners of war and political prisoners in Ukraine who are in need of urgent medical assistance and material aid

1. Medical care is not being provided.2. Their cases are not really being examined by the courts. The cases are being transferred from tribunal to tribunal, where the court sessions only consider the question of extending the preventive detention measures.3. Complaints have been filed with international organizations with respect to numerous violations of human rights law, namely :  abuse of power of the forces of law and order, violations during the examination of files by the judges (at all stages of the judicial proceedings). Ukrainian government authorities have responded in a formalistic manner and propose to investigate the violations (practically none of these cases has been brought to trial).

 

Last name, first name Date of birth Place of arrest and articles of the Ukrainian Criminal Code mentioned in the charges filed Circumstances of the detention State of health
1. SEDIKOV

Alexey Sergeevich

10.10.1979 Sentenced to 11 years in prison

Art. 258-3 part. 1, Art. 28 part. 2

Art. 437 part. 2, Art 263 part. 1

Captured and gravely wounded near the lines of demarcation, during inspection of the implementaiton of the Minsk Accords. Tortured and refused medical assistance. Urgently in need of surgeryt.
2. DOLGOCHEÏ

Ruslan Bronislavovich

25.12.1973 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center Acute pain in the vertical column (lumbar region);  cardiovascular and gastro-intestinal pain.
3. DOLGOCHEÏ

Vladislav Ruslanovich

24.04.1996 Odessa – Penal Institution No. 24

Art. 258 part. 3,4, Art. 113 – Art. 263 Arrested on 05/07/2015

Torture Cerebral lesions.
4. KHITROV

Denis Vassilievich

28.04.1977 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center. Art. 111 part.1

Arrested on 19.03.2017

Torture Gastro-intestinal illness(gastritis)

Failing eyesight

5. BOBOVA

Elena Grigorievna

26.04.1972 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center

Art. 111 part.1

Arrested on 19.03.2017

 

Subjected to physical and psychological abuse.

Persons close to him have received death threats. .

Was forced to sign confessions

Respiratory system ailment (oblation of a lung)
6. PIKALOV

Valery Valerievich

19.07.1975 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center

Art. 111 part.1, Art. 263

Arrested on 19.03.2017

Physical force used during his arrest. Illegal seizure of property (gold and silver jewelry belonging to his aged mother. Stomach ulcers
7. MELNITCHOUK

Piotr Nikolaevich

12.07.1972 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center.

Art. 111 part.1, Art. 263

Arrested on 19.03.2017

Physical force used during his arrest.  Citizen of the Republic of Moldova. According to the provisions of the law. art. 111 cannot be applied to foreign citizens.
8. LOGUNOV

Mekhty Féofanovich

21.05.1934 Art. 111 part.1

 

9. PIDMAZKO

Evgueny Sergeevich

1969 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center  No.21 – Art. 258
10. GAÏDANOV

Ivan Konstantinovich

06.02.1981 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center No. 21

Art. 258-3 part.1

Art. 263 part.1

Interned since 11.10.2017

Stomach ulcers, chronic illness of  duodenum, urinary lithiasis.

Urgently needs treatment

11. MAZUR

Oleg Vladimirovich

02.08.1965 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center No. 21

Art. 258-3 part.1, Art. 113,

Art. 263.  Interned since 2015

Acute infection of lymph ganglions, oedema in limbs, astro-intestinal illness.
12. ZJIGALO

Aleksandr Ivanovich

03.08.1966 Odessa – Temporary Detention Center  No. 21

Art. 111

Interned since 27.05.2018

Was arrested on 27.05.2018 by the Ukrainian Security Service on suspicion of collaboration with the Russian FSB.
13. BACHLYKOV

Sergey Aleksandrovich

27.10.1986 Kharkov – Temporary Detention Center. Art. 258 part.3, Art.263

 

Physical force used during the arrest and during the interrogation.

 

14. DVORNIKOV

Vladimir Nikolaevich

13.06.1978 Kharkov – Penal Colony No. 43 – Art. 258 part.3

Art. 263 part.1

Interned since 26.02.2015

Physical force used during the arrest. Under torture was forced to admit to having committed a terrorist act in Kharkov. Brain concussion
15.

 

TITYUTSKIY

Viktor Viktorovich

05.05.1982 Kharkov – Penal Colony No. 43

Art. 258 part.3, Art. 263 part.1

Interned since 26.02.2015

Physical force used during the arrest.

Mock execution during his arrest.

 

16. CHUMAK

Vyachelav Aleksandrovich

19.10.1975 Kharkov –Temporary Detention  Center.

 

Arrested without witnesses present. Valuables were stolen during the arrest. Subjected to torture. Critically ill. Before the arrest, he was wounded in the head and vertebral column during a car accident. Requires treatment. Pain in the head and spine.
17. EVTUKHOV

Vyachelav Viktorovich

12.11.1981 Kharkov – Penal colony

Art. 250 part.8, Art. 263, Art.258

Physical and psychological pressure.

Confession made under torture.

18. VESELOV

Sergey Aleksandrovich

29/01/1980 Kharkov – Temporary Detention Center.

 

 

 

Is the Kremlin meddling in US presidential politics? Yes, here and now

There is more than a dollop of irony in the release yesterday by Dmitri Peskov, press secretary to Vladimir Putin, of two email letters addressed to himself and to the Russian presidential administration back in January 2016 requesting assistance with the projected residential skyscraper, Trump Tower Moscow, that the Trump Organization was then negotiating with its business partners in the Russian capital. They were in need of land rights and building permits.

There is every reason to believe that what we are now seeing is the Kremlin turning on Trump and facilitating his removal from office.  This is suggested by the timing of Peskov’s release of documents and comments on what further transpired. Peskov’s speaking out follows closely the admission by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen that he had lied to Congress over the project in Russia. At issue is the timing of Cohen’s solicitations in Moscow on Trump’s behalf.

Cohen had previously testified that the project died in January 2016. Now it is clear he pursued the presidential administration in Moscow well into the spring, during the American primaries, and perhaps as late as June, 2016, when Trump was already the Republican candidate. Though not confirmed by Peskov, there are suggestions circulating in social media that Trump’s minions intended to proposition Putin with a free penthouse atop the Trump Tower in exchange for land and permits.

Regrettably, the whole story of Cohen and the tower project in Moscow rings true, right down to the plans to bribe the Russian President.  Donald Trump’s multibillion dollar real estate empire was managed by an inner circle of long-time associates whose main value to the boss was personal loyalty not competence.

The story also rings true to the “transactional approach” to government business that Trump’s critics have decried.  The deal allegedly on offer to Putin betrays deep cynicism, the conviction that Donald’s interlocutors are as corrupt as he himself appears to be.

But there is still more in the bones of this scandal in formation to pick over.

Another feature of Donald Trump’s business life that is highly relevant to our understanding of what happened is the way he always has been surrounded by fortune seekers.  That comes with his being a wealthy private entrepreneur rather than a corporate executive of a publicly listed company. Some of these opportunists have come to him with product ideas that were later branded as “Trump” and brought him incremental wealth.  Others were no more than braggards and phonies who have only brought him trouble.  It would appear that one such adventurer is Felix Sater, who was involved in this and prior attempts to sell Trump in Russia and who now is spreading the story of the 50 million inducement to Putin in 2016 for help with the residential building.

There can be little doubt that the outreach to “Russian oligarchs” whom such people alleged were close to Putin and “fix” a deal was empty of content. Hence the failure of the project to gain traction on the Russian side.

In a number of ways the failure of the 2016 bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow brings back memories of Trump’s hopes for a real estate deal in Moscow back in 1996. Though mainstream reporting claims that Trump was for 30 years seeking to build a residential tower, my own inside information from a friend who was at the time in Trump’s entourage, tells a different story. In 1996, they flew into Moscow in his private jet hoping to cut a deal. However, it was not residential in nature: rather it was to convert the then derelict building opposite the Kremlin into a casino and hotel. Trump had dinner with one of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s celebrity friends, the sculptor Tseretelli. Tseretelli was supposed to be the intermediary to the Kremlin decision-makers. That was all just a tall story by people seeking to ingratiate themselves with Trump. On the spot, in Moscow, Trump understood he had been tricked by his fixers. And he left Moscow, not to come back until the Miss Universe pageant. The building in question is now home to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.

It is quite astonishing that Trump did not understand in 2016 that he could no longer afford to work with and through shady opportunists when he shifted gears from private businessman to candidate for the U.S. presidency. That, all by itself, points to a stunning lack of judgment.

The most charitable interpretation for Trump that one can put on the whole affair is that it demonstrates his own disbelief  in possible victory in the November elections. His team was allowed to fish in Russian waters for economic advantage to the Organization that would come when he returned to private life.

The case surrounding Michael Cohen stands the arguments of the Russia-gate accusers on their head, though American mainstream media seem not to follow the dotted lines where they inevitably lead. What we have here is the minions of a US presidential candidate trying to take in hand a Russian president and also incidentally exposing the Russian to potential black-mail over bribe-taking. It is mind-boggling.

Quite possibly the Kremlin now wants to sink Trump. If Special Prosecutor Mueller can extract from Cohen and others the critical details that are now hearsay, meaning the supposed trade-off of a penthouse for land and building permit, then Trump will go down. For attempted collusion.

I think Moscow understands that apart from the lunatic Hillary, Donald is now the worst man for them as occupant of the White House. Trump is in it up to his neck and is acquiescing to all the wish list of the Russia haters on the Hill.

Does Russia actually control who sits in the White House?  We may find out in the coming days.

 

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Experts and activists offer a sober evaluation of the risks of a major war between Russia and the West

The European-Russian Forum, Brussels, 26 November 2018

Most of what we find in the Western mass media, and even in specialized daily digests and periodicals devoted to Russian affairs tends to fall into the extremes of Russia-bashing by the vast majority or pro-Russia cheerleading by tiny fringe groups who otherwise are unhappy with US global hegemony.

By way of example, I point to how Vladimir Putin’s roll-out of Russia’s latest and unrivaled strategic weapons systems in his 1 March 2018 speech to a session of the joint houses of the Russian Parliament were received in the West.

Many commentators insisted soon afterwards that the Mach 20 Avangard and other nuclear armed systems presented in Putin’s video clips were a bluff directed at his home audience for the sake of the forthcoming presidential election, not directed at Washington; that Russia is incapable of such breakthroughs on an industrial scale and poses no consequential military threat.  Meanwhile, dissenters from Washington’s unipolar world concept expressed joy at the Russians’ claim to having restored nuclear parity with the United States, validating the Mutually Assured Destruction balance that kept the peace for much of the last half century. On this basis some began clamoring for Putin to adopt a tougher stance in confrontation with the West up to and including clash of arms.

The 12th European-Russia Forum which was just held in the European Parliament, Brussels brought sobering realism to bear on the questions of whether we are headed into war with Russia, whether it can be limited in destructiveness and regional in scope or will quickly escalate to the global level with nuclear exchanges, and appraising what kind of outcomes we may anticipate. Speeches and discussion steered right down the neutral middle on all of these questions, and were unusually illuminating.

Before going into some detail on who said what, I am obliged to direct attention to the sponsors of this event in the European Parliament and to the participants in it.

The European Parliament building is an enormous complex comprising the offices of the 751 MEPs, a vast auditorium for their plenary sessions and a number of lesser auditoriums and conference rooms for functions held jointly with the public under the auspices of one or another political bloc of Members, such as the Forum which just took place. In the given instance, our hosts were a compound bloc called The Greens/European Free Alliance that has existed in Parliament for two decades and accounts for about 8% of the membership of the house.

“The Greens” take in Green parties from several European countries, but not the German Greens, who are a law unto themselves and are notorious cold warriors.  “Our” Greens have a calm, reflective view of international relations and do not automatically take sides in any of the conflicts between Russia and the West. Their main focus is, as we may expect, on ecologically friendly policies, promotion of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and closing of nuclear power plants. They also describe themselves as “progressives” on other social and economic issues and stand for the liberties of citizens.

The European Free Alliance is a nest for diverse champions of Europe’s regions, taking in, among others, Scottish, Welsh, Catalan, Galician nationalists, representing the interests of unrecognized nations within Europe’s great states. It also counts as members MEPs standing for the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic States including the remarkable founder of the Forum, Tatjana Zdanoka, MEP from Latvia from 2004 to March 2018, when she resigned to join domestic political contests in Riga. Her successor, Miroslavs Mitrofanovs, assumed the presidency of the Forum as well as her seat in parliament.

This was the 12th iteration of the Forum and was in the opinion of its long time participants the very best. The best in terms of structure of the program, focused as it was on the most vital issue of our day: war and peace.  Also the best in terms of the level of participants and their contributions.

In the program of the Forum attached to this report, the reader can find the names and brief mention of current positions of speakers. In a number of cases they should be followed up by a look at their Wikipedia entries, which attest to their hands-on experience dealing with the issues of the Forum at the highest levels within their organizations and governments.

The speakers may be sorted into three categories of which both the EU and Russia had their fair share:  parliamentarians; experts on disarmament and military strategic planning; and activists from civil society.

For the most part, the most valuable speeches came from the expert contingent precisely because they have been insiders to the deliberations that create negotiating positions on the Russian and US-European sides of the ongoing confrontation.  The parliamentarians and activists, though also speakers, were more important as an audience for the experts since they alone have the possibility of mobilizing society and political elites to do something about the dangers exposed by expert testimony.

There was a near consensus of all speakers regarding who is to blame for the deterioration in Russia’s relations with the West ever since the halcyon days following signing of the Paris Charter in November 1990 that formally ended the Cold War. This deterioration has moved with particular speed over the past decade bringing us today to the lowest point in relations since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

We heard from speaker after speaker that the US was and is to blame, starting with NATO expansion to the East in the mid-1990s and running through the US-managed coup d’état in Kiev on 22 February 2014 that installed an aggressively anti-Russian government in Ukraine. That crossed all of Moscow’s red lines and precipitated the re-incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation the following month, leading in turn to the Western response we see to this day: sanctions, nonstop information war and exacerbation of conflicts in Europe and in the Middle East, where Russia and the West have been backing proxies that are in conflict.

We were reminded that the arms limitation agreements reached during the Cold  War have been abrogated (ABM Treaty in 2002) and are being abrogated today (INF Treaty) at the initiative of one side only, the United States, and that there is every possibility that the NEW START agreement reached under the Obama administration will be allowed to lapse in 2021. All of this contributes to global insecurity and rips up the procedures for verification and building trust between the nuclear superpowers that took decades to achieve.

However, when turning from the frightful level of current East-West relations to appraisal of the risks of war, the positions of the speakers were more nuanced.  The same may be said of their estimations of the relative strength of Russia and NATO going into any generalized conflict if it comes to that. Moreover, there was some noteworthy disagreement over whether the prospective new arms races in several different dimensions could themselves be a cause of war and whether regional conflicts such as around Kosovo, around Syria and Ukraine could touch off general conflagrations.

One of the most persuasive and best prepared expert speakers was Pavel Zolotarev, deputy director of the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies, Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences, member of the Foreign and Security Policy Council and…a Major General in the reserves. I summarize below his overview of current realities and risk factors:

 

Today we see reinstatement by the USA of the same lines of Containment that it pursued against the Soviet Union in the original Cold War:

Nuclear confrontation. The United States retains the right of first use.  Russian doctrine is no first use unless the existence of the country comes under threat from a conventional attack. In the Cold War, NATO needed its tactical nuclear potential to withstand conventional Soviet ground attack. Today the shoe is on the other foot and Russia needs this back-up because of superior NATO strength.

If the USA leaves the INF and puts missiles in Europe, that reduces the warning time to as little as 3 minutes. It forces Russia to rely on computer programmed responses, the “dead hand” solution.

The question of war in Europe depends on one factor only: whether the United States and Russia can agree on post-Soviet space. Ukraine is the case in point. We cannot be sure that the United States can restrain Poroshenko. If Poroshenko continues, Russia may move out from the cover of volunteers to regular forces in a regional war. Further on the process may be unforeseeable, leading to a nuclear war.

But even if we solve the problem with Ukraine, we are still in a transition process, meaning it is a dangerous time with unpredictable events.

Several of the Russian military experts left no doubt about their respect for the U.S. military and its spending at ten times the level of their own country.  As Vladimir Kozin, from the Center for Military and Political Studies at the prestigious international affairs school MGIMO in Moscow noted: the US budget for its new nuclear triad and other weapons systems is vast and no other country has this potential.

With greater specificity, Alexei Podberezkin, director of the same Center in MGIMO, described the way the United States has already covered nearly all of Russian territory with navy-based 3500 km range cruise missiles having high accuracy delivery. He believes that if the US leaves the INF Treaty, there will be mass production of a wide class of missiles in this range upsetting the strategic balance. He identifies the tactical U.S. objective as destruction of the “Putin regime,” while its strategic objective is to destroy Russia.

Nonetheless, the various Russian presentations left little doubt that the country’s asymmetrical defensive nuclear capability and its measures to ensure a riposte even in the circumstances of a first American nuclear strike mean the doomsday scenario will be realized.

All the Russian military experts agreed on the need to reestablish dialogue with the United States over arms control. This is so even if they appear not to consider weapons systems as such likely to be the cause of a great war, whereas political conflict will be.

Among the Western experts, Angela Kane, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, held out little hope that the wished for security talks with the United States will be resumed during Donald Trump’s tenure. If Trump ever wished for such talks, his hands have been tied by domestic political enemies. And since his elevation to National Security Advisor, John Bolton has actively encouraged the President to take the country out of international treaties over arms limitation and much else.

 

In closing, I call attention to two speakers from the activist contingent who imparted messages intended to give purpose to the gathering in the days and months ahead.

Guiletto Chiesa is a well-known Italian politician and widely published journalist who has participated in the Forum from its inception. He was pleased that this year’s participants have all caught up with his long-existing sense of alarm over the direction of global affairs and imminent risk of war. Said Chiesa:

This is not Cold War II. It is a preparation for a big destructive war. We must beat the drums – a war is coming.

However, Chiesa’s mood was given a lift by the coming European elections in May 2019 which may well see voter rejection of the war parties who now run the show in the Parliament. The best example is the remarkable coalition government of “extreme” right and left in Italy that no one could have predicted, so that the way is open for new initiatives.

The other parting message I will quote is from Ray McGovern, the former CIA analyst and reporter of daily intelligence to American presidents who has become an antiwar campaigner of national prominence. Ray has repeatedly “put his body on the line” in demonstrations in Europe and in Washington, D.C. against US bases, against installing torturers at the head of the Agency.  Said Ray:  this is the Noah moment.  What we need now is not more weather forecasters telling us about the coming rain, but more builders of arks.

 .

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

 

 

Appendix 1.

 

Escalation of EU-Russia Relations:

Perspectives for Europe in the Case of a Military Conflict

 Programme of XII European Russian Forum

Brussels, 25-26 November 2018

 

25 November 2018

(Sunday)

Arrival of participants and accommodation in the hotel

Thon EU Brussels Hotel, rue de la Loi 75, Bruxelles

19.30-22.00 Dinner for participants

restaurant of Thon EU Brussels Hotel, rue de la Loi 75, Bruxelles

26 November 2018

(Monday)

08.20-08.55

 

Registration of participants

European Parliament, entrance from Place du Luxembourg

 

  09.00-10.30

 

European Parliament, room ASP 1G2

 

PLENARY SESSION. FIRST PANEL

 

Involution of the EU-Russia Relationship from 2007 till 2018

From the cooperation to pre-war mode

 

Moderator:

Ø  Tatjana Ždanoka (Latvia), MEP (2004-2018), President of the EU Russian-speakers Alliance

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Miroslavs Mitrofanovs (Latvia), MEP, Greens/EFA political group

Ø  Vladimir Chizhov (Russia), Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Ø  Jiří Maštálka (Czech Republic), MEP, GUE/NGL political group, Vice-chair of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation

Ø  Konstantin Zatulin (Russia), Member of the State Duma, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Head of institute for Commonwealth of Independent States

Ø  Gilbert Doctorow (Belgium), international affairs analyst, author

Ø  Yury Mishсheryakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the

Committee for Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and

Relations with Compatriots

Ø  Georgi Pirinski (Bulgaria), MEP, S&D political group, Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly

Ø  Bill Bowring (Great Britain), Professor of Human Rights and International Law at Birkbeck, University of London

Ø  Evgeny Primakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the Presidium of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council

Ø  Hans M. Kristensen (USA), Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington (fragment of the interview for WDR).

  10.30-10.40 Coffee/ Tee Service
  10.30–12.30

 

European Parliament, room ASP 1G2

 

PLENARY SESSION. SECOND PANEL

 

New war in Europe: probability, development, consequences

Moderator:

Ø  Miroslavs Mitrofanovs (Latvia), MEP, Greens/EFA political group

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Angela Kane (Germany), former High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, Senior Fellow, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Ø  Pavel Zolotarev (Russia), leading researcher for the Military Political Department of the Institute for U.S. and Canada, Member of Foreign and Security Policy Council, reserve Major-General

Ø  Erwin Häckel (Germany), Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Konstanz; former Fellow of German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and Chairman of DGAP Working Group on Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Sensitive Technologies

Ø  Mikhail Khodarenok (Russia), military analyst for the internet resource Газетa.Ru and invited expert for Radio Vesti FM, reserve Colonel

Ø  Marc Finaud (Switzerland), Arms Proliferation Cluster Leader, Emerging Security Challenges Progamme, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Ø  Vladimir Kozin (Russia), leading expert of the Military-Political Studies Centre, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Professor at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences; Member of Expert Council of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Member of Scientific Council of the National Institute on Global Security Studies; Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences of Russia

Ø  Petr Topychkanov (Sweden), senior researcher in the SIPRI Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme

Ø  Alexey Podberezkin (Russia), director of the Centre for Military and Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Member of Academy of Military Sciences of Russia

 

  12.30-14.00 Lunch 

Members’ Restaurant, European Parliament

  14.00–16.00   

 

European Parliament, room ASP 5E1

 

THIRD PANEL

 

Regional conflicts and danger of the full-scaled war in Europe

 

Moderator:

Ø  Evgeny Primakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the Presidium

Ø  of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Andrejs Mamikins (Latvia), MEP, S&D political group, Committee on Foreign Affairs

Ø  Ivo Hristov (Bulgaria), Member of the Bulgarian Parliament

Ø  Eleonora Forenza (Italy), MEP, GUE/NGL political group

Ø  Oxana Gaman-Golutvina (Russia), Head of Comparative Politics Department, MGIMO-University, President of Russian Political Science Association

Ø  Sergey Panteleev (Russia), Director of the Russian Diaspora Institute

Ø  Giulietto Chieza (Italy), MEP (2004-2009), President of the Alternativa Association

Ø  Jiří Maštálka (Czech Republic), MEP, GUE/NGL political group, Vice-chair Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

Ø  Aleksei Semjonov (Estonia), Director of the Human Rights Information Centre

  16.00-16.30 Coffee break
  16.30-19.00 European Parliament, room ASP 5E1

 

FOURTH PANEL

 

Ways out from the acute conflict between NATO and Russia

 

Moderator:

Ø  Giulietto Chieza (Italy), MEP (2004-2009), President of the Alternativa Association

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Raymond McGovern (USA), former CIA analyst (1963-1990), Co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Ø  Galina Matushina (Belgium), Member of the City Council of Antwerpen, Coordinator of Platform Solidarnost, EU Russian-speakers Alliance

Ø  Mikhail Yaкushev (Russia), General Director of the Katehon Analytic Center

Ø  Konstantin Makarenko (Netherlands), Director of the Public Diplomacy Corps, Vice-president of the EU Russian-speakers Alliance

Ø  Alexandra Dokuchaeva (Russia), Head of Diaspora and Integration Department of the Institute of CIS Countries

Ø  Dimitri de Kochko (France), journalist

Ø  Iosifs Коrens (Latvia), Vice-chairman of the International Association Pour un Future Sans Fascisme

Ø  Larissa Semjonova (Estonia), Deputy Director of the Human Rights Information Centre

 

  19.30-22.00 Dinner

Leopold Hotel, rue du Luxembourg 35, 1047 Bruxelles

 

 

 

 

 

Most of what we find in the Western mass media, and even in specialized daily digests and periodicals devoted to Russian affairs tends to fall into the extremes of Russia-bashing by the vast majority or pro-Russia cheerleading by tiny fringe groups who otherwise are unhappy with US global hegemony.

By way of example, I point to how Vladimir Putin’s roll-out of Russia’s latest and unrivaled strategic weapons systems in his 1 March 2018 speech to a session of the joint houses of the Russian Parliament were received in the West.

Many commentators insisted soon afterwards that the Mach 20 Avangard and other nuclear armed systems presented in Putin’s video clips were a bluff directed at his home audience for the sake of the forthcoming presidential election, not directed at Washington; that Russia is incapable of such breakthroughs on an industrial scale and poses no consequential military threat.  Meanwhile, dissenters from Washington’s unipolar world concept expressed joy at the Russians’ claim to having restored nuclear parity with the United States, validating the Mutually Assured Destruction balance that kept the peace for much of the last half century. On this basis some began clamoring for Putin to adopt a tougher stance in confrontation with the West up to and including clash of arms.

The 12th European-Russia Forum which was just held in the European Parliament, Brussels brought sobering realism to bear on the questions of whether we are headed into war with Russia, whether it can be limited in destructiveness and regional in scope or will quickly escalate to the global level with nuclear exchanges, and appraising what kind of outcomes we may anticipate. Speeches and discussion steered right down the neutral middle on all of these questions, and were unusually illuminating.

Before going into some detail on who said what, I am obliged to direct attention to the sponsors of this event in the European Parliament and to the participants in it.

The European Parliament building is an enormous complex comprising the offices of the 751 MEPs, a vast auditorium for their plenary sessions and a number of lesser auditoriums and conference rooms for functions held jointly with the public under the auspices of one or another political bloc of Members, such as the Forum which just took place. In the given instance, our hosts were a compound bloc called The Greens/European Free Alliance that has existed in Parliament for two decades and accounts for about 8% of the membership of the house.

“The Greens” take in Green parties from several European countries, but not the German Greens, who are a law unto themselves and are notorious cold warriors.  “Our” Greens have a calm, reflective view of international relations and do not automatically take sides in any of the conflicts between Russia and the West. Their main focus is, as we may expect, on ecologically friendly policies, promotion of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and closing of nuclear power plants. They also describe themselves as “progressives” on other social and economic issues and stand for the liberties of citizens.  The European Free Alliance is a nest for diverse champions of Europe’s regions, taking in, among others, Scottish, Welsh, Catalan, Galician nationalists, representing the interests of unrecognized nations within Europe’s great states. It also counts as members MEPs standing for the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic States including the remarkable founder of the Forum, Tatjana Zdanoka, MEP from Latvia from 2004 to March 2018, when she resigned to join domestic political contests in Riga. Her successor, Miroslavs Mitrofanovs, assumed the presidency of the Forum as well as her seat in parliament.

This was the 12th iteration of the Forum and was in the opinion of its long time participants the very best. The best in terms of structure of the program, focused as it was on the most vital issue of our day: war and peace.  Also the best in terms of the level of participants and their contributions.

In the program of the Forum attached to this report, the reader can find the names and brief mention of current positions of speakers. In a number of cases they should be followed up by a look at their Wikipedia entries, which attest to their hands-on experience dealing with the issues of the Forum at the highest levels within their organizations and governments.

The speakers may be sorted into three categories of which both the EU and Russia had their fair share:  parliamentarians; experts on disarmament and military strategic planning; and activists from civil society.

For the most part, the most valuable speeches came from the expert contingent precisely because they have been insiders to the deliberations that create negotiating positions on the Russian and US-European sides of the ongoing confrontation.  The parliamentarians and activists, though also speakers, were more important as an audience for the experts since they alone have the possibility of mobilizing society and political elites to do something about the dangers exposed by expert testimony.

There was a near consensus of all speakers regarding who is to blame for the deterioration in Russia’s relations with the West ever since the halcyon days following signing of the Paris Charter in November 1990 that formally ended the Cold War. This deterioration has moved with particular speed over the past decade bringing us today to the lowest point in relations since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

We heard from speaker after speaker that the US was and is to blame, starting with NATO expansion to the East in the mid-1990s and running through the US-managed coup d’état in Kiev on 22 February 2014 that installed an aggressively anti-Russian government in Ukraine. That crossed all of Moscow’s red lines and precipitated the re-incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation the following month, leading in turn to the Western response we see to this day: sanctions, nonstop information war and exacerbation of conflicts in Europe and in the Middle East, where Russia and the West have been backing proxies that are in conflict.

We were reminded that the arms limitation agreements reached during the Cold  War have been abrogated (ABM Treaty in 2002) and are being abrogated today (INF Treaty) at the initiative of one side only, the United States, and that there is every possibility that the NEW START agreement reached under the Obama administration will be allowed to lapse in 2021. All of this contributes to global insecurity and rips up the procedures for verification and building trust between the nuclear superpowers that took decades to achieve.

However, when turning from the frightful level of current East-West relations to appraisal of the risks of war, the positions of the speakers were more nuanced.  The same may be said of their estimations of the relative strength of Russia and NATO going into any generalized conflict if it comes to that. Moreover, there was some noteworthy disagreement over whether the prospective new arms races in several different dimensions could themselves be a cause of war and whether regional conflicts such as around Kosovo, around Syria and Ukraine could touch off general conflagrations.

One of the most persuasive and best prepared expert speakers was Pavel Zolotarev, deputy director of the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies, Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences, member of the Foreign and Security Policy Council and…a Major General in the reserves. I summarize below his overview of current realities and risk factors:

 

Today we see reinstatement by the USA of the same lines of Containment that it pursued against the Soviet Union in the original Cold War:

Nuclear confrontation. The United States retains the right of first use.  Russian doctrine is no first use unless the existence of the country comes under threat from a conventional attack. In the Cold War, NATO needed its tactical nuclear potential to withstand conventional Soviet ground attack. Today the shoe is on the other foot and Russia needs this back-up because of superior NATO strength.

If the USA leaves the INF and puts missiles in Europe, that reduces the warning time to as little as 3 minutes. It forces Russia to rely on computer programmed responses, the “dead hand” solution.

The question of war in Europe depends on one factor only: whether the United States and Russia can agree on post-Soviet space. Ukraine is the case in point. We cannot be sure that the United States can restrain Poroshenko. If Poroshenko continues, Russia may move out from the cover of volunteers to regular forces in a regional war. Further on the process may be unforeseeable, leading to a nuclear war.

But even if we solve the problem with Ukraine, we are still in a transition process, meaning it is a dangerous time with unpredictable events.

Several of the Russian military experts left no doubt about their respect for the U.S. military and its spending at ten times the level of their own country.  As Vladimir Kozin, from the Center for Military and Political Studies at the prestigious international affairs school MGIMO in Moscow noted: the US budget for its new nuclear triad and other weapons systems is vast and no other country has this potential.

With greater specificity, Alexei Podberezkin, director of the same Center in MGIMO, described the way the United States has already covered nearly all of Russian territory with navy-based 3500 km range cruise missiles having high accuracy delivery. He believes that if the US leaves the INF Treaty, there will be mass production of a wide class of missiles in this range upsetting the strategic balance. He identifies the tactical U.S. objective as destruction of the “Putin regime,” while its strategic objective is to destroy Russia.

Nonetheless, the various Russian presentations left little doubt that the country’s asymmetrical defensive nuclear capability and its measures to ensure a riposte even in the circumstances of a first American nuclear strike mean the doomsday scenario will be realized.

All the Russian military experts agreed on the need to reestablish dialogue with the United States over arms control. This is so even if they appear not to consider weapons systems as such likely to be the cause of a great war, whereas political conflict will be.

Among the Western experts, Angela Kane, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, held out little hope that the wished for security talks with the United States will be resumed during Donald Trump’s tenure. If Trump ever wished for such talks, his hands have been tied by domestic political enemies. And since his elevation to National Security Advisor, John Bolton has actively encouraged the President to take the country out of international treaties over arms limitation and much else.

 

In closing, I call attention to two speakers from the activist contingent who imparted messages intended to give purpose to the gathering in the days and months ahead.

Guiletto Chiesa is a well-known Italian politician and widely published journalist who has participated in the Forum from its inception. He was pleased that this year’s participants have all caught up with his long-existing sense of alarm over the direction of global affairs and imminent risk of war. Said Chiesa:

This is not Cold War II. It is a preparation for a big destructive war. We must beat the drums – a war is coming.

However, Chiesa’s mood was given a lift by the coming European elections in May 2019 which may well see voter rejection of the war parties who now run the show in the Parliament. The best example is the remarkable coalition government of “extreme” right and left in Italy that no one could have predicted, so that the way is open for new initiatives.

The other parting message I will quote is from Ray McGovern, the former CIA analyst and reporter of daily intelligence to American presidents who has become an antiwar campaigner of national prominence. Ray has repeatedly “put his body on the line” in demonstrations in Europe and in Washington, D.C. against US bases, against installing torturers at the head of the Agency.  Said Ray:  this is the Noah moment.  What we need now is not more weather forecasters telling us about the coming rain, but more builders of arks.

 .

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

 

 

Appendix 1.

 

 

 

Escalation of EU-Russia Relations:

Perspectives for Europe in the Case of a Military Conflict

 

Programme of XII European Russian Forum

Brussels, 25-26 November 2018

 

25 November 2018

(Sunday)

Arrival of participants and accommodation in the hotel

Thon EU Brussels Hotel, rue de la Loi 75, Bruxelles

19.30-22.00 Dinner for participants

restaurant of Thon EU Brussels Hotel, rue de la Loi 75, Bruxelles

26 November 2018

(Monday)

08.20-08.55

 

Registration of participants

European Parliament, entrance from Place du Luxembourg

 

  09.00-10.30

 

European Parliament, room ASP 1G2

 

PLENARY SESSION. FIRST PANEL

 

Involution of the EU-Russia Relationship from 2007 till 2018

From the cooperation to pre-war mode

 

Moderator:

Ø  Tatjana Ždanoka (Latvia), MEP (2004-2018), President of the EU Russian-speakers Alliance

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Miroslavs Mitrofanovs (Latvia), MEP, Greens/EFA political group

Ø  Vladimir Chizhov (Russia), Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Ø  Jiří Maštálka (Czech Republic), MEP, GUE/NGL political group, Vice-chair of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation

Ø  Konstantin Zatulin (Russia), Member of the State Duma, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Head of institute for Commonwealth of Independent States

Ø  Gilbert Doctorow (Belgium), international affairs analyst, author

Ø  Yury Mishсheryakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the

Committee for Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and

Relations with Compatriots

Ø  Georgi Pirinski (Bulgaria), MEP, S&D political group, Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly

Ø  Bill Bowring (Great Britain), Professor of Human Rights and International Law at Birkbeck, University of London

Ø  Evgeny Primakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the Presidium of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council

Ø  Hans M. Kristensen (USA), Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington (fragment of the interview for WDR).

  10.30-10.40 Coffee/ Tee Service
  10.30–12.30

 

European Parliament, room ASP 1G2

 

PLENARY SESSION. SECOND PANEL

 

New war in Europe: probability, development, consequences

Moderator:

Ø  Miroslavs Mitrofanovs (Latvia), MEP, Greens/EFA political group

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Angela Kane (Germany), former High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, Senior Fellow, Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Ø  Pavel Zolotarev (Russia), leading researcher for the Military Political Department of the Institute for U.S. and Canada, Member of Foreign and Security Policy Council, reserve Major-General

Ø  Erwin Häckel (Germany), Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Konstanz; former Fellow of German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and Chairman of DGAP Working Group on Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Sensitive Technologies

Ø  Mikhail Khodarenok (Russia), military analyst for the internet resource Газетa.Ru and invited expert for Radio Vesti FM, reserve Colonel

Ø  Marc Finaud (Switzerland), Arms Proliferation Cluster Leader, Emerging Security Challenges Progamme, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Ø  Vladimir Kozin (Russia), leading expert of the Military-Political Studies Centre, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), Professor at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences; Member of Expert Council of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Member of Scientific Council of the National Institute on Global Security Studies; Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences of Russia

Ø  Petr Topychkanov (Sweden), senior researcher in the SIPRI Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme

Ø  Alexey Podberezkin (Russia), director of the Centre for Military and Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Member of Academy of Military Sciences of Russia

 

  12.30-14.00 Lunch 

Members’ Restaurant, European Parliament

  14.00–16.00   

 

European Parliament, room ASP 5E1

 

THIRD PANEL

 

Regional conflicts and danger of the full-scaled war in Europe

 

Moderator:

Ø  Evgeny Primakov (Russia), Member of the State Duma, Member of the Presidium

Ø  of the Foreign and Defence Policy Council

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Andrejs Mamikins (Latvia), MEP, S&D political group, Committee on Foreign Affairs

Ø  Ivo Hristov (Bulgaria), Member of the Bulgarian Parliament

Ø  Eleonora Forenza (Italy), MEP, GUE/NGL political group

Ø  Oxana Gaman-Golutvina (Russia), Head of Comparative Politics Department, MGIMO-University, President of Russian Political Science Association

Ø  Sergey Panteleev (Russia), Director of the Russian Diaspora Institute

Ø  Giulietto Chieza (Italy), MEP (2004-2009), President of the Alternativa Association

Ø  Jiří Maštálka (Czech Republic), MEP, GUE/NGL political group, Vice-chair Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

Ø  Aleksei Semjonov (Estonia), Director of the Human Rights Information Centre

  16.00-16.30 Coffee break
  16.30-19.00 European Parliament, room ASP 5E1

 

FOURTH PANEL

 

Ways out from the acute conflict between NATO and Russia

 

Moderator:

Ø  Giulietto Chieza (Italy), MEP (2004-2009), President of the Alternativa Association

 

Key speakers:

Ø  Raymond McGovern (USA), former CIA analyst (1963-1990), Co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Ø  Galina Matushina (Belgium), Member of the City Council of Antwerpen, Coordinator of Platform Solidarnost, EU Russian-speakers Alliance

Ø  Mikhail Yaкushev (Russia), General Director of the Katehon Analytic Center

Ø  Konstantin Makarenko (Netherlands), Director of the Public Diplomacy Corps, Vice-president of the EU Russian-speakers Alliance

Ø  Alexandra Dokuchaeva (Russia), Head of Diaspora and Integration Department of the Institute of CIS Countries

Ø  Dimitri de Kochko (France), journalist

Ø  Iosifs Коrens (Latvia), Vice-chairman of the International Association Pour un Future Sans Fascisme

Ø  Larissa Semjonova (Estonia), Deputy Director of the Human Rights Information Centre

 

  19.30-22.00 Dinner

Leopold Hotel, rue du Luxembourg 35, 1047 Bruxelles

 

 

 

Where in the European political spectrum is the fulcrum to mobilize for peace?

Speech to the XII European Russia Forum

European Parliament,  Brussels, 25-26 November 2018

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address here today the question of what we as civil society can do to stop the relentless march towards war of our media and political elites. War on the European continent, including nuclear war, is becoming a real and alarming possibility. The peace project that we know as the European Union is no longer a bulwark against such madness.

On the contrary, with the active assistance of new member states from the former Soviet bloc, with Poland and the Baltics in the forefront, the European Union has become an agent of war-making, not within itself but with respect to its great neighbor to the East. Not a day passes without some new warnings emanating from Warsaw, Vilnius or others in their circle alleging aggressive designs by Russia requiring ever higher military expenditures, forward positioning of NATO forces and the like.

Now, with the pending withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, we face the prospect of re-installation on European soil of American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles aimed at Russia. This will, of course, elicit a symmetrical response from Moscow, placing the Continent on a permanent war footing notable for a very short warning of incoming attack – 15 minutes or less.

To be sure, the existential threat to Russia posed by the new American ground-based missiles in Europe is being exaggerated by the Kremlin, considering that the country is already surrounded by US-navy based missiles with similar capabilities and similarly short incoming warning times.  However, those systems are off-shore and do not attract Russian targeting within Europe, as the new systems will. It is the political dimension that is changing, namely the relations between Europe and Russia.  Any stationing of American missiles in Europe will represent a further and long-term subordination of the European Union to control of its foreign and defense policy by Washington.

 

All of this takes us back in time to the period before the conclusion of the INF Treaty in 1987, when the installation of US Pershings in Germany to offset Soviet SS20s was the latest and most ominous turn in the Cold War.

Back then, the strategic instability engendered by these missiles sparked a massive anti-war movement in Western Europe and most particularly in Germany, where the American missiles were based. Contemporaneously, in the United States a less potent but still relevant anti-war movement was sparked by the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” plans for a new arms race. Universities were the centers of this agitation, and the American Committee for East West Accord, a lobbying group for détente with which I was associated, was the beneficiary of a wave of membership applications, whereas previously it had been a gentlemen’s club operating mostly in the bar of the United States Senate.

The American anti-war movement of the 1980s was anecdotal.  The European movement against cruise missiles was a lot more substantial: it had big numbers, it was noisy and it attracted media attention. It is reasonable to assume that the conclusion of the INF Treaty, with subsequent removal and destruction of these missiles, was in no small measure due to the anti-war movement.

 

Can we expect such a development today? If so, how do we go about mobilizing?

To answer these questions responsibly, we must consider the very considerable changes in how the game of politics is played from then to now.

Then, in the 1980s, political parties were aligned on a Left to Right axis.  The Left was anti-war. The Right was the war party.  Easy to comprehend.

Today, politics in Europe has moved outside the Left-Right dichotomy. There are many reasons for this. I will mention here what I consider the main causal factor:  widespread discontent with  the parties of our ruling elites. They fail to address the problems that concern the great majority of the population in these times of economic distress.

As their popularity fades here on the Continent under conditions of proportional representation, these mainstream parties of the Center Right and Center Left have formed Grand Alliances to hold onto power at any price. Consistency, integrity of policy are abandoned. Ministerial portfolios are handed out without regard to competence or policy, but to hobble together parliamentary majorities. We have seen this for the past decade here in Belgium. More to the point, we see it in Europe’s leading country, Germany over the same time period in the marriages of convenience between the SPD and the CDU/CSU.

This unprincipled power-sharing has discredited these parties and encouraged the rise of politics outside the mainstream in the shape of populist or anti-Establishment parties. Add to that the dimension of Identity politics driving many such parties. They appeal to our sense of nation or ethnicity or race. The mainstream has responded with other identities, including gender, sexual orientation and assorted minority causes.

Amidst this changing landscape, the Left as a whole has fared especially poorly. It has been more disorganized, demoralized and has lost more voters than the Right.  We see this with special clarity in Germany, where Die Linke has been unable to benefit from the weakness of the Socialists, and disaffected Centrists have moved to what is called the “extreme Right,” meaning the Alternativ fuer Deutschland, or to the Greens, parties built around an agenda outside the traditional issues of economic and social policy.

I wrote about these phenomena shortly after the latest elections in the German state of Hesse a month ago, when the serious electoral losses of the CDU forced the hand of Angela Merkel and put her departure from politics on the calendar.

https://original.antiwar.com/gilbert_doctorow/2018/10/31/germanys-left-and-right-change-sides-on-the-issues-of-war-and-peace/

 

All of this bears directly on the question of what is to be done today to mobilize anti-war demonstrations.

Such movements have traditionally come from the Left, which is, as I said, exceedingly weak at present. However, at the same time, what are called the “extreme Right” parties, now show great potential for taking up this cause, just as they have exploited the anti-immigration wave of emotion to win votes and break into national politics in country after country.

In the distant past, there was clear logic to the emotional bond between the Left and the Soviet Union as standard-bearer of Communism.  The Russian Federation, on the other hand, is a market economy. We can put to one side the qualifications that it is a Continental variety, with a good measure of state direction of the economy and of social protection for the population. It has every reason to appeal more to the Right than to the Left.  And it has strongest appeal to the Far Right, given their shared emphasis on state sovereignty and the nation, for which Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has been the most visible and consistent fighter on the world stage. Add to that the factor of social and religious conservatism which the European parties of the extreme Right share with United Russia.

This, in my view, explains the orientation of Western Europe’s leading “extreme Right” parties towards Russia and against NATO, against American domination of the Continent. The Rassemblement National in France; the Alternativ fuer Deutschland in Germany; the Liga in Italy all come to mind. The leaders of these parties regularly speak out against the sanctions that Brussels has imposed on Russia and in favor of normalization of relations with Moscow. It is very likely they will take stands against new US missiles in Europe. It was deputies from these parties whom I saw in greatest numbers as international observers to the presidential elections in Russia on 18 March. They were also the greatest number of participants in the Forum on Parliamentarism that the State Duma organized in Moscow at the start of June that I attended as a foreign expert.

The Liga already enjoys a key role in the government of Italy, where its leader, Matteo Salvini, is setting the agenda in a show-down with Brussels over control of the national economy. His stated ambition is not to leave the Euro-zone or to dissolve the Union but to take control of these monsters and rein them in.

Salvini makes no secret of his admiration for Russia under Vladimir Putin and desire for normal relations. In his foreign policy statements, he opposes Atlanticism and subordination to the American Diktat. We may expect to hear a lot more from him in the coming months.

Meanwhile in Germany the AfD has now entered the legislatures of all the German Laender and may well enter the federal government after Angela Merkel leaves the political scene and the Grand Coalition collapses.  The media talk about AfD’s xenophobia, painting them as primitives. However, the bigger story is that the party has its roots and its greatest support in the territories of the former GDR where it has been the vehicle for popular resentment against the region’s colonization by West Germany since reunification. It now enjoys 27% support of voters in the East according to recent polls.  Among its core issues is the wish to restore commercial and other ties with Russia, which had been so very strong before 1992.

As electioneering for the May 2019 Europe-wide elections to the Parliament heats up, we may be sure that the issue of East-West relations and new threats to the peace coming from the American withdrawal from the INF Treaty will be taken up by the parties of the extreme Right across the EU.

Will the parties of the Left just weep into their beer? Or will they find a way to participate in the still inchoate new peace movement that is forming outside their control?

In the coming weeks and months, I intend to follow closely and further develop contacts with the political forces on the Right while remaining focused on my highest priority of resistance to the introduction of American missiles in Europe and calls for détente instead of confrontation.

Considering who is sponsoring this event today, I am aware that some in this room may not like my analysis of where the fulcrum of power lies for building an anti-war movement in Europe. I do not doubt that some here would not be eager to shake the hand of AfD or Rassemblement politicians. I ask you to reconsider that noble disdain for the sake of our overarching concern to prevent war on this Continent and more generally in the world.

In closing, let me assure you that I am open to those who defend the viability of the Left and plead the case of its abiding relevance to anti-war movements.

I sent my article on the Alternativ fuer Deutschland for comment to one of the most dedicated followers of Egon Bahr and Willy Brandt’s Entspannungspolitik, former SPD Bundestag deputy Ute Finck-Kraemer.  I got back the following comment which she encouraged me to share with others:

“The Left Party is much more than Sahra Wagenknecht and is still a vital
part of the German Peace movement. And, what you cannot see from outside
the movement – lots of Social Democratic and Green Party members are active
in the peace movement as well. They are minorities in their parties, but
have some influence, at least in the SPD.

Did you see the new appeal from prominent Social Democrats against a new
nuclear arms race in Europe?

https://kein-wettruesten.de/en/

The AfD votes in the Bundestag for some of the military missions – the
Left Party does not.”

I leave it to you to judge whose position, mine or Ute’s, gives greater promise for mobilizing demonstrations against the stationing of US nuclear missiles in Europe, against continuation of sanctions and provocative military exercises at the Russian borders.

But above all, I hope you will agree that the greatest chances for success of our cause will come when we prioritize peace and work together with all political forces pointed in that direction whatever their place on the Right-Left scale.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Armistice Day Commemorations, 2018: turning the “lessons of history” on their head

Today French President Emmanuel Macron officiated at a ceremony before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. While dozens of heads of state from around the world were present, the featured guests were the German Chancellor and the presidents of Turkey, Russia and the United States. They were seated on either side of Macron and were picked up repeatedly by the cameramen who projected their images onto large screens and into the television feed of the French broadcasters.

There is fitting logic for the venue and for the honor roll.  We recall that four years ago, the commemoration of the start of The Great War took place in Belgium, where the hostilities on the Western Front began in August 1914.  The fighting ended in France with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November1918 in a railway car near Compiègne, not far from Paris, where the German army had staged its last, unsuccessful offensive. Hence the role accorded to France from among all combatant states to lead the solemn events this year.

As for the highest consideration paid not to an ally in the Entente, but to precisely the leader of the once-upon enemy, Angela Merkel, we must recall that German-French reconciliation has underpinned the peace project that we know as the European Union from its inception and the two countries have guided the Union in tandem ever since, even if the French half has limped along this past decade under deeply flawed and unpopular heads of state.

In this essay we will consider several issues surrounding this commemoration of WWI. First, the message of “multilateralism” which figured in Macron’s speech today at the Arc de Triomphe and serves as the leitmotiv of the Forum for Peace which he opened this afternoon to a vast number of participants including the visiting heads of state, NGOs, business interests. Macron’s message was built on a wholly incorrect reading of the “lessons of history” surrounding the Great War. We will consider the question from a very different perspective.  Second, we will look at the commemorative events from the standpoint of Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing bid to replace Angela Merkel as the de facto leader of Europe and position himself as a politician of global stature. Finally, we will consider the unprecedented presence of the president of Russia in WWI commemorations in the West and look at how Russian television has been serving up the centenary to the public.

*****

 

Let us not mince words:  the lessons of history which Emmanuel Macron drew for his global audience is that WWI came about from forces of nationalism and that its conclusion, in the Treaty of Versailles, unleashed new waves of national egoism that engendered fascism and led to the tragedy of the Second World War. Per Macron, these same forces of nationalism are rising again in our midst and must be thwarted.

Regrettably, this is willful reading into the past of present concerns of Davos Culture elites over populism, Euro-skepticism, and Trumpism. It is a continuation of the same self-serving interpretation that already was evident in 2014 in François Hollande’s address at ceremonies commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War when he decried nascent aggressive nationalism and populism.

A more open-ended and unprejudiced look at issues surrounding the First World War yields very different and more troubling findings, though the overarching notion of parallels between then and now remains true. What raised international tensions and threatened war then is indeed the same today.  But it was/is not nationalism as such. It was the strivings of the great power of the day, the hegemon of 1914, Great Britain, together with its allies, to maintain the World Order they knew and profited from by preventing the rise of Germany to world power status. Just as today, the United States with its allies is striving with might and main to “contain” resurgent Russia and economic, soon to be military superpower China.   The contributing factor then and now is the alliance system itself, the two power blocs. Then they were the Entente and Central Powers, today they are NATO and Russia-China.

Henry Kissinger argued persuasively in his 1994 master work Diplomacy that balance of power and spheres of influence built around national egoism did not bring about WWI, as Wilsonian idealists and their followers in the United States and in Europe today insist.  It was the breakdown of balance of power with its freely realigning nation-states, its replacement by the rigidity of the alliances under constraints of the then military technology and logistics requiring mass and irreversible mobilizations that constituted a deus ex machina, a determinism that overrode the intentions, hopes and fears of individual statesmen on all sides.

As for the interwar period, French Marshal Foch who signed the 1918 Armistice noted that the eventual terms of peace ensured not durable peace but only a twenty-year truce. The consequences of the horrific blood-letting in the Great War and of the destruction of French industry in that war made very remote the likelihood of generosity to the vanquished or, alternatively, keeping Germany down indefinitely. It is cheap rhetoric to declare that a multilateral approach based on international institutions could have averted the disaster that developed in the 1930s. The root causes lay in the madness, in the folly of Europe’s ruling classes in 1914.

****

Macron is promoting “multilateralism” and global governance through the international institutions Washington built ever since the end of the Second World War. This is a World Order characterized by US domination and subservience from all its allies, including the European Union, for which in return European elites have helped themselves to a handsome share in the spoils of power.

The butt of Macron’s address today and of his Peace Forum was Donald Trump with his scorn for international institutions to which the United States contributions have far outweighed those of other members, his dislike for the limitations imposed by international conventions and his rude insistence on “America First” mercantilism.

The front page of yesterday’s leading French daily in Belgium, Le Soir, blasts the news that “Trump Shuns Macron’s Peace Summit.” That sharp rebuke to the American president may sell newspapers but it tells us nothing that common sense would not foresee.  Trump was not present at the Joint Session of Congress in April when Emmanuel Macron delivered his address attacking the whole of Trumpism to a rapturous audience.  He would have been a fool to be present today when Macron sought to isolate and attack his policies before the thousands attending the Forum. And Donald Trump is no such fool.

 

*****

The solemn ceremony in Paris was the culmination of week-long commemorative events in the northeast of France, at battlefields visited by Emmanuel Macron and selected guests. The most important surely was at Verdun, where more than one million combatants lost their lives. The most symbolic was at Compiègne, outside Paris, where German forces signed the armistice with Allied commander General Foch. Here Macron’s partner was Angela Merkel and they reconfirmed yet again the eternal friendship between their countries.  .

The visits earlier in the week one on one with European leaders including Theresa May, and more particularly the gathering in Paris today were structured in support of Macron’s ambition to assume the mantle of de facto political leader of the European Union, and so become a figure of global importance. He alone delivered an address. And he set conditions for his VIP guests to ensure that the side interests among them would not detract from the sole focus of the event. They were under orders not to speak among themselves. And so we in the television audience saw an unusually glum and bored assembly of national leaders.

Macron’s bid comes in circumstances when the leadership role in Europe has been slipping through the fingers of Angela Merkel. Since her recent renunciation of her position as head of her party which is due to be filled at a gathering in December and by her renunciation of  candidacy for re-election as chancellor in 2021, Merkel has been on the skids politically, with an exit from power projected as early as February 2019, depending on who is chosen to succeed her in the party directorship.

For his part, Macron’s bid for an international audience comes at a time when his own standing at home has been slipping precipitously. This has been due to domestic policies rolled out as “reforms” but amounting to an attack on the privileges and protections of organized labor. In addition, Macron has worked to his own detriment by a series of gaffes and demonstrations of poor judgment. These included inaction when his personal assistant beat up marchers on May Day while wearing a police uniform to which he was not entitled. More recently Macron was filmed engaging in chit-chat with half-naked black youths in the poor outlying districts of Paris while one gave him the finger. This was seen as an inexcusable breach of decorum by the French. And of late his proposed raising of taxes on fuel has angered a broad swathe of the population. The net result is that it is hard to see how the French President can achieve international success in the face of dismal poll results at home.

Be that as it may, news of the past week at the level of Europe-wide parties provides a further proof of Macron’s aspirations.  Following rumors of a bid to join forces ahead of the May 2019 elections to the European Parliament, yesterday it was announced that Macron’s République en marche party has formally aligned with the European Liberals, meaning the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), headed by former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt.

ALDE stands for the values of US neo-conservativism, including a heavy dose of anti-Putin venom. In the European Parliament, alongside the German Greens, it has been the most vociferous promoter of sanctions against Russia going back to 2012. In this light, Macron’s courting of the Russians since his accession to power may very well be seen as duplicitous.

It bears mention that Verhofstadt is an old admirer of Margaret Thatcher, with her union-busting free capitalism. This would seem to match very well Macron’s attempts to reign in the French labor force.

By contrast, France’s traditional Center Right party, which under Sarkozy was renamed Les Républicains, forms part of the European-wide Center Right coalition called the European People’s Party. The EPP is the largest political group in the European Parliament and holds a substantial number of porfolios on the Commission.  Meanwhile, ALDE has just 10% of the Parliament’s 750 seats.  The idea of La République en marche running candidates in coordination with ALDE for the May 2019 elections, with the hope of capturing the number two position in the European Parliament, seems excessively optimistic given Macron’s difficulties with the French public today now that the mystery about him as the “dark horse” candidate of 2017, the man to break with the political establishment, has been dispelled.

****

As I noted at the beginning, the presence of Vladimir Putin at the WWI commemoration in Paris was a debut for the Russians in such events in the West.  If there had been any chance of a similar invitation being issued in 2014, it surely was dashed by the controversy over the Russian annexation of the Crimea that spring and its involvement in the Donbas insurgency.

Under the restraining order given by Macron to his guests, Vladimir Putin looked frustrated and bored during the Arc de Triomphe ceremony. He was able to shake Donald Trump’s hand, but the hoped for mini-summit on the sidelines was not to be.

Nonetheless, Putin’s participation fit nicely with Russia’s own revision of history since 2014 and the belated show of respect for its officers and soldiers who fought in The Great War.  This episode in the country’s history had been totally ignored ever since 1917. The war was officially dismissed as an imperialist venture whose only virtue was that it prepared the way for revolution.

In 2014, just ahead of the commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of war, Vladimir Putin unveiled a monument on Poklonnaya Gora in Moscow dedicated to those who gave their lives in World War I. In his speech at the time, Putin said:

“Today we are restoring the historical truth about World War I and are discovering countless examples of personal courage and military skill, and the true patriotism of Russia’s soldiers and officers and the whole of Russian society. We are discovering the role Russia played in that difficult and epoch-changing time for the world, especially in the pre-war years. And what we see reflects very clearly the defining features of our country and our people.”

Preparations in Russia to mark the centenary of the Armistice have included some special television programming this past week. One particularly interesting program highlighted the circumstances surrounding Russian expeditionary forces sent to France during the War to defend Paris.  And today, the channel Rossiya-1 released a quite remarkable documentary film entitled “First World War. The Suicide of Europe “ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89vZl9PegOk)

Among the more noteworthy moments in this film, which runs slightly more than one hour, are a detailed explanation of the role played by the Russian imperial army at the opening of the war. As the narrator explains, the offensive launched against the German territory of Eastern Prussia by General Samsonov, though ultimately disastrous for his command, forced the Germans to pull troops from their ongoing operation to take Paris swiftly before turning East. It thus changed irremediably the nature of the war from blitzkrieg to the stationary trench warfare that it remained to the end. Another segment details the destruction of 45% of the Austro-Hungarian forces by a Russian offensive in the opening months of the war.  This film by Aleksei Denisov, narrated by Fedor Bondarchuk definitely merits translation into English and broad circulation in the West.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Alternativ fuer Deutschland: Germany’s Left and Right Change Sides on the issues of War and Peace

 

31 October 2018

 

The results of last weekend’s elections in the German state of Hesse have been getting quite a run in mainstream media.  The sharp losses suffered by both parties in the Grand Coalition, the Socialists (SPD) and Merkel’s center-right CDU, finally delivered the decisive push that spells the end the reign of the iron lady in Berlin.  Not immediately, but in the very foreseeable future, depending on who is elected to replace her at the head of her party in December.

Otherwise commentators have called attention to the beneficiaries of the waning strength at the center: the Greens on the Left, and more particularly the Alternativ fuer Deutschland (AfD) on the Right.  While the Greens are a long known quantity in German politics by their participation in the coalitions governing several Laender, the AfD is a relative newcomer and analysts noted with anxiety that the latest election returns now put AfD deputies in all of the German federal states, making it finally a nationwide party and eventual claimant to ministerial portfolios following the next German elections which might come already in 2019.

What we hear about the AfD in mainstream media tends to be condescending, at best, scornful more commonly. The party’s rise is attributed to one issue: its anti-immigration policy.  It is dismissed as xenophobic and nationalistic. Its members are assumed to be “deplorables,” if we may borrow Hilary Clinton’s pungent characterization of their assumed moral equivalents in the USA.

Mainstream occasionally reminds us that the homeland of the AfD is the territory of the former GDR. And it is taken as axiomatic that xenophobia and nationalism would have festered there because of the region’s Communist past, so unlike the open and sophisticated society of West Germany.

In the essay which I present here, I will demonstrate that the AfD’s present and likely future successes in German politics come from realities of life in East Germany that are quite unsuspected by global audiences, namely a long-borne resentment at their colonization by their Western compatriots following the annexation of the GDR, by their second class citizen status 28 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  For this association between the sufferings of Ossies at the hands of West German elites and their newfound political voice in what is called the “extreme right” I owe a debt of gratitude to Russian television, and to be specific, to two editions of the flagship Sunday news round-up of channel Rossiya-1 hosted by Dimitri Kiselyov, Vesti Nedeli, on 7 and 14 October.

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sqr_AQi0eHg, at 1h20min to 1 h 28 min   and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWWON9Z6DOw&has_verified=1  from 0:54 to 1h13 min

* * * *

The point made by Kiselyov and his correspondents in the field is that following its“annexation” in 1990, the new bosses in the West purged East Germany of all its leaders, not merely the cadres of the Communist Party that governed the country or the Stasi secret police that spied on the citizenry and reported to Moscow, but all the professionals including the university professors, sporting administrators, army officer corps.  The lustration process put them out on the street, and also deprived their children of opportunities in education and careers bearing as they did the marks of offspring of “enemies of the people.”

The East German elites were replaced at the top of local society by carpetbaggers from the West, very often second or third rate opportunists.  At the same time, the most qualified Ossies moved out, often abroad, to pursue employment opportunities in the UK or the United States.

In parallel, East Germany underwent de-industrialization. With very few exceptions such as the Karl Zeiss enterprise in Jena, East German factories were shuttered and no new manufacturers of scale appeared.  East Germany became little more than an incremental consumer market for the West.   Consequently its economic indices remain at just 73% of Western levels, and this is set to decline to just 66% by 2045.

All of this is very valuable to bear in mind when we consider the radicalization of East Germany and its rejection of the main parties from the West, as expressed today in strong and growing support for the Alternativ fuer Deutschland.  According to Kiselyov, latest polls indicate 27% of voters in the East now back the AfD. This is unquestionably the highest level of backing anywhere in Germany today.

Meanwhile, the Ossie origins of the AfD contribute greatly to the rest of its party platform outside of opposition to immigrants. We hear much less about this in mainstream media except when they speculate on the chances of its entering into a coalition with the main traditional parties of Germany and try to match up policies.  We find here not merely Euro-skepticism, but opposition to NATO, plus calls for ending sanctions on Russia.  These last points we normally associate with the Left of the political spectrum, but they are in keeping with the predisposition of a large part of the population in what was the GDR to trade with and have normal relations with Russia as they did in the distant past. In this context, the Ossie who is the federal Chancellor is at odds with the population from which she came.

I have called these policies, and especially the opposition to NATO, typically Leftist because they were precisely that in the German past.  The Entspannungspolitik, or Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt was a case in point.  However, power sharing in the Grand Coalition with the CDU has pulled the party from its moorings in exchange for the spoils of power.  When several of the former assistants to Brandt and his advisor on the East, Egon Bahr, tried to relaunch Détente a couple of years ago, it found almost no support, as I saw from inside attending what was supposed to be the launch.  The SPD was firmly in the hands of the Martin Schulz wing and like-minded Atlanticists, globalists.  So it is today.

To be sure, to the Left of the SPD we find Die Linke, another party with roots in the former GDR. Die Linke’s brilliant Bundestag deputy Sahra Wagenknecht regularly weighs in against NATO, against the sanctions on Russia, etc.  However, Wagenknecht is enmeshed in a party riven by internal disputes – over pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian factions, over personalities – to the point where it is politically ineffective and has been unable to profit from the weakness of the centrist parties.

Also to the Left of center we find the Greens. However, on international affairs, the German Greens are among the fiercest Cold Warriors on the Continent.

And so those who are condemned by today’s governing elites in Germany as the dregs of society, as fascist leaning, and so forth, namely the AfD, are by default Germany’s otherwise missing anti-war movement.

 

* * * *

It bears mention that the anti-war sentiments of Germans led in the 1980s to large scale demonstrations against the installation in Germany, in Europe of nuclear armed US Pershing missiles meant to counter Russia’s SS20 intermediate range missiles of that era.  There was heft and determination, and their actions keeping the threats of these weapons in the news surely contributed to the conclusion in 1987 of the Treaty that is now under threat of revocation by Trump in the coming month.

I had been despondent contemplating the disarray of the Left and absence of any kind of antiwar movement which might challenge some coming reintroduction of US nuclear tipped intermediate range missiles into the European heartland in the near future.

However, the vitality of the AfD suggests that it could well make political grist from any such US plans just as it has prospered from the calamity of open borders to immigration that Angela Merkel so foolishly caused. If so, our political compass will be spun around entirely.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

 

Unprecedented Summit of Four in Istanbul reveals unbridged, irreconcilable differences between Russia and the West over Syria

29 October 2018

 

The summit meeting of the German chancellor and the presidents of Turkey, Russia and France in Istanbul this past Saturday has rightfully been called “unprecedented” by the world press. It was the first time Putin, Macron and Merkel sat together since the last G-20. It was the first meeting of two very different groups of backers of a Syrian settlement:  the Astana Group, represented by Russia, and the so-called Small Group, represented by France and Germany. But by a conspiracy of silence its net results have been reduced by global media to the hopeful and empty generalization that “the solution to the Syrian crisis can only be political, not military” while the irreconcilable differences among the parties over how to structure the political process and what it will lead to remain unstated.  Unstated not only by the French, German and Turkish media, but also by the Russian media, for which I take last night’s News of the Week with Dimitri Kiselyov on the state channel Rossiya-1 as my marker.

In this brief essay, I will focus precisely on the differing, essentially contradictory understandings of the cause of the Syrian tragedy, of the legitimacy of the Syrian government  or ”regime,” and on the way that a political settlement can or cannot achieve what  was not achieved on the battlefield by the opponents of President Bashar Assad.

My prime material for providing this analysis is the full video broadcast of the press conference which the four leaders held at the conclusion of their 3 hours of talks provided by Ruptly, the German affiliate of RT and posted on youtube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cezjdhuEd18

It bears mention that such broadcasting is a very significant public service to the credit of RT and to the shame of all the mainstream Western media that denigrate the Russian news agency by calling it a propaganda outlet of the Kremlin. Full, uncut transmission of major international events represents the best side of the dis-intermediation that typifies our internet age. It allows each of us to draw our own conclusions on what transpired based on what we hear and see, including the body language of the leading personalities.

 

* * * *

Interpersonal Dynamics of the Four Leaders

Putin

Before the summit, many commentators spoke of the key role expected to be played by President Putin, for whom sitting down together with Macron and Merkel to talk about a collaborative approach to ending the Syrian crisis would appear to amount to a political victory. Ever since the crushing defeat of the Islamic militants in Eastern Ghouta at the hands of Syrian troops with Russian air support, spelling the near total military victory of the Syrian armed forces in the civil war, Putin has been knocking on doors in Western Europe to secure commitments of humanitarian aid to Syria and infrastructure investments essential to pave the way for the return of refugees from abroad.

To be sure, such a flattering advance interpretation of the event came from the “friends of Putin” community.  But not only. Responsible voices in mainstream Western media conceded the same point – as, for example, a feature article in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the meeting: “At Istanbul Summit, Russia Seeks Role as Mediator of Syria War.”

The reality in Istanbul was rather different. Indeed, it was fairly obvious that Vladimir Putin was odd man out against the three other summit leaders, all of whom have not abandoned their ambition to see Bashar Assad removed from power and replaced by some unspecified government formed by Syrian civil society. And while the final declaration of the summit stresses their unanimity on the need for a political settlement, three of the leaders at the table seek to gain by the political process what their proxies lost to Assad on the battlefield.

From body language, it was clear that President Putin was frustrated by the positions of his talking partners. Indeed, on two occasions he spoke out in direct contradiction to the seeming consensus.  One was his reminder to all present that the settlement in Idlib, namely the halt to Syrian plans to take that last rebel-held province by storm, was not binding on him if there should continue to be attacks on Government and Russian forces outside Idlib from the terrorist organizations within it.  The second was his rebuke to his colleagues, and implicitly most directly to President Macron, for their referring to Damascus as the “Assad regime” when it is in fact the UN-recognized government of the Syrian Arab Republic.  Indeed, in his next moment at the microphone Macron stepped back and spoke more respectfully of the Syrian leadership.  Moreover, Putin’s criticism of the term “regime” with reference to the Assad government was picked up by the correspondent from Le Monde and cited in the last paragraph of her coverage of the summit as an example of the differences among the summit leaders over the eventual fate of Bashar Assad: “Un sommet inédit à Istanbul pour amorcer une solution politique en Syrie.” The author, Marie Jégo, was the one member of the French media invited to ask a question at the press conference.

 

Erdogan

Erdogan has in various forums over the past several months made blunders in his statements about Syria that exposed him to ridicule.  The jokes at his expense seemingly ended following his conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding with Putin over Idlib, which won for Erdogan plaudits from the West.

Now in Istanbul he appeared before us as the statesman, the peace seeker, the coordinator.  He opened the press conference and, by far, spoke the longest.

To be sure, his recitation of some basic facts surrounding the Syrian civil war were faulty. He claimed that the Assad regime had killed one million of its citizens, when the casualties since 2011 are placed at 400,000 by UN sources, taking all casualties together and without attributing responsibility for any given share of deaths to the government or its opponents.  But his mention of Turkey’s role as the host to the greatest number of Syrian refugees, namely 3.5 million, earned him a special position in talks that had as their ultimate objective the return of the Syrian refugees to their homeland under conditions of UN supervised peace.

Of course, there is bitter irony in Erdogan’s pose of peacemaker and humanitarian given that he himself has murdered his own civilian population in Turkey by his military attacks on the Kurdish communities in the east of his country.  But hypocrisy is the common currency of diplomacy.

Merkel

Merkel was the most unassuming, modest presence on the dais. the humanitarian voice placing greatest emphasis on saving the Idlib Memorandum of Understanding  lest a government offensive unleash another massive wave of refugees into Turkey and beyond to Europe.

Her reticence is characteristic of her rule by silence these past thirteen years.  It is all the more appropriate given the fragility of her hold on power today.

 

Macron

Emmanuel Macron looked and sounded cocky. His flag in Europe and on the broader international scene has been rising inversely to the sinking fortunes of Angela Merkel, and also inversely to his own political ratings at home.  His confidence rests on one pillar:   his newfound position as the favorite of Washington now that the Brexit-stricken UK is out and Germany’s Merkel is down.

Curiously, Macron made pains to convey to the audience that he is the stalking horse of Washington. I point to a couple of his statements that were, in the context, otherwise gratuitous and irrelevant to the proceedings. The first was his using the podium to express his condolences to the American people and to President Trump for the tragedy that had just occurred in Pittsburgh (shootings at a synagogue). Secondly his mention that he would be briefing the Americans about the behind closed door talks of the summit leaders.

At the summit, Macron was the most aggressively and openly opposed to Russia’s Syria policy.  While international media reporting on the summit have fairly uniformly noted that there were differences of views among the leaders, none has gone into the details, which were made plain to anyone interested precisely by the remarks of Macron.

Macron insisted that the cause of the refugee outflow from Syria was and is opposition to the Assad regime. Under this hypothesis, no return of refugees is possible, nor will it be assisted by France, so long as Assad is in power.  While France joined Russia in providing some limited humanitarian assistance to Syrians following the fall of Eastern Ghouta to government forces, it did so via NGOs and so far refuses to provide assistance to government held territory.  This position remains directly in contradiction to Vladimir Putin’s request for infrastructure assistance, such as restoration of power and water, as a precondition for return.

A less politicized view of the refugee issue would suggest that those now in the Syrian diaspora abroad were fleeing not the Assad regime but the Islamic terrorists, or more generally, the chaos and insecurity created by civil war conditions.  Proof that this is the reality was provided at the summit by none other than President Erdogan when he took credit on behalf of his military forces for two military operations on Syrian soil that “neutralized” 7,500 Islamic terrorists, restored peace to a substantial tract of land, following which some 250,000 Syrian refugees returned to their homes, by his estimate.

Macron also in his time at the microphone repeated his long-held emphasis on the inclusion of the Syrian diaspora abroad in the political settlement process.  From his own and surely Washington’ standpoint, if this issue is properly structured the Assad regime will be removed by popular vote.

 

  What was achieved in Istanbul?

 

Given the foregoing, one may reasonably ask what actually was achieved at the Istanbul summit.

In his own remarks ahead of the summit, Vladimir Putin sought to play down expectations of a global resolution of the crisis resulting from a one day summit. He said that it would be an opportunity for the sides to exchange notes on Syria, which is a quite modest if still positive objective.

And we have good reason to believe that the major topic for this note-sharing was detailed discussion of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib.  Not merely walking through the ten points of the MoU, but looking at how it has been implemented so far.  That may well explain the presence of Russian Minister of Defense Shoigu at the Istanbul summit: to have all the military details at the ready for question and answer.

All parties to the summit have stressed the primacy of political processes and they mentioned the shared objective of a constitutional committee to prepare Syria’s future convening before the end of this year.

It is clear that France, Germany and Turkey are looking for a very different outcome of these processes from Russia.  This might lead one reasonably to ask whether Vladimir Putin is able to properly defend the interests of the Assad government.

Can he be motivated to sacrifice the regime in return for some unrelated concessions from the West? This is a question which not only might arise in Washington, London or Paris, but also in the minds of fierce Russian nationalists who often question to resoluteness of their president.

In the given situation, such backtracking by the Russians is not really possible, given the vital role played by Iran, the third guarantor of the military de-escalation process in Syria, and the only one not present at Istanbul. There can be no question of Tehran’s determination to stick by Bashar Assad whatever the West may or may not do.

In conclusion, I believe that the world media, Western and Russian, have chosen not to highlight the issues I have raised here because of the complicity of the parties in presenting a fairly optimistic story to the general public while everyone temporizes.

The default position is that Damascus, with assistance from Russia and Iran, will complete its clawing back of all its territory, including Idlib, cost what it may. In that case, the Syrian crisis will in fact be resolved by military means, whatever gloss diplomats may choose to apply. How the country will be rebuilt if the “international community” continues to turn its back on Damascus remains an open question. This is the “lose-lose” situation that Vladimir Putin is trying mightily to avoid.