Belgian diplomats and corporate businessmen supine before anti-Russian political elites

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the surprising pro-détente feelings of Belgium’s French-speaking social elite who openly criticize the anti-Russian policies being pursued by the government here, in line with the EU consensus. My comments were based on conversations I had with a good many participants in a Russia-themed gala dinner at the country’s most prestigious gentlemen’s club in downtown Brussels. The fact that such a dinner could be held and that its more than 160 seats were sold out speaks for itself.

https://gilbertdoctorow.com/2019/01/13/how-will-belgian-elites-align-in-the-may-2019-european-and-national-elections-defined-by-rising-populism/

For the record, my interlocutors were retired senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, administrators working for the royal family, successful entrepreneurs in the financial services industry and a number of barons and lesser members of Belgian noble families.

In what follows here, I offer impressions of another sampling of Belgian society, this time diplomats in active service and the middle level or senior managers of Belgian corporations with large investments and ongoing business in Russia.  The occasion was a gathering last night of the relevant Chamber of Commerce dedicated to commercial ties with Russia and celebrating the new year with speeches and cocktails. The atmosphere was subdued. One might say funereal, given how the numbers of business members in the Chamber has plummeted in recent years so that trade related bureaucrats from both Belgian and Russian sides now outnumber genuine people doing business, and fonctionnaires serving time are not an outspoken bunch.

The key to understanding what occurred and why Belgian business will do absolutely nothing to pursue its own interests in trade with Russia in the face of an anti-Russian Belgian and EU foreign policy may be found in the opening remarks to the assembly by Belgium’s ambassador to Moscow.

It must be said that the given ambassador is an upbeat and very sociable person, who deftly blends sports and other human interest trivia into his speeches.  He mentioned his hosting in his Moscow embassy Belgians who came to cheer on their Red Devils during the FIFA World Cup this past summer. No doubt he is a genial host.

The problem is that for a position of such potential political importance in one of the world’s key cities for diplomacy, the Kingdom of Belgium chose as its ambassador a person who, by his own admission last night, is just beginning to speak a bit of Russian after two years on the job. There is so much of interest around him he said, so much to learn that he would like to have another ten years to immerse himself in Russian life.

His openness of spirit is laudable, but his admitted ignorance of a country that is not exotic and sits at the doorstep of Europe does not speak well of the professionalism of the Belgian foreign service. By contrast, the Russian ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, who also spoke to the assembly, has full mastery of French and English, if not Flemish, and enters into direct dialogue with all leading figures in Belgian society without the assistance of interpreters or seeing-eye dogs.

Given the institutional biases of the staff he would take over upon assuming office, the Belgian ambassador to Moscow is a faulty instrument for detecting nuanced intelligence on what is going on in the country of his assignment, which could and should be part of his job in this age of omnipresent propaganda and megaphone diplomacy.

Be that as it may, this likable man opened his speech with a compliment to his hosts and to the audience, remarking that trade relations are an important positive influence on political relations between states.  Sadly, as he made clear in what followed, he got cause and effect backwards.

In effect, during 2018 Belgian trade with Russia fell by 8%.  According to the ambassador, a good part of the story was the worsening perception of Russia in Belgium due to two events:  the Skripal affair in the spring and the Kerch Straits incident in the autumn.  Since he is the spokesman for the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has an unequivocal, never questioning view on ‘bad boy’ Russia as Washington, D.C. and  fellow Member States of the EU decide, the best he tries to do is to keep open lines of communication with Moscow so that both sides can set out at length what their respective views are on any given issue.

Compared to thinking in Washington, which since 2014 if not before has been hell-bent on totally isolating Russia and cutting all lines of communication, we may say that the role assumed by the Belgian Ambassador to Russia is enlightened even if it is unproductive of change.

In this regard, the ambassador is only doing on a regular basis what the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel did a year ago when he paid a visit to Moscow and held lengthy talks with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and with President Putin.  We are told that relations were cordial on that visit.  But by the nature of the constraints set by Belgian political elites and by the EU, nothing more than briefly improved atmospherics and photo opportunities could result.

Then there was the spring visit to Moscow and St Petersburg by the mayor of Antwerp, leader of the country’s largest single political party, the NV-A, together with a substantial Flemish business delegation.  Here there were concrete commercial topics to be discussed including shared interest in the diamond trade, supplies of Russian petroleum and development of the port of Zeebrugge to receive Russian liquefied natural gas. However, as already mentioned, the impact on actual trade figures was zero due to worsening numbers in other sectors where the ongoing EU sanctions and Russian embargo bite.

Looking to prospects for 2019, the Belgian ambassador to Moscow did not hold back the ugly truth.  Everything will depend on what new sanctions the United States decides to impose on Russia. Belgium and the EU will swallow this bitter medicine whole, given the extraterritorial effect of United States legislation and jurisdiction.  Not even a whimper of complaint on his part. Nor did I notice any rush of the few business leaders in attendance to ask the ambassador for details during the cocktail.

And so, the activities of the Chamber of Commerce, which has a full agenda of official visits to Russian regions, and hosts the periodic Russian business delegations to Benelux, are form without content. It will take a change in government from the complacent center-right, center-left to the “populist” parties on the left and right fringes which denounce the status quo in foreign policy just as in domestic policy before any real prospect for improved political and commercial relations with the big neighbor to the East can be hoped for.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2019

How will Belgian elites align in the May 2019 European and national elections defined by rising populism?

In this short essay, I intend to demonstrate that not all is lost in Europe for the cause of reason and independent thinking on matters of war and peace, life and death, even if in the United States elites of all kinds have succumbed to mind-numbing conformism and adulation of global hegemony.

To be specific, I am saying that French-speaking Belgian social and business elites are at odds with Belgian political elites over the course of foreign policy. What remains to be seen is how this divergence of views may play out in the forthcoming Belgian and European elections of May 2019 as these various elites compete for votes amidst the full blast of rampant populism.

Will the French-speaking social and business elites find allies in the non-Establishment, i.e. non-centrist parties and so throw out incumbents and bring in new policies with the help of the Street?  Or will the politicians in power outmaneuver both the Street and the social-business elites in Brussels and Wallonia to smother debate with the help of mainstream media, thereby staying in control of policies that are leading us to war on the Old Continent?

Apart from the rare breaking of ranks with the USA over George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, for which the then Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt paid dearly by the quashing of his European level political ambitions, Belgium’s foreign policy has for more than 70 years been staunchly and unquestioningly pro-American.  And how could that official policy be otherwise in the country that is home to NATO and to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)?

However, for well-grounded reasons which they are not hesitant to share, the French-speaking Belgian social and business elites reject the way ‘alliance’ has meant a slavish “yes” by which the Belgian federal government makes no pretense at sovereignty but accedes to every Diktat from Washington. Nowhere is the rejection of official policy more evident than in the question of how relations with Russia are being conducted.

Put simply, the social and business elites view Putin’s Russia as an inescapable geopolitical factor on the European continent which must be accommodated  in a common security architecture and not baited, subjected to unilateral economic sanctions and challenged militarily at its borders, as is presently the case. They believe in the salutary effect of mutual trade, mutual cultural and other exchange between Europe and Russia, living as we all do in close proximity and having critical interdependencies.

Unlike Americans, Belgians tend to have a long memory.  Russia has been part of their historical consciousness ever since Peter the Great opened his Window to the West by moving his capital from Moscow in the Russian heartland to the shores of the Gulf of Finland, and even earlier, when he first visited the towns of Liege and Spa in what is now called Belgium during his grand European voyage in the spring of 1717. The tricentenary of that visit was duly celebrated in festivities sponsored by the Spa mineral water bottlers, one of whose springs is named for the Russian tsar.

Thus, from the early eighteenth century, Russia was seen in these lands as a Great Power which participated actively in the fateful historical events that gave rise to modern day Europe including the Napoleonic wars, World Wars I and II. In both world wars, Russia fought on the same side as the peoples of Belgium.

Of course that perception of Russia in Belgium turned darkly negative following the Revolution of 1917 when Belgian industrialists lost a major market for their tramways and other engineered products, when bondholders of Russian imperial securities lost their capital and when this little country took in a large contingent of White Russian refugees including tsarist generals and scions of the great noble families of the Empire. We may assume that during WWII, Belgians followed with interest and sympathy the Red Army’s struggle against Nazi Germany even if the country was finally liberated by American and not Russian soldiers. After WWII, the onset of the Cold War reignited antipathy here to the Kremlin.

Belgian views of the big neighbor to the East changed once again, in a very positive direction, after the collapse of Communism and the rise of the Russian Federation as successor state with democratic aspirations and mixed market economy. With skepticism at first, then with growing enthusiasm, the local Russian diaspora also joined in this new appreciation of possibilities for cooperation with Moscow. Consequently, Belgian social and political elites, including the core of Belgians with Russian family roots, have been highly critical of the American led efforts to demonize Putin and Russia in the new millennium. Given their frustration with the often parlous state of political life in their own country, over family dynasties in power, the Belgian business and social elites take with a grain of salt all of American ranting about authoritarianism in Russia.

What are my sources of information supporting my generalizations about the current split in elite thinking here over foreign policy and in particular over policy towards Putin’s Russia? They are the conversations I had with numerous business people, retired diplomats, persons close to the monarchy and society personalities at a special Russia-themed gala dinner held in the most prestigious gentlemen’s club of French-speaking Belgium on 7 January 2018 and once again last Friday, 11 January 2019. The black tie event was timed to fall between the celebration of Russian Christmas and New Year’s according to the Julian calendar observed by the Orthodox Church. The host club’s name includes the designation “royal” which nails down its claims to national relevance in Belgium.

A year ago, I published detailed notes of what I heard at the Russian soirée in an article entitled “Celebrating Russian Christmas in Brussels. High Politics and High Society Meet in the Grand Dining Room.”  I will not repeat myself here, but urge the reader to consult the article by following the link https://wordpress.com/post/gilbertdoctorow.com/274

 

Taking a step backward, I now wish to explain the point set out at the very beginning when I mentioned the “Street,” meaning the broad electorate, as the force to be won over to otherwise marginal parties by those parties’ possibly espousing the views of the business and social elites in favor of a foreign policy of Peace as opposed to War. On what basis, you may ask, do I believe that the Street could pay attention to such an appeal and cast its vote accordingly?

Here I rely on my nose to the wind.  In decades of daily life in Belgium, I have yet to find someone in the working classes who trusted the good intentions and competence of our federal government or of the mass media.  Specifically as regards Russia, the thinking of ordinary folks has been remarkably consistent, whether my interlocutor has been a French speaker or a Fleming.

When I get back to Brussels from one of my periodic trips to Russia, I may mention where I have been to my postman or to the owner of the little convenience shop on the corner, among other occasional contacts.  Their consistent response is “Putin,” thumbs up. Unlike friends and acquaintances in the middle classes, and still more in the academic community, I have never once encountered a Russophobe among the Street.

 

* * * *

 

The reader will note that I opened this essay by precisely identifying “French-speaking business and social elites” whom I take to represent the 40% of the country’s population  living in Brussels and Wallonia, two of the country’s three regions.  I focus attention on these French-speaking elites because they are the ones with whom I am in direct contact and about whom I have specific personal experience that constitutes the raw inputs for this essay.

As regards, the 60% of the country’s population in Flanders, the third Belgian region, I do have personal contact coming from occasional exchange of views with Flemish businessmen in the Belgian-Luxemburg Chamber of Commerce for Russia.  However, my interlocutors there are usually middle management people who do not pay close attention to politics or are afraid to express independent views at odds with the government.  And so I draw my conclusions on Flanders by triangulation, based on what their politicians are saying and doing rather than on what is going on in society. In this domain, there was one outstanding case of disagreement with the foreign policy of the federal government that merits attention.

One year ago, ahead of the planned visit of the Belgian Prime Minister to Moscow, a leader of the Extreme Right, nationalist Vlaams Belang (The Flemish Interest) party, Filip Dewinter, introduced a resolution into the Belgian parliament calling for the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.  The resolution urged the Government to petition the European Parliament in this matter.

Upon reading about this unusual initiative, I placed a phone call to Dewinter to better understand who he was and what he hoped to achieve.  Whereas his party is condemned by mainstream Belgian politicians for its pursuit of Flemish independence and for what are called xenophobic policy orientations, by his remarks in this telephone interview Dewinter impressed me as a sophisticated internationalist with a good grounding in business who stood opposed to the economic hardship inflicted on Flemish farmers and industry by the EU sanctions against Russia and the Russian counter-sanctions they elicited.

In the same period, I reached out to the leadership of the largest Flemish political party, the N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) to enquire whether they would support Dewinter’s resolution in parliament. N-VA chief Bart de Wever did not respond to my enquiry, nor did his party take any action whatsoever in support of the call to lift sanctions, so that it failed to gain any traction in the parliament.

I assume that this outcome followed from the N-VA’s participation in the ruling coalition government, where it had control of several ministerial portfolios but not of the Foreign Ministry, where the centrist Francophone Didier Reynders of the Mouvement Reformateur (MR) party had, since coming into office in 2012, pursued a “go with the flow” policy of backing each and every directive coming from Washington.

Be that as it may, De Wever made his own demonstrative statement in favor of good commercial and other ties with Russia when in April of this year he took a large delegation of businessmen from his home base of Antwerp, where he is mayor, on a trip to St Petersburg and Moscow.  A press release issued at the time by the Port of Antwerp, explained that the aim of the mission was:  “to consolidate and expand the close trade relations between Russia and Antwerp and its seaport. Russia has indeed been one of the most important trading partners for decades.”

Now that the N-VA has pulled out of the ruling coalition with the Francophone centrists, bringing down the government of Charles Michel, and setting the way for new parliamentary elections in May 2019 , it will be interesting to see if they present to their voters a less America-centered and more Belgium centered foreign policy platform.

In conclusion, I believe there are interesting developments afoot in Belgian politics as we enter the 2019 electoral campaign. Commentators across the political spectrum are speaking about the rise of populism and euro-skepticism.  On the Left of our politics, judging by the results of the nationwide local government (communal) elections last autumn, populism seems to spell the rise of The Greens, an environmental, alternative political force that has no clear foreign policy.  On the Right of our politics, it remains to be seen if the alternative parties of the Extreme Right will have the vision and the ability to take to voters the foreign policy views of the social and business elites and thereby capture for themselves a wholly new portion  of the electorate.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Silicon Valley Minnows, like Silicon Valley Whales, follow anti-Russian Orders Handed down by Washington

Dear Reader, the following expose of cowardice and conformism  at the head of a young and seemingly kindly internet platform that collects and passes along donations for worthy causes is offered as a caution to the idealists among us that the Deep State easily finds collaborators in its crimes of global hegemony at every corner of our society.  The sanctimonious young appear to be doing no better than worn down and obsequious old timers in staying clear of its clutches.

This story did not originate as an exercise in investigative journalism.  On the contrary, it imposed itself on us. “Us” is not the royal “we” – it is collectively myself and the editor-in-chief, publisher of Russia Insider  Charles Bausman when we pursued a Comment posted by a reader of my December article about seriously ill Russian speaking prisoners in Ukrainian detention centers who are being denied not merely due process but urgently needed medical care:

https://russia-insider.com/en/maltreated-prisoners-war-and-prisoners-conscience-rotting-ukrainian-jails-list/ri25621

The Comment said in part: “Go Fund Me would be worth a try…”

Raising funds to assist the miserable unfortunates in question was not in our original game plan, which was merely to publicize their fate and so bring pressure on the Ukrainian authorities to take remedial action.  However, the suggestion seemed to be a very good one, and Bausman put his team to work to open an account on GoFundMe, setting a modest target of 3,000 euros to procure medical treatment and possible legal aid.

The account was duly opened and stayed “on air” for perhaps 24 hours, when it suddenly disappeared and in its place the original account link led instead to a screen explaining that the account page did not exist.

That was quickly explained by management of GoFundMe in an email to us, saying they required further information about our intentions before they could lift their suspension order on the account.

Quote

Community Management Team (GoFundMe)

Dec 19, 12:01 PM PST

Hello,

Thanks for following up with us. My name is Molly from the Community Management team at GoFundMe and I wanted to touch back to you and let you know we are currently reviewing your campaign.

To continue, we will need more information to verify whether this campaign falls within our Terms of Service. Please reply to this email at your earliest convenience with the following information:

·         What is your relationship with the beneficiaries?

·         Please provide a full list of the legal names of each of your beneficiaries who will be receiving funds/support

·         Please confirm where your beneficiaries are location (city and country)

·         Please confirm the name and address of facility where your beneficiaries are currently being held

·         Confirm how funds will be spent – please be as specific as possible, including information regarding the names of any organizations or businesses who will be handling or receiving funds at any point in time

·         Please provide an email on which we can reach out to your beneficiary, if necessary. This would be the full name and email address of any main points of contact you have with the beneficiaries

·         How will you send the funds to your beneficiaries? Please include the names of any banks or money transmitters you will use.

Once you reply to this email with the requested information, our Community Management Team will review your campaign within one business day. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Regards,

Molly
Community Management Team

Unquote

 

We came right back to them with all the detailed information they sought about the detainees/beneficiaries of our fund-raising . We stated unequivocally that our purpose was strictly humanitarian. We explained that persons in an EU embassy in Moscow who provided the list of detainees which we published would also assure the transfer of funds to the beneficiaries in Ukraine and we could provide the bank account details of the intermediary.

In fact, the diplomatic employee in Moscow is a friend of one of my good friends in Brussels, so we acted in perfect confidence that the claims being made and the means of intervention being proposed were honest, legitimate and likely to be effective.

After our response was sent off to GoFundMe, not one day, but two weeks passed before their Judgment of Solomon came back to us:

Quote

The GoFundMe Team (GoFundMe)

Jan 2, 3:57 PM PST

Dear GoFundMe Customer,

We are writing to inform you that your GoFundMe account has been removed due to sanctions involving an unsupported country and a violation of our Terms & Conditions.

The content of your campaign falls under our “Conditions of Use” section. You can view our full Terms & Conditions by clicking this link.

Unfortunately, our Terms and Conditions, along with strictly enforced policies from the payments industry and the Office of Foreign Assets Control, prohibit GoFundMe from allowing you to continue raising money on our site.

Regards,

The GoFundMe Team

Visit our terms: www.gofundme.com/terms

Unquote

As for an “unsupported country” and the “Office of Foreign Assets Control,” well we can decipher those points pretty well without help.  The “Terms and Conditions” are another matter.  As Charles Bausman soon found out, that document comes to 10,000 words, so it is anyone’s guess what exactly they claim we would be violating with our proposed fund-raising.

There is no need to belabor the point.  Pseudo-patriotism is written all over the servile face of the GoFundMe Team.  Couldn’t have been uglier had we been dealing with Zuckerberg’s Facebook boys and girls.

Nonetheless, the publication effort relating to my original article as disseminated by Russia Insider was not in vain.  A week later, the friend’s friend in Moscow wrote to us that the first named sufferer on our list was finally scheduled for a much needed operation on his leg, which she attributed to the public shaming of the Ukrainian authorities.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Survival in the Age of Trump

Survival in the Age of Trump is today on many minds.  For some, the issue is whether our whimsical, volatile president will undo 70 years of alliance (read: empire) building here and now.  For others, it is whether he will finally realize his campaign promises to be the Great Disrupter and fulfill the wishes of the vast majority of the American public to live at peace with the world.

The turning point was Donald Trump’s announcement a week ago on Twitter that he ordered the U.S. military to withdraw the 2,000 or so American ground troops from Syria.  This was initially greeted with skepticism by our dissident community and also by one international actor which is very interested in avoiding confrontations, not to mention armed conflict with the United States on and over Syrian territory, namely the Russian Federation.

But the shrill denunciations that the announcement precipitated among US political elites and media, followed by the resignation of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, “mad dog” General James Mattis the day after the announcement, made it plain that the withdrawal order will be implemented within thirty, sixty or, at the outer limit, ninety days. Moreover, the U.S. military further released to the public the news that following the removal of U.S. ground troops in Syria the American air offensive in Syria would come to an end.  And it was confirmed that the President had ordered the American military presence in Afghanistan to be halved, meaning the departure of 7,000 soldiers according to a timetable still to be defined.

In summation, it was an eventful week. The President effectively had kicked over the beehive of his enemies in the nation’s capital. He had gone against virtually the entire foreign policy Establishment across the land, and against the mainstream media.  High decibel speculation erupted in the press on where next this President will draw down American troops and what that means for the entire posture of the US global “alliances.”  Will the troops stationed in Japan and South Korea questioned by Trump since the electoral campaign be next to undergo a haircut?

Western commentators on the Trump administration are calling him not merely a juvenile in the White House but a “crackpot” and someone utterly “unpredictable.” His alleged unpredictability makes him all the more dangerous to national security in their view. This personality trait also makes him a blood brother of Vladimir Putin, whom our media constantly accuse of unpredictability, though his every action may easily be anticipated by anyone who follows closely his public speeches.

Of course, none of Trump’s latest moves was truly “unpredictable.”  Withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan was embedded in his 2016 electoral platform.  Since taking office, he has acted to implement nearly all of his campaign promises with respect to domestic policy.  Now that the midterm elections are behind him and his control of the Senate is assured, Trump has undertaken to realize his promises on foreign affairs.

It is to be noted that the most controversial of his electoral pledges, to normalize relations with Russia, remains off the table.  Considering how the Democrats and his opponents within his own party have made Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, the cudgel in their attacks on his presidential powers, we may expect that any move on Russia will come at the very end of Trump’s “to-do” list if it remains there at all.

The Russians’ skepticism over Trump’s announced pull-out from Syria has not been dampened notwithstanding the departure of General Mattis.  Indeed, the scenario of two steps forward and one step back seems to be a valid description of actions of this administration.  During yesterday’s surprise visit to American forces stationed in Iraq, Trump mentioned in passing that they may be used for operations in Syria “against ISIL.”  We may assume that their interventions will have more varied objectives than combatting terrorism across the border.

If we step back from the specifics of the past two weeks and look at the foreign policy impact of Donald Trump’s presidency more broadly, we are faced with a number of conflicting facts.   These contradictions may explain how he been able to hold onto power…and to stay alive thus far while going up against the Deep State in ways that put the entire structure of American global hegemony in peril.

At times, everyone in turn, foes and would-be friends, see before them a Trump they can support even if they revile him for his other facets exposed at other moments.  I, for one, have gone through a cycle of repulsion and admiration. Repulsion was strongest following Trump’s utterly unacceptable, if not insane speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2017 threatening North Korea with annihilation. Admiration for his bravery came in the past week following the announcement on withdrawals.

For those of us who would like to support this President in his foreign policy initiatives, the problem is the way he justifies his actions:  they are founded on lies and prevarication.  Moreover, he clearly does not give a hoot about the lot of us. He is not open to advice from us….or anyone else outside a very circumscribed number of loyalists with whom the shares ideas, when he is not simply following his own “gut instincts” in the tradition of captains of the entrepreneurial, as opposed to corporate business world from which he hails.

However, it is also true that in his own way, Trump the Great Disrupter is doing far more to achieve the dismantlement of the American Empire than any of us.  We in the dissident community have not found our audience.  The broad public in the United States and in Europe does not “get it.”  There is among us vast concern over possible accidents, leaks at atomic power stations.  A new Chernobyl or Fukishima is lurking around the corner.  Hence, the rising strength of the Green Parties, which have common environmental objectives but no common foreign policy. And yet, the dangers of nuclear war which have been rising year after year and will become most acute if and when the US installs nuclear armed cruise missiles in Europe, as seems highly likely, go unnoticed by our slumbering public.

Donald Trump is the Ugly American incarnate.  More so than even Dick Cheney or George Bush the Younger.  His boorish manners and in-your-face self-promotion puts to shame the servile European, Japanese and other spittle-lickers who have profited from their associations with Washington at the expense of their compatriots. These would-be friends of Washington have nowhere to hide from the disgrace Trump metes out to them before their own peoples.  All of this is good and necessary medicine to set the world on its way towards a multipolar future.  Far more than we “American dissidents” have been able to muster.

Therefore, I can only say ‘godspeed’ to Donald Trump in the New Year 2019.  May he willy-nilly continue to do God’s work.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

Donald Trump orders full withdrawal of US ground forces from Syria: the Establishment howls its disapproval

To readers who are estranged from the comfortable complacency of the political center and who were initially skeptical of the first media reports yesterday that Trump had ordered complete withdrawal of US ground troops from Syria, I say:  there is no deception here, the news is authentic. Trump has finally found his backbone after months of giving in to his Neocon advisers and hawkish generals – we are leaving.

The reality and seriousness of Trump’s decision is confirmed by the shrill intensity of its condemnation by the Democratic (liberal internationalist) and Republican (Neocon) opposition to what Trump announced.  For a starter, may I suggest that the reader go to The Washington Post and take a look at the invective from Victoria Nuland, the leading Cold Warrior at State during Obama’s tenure in office and the author of the coup d’etat against the legitimate government in Kiev that has brought us into our present dramatically heightened international tensions.

And the media drum beats for Trump’s scalp pick up where our Establishment politicians leave off.  Not just in US media but here in Europe in the oh-so- independent and sophisticated BBC World news, for example.  In this morning’s Briefing program, the BBC’s Washington reporter explains how Trump yet again has shown his disruptive character by this move which runs against the expert advice of all his generals and political advisers and cedes Syria to Russia and Iran!

Disruptive!  Allow me to put such an anodyne and objectively correct assessment into context, given that the reporter meant it as a slap across the wrist for Donald, as if he were the juvenile caricature his many enemies choose to hang around his neck.

I am a great enthusiast for a couple of almost unique pillars of US and UK democracy:  the first past the post principle in designating the winners of elections and the winner takes all notion of governance following the elections.  To anyone who finds these principles unexceptional, I must explain that they run directly against the operative principles of many if not most nations on the Continent, where progressive political theories stressing consensus and inclusiveness have given us executives and legislatures which are utterly incapable of being disruptive. What we get here in Old Europe tends to be coalition governments or power-sharing in which parliamentary majorities are hobbled together by distributing the spoils of office, assigning ministerial portfolios with utter disregard for policy coherence or the competence of the appointees. The stasis in policy results in voter apathy and works directly against the vibrancy of democracy.

The fact is that polarization and disruptiveness are what the whole democratic process is supposed to be about.  Throwing out the bums is one side of the story; throwing out bum policies is the other side of the story.  Anyone questioning this, as all of Trump’s critics do, is arguably subverting our democracy, not defending it.

The election of Donald Trump was supposed to result in both sides of the disruption story being realized. His foreign policy, which exposed him to gratuitous attacks and about which he could have but chose not to be silent during the campaign, was precisely for cardinal change in the way foreign policy is conducted. And, notwithstanding the way his enemies in the political elites and in the mass media pilloried him for these positions, he won the 2016 election fair and square.

Trump had called for a move away from war, towards accommodation with adversaries like Russia, for ending the unnecessary and never-ending wars initiated by the previous administrations while improving America’s big stick – allocating new funds to modern equipment and weapons systems.This put Trump in the framework famously set out by President Teddy Roosevelt a hundred years ago.  Roosevelt, it will be remembered, was The Realist American president and together with Richard Nixon was a direct ideological forerunner of Donald Trump. Roosevelt’s nemesis, Woodrow Wilson, was the direct ideological forerunner of all the Idealist  hot-war fighting presidents we have had in between.

As we know, Trump in office has been a mess.  His utter inexperience in running organizations larger than his own Trump Organization with its 12 loyalist direct reports has shown up at every turn.  His management style, based on the principle of keeping one’s friends close and one’s enemies still closer, has rendered him utterly surrounded by policy enemies who have largely run away with the show on all elements of foreign policy.

It is hard to say what precipitated this latest turn in direction of POTUS 45, but it could conceivably have been the disastrous sentencing hearing of his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during which the full mania of the anti-Trump warriors was presented with perfect clarity: a policy characterized by vicious partisanship and indecent mob mentality that we have charitably called McCarthyism.  Let us hope that he stands firm now, throws out more of the bum policies as well as bum individuals he inherited or appointed, and proceeds from Syria to an about face on Russia and much more.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2018

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