What game is the House of Saud playing?

Pepe-EscobarPepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.

 

 

Published time: January 16, 2015 12:29

 

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Reuters / Lucy Nicholson

The House of Saud now finds itself in times of extreme trouble. Their risky oil price war may eventually backfire. The succession of King Abdullah may turn into a bloodbath. And the American protector may be musing a change of heart.

Let’s start with oil – and some background. As much as US supply has increased by a couple of million barrels a day, enough oil from Iran, Kirkuk in Iraq, Libya and Syria has gone out of production; and that offsets extra US oil on the market. Essentially, the global economy – at least for the moment – is not searching for more oil because of European stagnation/recession and the relative China slowdown.

Reuters / Todd Korol

Reuters / Todd Korol

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market to offset the decrease in Iran exports caused by the US economic war, a.k.a. sanctions. Riyadh, moreover, prevented OPEC from reducing country production quotas. The House of Saud believes it can play the waiting game – as fracked oil, mostly American, is inexorably driven out of the market because it is too expensive. After that, the Saudis believe they will regain market share.

In parallel, the House of Saud is obviously enjoying “punishing” Iran and Russia for their support of Bashar Assad in Damascus. Moreover, the House of Saud is absolutely terrified of a nuclear deal essentially between the US and Iran (although that’s still a major “if”) – leading to a long-term détente.

Tehran, though, remains defiant. Russia brushed off the attack because the lower ruble meant state revenues remained unchanged – so there will be no budget deficit. As for oil-thirsty East Asia – including top Saudi customer China – it’s enjoying the bonanza while it lasts.

Oil prices will remain very low for the time being. This week Goldman Sachs lowered their 2015 WTI and Brent Crude forecasts; Brent was slashed from $83.75 a barrel to $50.40, WTI was cut from $73.75 to $47.15 a barrel. Prices per barrel could soon drop as low as $42 and $40.50. But then, there will be an inevitable “U-shaped recovery.”

Nomura bets that oil will be back to $80 a barrel by the end of 2015.

Punish Russia or bust

US President Barack Obama, in this interview, openly admitted that he wanted “disruptions” in the “price of oil” because he figured Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “enormous difficulty managing it.” So that settles the argument about hurting Russia and US-Saudi collusion, after US Secretary of State John Kerry allowed/endorsed King Abdullah in Jeddah to simultaneously raise oil production and embark on a cut price strategy.

Whether Kerry sold out the US shale gas industry out of ignorance or incompetence – probably both – is irrelevant. What matters is if the House of Saud were ordered to back off, they would have to do it in a flash; the ‘Empire of Chaos’ dominates the Persian Gulf vassals, who can’t even breathe without at least an implicit US green light.

What is way more troubling is that the current bunch in Washington does not seem to be defending US national and industrial interests. If humongous trade deficits based on currency rigging were not enough, now virtually the entire US oil industry runs the risk of being destroyed by an oil price racket. Any sane analyst would interpret it as contrary to US national interests.

Anyway, the Riyadh deal was music for the House of Saud’s ears. Their official policy has always been to slash the development of all potential substitutes for oil, including US shale gas. So why not depress oil prices and keep them there long enough to make investments in shale gas a lunatic proposal?

But there’s a huge problem. The House of Saud simply won’t get enough in oil revenues to support their annual budget with oil at below $90 a barrel. So as much as hurting Iran and Russia may be appealing, hurting their own golden pocketbooks is not.

The long-term outlook spells out higher oil prices. Oil may be replaced in many instances; but there isn’t a replacement – yet – for the internal combustion engine. So whatever OPEC is doing, it is actually preserving demand for oil vs. oil substitutes, and maximizing the return on a limited resource. The bottom-line: yes, this is predatory pricing.

Once again, there’s an immense, crucial, complicating vector. We may have the House of Saud and other Persian Gulf producers flooding the market – but its Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Citigroup who are doing the shadow, nasty work via leveraged derivative short futures.

Oil prices are such an opaque racket that only major oil trading banks such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley have some idea who is buying and who is selling oil futures or derivative contracts – what is called “paper oil.” The non-rules of this multi-billion casino spell out “speculative bubble” – with a little help from those friends at the Gulf oil pumps. With oil futures trading and the two major London and New York exchanges monopolizing oil futures contracts, OPEC really does not control oil prices anymore; Wall Street does. This is the big secret. The House of Saud may entertain the illusion they are in control. They’re not.

 

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama – (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

That dysfunctional marriage

As if this was not messy enough, the crucial succession of the House of Saud is propelled to the forefront. King Abdullah, 91, was diagnosed with pneumonia, hospitalized in Riyadh on New Year’s Eve, and was breathing with a tube. He may – or may not, this being the secretive House of Saud – have lung cancer. He won’t last long. The fact that he is hailed as a “progressive reformer” tells everything one needs to know about Saudi Arabia. “Freedom of expression”? You must be joking.

So who’ll be next? The first in the line of succession should be Crown Prince Salman, 79, also defense minister. He was governor of Riyadh province for a hefty 48 years. It was this certified falcon who supervised the wealth of private “donations” to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s jihad, in tandem with hardcore Wahhabi preachers. Salman’s sons include the governor of Medina, Prince Faisal. Needless to add, the Salman family controls virtually all of Saudi media.

To get to the Holy Grail Salman must be proven fit. That’s not a given; and on top of it Abdullah, a tough nut to crack, already survived two of his crown princes, Sultan and Nayef. Salman’s prospects look bleak; he has had spinal surgery, a stroke and may be suffering from – how appropriate – dementia.

It also does not bode well that when Salman was promoted to Deputy Defense Minister, soon enough he was shown the door – as he got himself mixed up with Bandar Bush’s atrocious jihadi game in Syria.

Anyway, Salman already has a successor; second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Muqrin, former governor of Medina province and then head of Saudi intelligence. Muqrin is very, very close to Abdullah. Muqrin seems to be the last “capable” son of Ibn Saud; “capable” here is a figure of speech. The real problem though starts when Muqrin becomes Crown Prince. Because then the next in line will be picked from the grandsons of Ibn Saud.

Enter the so-called third generation princes – a pretty nasty bunch. Chief among them is none other than Mitab bin Abdullah, 62, the son of the king; cries of nepotism do proceed. Like a warlord, Mitab controls his own posse in the National Guard. Sources told me Riyadh is awash in rumors that Abdullah and Muqrin have made a deal: Abdullah gets Muqrin to become king, and Muqrin makes Mitab crown prince. Once again, this being the “secretive” House of Saud, the Hollywood mantra applies: no one knows anything.

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Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.(Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)

Abdullah’s sons are all over the place; governor of Mecca, deputy governor of Riyadh, deputy foreign minister, president of the Saudi Red Crescent. Same for Salman’s sons. But then there’s Muhammad bin Nayif, son of the late Crown Prince Nayif, who became Interior Minister in 2012, in charge of ultra-sensitive internal security, as in cracking down on virtually anything. He is the top competitor against Mitab among the third-generation princes.

So forget about family “unity” when such juicy loot as an oil hacienda impersonating a whole country is in play. And yet whoever inherits the loot will have to face the abyss, and the same litany of distress; rising unemployment; abysmal inequality; horrendous sectarian divide; jihadism in all its forms – not least the fake Ibrahim Caliphate in “Syraq”, already threatening to march towards Mecca and Medina; the unspeakably medieval Council of Ulemas (the lashing/amputating/beheading-loving bunch); total dependency on oil; unbounded paranoia towards Iran; and a wobbly relationship with His Masters Voice, the US.

When will they call the cavalry?

And it so happens that the real ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington-New York axis are debating exactly the erosion of this relationship; as in the House of Saud having no one to talk to but the “puppets”, from Bush Two minions to Kerry at most on occasion. This analysis contends that any promises made by Kerry over the House of Saud “cooperation” to damage Russia’s economy really mean nothing.

Rumbles from ‘Masters of the Universe’ territory indicate that the CIA sooner or later might move against the House of Saud. In this case the only way for the House of Saud to secure its survival would be to become friendly with none other than Moscow. This exposes once more the House of Saud’s suicidal present course of trying to hurt Russia’s economy.

As everyone is inexorably an outsider when faced with the totally opaque House of Saud, there’s an analytical current that swears they know what they’re doing. Not necessarily. The House of Saud seems to believe that pleasing US neocons will improve their status in Washington. That simply won’t happen. The neocons remain obsessed about the House of Saud helping Pakistan to develop its nuclear missiles; some of them – once again, that’s open to speculation – might even be deployed inside Saudi Arabia for “defensive purposes” against that mythical Iranian “threat.”

Messy? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. But one thing is certain; whatever game Riyadh thinks it’s playing, they’d better start seriously talking to Moscow. But please, don’t send Bandar Bush on another Russian mission.

Pepe Escobar’s latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook.

 

‘Washington, the Hollywood of politics’: story behind Hagel’s exit

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after the president announced Hagel's resignation at the White House in Washington, November 24, 2014 (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after the president announced Hagel’s resignation at the White House in Washington, November 24, 2014 (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

RT NEWS

Regardless who is the US Secretary of Defense, there will always be Washington’s basic policy strategy around the desire to control the whole map and use the military to shape the entire world, anti-war activist Eugene Puryear, told RT.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after the president announced Hagel's resignation at the White House in Washington, November 24, 2014 (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after the president announced Hagel’s resignation at the White House in Washington, November 24, 2014 (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

RT: You’ve seen this machine at work from the inside. What do you think is behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?

Matthew Hoh:I think, of course, there is much more to this story than simply “Chuck Hagel no longer worked well with the administration.” I think you could tell by how quickly and how viciously the White House anonymously attacked Chuck Hagel as soon he announced his resignation. There were a lot of personal attacks against Hagel: he didn’t have leadership, he couldn’t do the job, he wasn’t up to the task, and I think any time you see the administration or the White House so quickly denouncing somebody, you know automatically there is another story to this. And what I believe to be case is that Chuck Hagel does not agree with the Obama Administration involving American troops in the middle of the Iraqi and the Syrian civil wars. And he is in disagreement with the American re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan that was just announced this past weekend.

RT: Judging by yesterday’s warm hugs between Obama and Hagel, the personal relationship between the two is quite friendly. How sincere were those smiles and handshakes?

MH: It’s Washington DC; it’s the Hollywood of politics. So, absolutely. I think may be in earlier time it could be described there is how cordial relations were among politicians, among elected leaders, among our senior people. But now it’s just as you described – it was a show.

RT: Recently Chuck Hagel became quite critical of the administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq. Do you think this made him an outcast in the White House?

MH: I think for the administration not to expect Secretary Hagel to be vocal or to speak up would have been be a very big mistake for them in their understanding of Secretary Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel earned the national reputation in the United States about 10 years ago or so for going against the Iraqi war. Chuck Hagel is a republican and member of President George Bush’s party and he very famously went against the Iraq war. So for the Obama Administration to have thought that Chuck Hagel was pliable, someone who was just going to go along with whatever decision they made and not to offer disagreements whether in private or in public, I think that was a huge mistake on their part. And so I think as I said as the story unfolds and as we get more perspectives on it, we’ll see the level of disagreement that was within the administration, within Obama’s Cabinet between Secretary Hagel and more hawkish members.

RT: Chuck Hagel is known for his anti-militaristic approach to U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s going does it mean the Pentagon will become more aggressive?

MH: I think, unfortunately, the administration has bowed to pressure from both within the administration, from those in the administration who are beholding to a pro-intervention or a “military-first” policy as well as to very hawkish or warmongering senators on Capitol Hill. So I think the Obama Administration has made a commitment to expand America’s role in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. I think that is a cycle that will only worsen and deepen. Case in point – Afghanistan – where the United States escalated the war in 2009.Five years later, there is no end in sight for the war, the Afghan people continue to suffer, the government remains incredibly corrupt, the Taliban are stronger and the drug trade is the only industry in the country. I think what’s happening with American re-escalation of the war – sending American troops back into combat – is that President Obama is bowing to pressure, feeling stoned by abusing criticism that he is not tough enough. He is recommitting American troops to the war in Afghanistan, so that he cannot be criticized for ending the war prematurely. [But] they have been there for 13 years and that war, according to polls it has an 83 percent unfavorability rating in the United States, and is most unpopular war in American history, even more unpopular than the wars in Iraq or Vietnam.

General Dempsy

General Dempsy – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (Reuters / Larry Downing)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey (Reuters / Larry Downing)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of UH.

‘How Ukraine was turned into a failed state in a year’

A Ukrainian anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with riot police in central Kiev early on January 25, 2014. (AFP Photo / Dmitry Serebryakov)

A Ukrainian anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with riot police in central Kiev early on January 25, 2014. (AFP Photo / Dmitry Serebryakov)

As a country with few socio-economic and political problems Ukraine has turned into a failed state torn by civil war and sectarian violence, with a lack of constitutional order and a destroyed economy, foreign affairs expert Nebojsa Malic told RT.

Malic added that there has been a lot of talk about financial assistance for Ukraine but none of that has actually materialized.

“The only people that the US is actually funding are activists and all sorts of interested organizations that are at the business of perpetuating outrage but not really helping the society or the state get better,” he said.

RT: American and European officials have made numerous trips to Ukraine over the past year, making tempting promises regarding the bright future for the country alongside the Western states. Were they fulfilled?

Nebojsa Malic: None of the promises were fulfilled. In fact, Ukraine is far worse off than a year ago in unimaginable ways. From a country that was having problems financially, socially and politically, it has basically transited to a failed state torn apart by a civil war, sectarian violence, oligarchs, private armies, Nazis, a coup government, complete lack of constitutional order, and on top economic problems that get much worse.

RT: Mr. Biden, who’s visiting Kiev today, has promised to deliver a “strong message” supporting the Ukrainian government and people. Will he be heard and/or believed?

NM: I’m sure that the people in power in Kiev will believe anything that they are told because their entire rule rests on perception management, that they are a legitimate government backed by the West which they equate with the entire world. As for the people, I’m not sure that Biden’s words will keep anybody warm or fed this winter. Biden, wherever he goes, things don’t turn out particularly well. Likewise these biscuits that Victoria Nuland handed out last December are the thing of the past at this point. Press people are wondering where the next meal is going to come from. Essentially the entire message from the US is “You people go on and do your thing, we will back you up,” and the backup is never there. There has been no financial support for Ukraine’s debts or economic recovery. There has been a lot of talk of assistance but none of that has actually materialized. The only people that the US is actually funding are activists and all sorts of interested organizations that are at the business of perpetuating outrage but not really helping the society or the state get better.

RT: Victoria Nuland is set to join Mr. Biden. We remember the famous leaked remark of hers when speaking of Europe’s hesitant policy towards the protests on Maidan, showing how strongly the US controls the decision-making in terms of the Ukrainian crisis. Do you think Washington is happy with the results?

NM: It depends on what actual objectives of the intervention were. If the objective was to create intractable hostility between Kiev and Moscow, then yes, Washington has every right to be happy. If the objective is to create a normal functioning European-civilized Ukrainian state then no that has been a complete disaster from day one. Personally I think the objective was to create the conflict, to create the chaos, to create disorder, suffering and misery, so that the US government and the EU could bow in as liberators or knights in shining arms rescuing people, except there hasn’t been any rescue as they are neither capable of it, nor do they actually intend to perform it. If I was in charge of US foreign policy, I would chalk it up as a massive failure, if the objectives were, as officially stated, to create order and stability. But I’m not in charge and the objectives are not what they were officially stated.

Protesters carry a wounded protester during clashes with poliсe, after gaining new positions near the Independence square in Kiev on February 20, 2014. (AFP PHhoto / Louisa Gouliamaki)

Protesters carry a wounded protester during clashes with poliсe, after gaining new positions near the Independence square in Kiev on February 20, 2014. (AFP PHhoto / Louisa Gouliamaki)

RT: According to the UN figures, over 4,300 people were killed in the conflict in Ukraine. Where do you believe it is heading?

NM: Right now there is a ceasefire that is holding on paper and is not holding in practice. People are still dying every day; we have the President of Ukraine declaring that children of the rebels will be hunkering down in basements forever. There was hope in September when the Minsk accord was signed that it might create preconditions for a dialogue and a possible political solution. Unfortunately, so long as Kiev believes that it has unconditional support of the West to do whatever it wants, including what it rightly classified as war crimes, they will continue being aggressive and belligerent, refusing any sort of compromise or dialogue. They believe their rights are absolute, they believe they can do whatever they want and they will continue behaving accordingly. This is not a prescription for peace; this is a prescription for further conflict. I don’t know whether the war will continue throughout the winter, what sort of intensity, depending on how bad the winter is, but I’m certain that there are people in Kiev who have said so that they will resume hostilities at the first possible opportunity with the goal of taking the rebel regions and expelling the population that refuses to accept the current government.

Security analyst Charles Shoebridge on Ukraine: “It has been a disastrous year of very little progress. Different people have different perspectives. For example, some people in the west of Ukraine are very happy that the government of Yanukovich was overthrown by the street protests that took place in Kiev. If one looks at the eastern regions, it’s a disaster time – we are talking about some 4,500 deaths, many of those, if not the majority, are civilians. And also Ukraine forces and rebel fighters themselves are suffering terrible causalities. Maybe 450,000 have fled Ukraine to go to Russia, some another 400,000 people are internally displaced. The country continues to stagnate if not decline economically as a result of this.”

Security analyst Charles Shoebridge on Ukraine: “I think that the influence of external players is also important because until now it doesn’t appear that there has been a lot of pressure placed on the Poroshenko government and Poroshenko himself by his Western supporters, particularly NATO, the EU and the US, to seek out peace instead of seeking out victory. That peace, even as a Minsk agreement itself implicitly recognized a few weeks ago, does need some form of compromise and negotiation between the parties. That simply isn’t taking place in any meaningful way at the moment.”

Security analyst Charles Shoebridge on Ukraine: “There is a division in Ukraine society, not just between those of Russian-speaking or ethnically Russian descent, but even within those communities. The same in the west of Ukraine – you have Ukrainians, some are sick of the war, but there are also a strong nationalist and far-right elements that are prevalent in much of the west of Ukraine who are really not even in any mood to negotiate or give any way to what they describe as terrorists in the east, the rebel fighters, and who want this war prosecuted to a victory rather to any form of compromise.”

‘Donbass’ International Brigade

Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Nadezhda Kevorkova is a war correspondent who has covered the events of the Arab Spring, military and religious conflicts around the world, and the anti-globalization movement.

November 17, 2014

The strength and whereabouts of the International Brigade operating in east Ukraine is a secret. Yet it is possible to interview the unit’s ragtag troops. They have no single ideology or political affiliation.

But they do believe in accepting volunteers regardless of their background and religion.

The brigade’s ranks include Christians, Muslims and atheists; miners and novice monks; young and old; loners and family men. It even has a few young women.

Most of them have never even heard of the Spanish Civil War where the term “International Brigade” springs from. They have no idea of Communism or Socialism. Sticking to the old Soviet mindset, they still regard Nestor Makhno, the Donbass-born Civil War hero, a symbol of anarchy, while seeing Joseph Stalin as the epitome of order. They have no idea that it was Stalin who stopped aiding the International Brigades in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, effectively enabling General Franco’s Nationalists to win.

And if today’s International Brigade fighters are to win their war, they have yet to develop an ideology to underpin their unity. The only ideology they currently share is their brotherhood in arms.

Abkhazian

The International Brigade’s commander, 28 (call sign ‘Abkhaz’) is an ethnic Abkhazian coming from Sochi.

He was six when his father fought in Abkhazia.

“I am a war child,” he says.

His son is also six.

“When he grows up he’ll ask me whether I was watching the war in the news. Thousands of Russian citizens came over to fight this war; this is why I am here as well,” he explains.

Abkhaz has been here in Donetsk since the early summer.

He had served in the Armed Forces as a conscript at the Russian military base in Abkhazia. He was an infantry rifleman.

“We Abkhazians have been trained since childhood. We are hunters, so we are familiar with arms,” he says, “An armed people ensure their own security.”

Not all the rebels share his views however. Paradoxically, many are concerned that the Donbass residents rush to get their hands on weapons abandoned by Ukrainians – at times even ahead of the militias themselves.

His father and uncle were observers at the Donetsk elections.

Abkhaz joined the unit not because he wanted to start a new life, or because he was a failure back home. He had a degree in economics; and he had a job and did social activities in Sochi. He was growing vegetables in a greenhouse that his brothers and he had built. As for his social activities, he was planting trees, and helping establish relations between rap fans, racers, and other subculture groups with the city administration.

So Abkhaz joined the war not only as a skillful fighter but as someone with experience of settling ethnic and other kinds of conflicts. His background of communicating with the young in society in Sochi became handy here.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

His father is a Muslim, and his mother is a Christian.

“What I’ve seen here is something I’ve dreamed of. This isn’t a war between Ukraine and Donbass; this is global showdown. They think we are a professional army or some kind of Special Forces – this is just ludicrous. I am attached to my homeland; I was enjoying myself working my grandmother’s garden. But I want to justify the confidence of my fighters who have chosen me as their commander. Most of them come from occupied areas; some are hereditary miners eager to restore their mines. I want to help them win their freedom – them and their cities, towns, and mines.”

This explanation makes the biggest sense out of everything I’ve heard so far. Others keep ranting about fighting the Kiev Fascists, junta, and oligarchs.

They believe they are fighting for the borders of the Donetsk Oblast:

“We’ll see what happens when we reach the borders of the Donetsk Republic. Some of my fighters who are from Kharkov and Zaporozhe want to move the borderline even further. Generally, the River Dnieper is the borderline. But I also wouldn’t rule out that the Ukrainian Army would turn around and go against Kiev.”

Chechen

“Emergency” is the call sign of a 22-year old Chechen. While being an only son, he still secured their blessing to go to war. His mother is a high school principal and an English teacher. His father had fought in the Georgian-Abkhazian War.

Emergency speaks Arabic having attended a madrasah. He was also trained as a lawyer, and did military service for a year. He has come to Donbass together with his uncle.

Emergency is on reconnaissance, and he cannot talk about his experience soldiering. He has only been back with his unit for two weeks, having recovered from shrapnel wound that had nearly ripped his carotid artery.

Emergency is a practicing Muslim.

“I get up at 5:30am to pray, ahead of everyone else,” he says. “I pray five times a day. There are also guys from Dagestan here. We Muslims get food cooked separately for us. There is halal meat in a local store, so they buy it for us. Drinking is prohibited in our brigade.”

Emergency has met no other Chechens fighting in Donbass save for himself and his uncle, though he has sure heard of the media hype alleging their presence in strength.

“Well, let them tell those tales if they want to,” he smirks.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Bashkir

The local gunner, 31, (call sign “Black”) was born here in Donetsk. His father is a Bashkir, and his mother, a Ukrainian. Black speaks Ukrainian.

He is not willing to marry any time soon. “I might get married after the war is over. A family is a distraction,” he says.

Upon graduating from school, he wanted to study at a military academy but they would only enroll him if he paid a bribe. He is a vocal opponent of corruption, and so he had to serve in the army. Following his two-year duty, he signed a contract and served as a paratrooper. He joined the militia in June.

“I am gunner,” he tells me. “I’ve got many fellow troops fighting on the other side. One calls me up, from time to time, after getting drunk. If they are all like him, we are going to win this war,” he adds.

“I didn’t want a war. I worked as a guard, and was waiting for a miracle, a repeat of the Crimea story, that Donbass would just join Russia. But hostilities flared up in Slavyansk, and the chances for a miracle were dying away. I simply couldn’t go to work. I joined the militia thanks to a friend of mine when it was all still quiet,” says Black.

He took part in the battle for the local airport and the fighting near the town of Shakhtersk.

“We are part of an assault unit. We don’t man any roadblocks, we are idle during this ceasefire,” he explains.

“I am platoon commander and must act as a role model for the boys,” he tells me. Black recalls four of his friends who died. They found the bodies of three of them but the remains of the fourth were never located.

His family is in the dark about his mission. “I didn’t tell anyone, and so my mom, sister and two brothers still think I work for the private security company.”

“I chose my way, and will stick to it,” says the platoon commander. During his time with the militia he was paid only for the previous month.

“I wear what I managed to buy myself. Many of the boys wear the uniform and the gear they capture in battle. The Ukrainians from the Cherkassy battalion left all their gear during the hasty retreat. We’ve made good use of it. It’s all high quality. Both armies use Kalashnikov rifles. We didn’t see any foreign weapons.”

“We don’t have a situation when someone has three rifles and another one doesn’t have any. We make sure that everyone has what they need,” explains the platoon commander.

“The striped vest and blue berets were introduced as the uniform for Soviet airborne troops by Margelov (general of the Soviet army, WWII veteran, holder of the Hero of Soviet Union – RT), and came from the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk. He is a role model for all of us,” he says.

“I do worry about the future of my land. I didn’t dig deep into the ideology. Anyway, monarch or oligarchy is not for us. I like Joseph Stalin, he was strong and kept everything under control,” he represents his politics.

Russian

“Student”, 25, is from Novosibirsk. He married an 18-year-old girl at 15, with a bit of cheating of course, and now has an 8-year-old daughter.

“I’ve had enough during these nine years of marriage. I got divorced. We used to have rows before,” he told me.

Back home, he dodged the military draft and worked as a foreman, renovating apartments.

His father is serving his time in jail, and Student himself uses a lot of prison jargon but no foul language. It’s not allowed in the unit.

His mother works as a doctor in a maternity clinic. He’s got a sister, too.

“They know where I am, and they strongly support me,” he tells me.

“I was tired to watching the news from Ukraine. I couldn’t sit idle any longer, and so in September I came here, and these guys, they are my brothers now,” he explains.

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov

He got into the unit by chance – on his way to Ukraine he made some new friends and they helped him get here.

“The Ukraine’s new government thinks it can do anything it wants. But it’s high time we kicked them out. Donbass is a sovereign state. I came here as a guest, and I am going to help them win so it’s peace and quiet again. I’ll then come back for my vacation once it’s all over,” he muses.

“They gave me a gun, and so I learned to use it,” that’s how he describes his military experience.

Student likes it here in Donbass, although he doesn’t plan to settle down here.

“There’s law and order here, and even the traffic police are on patrol. Everything is under control.”

He, too, views Stalin as a role model. One of his concerns is too many weapons in the hands of the local people. “They should lay down the arms after it’s all over. It’s bad when you have so many guns in the community.”

Ukrainian

23-year-old ‘Cabin’ is from Donetsk. He joined the rebels on May 26, and on the very first day found himself in the airport shooting. They armed all the fighters who were there, and a fight began, recalls Cabin. He served one year in the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a conscript with an airborne unit, and was planning to reenlist.

“But then everything changed, and I left. I didn’t want to stay on that side, with their nationalist views and nationalist symbols, even though at that time I had no idea that there would be ‘this side’,” he said.

“I was participating in all the rallies, and then I joined the Oplot Battalion (commanded by the newly elected Prime Minister Zakharchenko – RT)”

Cabin’s uniform looks spectacular:

“It was gathered piece by piece. I got some items as presents, others, as trophies.”

He has a university degree in electrical engineering. His family consists of his mother and grandfather. The grandfather comes from Western Ukraine; however his family was [Russian] Orthodox rather than Roman Catholic.

“We have many Russian Orthodox believers with us here. Our friend, a monk, was killed here in August. He had fought in Afghanistan during Soviet times. Then he took the vows and went on a self-discovery journey. He got a deadly wound in his abdomen,” explained Cabin.

They also have a deacon nicknamed “Small Guy”: “He secretly brings priests here across the border to do church services for our fighters, and then takes them back,” said the fighter.

Reuters / Marko Djurica

Reuters / Marko Djurica

Fiancée

Cabin has a fiancée in the unit. Her call sigh is “Little Cabin.”

“I met him at one of the rallies. We realized that we shared common views and positions. That’s how we got together,” says the young lady.

She comes from Donbass. She was working as a general practitioner, and was doing her medical residency. She was looking at great career prospects.

“I gave up my job without thinking twice. The unit needs medical workers badly. My mother and brother both supported my decision, even though my brother isn’t fighting. There are those who have to fight, and others, who would be killed immediately,” said the young lady.

“I am an independent person. I’ve left my family long ago, so they had no choice but to support me. They knew that I would do what I thought was right anyway,” she explained.

The fighters protect her, and don’t take her out in the fields with them.

“We have a physician and military nurses with combat experience, so they are the ones participating in fights. I asked to go out as well but was strictly forbidden to,” says Little Cabin.

“We’ll get married after the war. We have four couples in our unit who got married already. One of them had a baby, and two other girls are pregnant. But we want to wait for the time when we’ve won our freedom.”

She explained that at first, an Orthodox Brigade was established.

“But it didn’t really work well. We transferred to the Interbrigade once we heard about it.”

Novice Monk

“Deacon” is 36. He had no family and grew up in an orphanage. He got an economist manager degree at a technical college, and worked at the Donetsk central market.

“I was tired of worldly living. I didn’t want to be surrounded by people driven by money,” recalls Deacon.

His nickname was coined for a reason. He had been a novice at the Svetlodarsk Monastery in Ukraine for four years.

“My Father Superior blessed me for the fight. I know the brothers are praying for me. There were 12 of us novices who came here. I’ve been fighting for five months now. I was wounded as well, got a moderately severe wound,” says the fighter.

“I do the shooting, this is my job,” he explains.

“They shell our cathedrals. They destroyed a convent near the airport. They shot a priest dead in Konstantinovka last May. So the Orthodox believers are here for a reason. When I was recovering from my wound I met a monk who had also been wounded here,” says Deacon.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

 

 

 

 

 

400 US mercenaries ‘deployed on ground’ in Ukraine military op

Ukrainian troops outside the town of Andreyevskoe near Slaviyansk, Donetsk Region, where local residents blocked a column of Ukrainian Army armored personnel carriers. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Ukrainian troops outside the town of Andreyevskoe near Slaviyansk, Donetsk Region, where local residents blocked a column of Ukrainian Army armored personnel carriers. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

About 400 elite mercenaries from the notorious US private security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater) are taking part in the Ukrainian military operation against anti-government protesters in southeastern regions of the country, German media reports.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper, citing a source in intelligence circles, wrote Sunday that Academi employees are involved in the Kiev military crackdown on pro-autonomy activists in near the town of Slavyansk, in the Donetsk region.

On April 29, German Intelligence Service (BND) informed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government about the mercenaries’ participation in the operation, the paper said, RIA Novosti reported. It is not clear who commands the private military contractors and pays for their services, however.

In March, media reports appeared suggesting that the coup-imposed government in Kiev could have employed up to 300 mercenaries.That was before the new government launched a military operation against anti-Maidan activists, or “terrorists” as Kiev put it, in southeast Ukraine.

At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry said then that reports claiming Kiev was planning to involve “involve staff from foreign military companies to ‘ensure the rule of law,’” could suggest that it wanted “to suppress civil protests and dissatisfaction.”

In particular, Greystone Limited, which is currently registered in Barbados and is a part of Academi Corporation, is a candidate for such a gendarme role. It is a similar and probably an affiliated structure of the Blackwater private army, whose staff have been accused of cruel and systematic violations of human rights in various trouble spots on many occasions.

“Among the candidates for the role of gendarme is the Barbados-registered company Greystone Limited, which is integrated with the Academi corporation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is an analogue, and, probably and affiliated body of the Blackwater private army, whose employees have repeatedly been accused of committing grievous and systematic human rights abuses in different troubled regions.”

Allegations increased further after unverified videos appeared on YouTube of unidentified armed men in the streets of Donetsk, the capital of the country’s industrial and coalmining region. In those videos, onlookers can be heard shouting “Mercenaries!”“Blackwater!,” and “Who are you going to shoot at?”

(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Academi denied its involvement in Ukraine, claiming on its website that “rumors” were posted by “some irresponsible bloggers and online reporters.”

“Such unfounded statements combined with the lack of factual reporting to support them and the lack of context about the company, are nothing more than sensationalistic efforts to create hysteria and headlines in times of genuine crisis,” the US firm stated.

The American security company Blackwater gained worldwide notoriety for the substantial role it played in the Iraq war as a contractor for the US government. In recent years it has changed its name twice – in 2009 it was renamed Xe Services and in 2011 it got its current name, Academi.

The firm became infamous for the alleged September 16, 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The attack, which saw 20 others wounded, was allegedly without justification and in violation of deadly-force rules that pertained to American security contractors in Iraq at the time. Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security guards were involved in at least 195 shooting incidents in Iraq and fired first in 163 of those cases, a Congressional report said at the time.

Pro-federalization activists take over govt buildings across Eastern Ukraine (April 2014)

 

 

Thousands of pro-federalization activists have rallied in cities across Eastern Ukraine, calling for greater sovereignty of their region from Kiev. Activists have formed militias that helped anti-Maidan protesters seize several government buildings.
Pro-federalization activists occupy city council, police HQ in Slavyansk

Activists in Slavyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine located in the north of the Donetsk region with a population of 120,000, seized the police headquarters and the city council building Saturday. Police said Anti-Maidan protesters also seized the local office of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU.

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They hoisted a Russian flag on top of the police HQ, Slavyansk Mayor Nelly Shtepa said.

“As I negotiated with the activists today, they explained that they represent the Donetsk regional people’s militia. They said that they oppose Kiev authorities and today they are negotiating with them” she said.

 

 

Shtepa added that the people of the city support the activists’ calls for a referendum on the region’s federalization, and are urging the police to side with the people.

If the authorities in Kiev will “try to suppress the uprising, many civilians will die, this cannot be allowed,” Shtepa said.

An armed pro-Russian activists addresses supporters gathered in front of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk after it was seized by a few dozen gunmen on April 12, 2014. (AFP Photo / Anatoliy Stepanov)

An armed pro-Russian activists addresses supporters gathered in front of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk after it was seized by a few dozen gunmen on April 12, 2014. (AFP Photo / Anatoliy Stepanov)

There are reports that the activists in Slavyansk have taken up weapons. However, one of the members of the Donbas people’s militia told media that no one was hurt during the storm of the police HQ, adding that the government building will be under their control until a referendum is held.

Ukraine’s coup-imposed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that the raid on police HQ was carried out by masked men with guns. He promised that the government’s answer to the raid would be “very harsh.” Avakov added that a Special Forces unit has been deployed to the scene.

Anti-Maidan protesters stopped two buses full of security forces which were heading from Donetsk to Slavyansk, Rossiya 24 TV channel reported. After negotiations, the security forces turned back to their Donetsk HQ.

“I can’t say there was a conflict between the police and activists, the latter just accompanied the Special Unit forces back to their HQ,” said a Rossiya 24 correspondent, who was at the scene.

Berkut Special Forces side with Donetsk people

In Donetsk, officers of the former Berkut special riot police unit refused to obey orders from Kiev and move to crush a pro-federalization takeover in Slavyansk. Instead Berkut officers sided with the people of the region, offering them security and protection.

Berkut forces occupied police headquarters in Donetsk. Tying St. George ribbons to their uniform, the special unit said that they supported the demands of the local population and refused to obey their command. Berkut fighters arrived at the building of the Internal Affairs building of the city.

Донецк: Донецкий беркут надел русские георгиевские ленты [Donetsk: Donetsk golden eagle wearing Russian St. George ribbons]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clashes, water cannon as 100,000+ march in Brussels against austerity (PHOTOS)

RT Question More 
6 November 2014

Violent clashes broke out in Belgium as more than 100,000 protesters marched in Brussels against the government’s austerity measures. Police deployed water cannon as dockworkers, metalworkers and students took to the streets.

The violence flared up at the end of an otherwise peaceful protest, with tear gas deployed as some radical demonstrators hurled objects at riot police and launched attacks with the barriers against the officials. Some set off colored smoke flares.

 

Violent clashes erupt in Brussels between anti-government protesters and riot police

Violent clashes erupt in Brussels between anti-government protesters and riot police

At least 14 people were taken to hospital following the violence, according to national daily HLN.be.

The Belgian government which assumed power just a month ago has caused unrest with promises to raise the retirement age, cancel a wage rise in line with inflation and cut health and social security benefits – moves that undermine the country’s welfare state.

Crazy photos coming out of #Brussels amid massive anti-austerity demonstrations

Crazy photos coming out of #Brussels amid massive anti-austerity demonstrations

More photos by Gauvain_D_Santo of the remarkable scenes coming out of the anti-austerity demonstrations in Brussels

More photos by Gauvain_D_Santo of the remarkable scenes coming out of the anti-austerity demonstrations in Brussels

National protest at Brussels today. Lack of respect is disappointing.

National protest at Brussels today. Lack of respect is disappointing.

The union estimates around 120,000 have turned up for Thursday march, dockworkers, metalworkers and students among them.

Protesters’ banners included: “Eliminate the causes of the crisis, not the poor,” and “Hands off the pension age.”

A small group set a police motorcycle on fire.

'Don't touch pension age!' Huge turnout at #Brussels anti-austerity march - LIVE FEED http://on.rt.com/h2hwtd

‘Don’t touch pension age!’ Huge turnout at #Brussels anti-austerity march – LIVE FEED http://on.rt.com/h2hwtd

More protests are planned, including weekly regional strikes from November 24 and a national strike for December 15.

The mass-action is also seeing a work slowdown which is having a detrimental effect on public institutions such as schools and post offices, as well as the ports of Antrwerp and Zeebrugge.

Security announcement @ my office: "stay away from all windows" after fireworks destroy 2 of them

Security announcement @ my office: “stay away from all windows” after fireworks destroy 2 of them

“Workers rights have been cut – not only the wages but the rights and the capacity to continue to know what are the main guidelines of the European societies. Because now I think we don’t know it anymore,” Marisa Matias of the Confederal Group of the European United Left told RT.

“In southern Europe – in Portugal, where I’m from – these measures do nothing but increase social problems.”

Demonstrators confront riot police in central Brussels November 6, 2014.(Reuters / Yves Herman)

Demonstrators confront riot police in central Brussels November 6, 2014.(Reuters / Yves Herman)

Demonstrators confront riot police during clashes in central Brussels November 6, 2014.(Reuters / Francois Lenoi)

Demonstrators confront riot police during clashes in central Brussels November 6, 2014.(Reuters / Francois Lenoi)

Demonstrators confront riot police in central Brussels November 6, 2014. (Reuters / Yves Herman)

Demonstrators confront riot police in central Brussels November 6, 2014. (Reuters / Yves Herman)