Outright lies from the New York Times

 

SALON

Outright lies from the New York Times: What you need to know about the dangerous new phase in the Ukraine crisis

While establishment media toe Washington’s line, violence and instability have shaken the Ukraine this week

The slightly fetid “phony war” in Ukraine—the unsettling stagnation noted in this space a month ago—is emphatically over. Suddenly there is movement on several fronts, and some of it is promising. But this is a dangerous moment, too, chiefly because Washington’s bet on the post-coup government in Kiev, bad from the outset, is on the brink of producing a result so ugly and shameful its consequences all around cannot now be calculated.

I refer to the very real potential, as of Monday, for a coup mounted by violence-adoring ultra-rightists—those neo-Nazis airbrushed out of the news coverage even as they now maraud through the Ukrainian capital almost with impunity. “The far right won’t make a full move on the Poroshenko government now,” a Ukrainian émigré said on the telephone Tuesday. “I think it’ll be a couple of months before we see that.”

Comforting, isn’t it?

In effect, we will now watch a race between those attempting to forge a negotiated settlement in Ukraine—and the prospects for this look good once again—and the collapse of the Kiev government precisely because the European powers are now forcing it to accept such a settlement. You tell me who is going to break the tape.

Before I go any further, there is an aspect of this new phase in the Ukraine crisis that needs to be noted right away. The narrative advanced over the past 18 months by most Western media—and all corporate American media, without exception—is coming unglued before our eyes. This is going to make it even more difficult than heretofore to understand events by way of our newspapers and broadcasters.

Already we see the kind of contorted reporting always deployed when our media have to cover their tracks after long periods of corrupt, untruthful work. Per usual, the most consequential offenses occur in the government-supervised New York Times.

Example: Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, now confronts “Ukrainian nationalists” over plans to decentralize power because Vladimir Putin forced this upon him, “with a metaphorical gun to his head.” This we read in Tuesday’s paper. And here we need a trigger warning for the faint of heart, because I have two strong words for this report, written with deliberation.

Outright lies. We are beyond lies of omission now. These are the real thing.

One, these are not “nationalists.” France’s Front Nationale is nationalist. The U.K. Independence party is nationalist. The majorities on Capitol Hill are nationalist. These are black-shirted ultras who vote with explosives and assassins’ bullets. You deserve to know this, and it does not change simply because Washington backs them covertly and John McCain—ask him—does smiling photo ops with Oleh Tyahnybok, their openly fascist leader.

Two, there is no accounting at all for the “gun to his head” bit, but Putin’s view that federalization is the sensible solution to the Ukraine crisis is (1) plainly the sound way to hold the nation together while addressing its differences and (2) vehemently endorsed by the French and German governments. Chancellor Merkel, with no gun to her head, made this plain Tuesday, when she insisted that autonomy legislation now pending in Kiev must be acceptable to the leadership in the rebellious eastern regions. You deserve to know this, too.

Chronology is all if we are to understand the events of the past week or so. You have not seen a chronology, because this is the very worst time, from the official and media perspectives, for you to understand events. A brief sketch of the errant timeline, which will do for now, looks like this:

Angela Merkel and François Hollande, the German and French leaders, had Poroshenko to Berlin last week and made him stand next to them as they vigorously reiterated their commitment to a negotiated settlement based on the pact signed in Minsk last February. “We are here to implement the Minsk deal, not to call it into question,”Merkel declared in that forthright way of hers.

Last weekend, with Poroshenko back in Kiev, Germany, France and Russia—the Minsk signatories, along with Ukraine—declared that a new ceasefire would go into effect Tuesday, September 1. At writing, the very early signs are that it has a better-than-even chance of holding, previous efforts having frayed.

On Monday the Kremlin announced that the Minsk signatories would meet by mid-September “in the Normandy format.” This means the four foreign ministers will convene, probably by telephone (as they first did in northern France on the D-Day anniversary last year). Two implications: One, this is a working session, devoted to structuring terms. Two, Paris, Berlin and Moscow want concrete progress toward a settlement within two weeks. In other words, the clock ticks.

Also on Monday, the Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, held a preliminary vote on the constitutional revisions that are to provide the eastern regions a high degree of autonomy. While this is a key provision in the Minsk agreement, the Poroshenko government had previously done nothing to implement it over the seven months since Minsk II was signed.

• And finally, far-right protesters had gathered outside the Rada in anticipation of the vote. As soon as the measure was passed—by a narrow margin—they erupted into violent rioting featuring bombs, explosive devices and grenades. Three police officers are now dead, more than 100 injured. The instigator was the same party that turned demonstrations last year into a coup— Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda, the Russian-hating, Jew-hating party that canonizes Nazi collaborators. Poroshenko called Svoboda’s riot “a stab in the back.” Of course: Until recently his deputy prime minister and prosecutor general were both Svoboda members. He’s no stranger to these people.

So went the past week. What do we make of it? Where are we in this story?

* * *

I see several moving parts in what is now a highly kinetic situation in Ukraine and surrounding it. In some cases these are intricately related.

Consider first the European position. The Germans and French have plainly quickened the pace of their joint diplomatic efforts. Why is this and why now? It helps to note that Paris and Berlin have chosen to work with the Russians within the Minsk II framework while excluding the Americans (as, indeed, Mink II pointedly excluded them earlier this year, when warmongers on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon were hoisting the thought of arming Kiev up the flagpole).

Two concerns appear to be at work in the European capitals. One, Washington has stepped back but half a step from its effort to force a military solution in Ukraine. Recall: As of this summer the Pentagon is effectively managing Ukraine’s armed forces. Note: Joe Biden, the White House’s point man on the war, had little to say to the French and the Germans last week, but he called Poroshenko in Kiev to stiffen the wayward president’s back in countering rebel forces on the ground in the eastern regions. (Biden for president is an odious thought, incidentally.)

Two, and more urgent, the Europeans are well aware that the Poroshenko government is highly unstable, if not teetering indeed. Its support in opinion polls is well down in the single digits. Even before this week’s street violence, nobody in Berlin could fail to see the threat of an overthrow posed by the black-shirted ultras of Svoboda and Right Sektor, a more recently formed descendant of the Social-National Party, as Svoboda used to call itself.

Remember the wave of assassinations in Kiev last April? Among the victims was a journalist and historian named Oles Buzina, who opposed a radical breach with Russia on numerous grounds. Buzina seems to have been much honored among Ukrainians, for some of them placed a plaque on the front wall of his home. Last week, Right Sektor members gouged it off—and then replaced it with a similar slab honoring his assassins. “In broad daylight. No police to be seen,” as Russia Insider, the Western-run news site in Moscow, reported.

A few days later Svoboda and Right Sektor staged the riot outside the Rada. There have been arrests in both cases, but we are looking at something close to impunity.

I called Lev Golinkin, a young Ukrainian writer from the eastern city of Kharkiv (and the émigré quoted above), to ask him about this. Here is some of what he said in a long telephone exchange Tuesday:

“The far right does not have enough support to win any presence in parliament. But they don’t need support. They need unrest. All they need is for people to see the Poroshenko government as just as corrupt and inefficient as the one it replaced. And of course it is.

“Svoboda sees Poroshenko as a traitor, who is letting Europeans betray Ukraine. They have no interest in equal rights, decentralization of the country, peace with Russia. There’s no room for compromise in their position…. The war serves Poroshenko because it distracts the far right. They’re for the war. But other than this, they have nothing in common with this president.”

“Why, Lev, do you think a move against the government is probable in the next couple of months?” I asked. Golinkin replied:

“It’s historical reality. Once they’re active they don’t stop until they’re completely defeated or they take power. After World War I, Poland brutally suppressed them. After World War II, the Soviet Union brutally suppressed them. And now there’s no one to suppress them…. The Ukrainian army may not be on Poroshenko’s side. The biggest question in my mind is whether the army will fight the far right.

“Right now Poroshenko’s darting around like a squirrel. In Kiev he says, ‘There’s no plan to decentralize. There’s no special status for the east.’ Then he works with Merkel and Hollande on plans to decentralize and grant the east special status.”

Let me put it this way: If I am talking about this near-chaos as I sit in a village of 1,600 souls in the New England hills, they are talking about it in Berlin and Paris. Merkel and Hollande appear to be motivated in some measure, and maybe in large measure, by the thought that they must move now if they are to grasp their last, best chance to achieve a negotiated settlement in Ukraine.

* * *

I had a note from a reader the other day—a prominent, connected man—who conveyed the thoughts of an American colonel now serving in Germany. (I will name neither my reader nor the officer I am about to quote.) The colonel was writing about “a shift toward collaborative behavior” he sees among Americans—the thought being that Washington is moving gradually away from unilateral action and an insistence on American primacy across all oceans and continents.

I, too, see signs of this in the Obama administration’s record, but only signs, and they are faint. It occurs on a here-and-there basis and there is no consistency to it. In my read, this shift reflects partly a new understanding of America’s place but mostly the force of circumstance. The colonel sees the latter at work in Europe, referring to “the pretty much complete failure of the most recent ‘regime change’ that was engineered in Ukraine.”

The note prompted me to think, and the events of the past few days confirm the thought: It is not too soon to assess Washington’s failure in Ukraine. It is, indeed, “pretty much complete” and pretty much on display as we speak. No surprise from this quarter: As argued severally in this space, this failure is has been more or less inevitable since the beginning of the Ukraine adventure in the first post-Soviet years—and certainly since the coup Washington cultivated in Kiev last year.

I do not seem to be as isolated in this judgment as I was even a few months ago. “Better to get the most advantageous possible negotiated terms,” a new piece on Ukraine in The National Interest argues, “than to set up ourselves and the NATO alliance for a high-profile defeat.”

That is a foreign policy “realist” doing his reckoning. It is the sound of tactical retreat in the face of failure. I go even further: Not only has failure been inevitable from the first; it is the best outcome for Americans by a long way.

There are a couple of ways to explain this. First, there are the practicalities. The shambolic Poroshenko government is simply too weak to serve as an effective client, even if you think a client regime on Russia’s border is a good idea. It long ago spent its political capital. Its support in the Rada is crumbling. The I.M.F. just completed its bailout arrangement, but in so doing it assumes responsibility for an economy that has more or less ceased to exist.

The new figure for deaths in the conflict zone bouncing around in the press is “approaching 7,000.” Bad enough. But as Stephen Cohen, the honored Russianist, pointed out long ago, this is the number of bodies counted in morgues, nothing more. German intelligence put fatalities at 50,000 or more, and that was six months or so back.

Now comes the very real threat of a far-right insurgency no one can control. Even if Poroshenko manages to keep his balance, this problem will haunt him. Equally, consider the damage to trans-Atlantic relations—already complicated by the Ukraine crisis—if a neo-fascist regime were to take power as the outcome of Washington’s 20-odd year effort to pull Ukraine out by its roots and repot it as another flower in the Western garden.

These are on-the-ground reasons Washington simply does not want to put its name on this mess any longer. A “realist” in these matters might agree. Wait for it, readers: All the blame must now be shoved off on Russia, which is never right about anything and which holds guns to people’s heads. This is going to take a lot, lot, lot of lying.

But there is another reason to applaud Washington’s failure in Ukraine, and I put a higher value on it.

Good people in Washington and elsewhere in this nation can think all the high-minded thoughts they wish, but none is going to alter the policy cliques’ conduct abroad decisively, as it must be altered if we are to avoid a series of calamities and tragedies as the 21st century proceeds. It is essential to wage the intellectual war, surely, but we also need failures. Repeated failures are the only way we will get this done. In failures lies our success, to put the point another way.

It is not a matter only of countering entrenched interests—the Pentagon, the defense industries, the intelligence and national security apparatus. I conclude that the American consciousness must also sustain a certain kind of violence before we will imagine our place in the world anew. This seems to me the colonel’s thought: We failed in Ukraine “pretty much completely,” and we can learn from this to think differently.

I see two major misapprehensions immediately at issue. One is the neoliberal model, arising as it does out of the Chicago School’s free-market ideology, econometrics, rational choice theory, and the drastic tilt toward mathematics and computer modeling in postwar social sciences. It strips all history, culture, tradition and human preference out of our thinking such that we can pile into Ukraine and expect to win the day.

Impossible. This is the irrationality of hyper-rationality. It is a proven loser. Let the losses pile up.

Two, of course, is the exceptionalist impulse, and it is closely allied to neoliberal thinking. I have little faith that we Americans will abandon our claim to providential righteousness—the ideological cloak draped over our incessant drive for markets—until the world tells us one too many times to keep it to ourselves. Drop the mythological veneer, and we Americans can have a proper debate as to whether we want to subvert nations such as Ukraine for the sake of corporations such as Chevron.

The only weakness in this argument, so far as I can see, is undue optimism—and yes, you read the sentence correctly. It may be that I overestimate this nation’s capacity to learn from its mistakes. Maybe I see higher aspirations among us than the policy cliques will ever reflect and, in a drastically changing political scene, see a chance for these to rise to the surface as they might have before the three assassinations that changed everything 50 years ago.

We will see. Let us watch how our failure in Ukraine computes out. Two wishes in the meantime.

One, the odious triumphalism that arose in the 1990s—so tinny and unbecoming when seen from the perspectives of others—will go straight to hell at last. I detest it.

Two, the shockingly bad performance of our media, notably but not only the government-supervised New York Times, will prove a turning point in the arrival of alternative media. It is they that have got the Ukraine story right, shining more light on it than news organizations commanding a hundred times the wattage. Given this performance, we should not consider them an alternative to anything, I like to think—only new growth on the old tree.

Patrick Smith is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist. A longtime correspondent abroad, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, he is also an essayist, critic and editor. His most recent books are “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale, 2013) and Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World (Pantheon, 2010). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is patricklawrence.us.

The War in Ukraine: Editorial in The New York Times Suggests US Is Looking for a Face-Saving Way Out

The New York Times recommends a diplomatic settlement of the Ukrainian conflict based on the Russian proposal of a year ago for Ukraine’s federalisation.

In-depth Report:

putin-nato-russia-ukraine_si-400x224The editorial in the New York Times we attach below is the first belated acknowledgement that the only way of saving Ukraine and ending the war is by conceding federalisation to Ukraine’s eastern regions.

We do not know for sure  whether this editorial reflects official US thinking. However, the probability is that it does.

Firstly, it is not unheard of for the US government to float ideas in this way through editorials in the New York Times. The New York Times is regularly chosen to do this because of its reputation and because it is widely read abroad.  The British government used to use the Times of London in the same way.

We have previously reported the concerns of some officials within the US government at the way in which the Ukrainian crisis is leading US relations with Russia into an impasse.

It is at least possible that with the war going disastrously wrong for Kiev and with the US administration looking increasingly short of options, the US administration is now trying to find a face-saving way out by finally embracing the federalisation solution that the Russians proposed last spring.  If so then this editorial, which will surely be read in Moscow, is intended as as an olive-branch.

The following words give the clear impression that a concrete offer has been made to Moscow through diplomatic back-channels. The carefully chosen words clearly convey the sense that the authority of the US government lies behind them:

“Russian officials have suggested that Moscow has no interest in annexing eastern Ukraine, the way it grabbed Crimea, but rather seeks a Ukrainian federation in which the pro-Russian provinces would have relative autonomy, along with assurances that Ukraine will not move to join NATO.

There is definitely potential for negotiations there……..

Tempting as it is to focus on punishing Mr. Putin, the greater objective must be to end the fighting so that Ukraine can finally undertake the arduous task of reforming and reviving its economy. Toward that end, the West must make clear to Mr. Putin that if a federation is his goal, the United States and its allies will actively use their good offices with Kiev to seek a workable arrangement.”

Poroshenko has just issued another statement ruling out federalisation.  This also suggests we are looking at an actual behind-the-scenes offer.  We have already explained why for Maidan talk of federalisation is anathema.  Poroshenko’s words suggest he knows of the US initiative and is trying to scotch it and to make his opposition to the idea clear before Secretary Kerry flies to Kiev as he is due shortly to do.

Moscow and the rebels are however unlikely to take up the offer.

The Russians pushed strongly for federalisation of Ukraine’s eastern regions following the February coup.  On 17th April 2014 a Statement was agreed by the US and Russian foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva, and was signed by the EU and the Ukrainian government, that called for constitutional negotiations between the various Ukrainian parties. These were obviously intended to lead to a constitutional settlement that would have led to federalisation. Many people in the Donbass at the time of the independence referendum of 11th May 2014 appeared to support the idea.

What was offered (and declined) in Spring 2014 may however no longer be on the table in Winter 2015.

Since the federalisation idea was floated last Spring there has been a murderous war in the Donbass causing massive devastation and loss of life. Russia has been subjected to two rounds of sectoral sanctions. There has been a relentless propaganda campaign against Russia, the rebels and Putin himself. It is difficult to believe that all of this has not caused views to harden since the spring.

Promises of constitutional negotiations like the ones made in Geneva on 17th April 2014 and in Minsk on 5th September 2014 have come and gone. No negotiations have however taken place. Given that Kiev is dead against them, after all that has happened it is very doubrtful the rebels or the Russians now believe they ever will. Nor are the Russians likely to be in any sort of mood to believe in US assurances that “if federation is the goal, the United States and its allies will actively use their good offices with Kiev to seek a workable arrangement”.

What made sense in the Spring, when it was proposed to prevent a war, may anyway no longer make sense in the Winter, after the war has already happened. After so much violence it is barely conceivable that the rebels or the people of the Donbass who support them would now agree to be part of a federation that left them within Ukraine, especially now when they are on the brink of victory.

If this is correct, then it looks like the US and its allies have missed the bus.


The text of the editorial that appeared in The New York Times on February 2nd, 2015:

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has flared up again, putting an end to any myth about the cease-fire that was supposed to be in force since September.

Though the Russian economy is staggering under the twinned onslaught of low oil prices and sanctions — or, conceivably, as a result of that onslaught — President Vladimir Putin has sharply cranked up his direct support for the rebels in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, while continuing to baldly deny it and to blame all the violence on the United States.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is broke, and without the military means to move against the Russian-backed rebels. Most of the victims are civilians who struggle with hunger and dislocation in the rubble of the combat zones and die in the constant exchanges of shells and rockets.

The eruption of fighting in recent weeks, which was not supposed to happen until spring, has given new force to pleas to the Obama administration to give Ukraine the means to resist Mr. Putin — in money and in arms.

Certainly the United States and Europe should increase their aid to Ukraine and explore ways to expand existing sanctions against Russia. NATO’s commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, is said to support providing weapons and equipment to Kiev. And Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be open to discussing the idea. But lethal assistance could open a dangerous new chapter in the struggle — a chapter Mr. Putin would quite possibly welcome, as it would “confirm” his propaganda claims of Western aggression.

So far, President Obama has cautiously pledged to help Ukraine in every way “short of military confrontation.” Yet with sanctions and diplomacy making no headway against Russian aggression, it is imperative that the United States and its allies take a new look at what would bring Russia to a serious negotiation.

The first question is, to negotiate what? Along with denying the direct involvement of his troops in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin has not made clear what he is trying to achieve. Russian officials have suggested that Moscow has no interest in annexing eastern Ukraine, the way it grabbed Crimea, but rather seeks a Ukrainian federation in which the pro-Russian provinces would have relative autonomy, along with assurances that Ukraine will not move to join NATO.

There is definitely potential for negotiations there. Yet the latest rebel attacks have focused on Mariupol, an important port on the Black Sea, and on expanding the rebels’ control to areas that would give their self-proclaimed “republics” greater military and economic cohesion. And that speaks to long-term rebel occupation.

Tempting as it is to focus on punishing Mr. Putin, the greater objective must be to end the fighting so that Ukraine can finally undertake the arduous task of reforming and reviving its economy. Toward that end, the West must make clear to Mr. Putin that if a federation is his goal, the United States and its allies will actively use their good offices with Kiev to seek a workable arrangement.

But if the evidence continues to accumulate that Mr. Putin and the rebels are carving out a permanent rebel-held enclave in eastern Ukraine, à la Transdniestria, Abkhazia or South Ossetia, he must know that the United States and Europe will be compelled to increase the cost.

NATO Meeting in Brussels Heightens Danger of War with Russia

 

In-depth Report:

11039-400x287NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels today to consolidate the military alliance against Russia, increasing the risk of a direct military confrontation between nuclear-armed powers.

NATO sources have revealed plans to establish a long-term presence in Eastern Europe, according to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS). So-called NATO “Force Integration Units” will be established in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. There are also plans to deploy such a unit in Hungary at a later time.

The units will consist of 40 soldiers each. They will be tasked with preparing exercises for a new NATO rapid response force and coordinating military activities in emergencies. Germany, which is spearheading the operation this year, intends to deploy a total of 25 soldiers within the units.

The ground troops of the rapid response force are to consist of a brigade of some 5,000 soldiers. The goal is for their most flexible units to have the capability to move to a new location within 48 hours. The entire brigade will be trained and equipped to be able to move to a new location within a week. The leadership of the operation will rotate yearly between NATO member countries.

According to the FAS, NATO defense ministers have already decided on the equipment to be provided during the “test phase,” which is to last until the beginning of next year. Starting in April, a company of German paratroopers will supplement American units that have been stationed in the Baltic States and Poland since last year.

Two weeks ago, the FAS revealed that NATO defense ministers will convene the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) at the beginning of today’s meeting to discuss “the nuclear threat scenario from Russia in the past few months.”

Unlike previous years, according to the FAS, this will not merely be a routine meeting. An analysis of threat scenarios worked out at NATO headquarters will be presented to the defense ministers. Afterwards, the ministers “will for the first time discuss the consequences for the nuclear strategy of the alliance.” A separate consultation session is planned with France, which is not a member of the NPG.

NATO’s nuclear simulations underscore the fact that the imperialist powers are ready to risk nuclear war in order to force Russia to its knees. In the past week, a number of prominent figures, including former Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev, have warned of the danger of a Third World War if NATO, led by the United States, continues to take aggressive measures against Russia.

Under conditions of escalating fighting between troops of the Western-backed Kiev regime and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Gorbachev warned of a “hot war” that “could well inevitably turn into an atomic war.”

On Sunday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the Russian military expert Yevgeny Buchinsky, who warned that, in response to an offensive against the Donbass by Kiev,

“Russia will have to intervene, and then, bluntly speaking, to take Kiev. Then NATO would be in a difficult situation. Then you would have to start World War III, which no one wants.”

In spite of such warnings, the imperialist powers and their proxies in Kiev are escalating the conflict. On Monday, the New York Times revealed that the Obama administration is considering sending advanced weapons to Kiev. The newspaper listed high-ranking current and former administration officials and military officers who are pushing for such a move.

The Times report triggered opposition among sections of the European elite. The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that a decision by Washington to arm the Kiev regime with offensive weapons would be taken by Russia as the equivalent of a declaration of war. Russian officials and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke against any such move during a visit to Hungary.

Washington intends to use today’s NATO meeting to bring the member states into line behind its provocative and reckless course. At the beginning of the week, Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia and currently the deputy secretary general of NATO, referred to “Russian aggression” in Ukraine as a “game changer in European security.”

He emphasized the necessity of deploying rapid response troops in Eastern Europe, extending NATO’s reach in the east, and arming the Ukrainian military. Referring to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, all former Soviet republics, he said,

“The more stable they are, the more secure we are. So helping Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova—to strengthen their military forces, reform their institutions and modernize their economies—is not an act of generosity, it is in our fundamental strategic interest.”

He added,

“NATO is doing its part. To help Ukraine to modernize and reform its armed forces, we have launched five trust funds to assist in areas like command and control, logistics, cyber defense and military medicine. We are sending more advisors to Kiev and will be carrying out exercises with Ukraine’s armed forces. And we are helping Moldova and Georgia to strengthen their defense capacity in similar ways, and, in Georgia’s case, to help it prepare for future membership in the Alliance.”

At the end of his speech, Vershbow warned:

“This time around, having chosen our course, we must stick to it. We must stay united, stay firm and increase the costs to Russia of its aggression.”

Meanwhile, voices in favor of arming Ukraine are growing louder. Michael Gahler (Germany’s Christian Democratic Union—CDU), who is the spokesman on security policy for the European People’s Party in the European Union parliament, spoke in favor of sending weapons to Ukraine in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio.

Wolfgang Ischinger, leader of the Munich Security Conference, which takes place this weekend, has adopted the same line. On ZDF Television he spoke in favor of the “announcement of possible weapons shipments” to Ukraine. “Sometimes one needs to use pressure to enforce peace,” he declared. While he cautioned that Germany should not send weapons, he said he could “imagine that other members of the alliance would want to do this.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose regime was brought to power nearly a year ago by a fascist-led putsch backed by the US and Germany, and has since waged a brutal war against the population of eastern Ukraine, made an appearance yesterday in Kharkiv, which is near the border with Russia and the contested areas. He said that “we will need lethal weapons, and I am sure that foreign weapons will be sent to Ukraine.” He continued: “I don’t have any doubt that the US and other partners will provide help with lethal weapons so that Ukraine will be able to defend itself.”

Poroshenko will take part in the Munich Security Conference along with 20 other heads of state and 60 foreign and defense ministers. He is meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Kiev today.

Crowd of Several Hundred Tries to Storm Ukrainian Presidential Administration Office

 

In-depth Report:

Ukraine-anniversary-Maidan-coup-4-400x270A crowd of several hundred people has begun storming the Ukrainian presidential administration’s office, a TASS correspondent reports from the scene.

Protest demonstrators have penetrated the first cordon of the National Guards and are trying to make their way to the conference hall. Police forces are being moved in. National guards in full riot gear entered a brawl with the demonstrators, who are demanding access to TV cameras for a statement.

Earlier, demonstrators demanded the introduction of martial law and resignation of all top law enforcement officials, including the defense minister and prosecutor-general.

Also, one of their demands is the removal of the 25th Kievan Rus battalion of the Ukrainian armed forces from the area of Debaltsevo. Women from the Mothers’ Union have told TASS their sons could not have been contacted for the past several days.

Breaking news US closes Bagram detention center in Afghanistan

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Released Afghan prisoners raise their hands in prayer as the United States-led military released 20 Afghan prisoners from its Bagram Air Field detention centre, north of Kabul (AFP Photo / Farzana Wahidy)

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Released Afghan prisoners raise their hands in prayer as the United States-led military released 20 Afghan prisoners from its Bagram Air Field detention centre, north of Kabul (AFP Photo / Farzana Wahidy)

RT Breaking News

The US Defense Department announced it has closed the Bagram detention center and now has zero detainees in its custody in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

Although the United States transferred control over Bagram to the Afghans back in 2013, the detention center became infamous due the harsh treatment some of the detainees received while in American custody. At one point, it was double the size of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison complex in Cuba.

The facility’s closure comes just one day after the Senate released its long-awaited torture report, which described the gruesome tactics deployed by the CIA against terror suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

READ MORE: Senate accuses CIA of torturing prisoners, overstepping legal boundaries

Two of the most infamous cases involved prisoners named Habibullah and Dilawar, whose abuse was chronicled by The New York Times in 2005. Dilawar – who was chained to the top of his cell for days by the time he died – was brutally beaten and passed away in 2002.

“At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend,” wrote Tim Golden in the Times.

“An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.”

Habibullah, who died just a few days before Dilawar, was also chained to the ceiling and beaten. The Times noted that he was struck more than 100 times in a 24-hour period.

READ MORE: ‘The Other Guantanamo’ – Indefinite detention at Bagram Air Force Base

As recently as this past September, there were still questions about the fate of the detainees being held at Bagram. It was unclear how many people remained in American custody, but with the US gradually drawing down its war in Afghanistan, officials said the legal authority allowing them to continue holding prisoners was about to expire.

“We’ve got to resolve their fate by either returning them to their home country or turning them over to the Afghans for prosecution or any other number of ways that the Department of Defense has to resolve,” said Brigadier General Patrick Reinert, the commanding general of the United States Army Reserve Legal Command, at the time. “Until the country provides assurances, the individual cannot be transferred.”

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‘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.