Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

Ukrainian crash site

The truth. We need the truth.

 

They talk about the “fog of war”. Well, what is going on in Eastern Ukraine at the moment is a full-blown war, and the truth about it is certainly foggy.

Infowars.com is well-known for peddling conspiracy theories, many of which are very obviously ludicrous and fanciful. But their post on the possibility that the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner was a “false flag” attack by the Ukrainian authorities to cast a pall over Russia bears scrutiny, if only to dismiss it, and because an event of such global significance deserves to be drenched in buckets of clear light.

Western leaders, including, in the most trenchant terms, the Australian Prime Minister, have condemned Russia for at the very least equipping and training Ukrainian rebels with advanced surface to air missiles, a charge Russia denies.

But the Infowars story raises serious questions that need to be answered.

The story they propound is so improbable, in fact – and potentially so shocking in its implications – that it absolutely requires answering, and fast.

The first crucial question is why the log of a YouTube posting that seems to ensure the rebels and their Russian allies are implicated seems to be before the actual event. This may of course simply be a mix up on a computer setting or to do with world time zones. Nevertheless, a prompt and straightforward explanation is required.

But the far more sinister query is the Twitter log of a Spanish air traffic controller working in Ukraine who frantically tweets that the Kiev authorities are responsible for downing the jet, and fears for his life as Ukrainian authorities invade the control room he is working in. The relevant portion of the video starts at just after 5 minutes.

http://www.infowars.com/video-did-ukraine-fabricate-evidence-to-frame-russia-for-mh17-shoot-down/

We stress that we make no judgement. How could we possibly? We merely say that these questions raised by Infowars and others must be answered.

If we had to guess – and who could do more than that at the moment? – we suspect an idiot with an itchy trigger finger loosed the missile imagining that any aircraft in the sky must be a belligerent, because he has been told no commercial traffic was using the skies above his head. There’s that fog of war thing, again. In which case, then Russia would stand rightly condemned for allowing the rebels access to such equipment. Then again, there’s all sorts of high-value high-tech weaponry in all sorts of places it shouldn’t be nowadays, so, again, before we rush to condemn we need to be sure the system that was fired came from Russia.

Meanwhile, our heart goes out to all the victims, and especially to their families and colleagues. We ache at the loss of many medical experts working in the crucial field of HIV containment and research, heading to our home town for an international conference. We are appalled at the loss of a fine man who worked on behalf of aborigines in Western Australia, and highly respected medical professionals from Queensland. We weep at the children and young lovers killed. As for the family who incredibly lost people in BOTH Malaysian airlines disasters, words simply fail us.

All these people – and us – deserve that the truth comes out. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, whoever was responsible for this vicious, stupid and pointless crime.

For our discussion of the other missing Malaysian airliner and the history of civilian aircraft shot down by military forces, click this link.

 

 

As the Ukrainian Government retakes two strategically insignificant but symbolically important cities in Eastern Ukraine, this very interesting BBC article (originally posted on June 25th) perhaps explains why Valdimir Putin seems to have gone cold on further confrontation with the West.

We always said that Putin’s intentions were limited to securing the ice-free port of Sevastopol and the surrounding area in the Crimea that he will see as strategically vital to Russia’s future interests, and not to be allowed to fall into Nato’s grasp with the increasingly West-leaning Ukraine.

 

Sevastopol - it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

Sevastopol – it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

 

Western anxiety about the Russian moves essentially misunderstood (or were ignorant of) Russia’s historic relationship with the area.

Sevastopol was founded in June 1783 as a base for a naval squadron under the name Akhtiar (White Cliff), by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie (Foma Fomich Makenzi), a native Scot in Russian service, soon after Russia annexed the Crimean Khanate.

Five years earlier, Alexander Suvorov ordered that earthworks be erected along the harbour and Russian troops be placed there. In February 1784, Catherine the Great ordered Grigory Potemkin to build a fortress there and call it Sevastopol. It became an important naval base and later a commercial seaport.

One of the most notable events involving the city is the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–55) carried out by the British, French, Sardinian, and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, which lasted for 11 months. Despite its efforts, the Russian army had to leave its stronghold and evacuate over a pontoon bridge to the north shore of the inlet. The Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the Western ships into the inlet. When the enemy troops entered Sevastopol, they were faced with the ruins of a formerly glorious city.

 

2248px-Panorama1854-1855

 

A very striking panorama of the siege originally was created by Franz Roubaud. After its destruction by the Nazis in 1942 during WWII, it was restored and is currently housed in a specially constructed circular building in the city. It portrays the situation at the height of the siege, on 18 June 1855, a story that still lives in the consciousness of many patriotic Russians..

Sevastopol under the Soviet Union

During World War II, Sevastopol again withstood intensive bombardment by the Germans in 1941–42, supported by their Italian and Romanian allies during the Battle of Sevastopol. German forces were forced to use railway artillery and specialised heavy mortars to destroy Sebastopol’s extremely heavy fortifications, such as the Maxim Gorky naval battery.

After fierce fighting, which lasted for 250 days, the supposedly un-takable fortress city finally fell to Axis forces in July 1942. It was intended to be renamed to “Theodorichshafen” (in reference to Theodoric the Great and the fact that the Crimea had been home to Germanic Goths until the 18th or 19th century) in the event of a German victory against the Soviet Union, and like the rest of the Crimea was designated for future colonisation by the Third Reich. But it was liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1944 and was awarded with the title of “Hero City” a year later.

In 1957, the town of Balaklava, site of another major Crimean War battle, was incorporated into Sevastopol. During the Soviet era, Sevastopol became a so-called “closed city“. This meant that any non-residents had to apply to the authorities for a temporary permit to visit the city. It was directly subordinate to the central Russian authorities rather than the local oblast and later (after 1978) to the Ukrainian SSR administration. This reflected the startegic significance the Soviet Government placed on the area.

After the Soviet collapse

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow refused to recognise Ukrainian sovereignty over Sevastopol as well as over the surrounding Crimean oblast, using the argument that the city was never practically integrated into the original Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic because of its vital military status.

The dispute has rankled for some time. On December 17, 1992, the office of the Ukrainian presidential representative in Crimea was created, which caused a wave of local protests a month later. Among the protesters who organised an unsanctioned protest rally held in Sevastopol on January 10 at the Nakhimov Square were the Sevastopol branches of the National Salvation Front, the Russian Popular Assembly, and the All-Crimean Movement of the Voters for the Republic of Crimea.

Then on July 10, 1993, the Russian parliament passed a resolution declaring Sevastopol to be “a federal Russian city”. 

On April 14, 1993, the Presidium of the Crimean Parliament called for the creation of the presidential post of the Crimean Republic. A week later, the Russian deputy, Valentin Agafonov, stated that Russia was ready to supervise a referendum on Crimean independence and include the republic as a separate entity in the CIS. On July 28 one of the leaders of the Russian Society of Crimea, Viktor Prusakov, stated that his organisation was ready for an armed mutiny and establishment of the Russian administration in Sevastopol. In September, Eduard Baltin, then Black Sea Fleet Commander, accused Ukraine of converting some of his fleet and conducting an armed assault on his personnel, and threatened to take counter-measures and placing the fleet on alert.

Nevertheless relations apparently improved, and in May 1997 Russia and Ukraine signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty, ruling out Moscow’s territorial claims to Ukraine. A separate agreement established the terms of a long-term lease of land, facilities, and resources in Sevastopol and the Crimea by Russia.

As part of this historic agreement, the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its facilities were divided between Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Naval Forces. The two navies co-used some of the city’s harbours and piers, while others were demilitarised or used by either country. Sevastopol remained the location of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with the Ukrainian Naval Forces Headquarters also based in the city. A judicial row periodically continues over the naval hydrographic infrastructure both in Sevastopol and on the Crimean coast (especially lighthouses historically maintained by the Soviet or Russian Navy and also used for civil navigation support).

Like in the rest of the Crimea, Russian remained the predominant language of the city, although following the independence of Ukraine there were some attempts at “Ukrainisation”, with very little success.

Despite the treaty, Russian society in general and even some outspoken government representatives never accepted the loss of Sevastopol and tended to regard it as merely temporarily separated from the homeland.

The WE Youth Political Organisation, which advocated Russian citizenship for Sevastopol residents, published a poll in 2004 claiming that “72% of the Sevastopol citizens supported the idea of the independent status of Crimea.” Crimea was then an autonomous Republic within Ukraine. Besides, they said that 95% of the respondents supported the constant stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol even after 2045, when the time of the corresponding agreement between Russia and Ukraine was suppose to end.

Also, apparently, 100% of those polled favoured the option for citizens of Sevastopol to obtain dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. It is notable, however, that of the Sevastopol citizens that expressed a desire to obtain Russian citizenship only 16% wwere ready to give up the Ukrainian one.

In July 2009, the chairman of the Sevastopol city council, Valeriy Saratov (Party of Regions) stated that Ukraine should increase the amount of compensation it paid to the city of Sevastopol for hosting the foreign Russian Black Sea Fleet, instead of requesting such obligations from the Russian government and the Russian Ministry of Defense in particular.

On April 27, 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified the Russian Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, extending the Russian Navy’s lease of Crimean facilities for 25 years after 2017 (through 2042) with an option to prolong the lease in 5-year extensions. The ratification process in the Ukrainian parliament encountered stiff opposition and erupted into a brawl in the parliament chamber. Eventually, the treaty was ratified by a 52% majority vote—236 of 450. The Russian Duma ratified the treaty by a 98% majority without incident.

2014 Crimean crisis

On March 6, 2014, in response to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Sevastopol unilaterally declared that it wished to join the Russian Federation as a federal subject. The city council supported becoming a part of Russia, and on 11 March it released a joint resolution with the Supreme Council of Crimea to unite as an independent republic between the potential passing of the referendum and union with Russia. Ukrainian authorities strongly criticized the  referendum decision, while President Turchynov remarked that Building of the Supreme Council of Crimeawas controlled by the Russian military when vote on referendum resolution took place[24]

On March 16, citizens of Sevastopol were included alongside those in the Republic of Crimea in a referendum on 16 March 2014 on leaving Ukraine to join the Russian Federation – with official report of a majority of 95.6% voted to become a part of the Russian Federation, albeit these results are contested. (See Crimean status referendum, 2014#Alternate estimates for details). This referendum resulted in the establishment of the short-lived Republic of Crimea, which consisted of both Sevastapol and Crimea.

On March 18, 2014, the treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia was signed between Russia and the Republic of Crimea, with the following content:

  • The territory of the former Autonomous Republic of Crimea is incorporated as the Republic of Crimea (a Federal subject of Russian Federation).
  • The former Special Status City of Sevastopol is incorporated as a Federal City of Russia.
  • Both territories are incorporated as part of the Crimean Federal District.

This new status is not recognised by Ukraine and Crimea is still considered by Ukraine, the European Union, and most NATO members to remain only de jure a part of Ukraine.

 

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

 

In simple terms, the Black Sea was and is the Russian fleet’s gateway to the Mediterranean. As such it is entry point for the key theatre for the exercise of Russian influence in the Middle East, and for further egress to the Atlantic. As soon as Ukraine started leaning towards Nato, Crimea’s fate was essentially sealed.

The near-hysterical response by the West (particularly the Western media, less so Obama and the Western leaders) to Putin’s adventurism was full of fevered speculation that he was after the whole of the Eastern Ukraine, or even the whole country – or worse, that this was the first blow in a new land war between Russia and Nato.

Now, despite their ever more desperate appeals for help, the Eastern Crimea rebels find themselves assaulted by Ukraine’s ground forces while the Russian troops along the border retreat to their bases and their supply of arms dries up.

Realpolitik has done it’s work. Valdimir Putin has his port back. As we said at the time, it’s very likely it’s all he ever wanted.

Reuters reports that two topless women painted with the slogans “Olympic shame” and “No Sharia” protested in front of London’s City Hall on Thursday to draw attention to what they called “bloody Islamist regimes” taking part in the Olympics.

They were members of Ukrainian women’s rights group Femen, which has staged numerous topless protests across Europe, including at the Euro 2012 soccer tournament in Poland and Ukraine where their concern was prostitution in host cities.

“The regimes are fascists of our time, they treat women like third-class citizens,” said protester Reza Moradi, without specifying any countries. “This is what we object to, this is what they are protesting against.”

Smeared with fake blood and wearing floral wreaths on their heads, the two topless women ran around the entrance of City Hall in central London for around 10 minutes chased by a third protester before being covered up and led away in handcuffs by police officers. A spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had no immediate comment.

This is not apparently not offensive.

This is not apparently not offensive.

Even this is apparently not offensive.

This is offensive. Hell, yes it is. But not for the reasons the police used.

So my question is this. Why were they led away by police officers? What law were they breaking? Why is it legal to go topless on a beach, but not outside City Hall? (Had it been New York, it would have been legal, by the way: see below.)

Most importantly, would they have been led away if they had been men, topless? Would they have been breaking any law?

After all, topless men – often with bodies that really shouldn’t see the light of day – are very common at British football matches, and in British parks, and so on.

So why is it an arrestable offence for a woman to be topless, and a man not?

Why is a woman’s body offensive, and a man’s not? Is it because female breasts are somehow “dirty”?

Why is it a furore if Janet Jackson reveals a nipple (still covered) or Madonna, but not if Mick Jagger does it?

Is it because female breasts are an erogenous zone? So it’s really all about our paranoia about matters sexual, yes? But surely that is not reason enough, as I know plenty of men who consider their own nipples to be erogenous too.

I think I have made my point. Or points, if you get my meaning.

Nipples? Tits? Get over ’em, already.

Britain continues to export death and destruction to those who are only too ready to deal it out to their own populations, or each other. A disgrace.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/in-the-line-of-fire-a-date-with-despots-at-britains-arms-fair-2354314.html

Thankfully, not everyone is sitting idly by.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/12/london-arms-fair-protest

Many, many years ago, I was offered a job working for an arms manufacturer. They offered me what was, in those days, a king’s ransom. I was a young man, they made all sorts of soothing political and philosophical noises seeking to justify their activities, and then they dangled yet more money in front of me.

I thought about it, and turned them down flat. Then, and now, I could see no moral difference between selling the arms to someone else, and firing them myself, knowing full well what the purchasers intended to do with them. I was not prepared to make my living, no matter at what scale of of arm’s length, by killing people.

Sometimes, we only have our own consciences to guide us, and sometimes all we can do is make a decision about our own lives. I cannot help but feel that if more people simply refused to countenance many of the world’s evils in their personal lives, then they would start to dissipate in a broader sense. My views, essentially, are no different from those Donovan sang about in Universal Soldier, the man “who gives his body as a weapon of the war. And without him, all this killing can’t go on.”

I have always loved Buffy St Marie’s version too … the vibrato in her voice. And something about a woman’s passion for peace illuminates the song even more. That’s on YouTube too – well worth checking out for the difference, and also a recent recording of Domovan singing it in 2010, which is fascinating.

“He’s the universal soldier, and he really is to blame, his orders come from far away no more. They come from here and there, and you and me, and brother, can’t you see? This is not the way we put the end to war.”

It’s so sad, to me, that the simple arguments in this seminal song are as true nearly 50 years after the song was released as they were then.The look of rapt attention – and hope – on many of the young faces in the crowd in 1965 is heartbreaking.

Perhaps all we can do, ultimately, is change ourselves. Not allow our body to be a weapon of the war, and not allow other people’s bodies to be used in our place, in our name.

Be the change we want to see in the world, Gandhi said. Well, something like that, anyhow, would be a start.