The twisted logic of the West on Syria

The logic is strange, twisted, and in an insane and imperialist kind of a way even makes sense.

You can see it in pronouncements by the UK Foreign Secretary that Russia could end the situation in Syria tomorrow and you can see it in this editorial comment on the BBC:

Mr Lavrov’s central message – that Washington has refused to press its allies to separate themselves from the Islamists of al-Nusra ignores the fact that it is Russia’s air campaign that is pushing rebel groups into al-Nusra’s arms. [1]

Well. The Syrian government (call them regime because we are against them) is bombing groups who are trying to destroy it. Russia is supporting the Syrian government (though to what extent Russia has been bombing groups other than ISIS and Al-Nusra is a matter of contention). If the Syrian government/regime wasn’t bombing the rebel groups then they would have lost the war and been overrun. When the political and media classes in the West say that Syria/Russia shouldn’t bomb the rebels what they are really saying is: give up your arms, lie down and surrender, and the war will be over. That’s true enough. But it is not a piece of analysis. It is a threat and a call for unconditional surrender. When they make statements that Russia is prolonging the war in Syria by assisting the Syrian government the sub-text is: stop doing this, Assad will fall and then there will be no more war. I.e. we will win. To present this demand for unconditional surrender as a piece of analysis is characteristic of imperialist thinking.

They are stilled glued to the dream of regime change.

But Russia is thinking long-term. Russia’s analysis is that if the government of Syria falls then Syria will become another Iraq, another Libya – that is another failed state facing years of turmoil and suffering and providing a haven for terrorists – people who want to hurt Russia. That is why Russia is continuing to support the Syrian state.

Notes

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37520793

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Babyish provocations from the BBC

The BBC isn’t a journalist organisation. It is a UK public sector organisation. It thinks and acts like a local authority. Its primary role is to protect itself. Beyond that it supports everything which is to its advantage. There is no real sense of journalism.

They demonstrated this in their interview with Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation today. (It’s probably on the BBC web site somewhere. As a matter of taste this web site does not link to the BBC.)

During this interview they referred to the Joint Investigation Team report into the crash of MH17. This unit, based in the Netherlands, has just released a preliminary report into the crash. (We have discussed the report here). The report claims that the BUK missile launcher which shot down MH17 ‘came from Russia’. The report’s authors made it clear that they were not accusing the Russian state and that they had no evidence beyond “it came from Russia”. This was reported by the Daily Telegraph:

As the JIT made clear, the question of the Russian state or Russian citizens is yet to be closed. No government or individual has yet been named as responsible. [1]

Nonetheless the BBC invited Sergey Lavrov to “apologize” for the incident. The interview is reported by Life News. [2]

The report issued by the Joint Investigation Team is described as preliminary. On this basis even if the report did accuse Russia it would be too soon to invite the Foreign Minister of the country to apologize. But that could simply be explained as over-eagerness to get a scoop. But the problem is more serious than that. The JIT was clear; they are making no statements about involvement of the Russian state. Therefore there was simply no basis on which to ask the Foreign Minister representing the Russian state to apologize.

That the BBC did (and someone at a senior level must have authorized this) shows what scant regard the BBC shows to journalistic standards. It was simply babyish. They had Lavrov in the studio and (facts aside) they thought they’d “ambush” him. A sort of student prank – (probably the sort of game that happens in editorial and management meetings at the BBC all the time). But it also (inadvertently) reveals how the Western political and media classes operate. There is a world of facts, reports, international investigations – and then there is their world, a world composed by their own narratives, a world in which they sort everything out. In this world they are always 100% right and always on top. In this world – composed of made-up narratives – Russia has long since been found guilty. Of course it is necessary to pretend that there is only one narrative – the official world of reports, the UN and “international law”. But this world is only accepted as long as it can be bent and distorted to mirror the world of their own prior narratives.

In this case it is their own investigation they are overriding with their own preferred version of events. The investigation has not found the Russian state responsible. But in the narrative of the modern-day imperialists she is. And it is from this narrative, not the actual world of the “international” investigation, that the BBC posed this question.

It’s a minor example but it does show the attitude of the Western media and political classes to anything which could be described as international law. The rule of law is subsidiary, and secondary to their own narratives.

Psychologically, the BBC probably could not have had Lavrov in the studio and not tried to smear him with their imperialistic narratives. To clarify in case of doubt; the BBC could certainly have asked a journalistic based question. For example; what is your reaction to the report from the Joint Investigation Team which says that the missile which shot down MH17 came from Russia? Such a question would stick to facts and would thus be a journalistic question.

Update

Joining the BBC in the gutter is the Guardian who also note that the Russian Foreign Minister “declined to apologize”.  [3] Like the BBC the Guardian (the article is attributed to someone called Alec Luhn) cannot have read the interim report from the JIT or paid attention to their news briefing. It is an interim report and JIT were at pains to clarify that they were not holding the Russian state responsible when they said the missile launcher “came from Russia”. This is scraping the barrel. Sniping at your enemies without any basis in fact is not journalism.

The Guardian article in which this provocation is repeated (without being sourced) concerns a Russian company which makes childrens’ beds in the shape of cars and lorries. They also have one in the shape of a tank and another in the shape of a BUK missile launcher. The way the article is written suggests that the BUK bed is insensitive because it was launched (sorry) after the JIT report came out. The article doesn’t explicitly say this but then it doesn’t clarify that the novelty bed has been on the market for some time either. In fact this particular bed has been available since at least February of this year, if not before. [4] Nothing that sinister then. The article appears to be based on a Facebook post by a Russian journalist, Oleg Kashin. Oleg Kashin is one of the Guardian’s favoured post-Soviet block liberal journalists. [5] The story of brave liberal Russian journalists fighting Soviet style media repression is further undermined by the fact that he can post this kind of spurious, inflammatory, material of his Facebook page.

Notes

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/28/mh17-investigation-prosecutors-to-reveal-where-missile-that-down/

2. Life News

3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/02/buk-at-bedtime-russian-firm-launches-missile-launcher-childs-bed

4. Wayback Machine

5. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-guardian-fights-for-media-freedom-in-russia/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/29/how-putins-high-risk-syria-gamble-is-paying-off

The Guardian fights for media freedom in Russia

The Guardian frequently talks about the Kremlin media bubble in Russia. The idea is that the reason that 82% of Russians support Putin is not because he has caught the desires and ambitions of Russians and won their confidence by implementing polices they like, but because they are brainwashed by the Kremlin controlled media.

It is true that TV stations in Russia are largely owned by the state or by organisations which can be said to “have links to the state”. Press ownership is more diffuse. [1] In the Western media, including the Guardian, Russian state ownership of the media is often implicitly contrasted with the ‘free’ media in the West. (E.g. this headline which references “Russia’s state-owned media”). This is laughable. Media organisations in the West are owned by capital. A typical pattern for a Western newspaper or news organisation (e.g. The Daily Telegraph or Reuters) is that it is owned by a combination of a private wealthy family and investment capital, the latter controlled by city institutions. [2] Far from ‘free’ the Western press is owned by finance capital. Not surprisingly it acts in the interests of finance capital. The contrast between state-owned media as being ‘unfree’ and the finance capital owned media in the West being ‘free’ is a piece of propaganda told by the Western media. (The Guardian is an exception to this pattern of media ownership – being owned by a company whose constitution requires profits to be re-invested in journalism. [3] Its slavish devotion to the line of the US State Department is thus harder to explain).

Furthermore; anyone in Russia who is able to access the Internet (a high proportion of the population, – 70% according to this Russian university backed research project) can read, for example, The Guardian or the Daily Telegraph. They just have to use Google translate. But Russians can get Western propaganda even without doing this; the BBC (British state media) publishes content aimed at Russians, in Russian. Radio Free Europe – a propaganda project of the US State Department – broadcasts Russian language radio into Russia and publishes Web content in Russian. [4]

At any event, convinced perhaps that Russians really are starved of the ‘truth’, the Guardian is working hard at redressing the balance. Here is an article by Oleg Kashin, who is described by the Guardian as “one of Russia’s most prominent journalists”. That may be slightly generous – nonetheless Mr Kashin seems to have had a long career in professional journalism in Russia during which he has worked for a wide range of press outlets and published multiple articles critical of the authorities. [5] All of which gives the lie to the endless claims about the Kremlin controlled media bubble. Mr Kashin’s article in the Guardian is also published by the Guardian in Russian. It is as if the Guardian is making a heroic attempt to communicate with the brain-washed masses in Russia. They don’t really need to. The same article is in fact available in Russia on a Russian language (.ru) web site. This web site itself is affiliated with the state broadcaster RIA Novosti. [6] This is quite amusing. The Guardian is attempting to create a narrative about how it is making a stand for ‘freedom’ by publishing an article by a Russian journalist who is critical of the authorities – in Russian. But in reality the Russian authorities themselves publish the same article in Russian as part of a project to disseminate Western media in Russia. The Western media narrative about the Kremlin controlled media bubble is really a fiction. The narrative shows a failure to understand Russia or Russians and is insulting to Russians.

The article by Oleg Kashin is more interpretation than fact. It explains that Putin’s Syria policy is dictated by a desire to “raise the stakes” with the West and divert attention away from his “failed Ukraine policy”. That may be the case; though the article simply presents this as theory without any supporting argumentation or fact. With no offence to Mr Kashin this particular article then does not represent a particularly high standard of journalism. But, for the Guardian, this won’t matter. What matters is the narrative about media oppression in Russia and how the Guardian is doing something about it. This in turn reflects that rather strange preoccupation on the part of Western liberals about how Russia (another country) should be run.

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_freedom_in_Russia

2. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-free-press-in-the-west-8/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guardian

4. http://www.rferl.org/p/5547.html

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleg_Kashin

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InoSMI

In the snake pit

Your editor was consulted today about a possible job. (Yes; unfortunately running this web site is an act of love and he has to hawk his little skill-set around to find a buyer so he can put food on the table). The job was working on a web site that connects householders with a certain type of supplier.

It was mentioned in the preliminary telephone interview (possibly deliberately to test the water) that the owner of the web site wants to include a question which potential suppliers have to answer:

Do you speak English?

Well. It’s not exactly racist. Not quite. (Though it clearly discriminates against immigrants). But, really, what a mean-spirited question to ask. The type of work in question is pretty simple. Even if a supplier didn’t speak a word of English it would be possible for the householder to communicate what work they wanted done with a few simple gestures. And really that would be normal and human.

Why does the person behind the web site want this question to be asked? Most likely to head off complaints from householders that the supplier (arranged via the web site) “did not speak English”. He is thinking about his moneyHis concern for his money eliminates his humanity. And by extension that of everyone else who is involved with his project.

Why don’t these people just bite on it? Don’t put that question on the web site. Have a little bit of courage. Have a little humanity. But, always, for some reason these people (who probably aren’t actually racist and nasty), nonetheless choose the path which prioritizes money above love. What is it that makes them do that? What is this compulsion to do evil?

Anyway. Your editor will have to find another job. Of course in this rotten society it is a question of which evil to choose. Or, simply, starve to death.

A loveless society…

Strange, because to act with a little bit of love isn’t hard. It is even natural.

 

It came from Russia – or who shot down MH17?

The ‘Joint Investigation Team’ in the Netherlands has concluded that Malaysia airline MH17 which was shot down over Ukrainine in July 2014 was shot down by a BUK missile system which ‘came from Russia’.

The Investigation Team was made up of representatives from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. 4 of these countries are currently engaged in waging economic warfare against Russia the express aim of which is to wipe Russia off the map. [1] Much of the evidence for the inquiry was supplied by the intelligence services of the country in direct conflict with Russia – Ukraine. It is an accepted part of the role of intelligence services to supply either fabricated or at least selectively misleading information in pursuit of their national interests. The inquiry has no basis of credability. It is hardly news that it found that the missile launcher came from Russia.

The press release of the Joint Investigation team makes interesting reading. [2] We can note the following:

The text claims irrefutable evidence that the flight was shot down by a BUK missile. But we can note that the claim relating to where the missile was fired from (a field in militia held territory) is not described as irrefutable.

Nonetheless the report claims that the BUK missile was driven into Ukraine from Russia. This is the relevant text:

The JIT has been able to identify a large part of the route concerning the arrival and the departure of the BUK-TELAR. This was the result of intercepted telephone conversations, witness statements, photographs and videos that had been posted on social media, and a video never shown before which was obtained from a witness. The system was transported from Russian territory into eastern Ukraine and was later transported on a white Volvo truck with a low-boy trailer. The truck was escorted by several other vehicles and by armed men in uniform.

Once again – social media seems to feature surprisingly heavily in accusations of ‘Russian involvement’ – and in places where you’d least expect it – such as State Department briefings and criminal investigations. One would hope that justice in an ordinary court in the Netherlands does not depend on “photographs and videos that had been posted on social media”.  The intercepted telephone calls were provided it seems by Ukrainian intelligence (at least such calls were released by them very soon after the event). The “video never before shown” sounds like a trailer for an edition of Crimewatch, not a serious piece of investigation. And, again, one wonders who supplied this material? Was the investigation team aware that videos can be fabricated? That, for example, a video shot at twilight of a BUK missile launcher with an empty tube clearly visible driving through a village in the direction of Russia could be staged theatrically?

More information on the “intercepted telephone calls” including audios of the calls themselves can be found on the Joint Investigation Team’s web site. [3] The case that the militias were supplied with a BUK missile system from Russia seems to depend on these calls. That the calls are what they purport to be we have to take on trust… The claims about the location from which the missile was fired seem to depend on unnamed witnesses. (It is also possible that two missiles were fired – one destroyed MH17 and one missed another target. In this scenario the witness sightings may be valid but not the proof they are taken to be).

Immediately after the downing of the flight the US claimed to have satellite data showing that the missile came from militia held territory. [4] This information has never made it into the public domain. However it seems that intelligence staff from the US have briefed the investigation and this briefing is claimed to be material which could be ‘used in  court’. (In fact anything can be ‘used in court’ so it is not quite clear why this meaningless phrase appears in the report, other than to add shine to some shaky evidence):

In response to a Dutch request for legal assistance, the US submitted a report in which they present their assessment of the information regarding the shooting down of flight MH17. This report can be used in court. The conclusion of the American authorities is that flight MH17 was shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile, i.e. a BUK-missile, which was launched from a site about six kilometres south of the village of Snizhne in Eastern Ukraine. This is consistent with the distance to aforementioned launch site near Pervomaiskiy. The US also explain how they reached this conclusion. In addition, they mention that they are sure of the fact that the Ukrainian air defence systems could not have done it and that an air-to-air scenario is impossible.

The Dutch Military Intelligence Service (MIVD) and the (Dutch) National Public Prosecutor on Terrorism have been able to view the underlying state-secret (intelligence) material and based on that information and the explanation provided, they support the fact that this conclusion is drawn. [3]

Again – we can ask is a claim by a highly interested party that they are “sure” one side (their allies as it happens) “could not have done it” really a normal standard for a criminal trial? Obviously not.

The political, media and think-tank classes in the West have been screaming for 2 years that Russia is arming the militias in Eastern Ukraine and is denying it. Ie. the claim is that Russia is operating a policy of plausiable denilability. It is very difficult to see how to equate this policy (if it is indeed the policy of Russia – which it may well be) with supplying a BUK missile system to the militias. Such a system – even without the tragic shooting down of a civilian airliner – would quite obviously be traced to Russia. Other aspects of the story developed by Ukranian intelligence are unlikely. For example; they spent months telling everyone about convoys of Russian armour crossing the border but were not able to provide photos or videos. But straight after this event they happened to have an agent in place who was able to film the BUK missile launcher being driven back to Russia with one of its missile tubes guiltily empty. [5] If this really was the implicated BUK launcher surely someone would have thrown a tarpaulin over the back of the truck? And – what about the ‘armed men’ who the JIT claims accompanied the truck on its way into Ukraine? [2] No sign of them on the way back.

There are 4 main possible scenarios of how this tragic event happened:

1. It was a plot by a cell within the Ukrainian intelligence to frame Russia and whip up support for their cause in the West. Certainly there was a strong feeling amongst the post-Maidan Ukrainian nationalists that the West was not fully supporting them and did not appreciate how dangerous Russia was. What better way of changing this attitude than shooting down a jet full of Dutch holiday-makers and pinning the crime on Russia?

2. It was accidentally shot down by Kiev’s forces mistaking it for a Russian jet. They had been claiming that Russian fighter jets had invaded their air-space. Russia showed satellite imagery which they claimed showed Kiev’s BUK’s deployed within range of the destroyed airline. [6] This has not been explained.

3. The militias captured an old BUK system from the Ukrainian army. Not knowing properly how to use it they made a mistake and shot down a civlian airliner. This is quite possible. However; the Ukranian Ministry of Defence has repeatedly said that all their BUKs were accounted for. [7] Without this statement this hypothesis would have to be seriously considered.

4. Russia supplied the militias with a BUK – either with or without operatives. Since it would not have been in the militias’ interests to shoot down a passenger plane this scenario envisages a mistake being made. This in turn suggests untrained operators. Would Russia really hand over one of their advanced air-defence systems to the militias in Eastern Ukraine and leave them to get on with it? There is also an insiduous suggestion from the JIT that it could have come from Russia but without state involvement. [8]

A final possible scenario is a combination of 1. and 4. or 1. and 3. The militias shot down the civilian airliner but they were tricked into doing so by a Kiev fighter jet luring them to launch a missile close to an airliner.

As long as the investigation is conducted by one side and is based on ‘intelligence’ material provided by intelligence services of countries who are party to the conflict we cannot sensibly rely on it. At this point then a rational person cannot form a definite view.

 

Notes

1. As is graphically depicted in this State Department video.

2. https://www.om.nl/onderwerpen/mh17-crash/@96068/jit-flight-mh17-shot/

3. Full report by the Joint Investigation team. Audio: https://www.politie.nl/themas/flight-mh17-2.html

4. https://www.rt.com/news/334358-dutch-question-mh17-investigation/

5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsbC8yDeGUw

6. https://www.rt.com/news/174496-malaysia-crash-russia-questions/

7. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/who-shot-down-the-malaysian-plane-over-ukraine-2/

8. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/28/mh17-investigation-prosecutors-to-reveal-where-missile-that-down/

Speaking truth to Power

This is an extract from Mr Lavrov’s speech at the UN today. It seems like the Russians patience is finally wearing a bit thin.

В просвещённом XXI веке просто неприлично поучать всех подряд, оставляя за собой, оставляя за собой право и на допинг, и на односторонние авантюры в обход ООН, и на геополитические эксперименты ценой в миллионы жизней, и на экстерриториальный шантаж всех, включая ближайших союзников, когда на кону финансовая выгода на своих, — сказал Лавров. [Source: Life News]

A rough translation reads:

In the enlightened 21st century it is simply indecent to preach to everyone in succession, leaving for oneself, the right to doping and unilateral adventures bypassing the UN, and to geopolitical adventures at the cost of millions of lives, and to the extraterritorial blackmail of everyone, including one’s closest allies, when one’s own financial advantage is at stake.

I doubt if anyone in the American delegation, even Kerry, even blushed.

 

The standard of journalism – and why it matters

Here is a typical example of how the Guardian reports on Syria. Read article.

The basic theme is that the Assad regime and their accomplices the Russians are committing atrocities in Syria. They are solely responsible for the terrible humanitarian situation in the country. They are solely responsible for the break-down of the latest ceasefire.

This message is 100% in line with the message put out by the US State Department. No surprises there.

From a journalistic point of view the article is a travesty. There are lurid claims about Russian planes using phosphorus bombs and cluster munitions in civilian areas. (The claims about phosphorus bombs are not even articulated; are they allegedly using them for illumination, which is legal, or as a weapon, which is not? That this point is not even raised shows the level of gutter journalism we are at). The article focuses entirely on alleged civilian casualties. It is as if there were simply no anti-regime militants in the area at all. (In reality there is a fierce battle going on between anti-regime militants and the Syrian army for control of Aleppo). All of the information in the article comes from sources which are described simply as ‘activists’. (Apart from one reference to the UK based ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ which is a pro-opposition news desk run by a single individual – who, himself, says that he gets his information from ‘activists’ on the ground). [1] Possibly the article was put together simply by ‘journalists’ browsing the Twitter accounts of these ‘activists’. Naturally in a war each side emphasizes the civilian casualties they are suffering. It would be the role of an objective reporter to consider these accounts and balance them with other ones. You’d learn this on an entry level journalism course. But in this article nothing of the sort happens.

On the subject of balance; there is no attempt at all to mention the Russian point of view. For example; the Russians have repeatedly said that the problem on the ground is that the US backed ‘moderate opposition’ is mingling with the Al-Nusra jihadist group making it impossible not to hit the ‘moderate opposition’. The US acknowledges that this is a problem; it was a key part of the latest ceasefire deal. [2] At the same time the Russians have claimed that they have military intelligence which shows  that the ‘moderate opposition’ committed multiple violations of the ceasefire. [3]

The article is based on wild and untested claims by ‘activists’ and a sound-bite from US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Syrian government and Russian point of view is omitted. This is a kind of genocide. The Guardian trots out articles like this on a weekly basis. In a democracy it would be the role of journalism to provide a balanced picture and enable readers to make up their own minds. An informed democratic debate could, (so goes the theory), influence the politicians to take a different course. However; the Guardian, for one, has long since given up doing anything which could be called journalism. And in taking this course they align themselves with power rather than democracy. This creates a gap where a non-aligned media is desperately required.

Update

On the subject of phosphorus bombs. This is an article on RT about the US using phosphorus in Iraq. In contrast to the Guardian piece the claim is well-sourced, attributable and indeed credible – US army spokesmen. The distinction between using white phosphorus as a weapon (illegal) and for laying down a smokescreen (legal) is clearly explained. The article references other attributed sources of opinion. So; the Guardian produces an article trying to associate Russia with the use of phosphorus bombs in Syria – unattributed, vague, without explaining the actual legal situation. RT writes an article about the US using white phosphorous in Iraq – sources attributed and the legal position clearly explained. Who is producing propaganda and who is doing journalism?

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Observatory_for_Human_Rights

2. https://www.rt.com/news/358855-syria-ceasefire-plan-kerry-lavrov/ ; https://www.rt.com/news/359424-syria-deal-details-dispute/

3. https://www.rt.com/news/359424-syria-deal-details-dispute/