Anatole Kaletsky writes: Oscar Wilde described marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. In finance and geopolitics, by contrast, experience must always prevail over hope, and realism over wishful thinking.
A grim case in point is the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine. What makes this conflict so dangerous is that U.S. and EU policy seems to be motivated entirely by hope and wishful thinking. Hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will “see sense” — or at least be deterred by the threat of sanctions to Russia’s economic interests and the personal wealth of his oligarch friends. Wishful thinking about “democracy and freedom” inevitably overcoming dictatorship and military bullying.
Investors and businesses cannot afford to be so sentimental. Though we should never forget Nathan Rothschild’s advice at the battle of Waterloo — “buy on the sound of gunfire” — the market response to this week’s events in Ukraine makes sense only if we believe that Russia has won.
The alternative to acquiescence in the Russian annexation of Crimea would be for the Ukrainian government to try to fight back, either by military means or by pressuring the Russian minority in the rest of the country. That, in turn, would almost inevitably imply a descent into Yugoslav-style civil war — with the strong possibility of sucking in Poland, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States.
The West has no intermediate option between accepting the Russian invasion and full-scale war because it seems inconceivable that Putin would voluntarily withdraw from Crimea. Having grabbed Crimea by force, to give it up now would almost certainly mean the end of Putin’s presidency. The Russian public, not to mention the military and security apparatus, believes almost unanimously that Crimea is “naturally” part of Russia, having been transferred to Ukraine, almost by accident, in 1954. In fact, many Russians think, rightly or wrongly, that the entire Ukraine “belongs” to them. (The word “u-krainy” in Russian means “at the frontier,” and definitely not “beyond the frontier.”)
Under these circumstances, the idea that Putin would respond to Western economic sanctions, no matter how stringent, by giving up his newly gained territory is pure wishful thinking. [Continue reading...]
AFP reports: Alim Aliyev, the Crimean Tatars’ representative in Lviv [a Ukrainian city close to the Polish border where Tartar families are seeking refuge], said he was optimistic about the region’s future. Tatar men were sending their families away so they could dutifully defend their land, he said.
“As long as Tatars are in Crimea, Crimea will remain part of Ukraine,” he said.
Tatars will launch a guerrilla war against the Russian forces if they do not pack up and leave the region, Aliyev warned.
“We will dance the haytarma and the hopak (traditional Tatar and Ukrainian folk dances) on the ruins of Putin’s post-imperialist ambitions,” he said.
Poynter: Freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who’s reporting in Crimea for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, tweeted that he’d had a gun pointed to his head outside a TV studio on Thursday. On his Twitter account, Kenarov tweets a link to a video after the attack. In a video of the attack, people around him seem … remarkably casual about the whole thing.
In an editorial, the Washington Post says: More than a dozen years after the attacks of 9/11, it is time to treat government decisions made in the aftermath as history — to be debated and learned from. This is especially true of the misguided program of interrogation and torture carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. In the years after the attacks, so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not measure up to American values nor international law were brought to bear on detainees. We need to know the full story of how that happened.
In a landmark investigation, comparable in significance to the 9/11 Commission report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence initiated a full probe of the interrogations in 2009. The investigation was completed in December 2012 and approved by a 9 to 6 vote. The resulting report is roughly 6,300 pages long, with a 300-page executive summary. The CIA, which is the focus of much criticism in the report, submitted a 120-page response to the committee in June, explaining where the agency agreed with the findings and where it disagreed. A long period of discussion between the CIA and committee staff ensued, concluding last September. Since then, the report has been under revision to reflect the comments.
When complete, the full report will go back to the committee for approval and then, perhaps, to the executive branch for declassification. We hope this happens soon. The committee chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has called for the release of a declassified executive summary and of the findings and conclusions. President Obama, who early in his first term repudiated the legal memos that were used as justification for the interrogations but also announced that he would not seek criminal charges against CIA operatives who participated in the them, has endorsed making public a declassified version.
Clearly, this has been a painful process for the CIA. The report is expected to be highly critical of the agency’s actions. A key issue is whether methods such as waterboarding produced any useful intelligence, as members of the Bush administration and others have claimed. A debate without the facts is hollow. We need to read the report of the Senate committee in order to squarely address it.
There have been some reports in recent days of an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general into whether agents gained access to Senate committee computers, perhaps an effort to interfere with the report’s publication. If this happened, this is terribly inappropriate. The CIA must cooperate with Congress in getting this report published, however unpleasant that may be.
The interrogation methods were part of a covert action program authorized by the president. It is time to examine the program with some historical perspective, learn the lessons and ponder how the United States can best defend itself in a dangerous world without violating dearly held values and principles.
Vice News reports: The world was horrified by a photograph of refugees lining up for aid in the destroyed Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria at the end of February. Since then attention has turned to events in Ukraine and Venezuela, but Yarmouk remains a desolate purgatory. The only thing left for the estimated 18,000 starving Palestinians still trapped in the camp to do is wait.
“We waited for the siege to end. We waited for the (relief) baskets to come. We waited for the world to notice us. All we do is wait and die,” one refugee told VICE News.
And that grim situation has just got worse. A brief ceasefire from the 14-month-long siege of Yarmouk — imposed by the Syrian regime in an attempt to starve out opposition militants — was secured by a fragile truce in late January. Then, last weekend, the fighters flooded back into the camp. The Syrian Army may invade next. [Continue reading...]
Shibley Telhami writes: A public opinion survey I commissioned, which was conducted by the polling firm GfK, found that U.S. popular support for a two-state solution is surprisingly tepid. What’s more, if the option is taken off the table, Americans support the creation of a single democratic state — in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories — in which Jews and Arabs are granted equal rights. The GfK survey consisted of 1,000 interviews conducted through an Internet panel and was weighted to ensure that the results were consistent with several demographic variables, such as age, education, and income.
The Obama administration’s focus on mediating an end to the conflict has been predicated on two assumptions — that a two-state solution is in the national security interest of the United States, and that the current diplomatic efforts may be the last chance to achieve it. Americans themselves, however, are more lukewarm on the possibility of Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side: fewer than four in 10 survey respondents preferred a two-state solution. [Continue reading...]
Gideon Levy writes: It’s the biggest convention of Israel-haters, attended yearly by some 15,000 representatives, and the damage, historically speaking, that it has done to Israel is perhaps graver than any done by Iran. The convention is held once a year, and time seems to stop. It’s always the same wheeler-dealers, the same kitsch, the same hollow applause, and the same standing ovation for every Israeli prime minister, no matter his policy. The world turns round and round, but this never changes. Even Israel changes, but not in their eyes. Here, Israel is worthy only of applause, blind and automatic applause, now and forever.
Like at similar conventions held in Romania by Nicolae Ceausescu, all they do is praise the great leader. Welcome to Bucharest in Washington, to the Kremlin of American Jewry, behold the yearly AIPAC conference. Only here can Netanyahu use his old tricks and gimmicks and be met with a full auditorium on its feet. “I bring you a message from the unified Jerusalem” – applause; Israel built a hospital for victims of the Syrian war, which Netanyahu visited, and he even spoke to a Syrian – cheers; the whole world is knocking down Israel’s door – applause; we will never abandon Israel’s security – the hall rumbles. “BDS is BS,” and this bullshit was praised as well, even though Netanyahu devoted a large portion of his speech to BDS, which was a bigger gift than the organization could have dreamt of.
Behind Netanyahu sat a young American woman who rose to cheer him when everyone else did. I said to myself, Why exactly did she get up and cheer? For the ongoing occupation? For the undermining of Israeli democracy? For the ever prevalent racism in Israel?
“I’m pro-Israel, I’m AIPAC,” says the organization’s slogan. Pro-Israel? The organization’s critics claim that it sometimes acts against U.S. interests; that it also acts against Israeli interests. Yes, it has caused Congress to pass resolutions congratulating Israel on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. AIPAC also prevented the sale of air defense systems to Saudi Arabia, as well as any weapon to any Arab state. No fewer than 259 Congress members and 79 senators signed the organization’s petition condemning aid for the Palestinian Authority.
Bravo, AIPAC. Seek out the conservative right among American Jewry. But long ago, Israel should have said, “No, thanks.” Not every show of loud and pushy, even crazed support is a display of friendship. Sometimes caring and friendship mean criticism. But that is not in AIPAC’s playbook. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: In a Crimean Tatar cafe just off Kiev’s now-famous Maidan, or Independence Square, Igor Semyvolos looked at his phone Thursday and saw the news he’d been dreading.
The Crimean Parliament had just announced that its contested peninsula is now part of Russia. A referendum would be held March 16 to confirm the popularity of the decision, but the move, the Parliament said, was already done. Crimea might still be part of Ukraine in the eyes of the world, but to its regional Parliament, it was now Russian.
“This is war,” Semyvolos said.
The director of Ukraine’s Association of Middle Eastern Studies, an academic area that here includes Crimea, stared at a thick cup of Turkish coffee as he considered what would come next. Outside, Maidan was still basking in the afterglow after months of rebellion toppled the previous, pro-Russian regime, but the joy of that seeming victory is fading. Semyvolos sees it in the faces of Ukrainians outside — the stress and the growing realization that war is inevitable.
“It’s becoming clear that there will be war in Crimea, and that war will be for the independence of Ukraine,” he said. He paused to consider his statement for a second. He continued: “Ukraine will need help from the United States in this.”
Ukraine’s most recent trouble began last summer, when Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened trade sanctions against Ukraine if it signed a new trade agreement with the European Union. It quickly spiraled after Ukraine’s erstwhile president, Viktor Yanukovych, stepped away from the new ties to Europe in November, protesters crowded into Maidan and then, after months of protests, Yanukovych fled to Russia.
But the roots of the problem are far deeper, dating back centuries, and in that tangle of history is a series of ancient claims that for the people of Crimea, and Ukraine, are about to become very fresh again. [Continue reading...]
Andrew Wilson writes: Russia may be tightening its grip on Crimea, with little resistance to date, but they have yet to face the Crimean Tatar factor.
There are 266,000 Crimean Tatars in Crimea, over 13% of the local population. They are Sunni Muslim, traditionally pro-Ukrainian, and much better organised than the local Ukrainians, who make up 23% of the population.
A quick look at history tells you why: Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars en masse to Central Asia in 1944, and half of them died during or after the journey. They were only able to return after 1989; by which time their homes had gone and their culture had been erased.
The Crimean Tatars are still economically marginalised, with constant tensions over land-squatting and ‘irregular constructions’ (shanty towns).
But Crimea is their only home. Turkey hosts a large diaspora; but the peninsula was home to the Crimean Tatar Khanate from 1441 to 1783. The roots of Christianity in Crimea go back more than a thousand years; but the idea of Crimea as an ancient outpost of Orthodox Christianity is really only 160 years old, dating back to a programme of church-building to replace local mosques after the Crimean war of 1853-56. [Continue reading...]
A couple of days ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote:
American media elites awash in an orgy of feel-good condemnation in particular love to mock Russian media, especially the government-funded English-language outlet RT, as being a source of shameless pro-Putin propaganda, where free expression is strictly barred (in contrast to the Free American Media). That that network has a strong pro-Russian bias is unquestionably true. But one of its leading hosts, Abby Martin, remarkably demonstrated last night what “journalistic independence” means by ending her Breaking the Set program with a clear and unapologetic denunciation of the Russian action in Ukraine:
I imagine most readers here will have already seen Martin’s widely publicized statement. Clearly she was flattered by gaining Greenwald’s attention, whose remarks she featured at the beginning of her next show.
Even so, anyone who thinks that Martin’s statement should be taken as a sign that RT values journalistic independence, is ignoring the reality of the Russian media and the organization she works for and chooses to continue working for despite her opposition to the invasion of Crimea.
RIA Novosti reports: On Wednesday, Izvestia daily newspaper reported that a ruling United Russia party deputy is readying legislation that would, among other things, make it a crime to “allow publication of false anti-Russian information.”
Starting Wednesday, staff at RIA Novosti’s Moscow-based English-language desk was asked to decide whether they wanted to work at [the newly created] Rossiya Segodnya or accept compensation packages. The bulk of the writers and editors for the English-language service have opted for the latter option.
The new agency is to be headed by Dmitry Kiselyov, a notoriously outspoken conservative TV presenter, and will share its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, with the Kremlin-funded TV news channel RT.
RT, which was formerly known as Russia Today, has been at the center of controversy recently with two reporters at the channel “going rogue” to openly criticize Russia’s interventions in the southern Ukrainian province of Crimea in the past few days. Criticism of the Kremlin typically gets little to no attention on RT, while content devoted to negative aspects of life in Western countries makes up a substantial part of its broadcasts.
Kiselyov’s ascendancy appears to point to efforts by the Russian authorities to appeal more to ultra-conservative values, a trend best signaled by last year’s passage of a law banning the promotion of homosexual “propaganda” to minors.
In Kiselyov’s most notorious on-screen harangue, dating back to 2012, he suggested it would be advisable to “burn or bury the hearts of gays” who die in car crashes.