DPA reports: Syrian government forces are using starvation as a weapon of war, Amnesty International said Monday in a report detailing the siege of a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus.
“Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war,” Amnesty’s Middle East director Philip Luther said.
The group said 128 people had died of starvation since regime forces imposed a complete blockade on the Yarmouk refugee camp in July.
“The harrowing accounts of families having to resort to eating cats and dogs, and civilians
attacked by snipers as they forage for food, have become all too familiar details of the horror story that has materialized in Yarmouk,” Luther added.
About 51 fell victim to inadequate medical care, Amnesty said, quoting information provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent and human rights groups.
The main hospital in the area, which carried out 600 operations a month before the siege, is now operating without any qualified surgeons or medical supplies, health workers told Amnesty.
Some 17,000 to 20,000 civilians are thought to remain in the camp, Amnesty said. [Continue reading...]
Aurélie Campana writes: In April 1944, after two and half years of German occupation, the Soviet forces regained control of Crimea. The reconquest was hardly completed when the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse on the false accusation of having collectively collaborated with the Nazis. This Muslim Turkic-speaking minority then represented 19.4% of the population of the peninsula, where Russians represented over 50%.
On May 18, 1944, in the early morning, soldiers of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD, the former KGB) entered Tatars’ houses by force and announced to their astonished and incredulous occupants their immediate deportation because of acts of “massive collaboration”. They were given only twenty to thirty minutes to gather some personal belongings. Without further delay, they were then conveyed to several stations, where they were loaded into cattle trains. In the matter of three days, nearly 180,014 Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula. At the same moment, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region. The demobilized soldiers were released after Stalin’s death in 1953 and allowed to return to their families in their place of exile.
Over 151,000 Crimean Tatar deportees were sent to Uzbekistan; the rest of the population was conveyed to regions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), mostly in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the Ural region, the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and for some, to the region of Moscow (Broŝevan and Tygliânc, 1994: 85). The conditions of the transfer by train were particularly difficult; they were fatal for many of them, especially as the majority of the deportees were women, children and old people. The weakest ones were carried off by malnutrition, thirst, cold, overcrowding and diseases that spread rapidly in packed train carriages. [Continue reading...]
Michael Moynihan writes: Readers of a certain vintage will likely recall the oleaginous, Brooklyn-accented Vladimir Pozner, an American citizen domiciled in Moscow who regularly popped up on television in the waning days of the Cold War, propagandizing on behalf of the Kremlin. Pozner was a rather impressive practitioner of whataboutism, the debate tactic demanding that questions about morally indefensible acts committed by your side be deflected with pettifogging discussion of unrelated sins committed by your opponent’s side. Soviet tanks lumbering through the streets of Prague? Yes, but what about the mistreatment of the Native Americans? East Germany’s reluctant citizens penned in by an imposing cement wall, ringed by trigger-happy border guards? A necessary “anti-fascist protection barrier,” sure, but…what about Hiroshima?
Even after the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship, Pozner found it difficult to shake the whataboutist habit and rote moral equivalence. “Yes, there are dissidents and maybe they consist of one percent or two percent of the population,” he told PBS in 1999. “But you’ve had your dissidents and you don’t treat them all that well.”
And there he was last week on CNN, where he is now a contributor, at the start of what distressingly looks to be a new Cold War, discussing the results of Crimea’s referendum on splitting from Ukraine and rejoining Russia. And he sounded surprisingly reasonable. “I don’t know whether President Putin will accept [the referendum results],” Pozner told Jake Tapper. “I don’t know whether he’ll say okay, let’s take them into our federation, but if he does, let’s not forget that Crimea is part of Ukraine.”
Pozner might have softened in his dotage, but there is a Spetsnaz division of Westerners ready to take the place he once occupied, arguing on Moscow’s behalf, employing the familiar whataboutism and blame shifting away from Vladimir Putin and towards the Obama administration. [Continue reading...]
Echoing Henry Kissinger, while speaking via Skype at the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, Julian Assange described Ukraine as “a bridge” between Western Europe and Russia.
Time reports: Crimea, which voted to put the question of secession from Ukraine to a referendum, has released a ballot with severely limited choices, and all of the options come with strings attached
“No” is not an option in the upcoming referendum in Crimea on whether to split from Ukraine.
The Crimean parliament — which voted to put the question to a referendum Thursday, despite opposition from the new Ukrainian government and from the United States — has released the ballot for the March 16 on its website. The referendum gives voters in the autonomous region the option to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, or to return to policies that give Crimea even greater autonomy from Kiev — opening the door to join Russia down the line, the regional English-language news source KyivPost reports. But the status quo is not an option. [Continue reading...]
Bloomberg reports: Along the road that stretches east from the regional capital of Donetsk toward Ukraine’s border with Russia, crumbling Soviet apartment complexes quickly give way to shabby villages of squat houses with aluminum-sheet roofs and shuttered windows. Settlements clustered around the remnants of coal mines that fed the former Soviet Union and minted the eastern province now stand mostly in disrepair.
In Snizhne, 50 miles east of Donetsk and roughly a dozen miles from the Russian border, privatization and restructuring have closed all but two of the 17 government-run coal mines that fed the town in the 1990s. “The people have nowhere to work—it’s like Detroit in America,” says Sergey Vasilivich, who used to own a business transporting and sorting coal from small local mines to private buyers. “There’s a real depression in this city.” Today, small, semilegal mine shafts operate on the fringes of the economy with a blatant lack of regard for safety and workers’ rights. Many miners have lost their jobs, and young people have left for greener pastures. Many in Snizhne see themselves as ethnic Russians and would have no problem joining with Russia, especially because they think it would help the stunted local economy.
As pro-Russian tensions continue to simmer in the east, the interim government in Kiev is trying to keep a lid on separatist rhetoric in the industrial heartland, where small but vocal protests in Donetsk against the new government continue to rage. In an effort to pacify the local population, the central authorities on March 2 appointed Sergei Taruta, an oligarch with roots in the east, governor of the Donetsk region. With about 5 million people, it’s Ukraine’s most densely populated province.
Taruta faces not only the loud chants of pro-Russian protesters in front of government headquarters, but also a depressed economy, a legacy of corruption, lack of popularity, and the institutional stasis of a local government authority composed of members from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which could thwart Taruta’s attempts at reform at any turn.
“His decision [to accept the position] is a risky one,” says Oleksandr Kliuzhev, a political analyst and program coordinator of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization in Donetsk. “There are real pro-Russian tendencies here—they don’t hide them. These emotions were held in check before by the Party of Regions. … Our politicians played the Russia card, but the new risk is that there are politicians promising union with Russia and we haven’t had this risk before.” [Continue reading...]
Threat Post reports: Milan-based Hacking Team relies on servers in the United States and hosted by American companies to support its clients’ state-sponsored surveillance operations in some of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Hacking Team is an Italian security firm that develops surveillance equipment and sells it to foreign governments that allegedly turn around and use that equipment to spy on various targets. According to a new report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, in at least 12 cases, U.S.-based data centers contain servers that have some nexus in the infrastructure of foreign espionage.
The specific tool sold by Hacking Team is known as Remote Control System (RCS). According to the report, RCS has the capacity to spy on Skype conversations, email communications, and instant messaging services in addition to siphoning off passwords and local computer files. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: U.S. intelligence officials are planning a sweeping system of electronic monitoring that would tap into government, financial and other databases to scan the behavior of many of the 5 million federal employees with secret clearances, current and former officials told The Associated Press.
The system is intended to identify rogue agents, corrupt officials and leakers, and draws on a Defense Department model under development for more than a decade, according to officials and documents reviewed by the AP.
Intelligence officials have long wanted a computerized system that could continuously monitor employees, in part to prevent cases similar to former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden. His disclosures bared secretive U.S. surveillance operations.
An administration review of the government’s security clearance process due this month is expected to support continuous monitoring as part of a package of comprehensive changes. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: The local Chinese official remembers the panic he felt in Room 109. He had refused to confess to bribery he says he didn’t commit, and his Communist Party interrogators were forcing his legs apart.
Zhou Wangyan heard his left thigh bone snap, with a loud “ka-cha.” The sound nearly drowned out his howls of pain.
“My leg is broken,” Zhou told the interrogators. According to Zhou, they ignored his pleas.
China’s government is under strong pressure to fight rampant corruption in its ranks, faced with the anger of an increasingly prosperous, well-educated and Internet-savvy public. However, the party’s methods for extracting confessions expose its 85 million members and their families to the risk of abuse. Experts estimate at least several thousand people are secretly detained every year for weeks or months under an internal system that is separate from state justice.
In a rare display of public defiance, Zhou and three other party members in Hunan described to The Associated Press the months of abuse they endured less than two years ago, in separate cases, while in detention. Zhou, land bureau director for the city of Liling, said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned, whipped with wires and forced to eat excrement. The others reported being turned into human punching bags, strung up by the wrists from high windows, or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet. [Continue reading...]
Ars Technica reports: The Universe is incredibly regular. The variation of the cosmos’ temperature across the entire sky is tiny: a few millionths of a degree, no matter which direction you look. Yet the same light from the very early cosmos that reveals the Universe’s evenness also tells astronomers a great deal about the conditions that gave rise to irregularities like stars, galaxies, and (incidentally) us.
That light is the cosmic microwave background, and it provides some of the best knowledge we have about the structure, content, and history of the Universe. But it also contains a few mysteries: on very large scales, the cosmos seems to have a certain lopsidedness. That slight asymmetry is reflected in temperature fluctuations much larger than any galaxy, aligned on the sky in a pattern facetiously dubbed “the axis of evil.”
The lopsidedness is real, but cosmologists are divided over whether it reveals anything meaningful about the fundamental laws of physics. The fluctuations are sufficiently small that they could arise from random chance. We have just one observable Universe, but nobody sensible believes we can see all of it. With a sufficiently large cosmos beyond the reach of our telescopes, the rest of the Universe may balance the oddity that we can see, making it a minor, local variation.
However, if the asymmetry can’t be explained away so simply, it could indicate that some new physical mechanisms were at work in the early history of the Universe. As Amanda Yoho, a graduate student in cosmology at Case Western Reserve University, told Ars, “I think the alignments, in conjunction with all of the other large angle anomalies, must point to something we don’t know, whether that be new fundamental physics, unknown astrophysical or cosmological sources, or something else.” [Continue reading...]
“We are often told our actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, ‘Do you think everything you do is legitimate?,’ they say ‘yes’,” President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Then I have to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, where they either acted without any U.N. sanction or completely distorted the content of such resolutions, as was the case with Libya.”
For many critics of U.S. military action over the last thirteen years, Putin’s words resonate deeply.
There’s no question that when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” the hypocrisy in a top U.S. government official saying this, is glaring.
But here’s the problem: it’s starting to sound like for many of the people now chanting “Hypocrisy!”, they see hypocrisy as worse than occupation. Indeed, this insistence on focusing on the lack of integrity of Western political leaders is becoming an excuse to ignore or legitimize the Russian invasion of Crimea.
In his latest report from Crimea, Simon Ostrovsky offers a close-up view of the Russian occupation.
A Serb commander belonging to the Chetnik movement, controlling a checkpoint between Sevastopol and Simferpol and supporting the occupation, says — without a hint of irony — “it would be better to resolve this issue internally.” He sees himself and the Russians as part of this “internal” solution. (It should be noted that the Chetniks have a history of involvement in ethnic cleansing, mass murder and other war crimes.)
If a Serb, having traveled hundreds of miles to Crimea, identifies himself as part of an internal solution, this begs the question: how would he define external?
But here’s a final thought: if you think occupation is only a problem when it’s conducted by Americans or Israelis, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you really understand the meaning of the word hypocrisy.
The Observer reports: The two Ural trucks, full of troops, arrived under cover of darkness and a pea-souper fog at the Ukrainian missile defence base outside Sevastopol late on Friday night, and rammed their way through the gates. Once inside, the Russian troops fanned out and screamed that they would shoot to kill if the Ukrainians did not surrender.
After some brief tussles the situation was calmed and the Russians eventually left, their trucks racing out of the base.
Outside, members of a local “self-defence” volunteer unit harassed journalists, and the deputy commander of the base briefly appeared to give comments. “We ignored their orders and eventually they left,” he said, as one of the masked volunteers shone a light in his face and tried to stop him speaking. “I guess they will be back soon.”
There are several thousand Ukrainian military personnel on more than a dozen bases across the Crimea, creating what could be the most explosive problem facing the Russians in their operation to annex the peninsula.
Uncertain of their status since the Crimean parliament announced that it wants the territory to join with Russia, the soldiers feel threatened by Moscow and abandoned by Kiev. Having sworn an oath to Ukraine, they could now, within a week, find themselves in one country and their homes and families in another. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Lashed by the wind as it whips across Crimea’s biggest lake, a third of Ukraine’s warships have nowhere to go and nothing to do but rise and fall on its choppy waves.
Russian forces have blocked their only exit point to the Black Sea by sinking two ageing vessels there, and Russia’s well-armed Moskva missile cruiser can be seen treading water a short distance off the coast, with menace.
With six more of Ukraine’s two dozen warships similarly blockaded and Russian forces building up their strength ahead of a referendum that seems likely to result in Crimea becoming part of Russia, Ukraine is facing the humiliating loss of its navy.
Pacing up and down a spartan room in an outbuilding overlooking a row of warships, support vessels, and tugboats, Brigade Commander Vitaly Zvyagintsev says he can’t believe the Russian Black Sea Fleet – with whom the Ukrainian navy regularly held exercises in the past – has turned hostile.
“I have two theories,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The first is that they want to prevent Ukrainian ships leaving their base and blockading them as they are us now. The second is that they want to make sure that if and when Crimea joins Russia, Ukraine can’t get its ships back.”
“Georgia doesn’t have a fleet any more and the same thing could now happen with Ukraine,” he said gloomily, referring to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war which ended with Russian forces taking control of a fifth of Georgia’s territory.
The Ukrainian navy has around 25 warships including one submarine, 15 support vessels of different categories and around 15,000 men under arms, 10,000 of whom are based on the Crimean Peninsula. [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: One of the biggest mysteries hanging over the protest mayhem that drove Ukraine’s president from power: Who was behind the snipers who sowed death and terror in Kiev?
That riddle has become the latest flashpoint of feuding over Ukraine — with the nation’s fledgling government and the Kremlin giving starkly different interpretations of events that could either undermine or bolster the legitimacy of the new rulers.
Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government.
The government’s new health minister — a doctor who helped oversee medical treatment for casualties during the protests — told The Associated Press that the similarity of bullet wounds suffered by opposition victims and police indicates the shooters were trying to stoke tensions on both sides and spark even greater violence, with the goal of toppling Yanukovych.
“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” Health Minister Oleh Musiy said.
Putin has pushed the idea that the sniper shootings were ordered by opposition leaders, while Kremlin officials have pointed to a recording of a leaked phone call between Estonia’s foreign minister and the European Union’s foreign policy chief as evidence to back up that version.
This much is known: Snipers firing powerful rifles from rooftops and windows shot scores of people in the heart of Kiev. Some victims were opposition protesters, but many were civilian bystanders clearly not involved in the clashes. Among the dead were medics, as well as police officers. A majority of the more than 100 people who died in the violence were shot by snipers; hundreds were also injured by the gunfire and other street fighting. [Continue reading...]
Tyler Durden writes: While the developed world is focusing on the rapidly deteriorating developments in the Crimean, China, which has kept a very low profile on the Ukraine situation aside from the token diplomatic statement, is taking advantage of this latest distraction to do what it does best: quietly take over the global periphery while nobody is looking.
Over two years ago we reported that none other than Zimbabwe – best known in recent history for banknotes with many zeros in them – was bashing the US currency, and had alligned itself with the Chinese Yuan. This culminated last month with the announcement by Zimbabwe’s central bank that it would accept the Chinese yuan and three other Asian currencies as legal tender as economic relations have improved in recent years. “Trade and investment ties between Zimbabwe, China, India, Japan and Australia have grown appreciably,” said Charity Dhliwayo, acting governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Exporters and the public can now open accounts in yuans, Australian dollars, Indian rupees and Japanese yen, Dhliwayo said. Zimbabwe abandoned its worthless currency in 2009.
It accepts the US dollar and the South African rand as the main legal tender. Their use has helped to stabilise the economy after world-record inflation threw it into a tailspin.
Independent economist Chris Mugaga said the introduction of the Asian currencies would not make a huge difference to Zimbabwe’s struggling economy.
“It is Zimbabwe’s Look East Policy, which has forced this, and nothing else,” he said.
And now, as a result of the “Look East Policy”, we learn that China has just achieved what every ascendent superpower in preparation for “gunboat diplomacy” mode needs: a key strategic airforce base. [Continue reading...]