Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Blair's Speech on Islamism: On the Reaction.

The response to Blair's speech consists of the usual dreary political bores and hack journalists trying to muscle in so as to gain credibility from lauding it as either sage wisdom and a fundamental moral stance or else as the utterings of an evil demonic warmongerer.

On the pro-Blair side, Denis McShane is wholly mendacious when he claims 'Just read Blair speech. Ignore headlines. This is Fulton Mark 2. Bien pensant left then refused to challenge Stalinism. Orwell knew better'. Well, if it's read correctly, the speech is clearly Orwellian in the negative sense.

For example, Blair refers to 'extremist Islamism' when he supports the Egyptian military government's coup against the Muslim Brotherhood and omits to mention the way it massacred protesters in the streets of Cairo. At the same time he refers to the Islamists opposing Assad in Syria as 'Opposition'.

The use of euphemism and clipped soundbite statements makes what was a bloody coup sound as though part of a mere political transition, with no mention of the killings, arbitrary imprisonments, use of torture; that is, the actual reality of events in Egypt in August 2013 to the present.
'The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new Government and help. None of this means that where there are things we disagree strongly with – such as the death sentence on the 500 – that we do not speak out'.
The use of two negatives in one sentence is used to insinuate that Western governments have, in fact, spoken out about the political murders carried out by a government backed by western governments when the US and EU have refused even to call the coup in Egypt a coup.

Orwell defined doublethink in 1984 as 'Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them'. In Blair's case, Islamism is 'extreme' when it threatens western backed regimes but Opposition needing support when that benefits power interests.

In Syria, Blair makes it clear that even if people are aware the enemies of Assad contain a lot of the vicious jihadists that would be opposed as part of a global force for evil if theyy were not fighting on the side dedicated to removing an ally of Iran and Lebanon's Hizbollah.
'We are now in a position where both Assad staying and the Opposition taking over seem bad options. The former is responsible for creating this situation. But the truth is that there are so many fissures and problems around elements within the Opposition that people are rightly wary now of any solution that is an outright victory for either side'
This entire paragraph is written with lots of abstract nouns in a deliberately vague way so as to obscure the fact that the 'extreme Islamists' Blair sees as a global menace elsewhere are an important part of the armed insurgency at war with Assad's forces in Syria.

As a consequence, Blair calls for an agreement with Assad that would 'see him stay on for a period', after which he would be called on to go, as if that would somehow solve the Syrian civil war and that the entire conflict hinges on the malign will of one leader.
'Should even this not be acceptable to him, we should consider active measures to help the Opposition and force him to the negotiating table, including no fly zones whilst making it clear that the extremist groups should receive no support from any of the surrounding nations'.
Note again, the abstract language that concentrates on what western powers can do to get rid of Assad and only adds in the essential fact later that jihadists in Syria are part of the Opposition and are backed by Turkey ( a NATO power ), Qatar, a major Gulf ally and investor in London, and Saudi Arabia.

To grasp the very dangerous nature of global power politics and the race to control resources, of which the Second Iraq war was a prime example, requires understanding first if the sort of insane geopolitical agenda and propaganda deployed by Blair can stand any chance of being opposed.

For just as preposterous are those posing as 'anti-war' and principled by drawing attention to Blair's hypocrisy instead of to the fundamental reality behind the reason why Blair supports the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood and, like the rest of the political class, Islamists against Assad in Syria.

That reason is clearly oil and gas for reasons spelt out by Blair himself,
 'the Middle East remains of central is still where a large part of the world’s energy supplies are generated, and whatever the long term implications of the USA energy revolution, the world’s dependence on the Middle East is not going to disappear any time soon. In any event, it has a determining effect on the price of oil; and thus on the stability and working of the global economy'.
 However, George Galloway, the Bradford MP for RESPECT, claims via Twitter,
'Under pressure @TheBlairDoc the war criminal Tony Blair has finally lost it. And in the heart of "the City" for which he sacrificed us all'.
The fact that Blair chose to give the speech in London in Bloomberg's HQ hardly amounts to evidence that Blair invaded Iraq to benefit the City or financial interests. That could sit well with those keen on conpiracy theories and who watch his shows on Iran's Press TV but it's a mendacious claim.

Ben White calls for protest against Blair,,
'After yet another much publicised op-ed by a man who should be scribbling his musings in a prison cell, it is time we sent a message to Tony Blair. A petition is, perhaps, a strange choice of protest form given Blair's track record in laughing off popular opinion. But at the very least, it will remind him that for every corporation and foreign government willing to top up his bank account, there are many more people wishing he would simply Shut Up and Go Away'.
Until Blair is put in a prison cell or formally indicted as a war criminal, Blair is not going to go away and he simply is not going to care what a group of nonentities think or write on a petition calling on him never to speak in public again. Britain has free speech and is a democracy. He can say what he likes.

Few on the 'anti-war' left or those protesting against Blair really want him to shut up as they enjoy the sensation of outrage, wearing bloodied Blair masks, yelling 'Bliar' and feeling themselves morally superior to Him ( as if this somehow needed continual in group affirmation ).

Such protests ignore the fact that Blair joined the US invasion in 2003 so as to guarantee Britain's energy security, to safeguard the supply of cheap and plentiful oil that underpins the high octane consumer society many protesters and most British citizens enjoy.

The conversion of Blair into a sort of Emmanuel Goldstein figure is a convenient one that diverts attention away from the fact that the political class backed the war in Iraq or that the interest Britain has in the Middle East is closely bound up with energy interests and investment in the UK economy.

The most important thing to recognise if Britain is going to repudiate the sort of politics represented by Blair is that it needs to aim at energy independence and not to depend so much on states such as Qatar for liquified natural gas and petrodollars to boost London's property market.

Even so, the easy explanation for Blair's involvement in Iraq or calls for intervention ( 'it's all about profit for corporations and the super rich' etc ) are so stupid that they play into the hands of those such as Blair who can laugh off that form of 'public opinion' as mere 'conspiracy theorising'.

Decoding Blair: Energy Geopolitics and the Global Struggle with 'Islamist Extremism'.

Blair's speech on the need to combat 'Islamist extremism' on a global scale is both deluded and dangerous. For a start, Islamism is a broad political trend.By adding the flexible word 'extremism' as a means to differentiate which Islamists are acceptible ( or extreme ) is a formula for open ended conflict.

Far from Blair being an irrelevance in this sense, the former Prime Minister is advocating a foreign policy that many are in fact pursuing at present but with a more robust attitude. As with anything Blair proclaims, the aim is to safeguard His Legacy and to make out that he was Right All Along about the need for a 'Global War on Terror'.

In order to do that Blair empahasises the need for correct propaganda and framing of the global conflict, one quite obviously about western access to resources such as oil and gas from the Middle East and Africa. Thereby, opinion can be mobilised on the basis of a moral cause and purpose instead of being seen as ruthless realpolitik.
"The important point for western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides. So when we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn't just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support. It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support and who, ironically, are probably in the majority if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped.
Amidst the evident absurdity ( a struggle by definition involves two sides and not one, though it may involve more than two ), Blair is agitating for western intervention ( i.e meddling ) in the affairs of all states where Islamism is a force to try and impose the right ( i.e pro-western ) government.

The Orwellian doublethink inherent in this strategy means supporting Qatari and Saudi Arabian use of Islamist jihadists in Syria to fight Assad but backing the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood, even when it carries out a coup and guns down protesters in the streets of Cairo.

The reason why that freedom to define Islamists as 'extremists' or not is important for Blair is clear; those Islamist militants who threaten western oil and gas interests across the globe ( Algeria, Somalia, Yemen, Egypt ) are 'extremists' who pose a danger to energy security.

However, those Islamists in lands such as Syria who are used as proxies to remove leaders such as Assad who leans towards Russia and Iran are not 'extremists'. No, the jihadists in Syria are part of a battle for freedom. Not least, the pipeline interests Qatar and Turkey have for a Syria without Assad.

This is what is meant when Blair opines,
'what is absolutely necessary is that we first liberate ourselves from our own attitude. We have to take sides. We have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time. We have to have an approach to the region that is coherent and sees it as a whole. And above all, we have to commit. We have to engage".
Whether British people like it or not, Blair still represents the way global politics is heading ( at least as far as British politicians are concerned ). Spouting 'warmonger' or 'Bliar' is both boring and doltish. The need is to understand what Blair means and what interests are truly at stake.

For the fact is that Blair joined the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of a geopolitical move to control it's large oil reserves in the period before shale oil and gas had become big business in the US and energy independence a goal. Put bluntly, unless alternatives to oil and gas are found, western intervention in the Middle East is set to go on.

Blair, after all, makes energy security the first and foremost of his reason to 'engage' with the Middle East, as,
'it is still where a large part of the world’s energy supplies are generated, and whatever the long term implications of the USA energy revolution, the world’s dependence on the Middle East is not going to disappear any time soon. In any event, it has a determining effect on the price of oil; and thus on the stability and working of the global economy.'
While Blair can be criticised for Iraq, it's no use turning him into a hate figure as though British people could pretend their high octane consumer lifestyles where somehow disconnected with the need for stable and falling oil prices. That's a lesson Blair learned after the road haulier's strike of 2000 over petrol prices threatened his government

Friday, 18 April 2014

Ukraine: The New Great Game over Ukraine.

'In Khartsyzsk, an industrial city 30 miles from Donetsk where separatists have been in control of the city hall since Sunday, local activists said they had no plans to leave public buildings. Barricades of tyres have been built around the city hall, which flies the flag of the Donetsk People's Republic. Banners draped outside proclaim "No to Fascism" and "No to the EU". Another banner reads "Russia+Donbass=heart".
At the barricade, Vladimir Pakhomovich, a former miner, said: "We are not Moscow or Kiev. They do not command us. We are just here to defend our people. Until we get a referendum, we do not intend to leave."'
The Geneva Agreement between the US, the EU and Russia presupposed that the main geopolitical protagonists vying for control over Ukraine actually can control the paramilitary nationalists on the ground. The pro-Russian separatists are not any more likely to accept anything short of their demands than Svoboda.

The US Secratary of State, John Kerry, can huff and puff about Russia's responsibility for tacitly backing the pro-Russian militias but if he had been in good faith he should have denounced the presence of Svoboda and Right Sector in the Kiev government as part of the 'de-escalation'.

The very fact an interim government in Kiev contains ultra nationalists is one reason the Eatern militias in Donestsk and Luhansk would be wary of disbanding before they are guaranteed a referendum. As the armed groups from western Ukraine got what they wanted, they demand the same.

As in Syria, the danger is that Kerry seems to be setting up diplomatic talks in Geneva by making preconditions bound to fail so as to retain a pretext for backing the Kiev government at all costs. Mentioning anti-semitic leaflets in Donestsk is repellent hypocrisy given Svoboda's position in government.

Requiring illegal groups be disarmed could well be interpreted by Russia to mean the western Ukrainian militias too, so there would be the problem of who would disarm first followed by accusations from both sides that the other is cheating or ratting on the agreement at Geneva.

Moreover, the amnesty granted to protesters prepared to surrender their weapons and only punishment for those who committed crimes could founder on the fact that Kiev accused Russia's secret services of organising the sniper attacks on the Maidan protesters while Moscow accuses provocateurs.

Kerry has made it clear he and the US sides unconditionally with the Kiev government. By doing so while making it plain it is only Russia 'destabilising' Ukraine, there is scant hope that the crisis or the potential for Ukraine descending into a civil war, as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, could be averted.

Bringing in election monitors could mean that elections in May are not marred by violence and intimidation and the referendum on the status of the Eastern regions promised by the Kiev government is more than a token gesture to defuse the anger in Donetsk and other predominantly Russian speaking cities.

Unfortunately, the OSCE has had, on occasions, a patchy record of success in determining what is a a free and fair election, as when it declared Saakashvili's curiously high vote in Georgia in January 2004 as acceptable ( he gained a rather high 96% ).

Moreover, given that Ukrainian militias were able to storm buildings and overthrow Yanukovych, a democratically elected president whose election was validated by the OSCE, the Eastern militias demanding a referendum now have reason to believe that official procedures would not guarantee their demands.

Should elections and a referendum point towards the break up of Ukraine without civil war, it is hardly likely that Western powers would accept anything beyond more federal powers for the East. Both Kerry and the EU's Baroness Ashton repeat their commitment to the 'territorial integrity' of Ukraine.

The partition of Ukraine would be unacceptable to many Western nations and the US because they still refuse to give up the absurd dream of NATO expansion and and control over the Black Sea and the oil and gas pipelines that link Europe to the Caucasus and from there to Asia.

Yet it could only be through a de facto partition and referendums being held that the spectre of violence can be overcome. If the EU was quite prepared to accept the break up of Yugoslavia and independence for Kosovo, then then ethnic Russians wonder why they are treated differently.

The reason, of course, is that 'self determination' for Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, from Transdnistria to Donetsk, is considered to run contrary to Western energy interests in Ukraine and NATO's control over the Black Sea and Eurasia.

The double standard is that only Putin is ever criticised for wanting to control oil and gas as a 'political tool'. The British media only ever mention the strategic relevance of controlling oil and gas pipeline when the Kremlin aims at it but never when EU states and the US play the New Great Game too.

Cameron, Faith and Missionary Atheists.

It's Good Friday.

In the last few days PM Cameron has started to make utterances on Britain as a Christian Nation, most likely because he wants to 'moralise' his economic policies at a time when the Church of England is criticising him over growing levels of poverty and the dependence on Food Banks more and more British citizens are having

On this Polly Toynbee, one of the most stupid and boringly partisan columnists in the British media,  prattles forth in The Guardian,
'It's mostly toe-curling stuff. Alastair Campbell never gave better advice than in warning politicians off doing God: it's horrible to behold. Sincere or not, they become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, as did Cameron talking of "our saviour"'
True, but the politician he gave that advice to most was Tony Blair whose entire time in office was marked by an evangelical zeal and kitschy uplift. By comparison Cameron seems to be quite moderate in 'doing God', though he has decided to start bringing God in order to bolster his moral credentials.

Toynbee warbles on,
'At a time of anti-Muslim attacks, when Islamist extremism is feared for its terrorist potential, Cameron's "Christian country" is soaked in white nationalist significance'.
No it isn't. The most fervent Christians are often from Afro-Carribean and African British citizens who keep alive inner city churches and chapels.Moreover, at the present time, 2014, 'Islamist extremism' is not feared as much as it was under Blair in the early part of the last decade. This is guilt fuelled politics enlivened by a weird racial obsession.
'He has great verbal agility in sounding eminently moderate and reasonable while planting darker ideas. Behind a harmless love for country churches is a whiff of Lynton Crosby's culture war politics'.
That's one reason why it is better to keep an established C of E. It tends to warn governments about the unethical effect of their policies. The alternative is to allow more 'privatised' faith groups and US style hucters to start to dominate the tone and direction of politics.
Asked in the 2011 census "What is your religion?", 59% said Christian – surprisingly few as most people saw it as a question of culture rather than belief.
There is no reason why is should not be a question of culture, unless Toynbee thinks that secular humanists and atheists should be on some universal mission of conversion to persuade people to proclaim they are atheists on the census. It's curious Toynbee is so obsessed with beliefs.
'Take schools, where a third are under religious control. They take many fewer free-school-meals pupils and pews near good C of E schools swell unnaturally with new parents. Selection makes them popular, yet even so a majority want them abolished'.
England has a free society. The case would have to be for removing funding from faith schools and not for a majoritarian form of coercion in which schools that are disliked are abolished. A majority could well want a mosque demolished or closed down in their town.

Toynbee clearly has an authoritarian outlook. The reason C of E schools thrive is because they are better at teaching subjects that comprehensives. The best thing to do is to try and raise standards in these failing schools instead of trying to level down in the name of abstract ideals of equality.
'Like all humanity, the religious are both good and bad. The C of E is good on food banks, bad on sex and death. Faith makes people no more virtuous, but nor do rationalists claim any moral superiority. Pogroms, inquisitions, jihadist terror and religious massacres can be matched death for death with the secular horrors of Pol Pot, Hitler or Stalin'.
That is not borne out by Toynbee's belief in the majoritarian popular will in opposing or for abolishing faith schools. This bland generalisation ignores the fact that communism was often both both rationalistic and pseudo-religious. Nazism was a pseudo-religion and its ideologues despised Judeo-Christian ethics.

'The danger is where absolute belief in universal truths, religious or secular, permits no doubt. Politicians do well to stay clear of the realm of revealed truth. Cameron will win back few voters by evangelising for Britain as a "Christian country"'
Cameron is not claiming he has any absolute belief in universal truths. He has explictly rejected doctrinal correctness. It was Blair with his missionary zeal to use military force to liberate the globe from tyranny ( one supported by a good number of militant atheists and liberal leftists in Britain ) who held to that creed.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to Start a Proxy War In Ukraine.

As conflict in eastern regions of Ukraine looms closer and the potential for a civil war as in the break up of Yugoslavia appears possible, the windbag armchair commentators are already fulminating about the loss to Western prestige and losing Ukraine. One Mr Roxburgh has made this plain,
'It needs to made absolutely clear to Putin – even as the time for manoeuvre slips tragically away – that further military intervention (or disguised invasion) will be met not with more warnings, jeering and pointless sanctions, but with resolute western military support for Ukraine'.
Unless Roxburgh spells out just exactly what he means by 'resolute western military support' this shoddy and belligerent propaganda is largely worthless. Unless, Roxburgh thought Major Kong in Dr Strangelove was not satire but a model of how to approach global diplomacy and war. He goes on,
'Sanctions should be introduced with immediate effect against the people who matter – the entire political leadership (government, Duma, military, security services), plus their families. Visa bans and asset freezes on them all – that would really send a shock up the Kremlin spine'.
And ensure hundreds of thousands of pensioners shiver to death this coming winter and that the EU's precarious economic recovery judders to a sharp halt as a result of gas cuts and Russia is forced into China's embrace in order to keep keep selling its gas.
'...the west must also offer some incentives. Western leaders should assure the Kremlin that they will press Kiev to devolve power in the regions and guarantee Russians' rights. They should order President Oleksandr Turchynov to get rid of the far-rightists who inexplicably are in his government'.
One moment, Roxburgh threatens 'resolute military support'. The next he's urging some sort of concession on behalf of the Kiev government, one put in power by the similar tactics now being used by those who overthrew the Yanukovych government and brought about this state of emergency.

The presence of 'far rightists' in the form of Svoboda and Right Sector in the insurrection in Kiev was important for its success and necessary in order to divert discontent with the West's favoured oligarchs ( Tymonshenko's Fatherland party onto the evil pro-Russian ones. There is nothing inexplicable about it.
'They ( the west ) should condemn the west's darlings such as Yulia Tymoshenko when she is heard calling for Russians to be wiped out. And they should tell Putin to call on his proxies in eastern Ukraine to back down..'
The West is not one monolithic block. The US and UK have a different approach to Ukraine than Germany which is far more dependent on Russia for gas. Moreover, there is no use carping now about what Western powers 'should' have done instead of understanding what they have ,in fact, done.

Tymoshenko made that statement about Russia because she needs to shore up her popularity which was hardly evident after her release from prison. The Fatherland Party is playing the nationalist card because it was democratically voted out of office due to to Tymoshenko's rule being venal and corrupt.

At the outset of the Ukrainian Insurrection, the Western powers and its diplomats and representatives should have remained stand offish, adopting a wait and see position, They largely failed to do that because they turned a blind eye to far right Ukrainian nationalism or remained ignorant of its force.

The US openly backed the 'regime change' and Kerry was on the streets in 'solidarity' with the protesters in Kiev, no doubt because the US hoped they could push through IMF 'reforms' and put Ukraine on a fast track towards NATO. Russia feared that and acted accordingly to scupper that possibility.

Even if a good number of the protesters wanted an end to oligarchy and more democracy, a good number of those prepared to fight were far right nationalists and it is them in partnership with the Fatherland Party who called the shots and not liberals. To suppose otherwise is pure wish thinking.
'The west must also accept that Russia has legitimate security interests, and rule out Nato membership for Ukraine for ever'.
That should have been done a while ago before this crisis started to get very serious and dangerous. But that hardly dovetails with promises of 'resolute western military support' for Ukraine, ruled as it is by an unelected government and far right Ukrainian nationalists who want to ratchet up the stakes.

Moreover, Western powers will not rule out NATO membership as it has been the aim all along to get Ukraine into the club so as to get control over the Black Sea and over strategically vital oil and gas pipeline routes. They are now fearing that the loss of Crimea could be followed by south and east Ukraine.

The Race for Resoures : The Reality Behind the Battle for Ukraine.

'Vladimir Putin has more admirers around the world than you might expect for someone using a neo-Soviet combination of violence and the big lie to dismember a neighbouring sovereign state'.(Putin has more admirers than the west might think, Guardian, Thursday 17 April 2014 )
By Putin's admirers, Garton Ash means India and China and their resentment of 'western imperialism'. Garton Ash's weakness is that he views rival powers and global diplomacy as though it were mostly only about pride, power and 'attitudes' towards the West. Never the hard realities of the race for resources.

For a historian and journalist of Timothy Garton's Ash's calibre, this is an appalling oversimplification. Events in Ukraine are far more complicated than Russia playing the part of an evil neo-imperial power manipulating pro-Russian separatists and the EuroMaidan protesters being mostly staunch liberal democrats.

For a start Russia is hardly the only power with a stake in diverting the course of events in Ukraine to its advantage. For over a decade, the EU and EU powers have been meddling and 'promoting democracy' by backing venal oligarchs such as Tymoshenko going back to the Orange Revolution of 2003.

Anatol Lieven, a historian and jounalist with similar talents to Mr Garton Ash, has produced a far more nuanced perspective on the geopolitical tug of war between west and east over Ukraine and how China stands to benefit from any conflict in this borderland territory.

Lieven mentions the facts that Garton Ash routinely omits with regards Western foreign policy and the far right in Western Ukraine and in the government in Kiev without succumbing to the mere propaganda line that what is happening in Ukraine is all Putin's fault.
'..while Moscow is lying in describing the overthrow of Yanukovych as a “neo-fascist coup” rather than a popular uprising (albeit against a democratically elected president), Washington is no less mendacious in claiming that “far-right ultranationalist groups are not represented in the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament]” and have no influence over the new government. 
This is a grotesque claim, given that the ultra-nationalist and savagely Russophobe Svoboda (“Freedom” party) in fact has 38 seats in parliament and four ministers in the government including Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister. Svoboda’s founder, Andriy Parubiy, has become secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, with his ally Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector group, as his deputy'.
Compare Garton Ash with Lieven here too,
'It should be clear therefore that while Moscow has grossly exaggerated the immediate physical threat to Russians in Ukraine as justification for its military moves in Crimea, Russians and Russian-speakers do have good reasons to fear for their rights under the new Ukrainian government; and the EU and its member states were premature in recognizing that government and promising it massive aid without first insisting on changes in its composition and firm guarantees of minority rights. Russia has violated international law. The West has violated its own principles and interests'.
I recommend reading the rest of Lieven's article as it is the sort of balanced journalism informed by a deep historical perspective that Garton Ash used to write before he bought into the sort of simplistic propaganda tropes about a New Cold War pumped out by Edward Lucas.
'If war begins, Russia would almost certainly win it (since the USA and Britain, despite their attempts to bring Ukraine into Nato, have no intention of fighting to defend the country), but would suffer colossal damage in the process. In the short term there would be a shattering economic crisis. In the longer term, Russia would face a collapse of economic and cultural ties with the west that would drive it inexorably towards the status of a satellite of China—a prospect, by the way, that terrifies liberal and nationalist Russians alike'.
Garton Ash does not even mention the EU and the economic impact that an economic conflict between Russia and Europe may have on the global economy. This is one reason China is concerned that events do not spin out of control in Ukraine, even if Western sanctions could be welcome in driving Russia towards it.

There is no mention by Garton Ash of the geopolitical importance of oil and gas pipelines and Ukraine's vital position in this regard or Western ambitions to put Ukraine on a course towards NATO despite the fact a great majority of Ukrainians never wanted to be forced to choose between east and west.

Garton Ash is still trapped in a Cold War mentality. Russia is not a 'neo-Soviet power'. It acts as a Great Power just as it did before the Russian Revolution, much shrunken from the empire of the Tsars but competiting with the EU and US for control over the oil and gas of Eurasia.

The fact that Garton Ash cannot bring himself to mention the strategic importance of resources and empire, preferring to view post Cold War politics in eastern Europe wholly through the lens of moral causes and imperatives, is reason enough to disregard much of what Garton Ash has to say.

What was appropriate during the Cold War and with the contest between the Free World and Soviet Communism and totalitarianism is simply not good enough when it comes to the twenty first century. Garton Ash needs to move on and grapple with a world no so dissimilar from that preceding 1914.

Lieven also mentions the consequences for the West in economic terms, one not dealt with Garton Ash who has a sort of mental bloc on mentioning resources ( oil and gas ) , perhaps because it would appear to tie in with a more cynical vision of realpolitik and economic conflict on a  global scale predominating.
'The damage to the west would also be considerable. If the west introduced economic sanctions and Russia responded with a massive rise in its gas prices (or if gas supplies to western Europe across Ukraine were cut off by conflict), the result could very easily be a new European and global recession. China would benefit greatly from the acquisition of Russia as an unconditional ally, and from the sheer distraction of US attention that war would bring'.
Garton Ash deals with China's benefitting from the US being diverted by the Ukrainian Crisis. Yet there is no mention of the geopolitics of oil and gas nor the extent to which the Western powers and NATO have become deeply concerned with energy security in the post Cold War period.

Indeed, Garton Ash's analysis seems as though footling prattle by comparison with Lieven when he writes about,
'...resistance to North Americans and Europeans telling them what is good for them, and a certain instinctive glee, or schadenfreude, at seeing Uncle Sam (not to mention little John Bull) being poked in the eye by that pugnacious Russian. Viva Putinismo!'
Nowhere does Garton Ash consider the fact the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was essentially a failed and counter productive attempt to control Iraqi oil. As regards Syria and Venezuela, there is no mention of the geopolitics of pipeline routes or competition to control oil supplies.

That's odd as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ( of which Garton Ash was a fellow ) certainly think that the race to control Ukraine as a strategic transit route for oil and gas makes it vital for Europe's energy security and NATO.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Cupcakes, Fruitcakes and Fascism. How to Get a Career by Writing Complete Bollocks.

Tom Whyman asks questions. He interrogates life, nay the lebenswelt. He is an academic at Essex University and he might even get paid to write of the connection between cupcakes and a process of 'infantilisation' that drives the consumer towards fascism.

He is profound. He sets out his case brilliantly with precision. But he raises questions,
'The cupcake is barely a cake. When we think about what "the cake-​like" ideally should be, it is something spongy, moist, characterised by excess, collapsing under its own weight of gooey jam, meringue, and cream. It is something sickly and wet that makes your fingers sticky. The cupcake is none of these things; that is, it possesses none of the ideal essence of cakiness. The cupcake is neat, precise, and uniform'.
Does that apply to a muffin ? A scone ? Maybe a tea cake is also sinister, invoking images of 'a past that never was, Miss Marple, Tea at the Vicarage and other insidious forces and cultural process and manufactured tropes geared towards subtle mechanisms of indoctrination and mind control.

'The cupcake is largely aimed at the sort of flat-​stomached people who think consuming sweet things is "a bit naughty" and who won't even permit themselves to go overboard on their binges. The cupcake is vintagey and twee. It invokes a sense of wholesomeness and nostalgia, albeit for a past never experienced, a more perfect past, just as vintage-​style clothing harks back to an idealised image of the 1920s through 60s that never existed. The cupcake appears as a cultural trope alongside the drinking of tea and gin and the lisped strumming of ukuleles.The constellation of cultural tropes that most paradigmatically manifest in the form of the cupcake are associated in particular with infantilisation. Of course, looking back to a perfect past that never existed is nothing if not the pained howl of a child who never wanted to be forced to grow up, and the cupcake and its associates market themselves by catering to these never-​never-​land adults' tastes.

These products, which treat their audience as children, and more specifically the children of the middle classes – perfect special snowflakes full of wide-​eyed wonder and possibility – succeed as expressions of a desire on behalf of consumers to always and forever be children'.
Indeed, that Santa Claus has fascist potentiality is certainly a contemporary issue that needs to be explored in depth. Moreover, 
' could get a huge mass of people to participate in a reactionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cupcakey imagery, and persuaded everyone that the brutality of your ideology was in fact a form of niceness. If a fascist reich was to be established anywhere today, I believe it would necessarily have to exchange iron eagles for fluffy kittens, swap jackboots for Converse, and the epic drama of Wagnerian horns for mumbled ditties on ukuleles'.
Yes. and swap tanks and dive bombers, conscript armies and concentration camps with barbed wire for cupcakes, shopping malls and detention centres which serve cupcakes, a sort of sinister Portmeirion-let them eat cupcake. Not real fruitcakes with their overtones of real work and substance.
'Fascism is, properly understood, a certain sort of response to a crisis. It is the reactionary response, as opposed to the radical one. The radical response is to embrace the new possibilities thrown up by the crisis; the reactionary one is to shut these possibilities down'.
Now I know what fascism really means-the closure of possibility. The fact that did not seem evident to rampaging psychopaths liberated from 'bourgeois values' and things like 'ethics' in Eastern Europe is a curious. Also the fact that communism was a radical response to a crisis ( hence good ).

Grab those texts in 'history books' and throw them in the bin with the cupcakes. Because they often contain reactionary tropes about how fascism was radical and revolutionary in its way and could only have originated out of the crisis after World War One.

Sinister. Reactionary. Badthink. Indeed,
 'If we see the paradigmatic mechanisms of social oppression operative today in the form of a cupcake, then the clue to the overthrowing of these mechanisms exists also in cake, albeit of an entirely different kind. It is precisely in the truly cake-​like, the spongy and the moist and the excessive and the unhealthy'
The revolutionary way out of the crisis is fruitcake and to be as one with it and its process of becoming.

Can I get a philosophy PhD now ?

Tom Whyman is working on one right now. He has a cosy position from which to warble on about cupcakes. I could sit on my buns and right about how various forms of food are connected to politics in some largely made up way. Here's my idea.

The baked  potato is a symbol of austerity and back to the soil. It stands in relation to the consumer of the King Edward potato as a symbol of warmth, of hearth and home after 'honest toil', it's metallic full tin jacket reassuring it it's quasi-militarist, quasi-imperialist connotations of 'protection'. 

To be 'half baked' is to imply not being a full or 'real potato' , that is a person in the full sense just as 'fruitcake' occupies part of our discourse in relation to madness is the same but opposite manner as the cupcake is indicative of prim 'nomality'

Great stuff isn't it?

Meanwhile, larger numbers of British people are so poor they have resorted to using foodbanks.Austerity means they don't have enough to eat-even, presumably, cupcakes with their 'middle class' connotations or the 'bourgeois values' they transmit by stealth.

But, alas, I'm not as qualified as Whyman. I might even be resistant to the idea cupcakes have anything remotely to do with fascism even though I can resist cupcakes and cream buns and muffins because not that keen on any of them.

My reaction is most likely a sad symptom of the mechanisms of infantalisation I have been subjected to as a child in helping my mother make cupcakes, even though I have not eaten one for over 30 years. I was conditioned to incorrect thinking at an early stage.

Monday, 7 April 2014

France's Creeping Mission in the Central African Republic.

'Raising awareness of a tiny African country today as she trudges around Whitehall is Oxfam's humanitarian policy adviser, Emma Fanning, who has recently returned from the Central African Republic. The UK has a vital role to play in the face of massive human suffering, she says' ( Twenty years after the genocide, we have learnt nothing from Rwanda. Linda Melver, The Guardian, Friday 4 April 2014 )
'Humanitarian intervention' again. EU troops have already been sent to CAR, mostly France the ex-colonial power until 1960, in order to try to stabilise the country and thus procure control over its copious resources of gold, oil uranium ( important for France's nuclear power plants ) and diamonds.

The idea that European powers such as Britain have a missionary role to play in Africa, one which has a moral duty to bring peace and prosperity to benighted lands and, of course, benefit itself economically, has been advocated consistently by liberal internationalists once more since the end of the 1990s.

In the first decade of the 21st century, both Britain and France saw the emergence of the 'military-humanitarian complex', wherby groups such as Oxfam and Save the Children have been coopted by government and politicians to advance European power interests and alleviate humanitarian distress.

The question that has remained unresolved in other mineral rich lands such as Afghanistan, where western troops mission to defeat the Taliban and ensure the construction of the geopolitically vital TAPI pipeline, is whether decisive political intervention to remove a bad regime has made things better or worse.

France's foreign policy has continued to use the humanitarian imperative as a way of giving a means to legitimise its pursuit of access to resources. Sarkozy and Hollande were particularly keen on a military strike on Syria to remove Assad so as to advance its oil and gas interests in Qatar and weapons sales.

With regards CAR, the African Union already has peacekeepers on the ground. The reason France was so keen to muscle in December 2013, as it had repeatedly attempted to meddle in CAR and get a regime that would be more useful in securing its resource interests.

This is in continuity with attempts as recent as 2006-2007 to use Dassault Mirage jets to bombard insurgent positions opposed to President Bozize who won the elections in 2005 ( after staging a coup in 2003 ) but has always ruled in order to benefit only his own cronies.

Britain is unlikely to want to get involved in CAR unless it were to have greater mining interests. The main interest France has is in continuing to preserve its uranium mining concessions and in diamonds, one reason it bankrolled the regime of Emperor Bokassa I in the 1970s.

In 1979 French paratroopers removed Bokassa in Operation Barracuda when his regime started slaughtering students and schoolchildren in the poorer areas of Bangui. The difference this time is that the Seleka rebels are not the only insurgents and, as in Syria, many are vying with one another over resources.

Civil war and ethnic cleansing, chaos and near genocide are hardly conditions under which Britain would contribute troops while France has made it clear that it's troops are not there to save Bozize's regime so much as protect its biggest uranium mining investment at Bakouma from anti-Bozize insurgents.

Compare and contrast what Hollande was saying as regards the CAR with France's outrage at Assad's inhumanity in Syria and the duty to intervene, one paralleled in Britain by William Hague following Assad's alleged CW attack in Ghouta, and it's clear humanitarianism is not much of a consideration,
“If we are present, it is not to protect a regime, it is to protect our nationals and our interests, and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country...Those days are gone.”
The problem now is that with Bozize having been deposed, the conflict in CAR over who grabs what is set to intensify as the country descends into sectarian warfare between Christian militias and Islamists. As with Afghanistan, there is already talk of 'mission creep' and being sucked into a deepening war.

Rwanda, Tony Blair and the Missionary Position on Africa.

'For the last five years, my foundation – the Africa Governance Initiative – which provides countries with the capacity to deliver practical change, has been operating in Rwanda. Though there have been criticisms of the government over several issues, not least in respect of the fighting in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the progress has been extraordinary'. ( 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda is a beacon of hope, Guardian, Sunday 6 2014 )
So pines Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of Britain and now a man on a mission to save Syria through advocating intervention there as well as using the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide of 800,000 Tutsis to renew his duty to help developing lands overcome their demons.

The true aim of foreign aid being is to use aid to tie the African governments closer to Britain and so allow UK based companies such as Pella Resources Ltd to extract casselite ( tin ) and tungsten from the Musha and Ntunga mining concessions in Rwamagana District in the east of Rwanda.

UK Development secretary Justine Greening also showed renewed concern for Rwanda in 2013 and putting its development on the right track. That followed on from controversy in 2012 that Kagame's regime was stoking up the war in neighbouring Congo by backing the M23 militia group.

Clearly, between 2012 and 2013 British policy took a decisive swing towards favouring the current President Paul Kagame. Apart from the careers in the beneficent humanitarian development and 'soft power' sector of the British economy, clearly there is a certain interest Britain has in Rwanda.

As for Tony Blair's interest in Rwanda, it gives him a chance to outline what might have been done in Africa back in the 1990s in promoting development and 'good governance' had there been enough 'goodwill'. Hence Blair's 'Africa Governance Initiative'.

The problem is that his close friendship with Kagame was criticised after the Rwandan president was accused of war crimes and authoritarianism in a UN Report, by Human Rights Watch and even the White House. It is said Blair defends Kagame because he believes he can persuade him to reform Rwanda.

But though Rwanda itself is not one of the largest exporter of minerals, neighbouring Congo is-via Rwanda and the process of resource smuggling.Indeed, the M23 rebels are paid for via the revenue accrued from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled in from Congolese mines.

Much of the backing given to Kagame from the US and emissaries such as Blair is connected to controlling the resources of war torn Congo in a New Great Game against its main rival in China which seeks to dominate supplies of precious rare earths used in flat-screen televisions, smart phones and laptop batteries.

The idea that cynical realpolitik can co-exist with humanitarian principles on the basis that western involvement for political reason has higher motives in mind and, in any case, the west is better-it gives aid promotes good governance-is both self serving and can only make Africa's condition worse.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Bleak Future of Conflict for Egypt.

'General Abdul Fattah al Sisi, who last week announced his candidacy for president and will almost certainly get the job. And I can't help comparing the behaviour of the institutions around Mubarak with the current behaviour of the state institutions'. ( Khaled al-Berry ,Why Egypt is in a spiral of despair The Guardian 2 April 2014 )
One reason for the militancy of the Muslim Brotherhood is the fact that it is seen to represent poorer sections of Egyptian society. It appeals especially those migrated into Egypt's burgeoning and overpopulated cities, especially Cairo, from rural areas for work and a university education to improve their life chances.

Unfortunately, Egypt's economy has struggled to keep pace with the population growth. The 'Arab Spring' was as much a revolt of the hungry due to the high price of bread as there is not enough land within Egypt to grow enough wheat and the global crop was affected by the 2010 fires in Russia.

Moreover, oil revenue has declined as peak production rates were reached in 1996 and have been declining since. That has led to a balance of payments crisis and the IMF demand to cut subsidies on fuel and bread, measures that the MB's President Morsi agreed to and that failed to stem popular anger.

The return of a Mubarak era strongman in the form of Sisi was always highly probable given the combination of economic collapse, political instability and the consequent fear that the MB's attempt to 'Islamise' Egypt would drive up militancy and drive off tourists and hence a much needed source of income.

The problem is that the reimposition of an effective secular military leader, after the way the MB was crushed and its leaders jailed or purged from administrative positions, is that it has led to militants seeing Sisi as Sisi's supporters also see Islamists; as tools of US imperialism.

Sisi's military regime continues to be supported by the USA as part of its geopolitical strategy of protecting Israel as well as the Suez Canal and the oil and gas pipelines running through Egypt. Militants from the poorer underclass and bedouins have sought to threaten the security of North Sinai.

Since August 2013 an effective civil war has been raging on the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian military's ruthless counter-terrorist measures against the Bedouins having the opposite effect of pushing even more from these poorer regions of Egypt towards belonging to Islamist guerilla groups.

One reason the British government is considering a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain is the fear of 'blowback' from those angry at the way the west allowed Sisi to crush what was considered by many in Egypt a democratically elected government in order to preserve its interests such as the BG group's stake in Egyptian gas production.

Egypt's economic crisis is not going to abate unless it attains political stability but if that comes at the cost of an election in which the Muslim Brotherhood is banned, it is hard to see how deep divisions and the threat to Egypt's tourist revenue from jihadist attacks can be prevented.

Moreover, pipelines pumping oil and gas within and through Egypt have been targeted as they have in Algeria and Libya in the past. The pipeline to Israel was attacked in 2012. Fears of an attack on the Suez Canal's container traffic of oil and gas persists. The prospect for peace in Egypt looks extremely bleak.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Transnistria as the 'Next Flashpoint' of Crisis.

Last week Nato's commander in Europe named Transnistria the next flashpoint between Putin and the west. It is home to 2,000 Russian troops and an arms dump that could, if called for, resupply an entire army of Russian troops, should it make the journey across neighbouring Ukraine. That's what the generals are worried about.

the enclave has been named a major centre for organised crime, with tobacco- and alcohol-smuggling top of the list, and money laundering alleged. But – and here's what the geo-politicians tend to ignore – it is tangibly better-off.

Yes, there are monuments to Lenin. Yes, the supreme soviet is dominated by a political party aligned to a football club. But what's important to the women in headscarves in the estate I visited, once you get to -30C on a winter's night, is the gas price. Thanks to Vladimir  Putin, it is negligible. Pensions are higher than in Moldova. And there is employment: the army pays $300 (£180) a month and sustains a military-related economy. ( Paul Mason, If Transnistria is the next flashpoint between Putin and the west, how should Europe react? Guardian April 1 2014 )
The EU politicians and dignitaries of western political and economic institutions do not care about the ordinary citizens of the ex-Soviet lands and only about extending their markets in both goods and, through NATO expansion , the lucrative sale of state-of-the-art sophisticated weaponry.

Transnistria and its capital Tiraspol have never been part of Moldova but only the Moldovan SSR created by Stalin in 1940 as a means to 'Russify' it. the western controlled OSCE has constantly rejected calls for a referendum in the land to determine its sovereignty while advancing that in places such as Kosovo.

NATO belligerence and threats of training exercises in former Soviet states serve only to consolidate Putin's agenda about the need to gather in the Russian populations of the ex-USSR back into Mother Russia because Russians feel they have been treated as second rate in ex-Soviet states.

Worse, the EU and US have both contrived to turn a blind eye to revanchist anti-Russian nationalists who want to absorb Transnistria as part of 'Greater Moldova', an entity that would be closely aligned to Romania and politicians who laud the wartime dictator Antonescu.

Such politicians were a prominent force in Moldova the now forgotten 2008 'Twitter Revolution" when a social media flashmob sought to forcibly oust the democratically elected Vladimir Voronin. The fake choreographed "revolution" was led and financed by USAID and shady oil rich oligarchs.

As Anatoly Karlin points out the Twitter Revolution was led by unsavoury characters posing as thrustinng, dynamic, idealistic and youthful democrats. The reality was very different, just as it has been in a significant way duting the uprising in Kiev this year.
'Oleg Brega is a proud member of the.. Hyde Park organization, which is headed by Gheorghe Brega, a Romanian citizen and member of Ghimpu’s Liberal Party. The front page of its website features a diatribe against “Bolshevik tyranny” by the historian Iacob Golovca who is “President of the Civic Association for the Abolition of the Consequences of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”. Dr. Golovca is a Romanian ultra-nationalist – he refers to Moldova by its old regional name of Bessarabia and calls for its return into “Romania’s bosom”, without the “gangrenous germ” of Transnistria which is to be “amputated”. Antonescu is a “martyr and hero of all Romanians!”, Russians are the tyrannous, perennial enemies of the Romanian people and he hates Ukraine too.'
With the Crimea rejoining Russia, the fear is that the ultimate gameplan of rolling NATO forward into the Caucasus and Central Asia is being checked. The geopolitical game being played out in ex-Soviet lands has less to do with 'democracy promotion' and more with control over oil and gas supplies.

Essentially, what is happening is that western taxpayer's money is being used through various means to advance rigged 'democratic' governments or else to encourage semi-democracies and even dictatorships Central Asia to draw nearer to NATO, an organisation increasingly resembling Orwell's Oceania.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Anatol Lieven on the Ukrainian Crisis.

Far and away the best, lucid, sane and most sensible assessment of the causes and consequences of the Ukrainian Crisis has come from Professor Anatol Lieven. It is worth posting in full as it is one balanced interpretation backed up with a real knowledge of global power politics and history in contrast to the thickets of propaganda coming from west and east over Ukraine.

Ukraine Should Be a Bridge, Not a Battleground

'In recent weeks, rational argument concerning Ukraine in both Russia and the West has been overwhelmed by a flood of hysteria, lies and self-deceptions. Russia has engaged in openly mendacious propaganda. Western governments and too much of the media have responded with lying counter-propaganda of their own. 

There is no space in this essay to dissect all the competing propaganda claims of both sides. Instead, I would direct readers to an excellent article on the subject by the Israeli journalist Ariel Danieli (“From Washington to Moscow, Everyone is Lying About What is happening in Ukraine”, March 6th 2014, at 

Among other important points, Danieli writes correctly that while Moscow is lying in describing the overthrow of Yanukovych as a “neo-fascist coup” rather than a popular uprising (albeit against a democratically elected president), Washington is no less mendacious in claiming that “far-right ultranationalist groups are not represented in the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament]” and have no influence over the new government.

This is a grotesque claim, given that the ultra-nationalist and savagely Russophobe Svoboda (“Freedom” party) in fact has 38 seats in parliament and four ministers in the government including Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister. Svoboda’s founder, Andriy Parubiy, has become secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, with his ally Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the neo-fascist Right Sector group, as his deputy. 

In a resolution of December 13th 2012, the European Parliament declared of Svoboda that:
“MEPs voice concerns about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine which led to the election of the “Svoboda” Party to the Parliament of Ukraine. The EP recalls that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles and it appeals to pro-democratic parties in the Ukrainian Parliament not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party.” (“Elections failed to Bring Ukraine Closer to EU, Say MEPs”, at 

It should be clear therefore that while Moscow has grossly exaggerated the immediate physical threat to Russians in Ukraine as justification for its military moves in Crimea, Russians and Russian-speakers do have good reasons to fear for their rights under the new Ukrainian government; and the EU and its member states were premature in recognizing that government and promising it massive aid without first insisting on changes in its composition and firm guarantees of minority rights. Russia has violated international law. The West has violated its own principles and interests. 

The real danger in Ukraine does not lie in Crimea. One way or another, Crimea is almost certainly now lost to Ukraine, even if no-one but Russia recognises this formally. The danger comes from the possibility of clashes between the Ukrainian nationalist and neo-fascist volunteers who led the overthrow of the previous government in Kiev and opposing Moscow-backed pro-Russian volunteers in the east of the country. If they get out of hand, such clashes could lead to Russian invasion, war and the partition of Ukraine. It is therefore urgently necessary to recreate in Ukraine an agreed and legitimate democratic process that will safeguard minority rights. 

The stakes here are high for all sides. If war begins, Russia would almost certainly win it (since the USA and Britain, despite their attempts to bring Ukraine into Nato, have no intention of fighting to defend the country), but would suffer colossal damage in the process. In the short term there would be a shattering economic crisis. In the longer term, Russia would face a collapse of economic and cultural ties with the west that would drive it inexorably towards the status of a satellite of China—a prospect, by the way, that terrifies liberal and nationalist Russians alike. The result would be a stagnant, closed and increasingly authoritarian Russian system. 

The damage to the west would also be considerable. If the west introduced economic sanctions and Russia responded with a massive rise in its gas prices (or if gas supplies to western Europe across Ukraine were cut off by conflict), the result could very easily be a new European and global recession. China would benefit greatly from the acquisition of Russia as an unconditional ally, and from the sheer distraction of US attention that war would bring. Propping up the remains of Ukraine economically would be a massive financial burden for the EU. And the sight of the USA and Nato again standing impotently by while a quasi-ally is defeated in a war for which western policy was partly responsible would be a humiliation that would embolden America’s global rivals. 

It is important to remember that Ukraine is a deeply divided society that cannot make a categorical choice between the west and Russia without tearing itself apart. Since independence, a sense of common identity and loyalty has certainly developed, but it remains fragile and ambiguous. 

The reasons for this lie not in recent policies but in the historic division from the 13th century onwards of the ancient lands of Rus between the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom and, to the south, the steppe, disputed between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Cossacks, and largely uninhabited until it was conquered by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century. 

From the 17th century on, the Ukrainian-speaking parts of Poland-Lithuania were progressively conquered by the Russian Empire, leading many Orthodox Ukrainians to strongly identify with Russia. This process was completed by Stalin’s annexation of Polish Galicia and Volhynia in 1939—a region that had never been under Russian imperial rule and which remains the most strongly nationalist and anti-Russian part of Ukraine today. 

One way of explaining the resulting Ukrainian identities and relationship to Russia to a British audience would be to say that they include elements of both the Scottish and the Irish historical experience in Britain. On the one hand, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union severely repressed Ukrainian nationalism (beyond purely symbolic forms), and persecuted Ukrainians belonging to the “apostate” religious tradition of the Uniates (Orthodox who, under Polish rule, had acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope). On the other hand, both in Russia and in the Soviet Union, “loyal” Ukrainians permeated the state system and rose to its highest echelons. 

In the field of literature, the distinction is symbolised by Ukraine’s two greatest 19th-century writers. Nikolai Gogol (“Mykola Hohol” in Ukrainian) could be seen as analogous to writers such as Walter Scott and John Buchan, conscious of their Scottish identity and often writing on Scottish themes, but loyal to Britain and the British Empire. The Ukrainian nationalist poet Taras Shevchenko, in contrast, more closely resembles 19th-century Irish nationalist writers such as James Clarence Mangan or Arthur Geoghegan—though since Britain had been able to crush the Irish language much more effectively than the Russian Empire had crushed Ukrainian, these Irish writers also wrote in English. 

In a pattern familiar from the British Empire, Russian and Soviet rule also brought about huge and complex patterns of migration. Large parts of southern Ukraine were settled by Russians (and by Germans invited in by Catherine, until Stalin deported them to Central Asia). More Russians moved later to work in the mines and factories. At the same time, however, millions of Ukrainians migrated to Siberia and the Russian Far East, where (the last time I checked) a majority of senior officials and local deputies had Ukrainian surnames. The difference was that under rule from St Petersburg and Moscow, Ukrainians who moved to what is now Russia soon gave up the Ukrainian language and merged into the Russian population; whereas Russians who moved to Ukraine not only kept their language but through intermarriage helped the state extend the Russian language to much of the neighbouring Ukrainian population. 

As a result of Ukraine’s history, some 17 percent of Ukrainians consider themselves ethnic Russians, while around a third of Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language. These figures, however, mask a more complex reality. For instance, in Dnipropetrovsk I met one Russian-speaking man with a Russian surname who spoke Russian at home, but who considered himself ethnic Ukrainian because he was brought up by his Ukrainian stepfather after his Russian father walked out. I also met an “ethnic Russian” with a Ukrainian surname who considered himself Russian because he was brought up as such by his Russian-speaking Armenian mother. Both said that their political identity was Ukrainian, and both strongly believed in Ukraine seeking close relations with both Russia and the west. 

The result of this history is that a great majority of western (and increasingly, central) Ukrainians find it intolerable that Ukraine should form part of a Russian-dominated economic and political bloc. A majority of eastern and southern Ukrainians, for their part, find it intolerable that they should be separated from Russia by a hard international frontier (including a tight, EU-mandated visa regime) and that the Ukrainian state should insist on a version of Ukrainian identity and culture that they do not share and which is, in part, deeply hostile to them. These two identities have dominated Ukrainian politics since independence, with elections decided by small shifts in the middle ground between them, represented by people like my two acquaintances from Dnipropetrovsk. 

The problem for the west is that while many of the pro-western Ukrainian forces are genuinely committed to western-style reforms, others are traditional nationalists who look to Nato and the EU for protection against Russia, without sharing mainstream liberal values. This may either make Ukraine’s integration into the west impossible or (as has already occurred in the case of Hungary) import into the EU forces which will ally with western European neo-fascist parties. 

The problem for Russia in eastern and southern Ukraine is that a desire to keep the Russian language and close ties with Russia can co-exist with a desire for closer ties with the EU (though not with Nato). It is not at all the same thing as a desire simply to become part of Russia or even a subordinate member of a Russian alliance. 

An analogy here might be drawn with the “Anglosphere” tendency in English-speaking countries. A large majority of British, Australian and Canadian citizens desire (to varying degrees) close relations with the United States, and would reject the idea of joining an anti-American alliance. But this does not indicate a desire for unconditional subordination to the US. 

Similarly, to judge by my own travels in eastern and southern Ukraine, outside Crimea, even many people there who are strongly hostile to the new government in Kiev would also be deeply hostile to Russian military intervention and the partition of the country. Russian threats of intervention may well be frightening more Russian-speakers in Ukraine than they reassure.

Ever since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, both the Yeltsin and the Putin administrations have made assiduous attempts to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. This has been very costly for Russia—just as from now on, a serious attempt to draw Ukraine into the west’s orbit is going to be costly for the west. 

Until 2005, Russia supplied Ukraine with gas at well below world market prices, amounting to aid to Ukraine of between $3bn and $5bn a year, at a time when Russia itself was undergoing a terrible economic crisis. This was several times the average annual aid from the west during those years. 

Indeed, all EU aid put together from 1991 to 2013 came to a mere $4.6bn. Ukraine’s failure to pay its gas bill even at subsidised prices led to repeated disputes and interruptions of Russian supplies—to which Ukrainian governments responded by diverting gas from supplies heading for the EU.
In 2010, Russia agreed to reduce the price of its gas to 30 percent below world market levels (but rising to those levels gradually over several years), as part of a deal by which the newly-elected government of President Yanukovych agreed to extend the Russian lease of the naval base of Sevastopol in Crimea to 2042. 

In December 2013, as part of the bidding war with the EU over whether to join the Eurasian Union or sign an association agreement with the EU, Russia signed a deal with Yanukovych reducing the price of its gas by a third. It also gave $15bn to help Ukraine meet its international debt repayments. This, too, was vastly greater than anything on offer from the EU as part of the association agreement, and equally importantly came with no conditions for reform.

Following the revolution, the EU is also now discussing a $15bn aid package for Ukraine (which has asked for $35bn)—something that, had it been presented to European governments before the revolution, would have been rejected out of hand. What the EU cannot match—because western European countries will not tolerate it—is something that Russia has allowed Ukraine ever since independence, namely free labour movement. As a result, the three million or more Ukrainian citizens working legally in Russia today outnumber those allowed to work legally in the EU at least 10 times over.

What this history illustrates is that until a few weeks ago, Ukraine was of very minor importance for the EU, whereas for Russia it was always a priority. It would have been well if EU leaders had understood this before devising their policies—but then the EU has always been poor at thinking strategically. 

The Russians, however, have made a mistake of equal magnitude. Russian officials have been exasperated by the way in which their generosity to Ukraine has repeatedly led to few benefits for Russia, while a growing number of Ukrainians have supported closer relations with the EU despite the much smaller short-term advantages on offer. What Russian officials have failed to recognise is that Ukrainians have become increasingly disgusted with their own oligarchical elites, and see entry into a bloc dominated by a corrupt and semi-authoritarian Russia as permanently consolidating an already rotten system.

The EU has made what is in some respects the opposite mistake where the latest Ukrainian uprising is concerned. Most western analysts have explained the desire of central European populations to join the EU in terms of a wish to westernise their polities, economies and cultures. But they have underestimated the degree to which this was driven by a nationalist yearning to escape the hated Soviet-Russian yoke. 

As a consequence, they have not understood to what extent it was this nationalism that allowed the acceptance by populations of the extremely painful economic and cultural changes necessary to join the EU. If they rejected these changes, even conservative and populist central Europeans who opposed westernisation feared that they would find themselves once again under the domination of Moscow. But as we have seen in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, once safely in Nato and the EU, strong chauvinist tendencies re-emerged, encouraged by deep popular anger at the corruption and social inequality which accompanied the economic revolutions of the 1990s.

Due to the drawing of new frontiers after the First World War, and ethnic cleansing after the Second, most of the central European states are at least ethnically homogenous with united national identities (the chief exception being the former Yugoslavia). Ukrainian identity, as we have seen, is deeply divided, albeit in complex and ambiguous ways. 

This leaves the EU after the recent Ukrainian revolution in a situation which may well prove horribly expensive, extremely dangerous and deeply unpopular. Until February 2014, the EU’s position (quite rightly) was that to qualify for closer European ties and greater EU aid, Ukraine had to implement a set of deep and very painful reforms. Now, this pressure will have to be largely abandoned for fear that any such changes would drive the populations of eastern and southern Ukraine into the arms of Moscow. On the contrary, the west is contemplating enormous aid packages to Ukraine with no real strings attached. 

This in turn means that—unless the EU is prepared simply to tear up the acquis communautaire for the sake of Ukrainian entry, and infuriate western European populations in the process—Ukraine will not in the foreseeable future be able to join the EU, at which point much of the promise behind the Ukrainian revolution collapses. 

It was a highly symbolic move, therefore, for the new Ukrainian government to appoint a number of Russian-speaking oligarchs to governorships in eastern Ukraine. This is a wise political move intended to reassure the local populations and win over the eastern Ukrainian elites. It is not, however, obviously compatible with the government’s commitment to economic reform. 

The result of all this is likely to be Ukraine stuck in a permanent and miserable halfway-house to the EU, like Turkey but without Turkey’s independent economic dynamism. In these circumstances, it may not be too long before many Ukrainians hold the EU responsible for betraying them, while the new state oligarchs steal western aid as their predecessors stole Russian aid. Remember: the majorities in Ukrainian opinion polls have been for membership of the EU, with all its benefits—not for an endless accession process. 

So far, however, it is Russia that has suffered a crushing defeat, compared to which anything suffered so far by the west is minor, and Crimea is a very small consolation prize. Putin’s plans for the consolidation of Russia’s economic and political influence in the former Soviet region and economic role on the world stage centred on the creation of the Eurasian Union including Ukraine. Without Ukraine, this bloc cannot possibly emerge as a significant international grouping. The demonstrators in Kiev have killed forever the plan for Ukraine to enter the Eurasian Union. On the other hand, as we have seen, Ukraine’s path towards the EU is also strewn with obstacles, and can also easily be blocked by Russia through its influence over parts of Ukraine. 

In these circumstances, it seems to me sensible and a recognition of reality if, as part of a Ukrainian settlement, Russia, Nato and the EU help to reduce the tension in Ukraine, and between Russia and the west, by declaring a lengthy moratorium on any new offer of accession or partnership. They should also propose an amendment to the Ukrainian constitution stipulating that Ukraine’s accession to any international organisation needs a majority of at least 70 percent in a referendum.
Above all, it is necessary to reduce tension within Ukraine and prevent possible clashes between Ukrainian nationalist and Russian-backed militias, which could lead to full-scale Russian invasion. 

The Russian annexation of Crimea is both a very serious crime under international law and a dreadful mistake from Russia’s own point of view. This does not however diminish the necessity to prevent conflict in the rest of Ukraine. This requires above all agreement between the west and Russia, and between the new government in Kiev and former supporters of President Yanukovych from the east and south, on how to hold new elections, and on the shape of a new Ukrainian constitution. As part of this agreement, anti-government groups in eastern Ukraine would call off their attempts to storm government buildings and oust officials appointed from Kiev (though of course from their point of view, they are only following the model set by the groups which ousted President Yanukovych).

The west should make greatly increased aid to Ukraine conditional on the following moves by the government in Kiev: the ministers and deputy ministers of the interior, defence and justice, and the secretary and deputy secretary of the National Security Council, should be neutral professional officers until after the next elections; an agreement that these elections should take place under close United Nations supervision, to prevent rigging and intimidation by either Ukrainian nationalist or pro-Russian militias. As it has in other deeply divided countries, the international community should constrain Ukraine to adopt a new federal constitution, restoring the election of governors and granting real local power to the different regions. 

It is both dangerous and wrong in principle that a state as diverse as Ukraine should have a highly centralised constitution under which, for example, the new Ukrainian parliament could pass a law (subsequently blocked by the president under discreet western pressure) abolishing the official status of Russian and other minority languages, not only at the national level but in provinces where a large majority of the population speaks Russian as its first language. These proposals are not “concessions” to Russia; they are in accordance with the west’s own interests and values. 

Henry Kissinger, one of the very few senior American figures to have kept their heads in this crisis, wrote earlier this year: “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the east or the west. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other—it should function as a bridge between them.” 

It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that neither Russia nor the west can achieve their maximal goals in Ukraine. What they can do, however, is to work endlessly to block each other’s goals—and to destroy Ukraine in the process.

Being Hard on Britain's "Soft Power".

Here we go again. More on how Britain must advance its 'soft power' role. Indra Adnan writes this in the Guardian today( Soft power: Britain is losing its grip on this key asset ? )
Britain is weakening rather than bolstering its soft power institutions. Twenty-five countries have launched English-speaking world-affairs news outlets: we have cut funding to the BBC World Service, closing 22 bureaus (including the Ukraine) since 2011.Instead of harnessing institutions such as these, which reliably attract goodwill and trust, David Cameron has placed a commerce-oriented advertising campaign proclaiming "Britain is great" at the heart of its operations at No 10

Perhaps, it might be better to get a grasp on reality and realise that Britain isn't actually at all that great. It is valued by immigrants only as a fast track cash machine as opposed to some wonderful land of opportunity as it was re-presented under the Blair regime with "Cool Britannia" and all that mind numbing upbeat boosterism.

Reality is more important than mere image and enough people know enough now to know Britain is actually increasingly a worse place to live in relative to other nations than at any time in modern history. Outside London's globalised super economy there is nothing much to impress any more.

Town centres are either full of tawdry clone stores of half the shops boarded up.There is no sense of living in a community and hence the repeated incantation of the word "community" as a buzzword and copious drivel about a 'society fundamentally at ease with itself'.

London itself is only a city that attracts either the super rich, oil sheihks and kleptocrats or else the huddled masses from poorer nations to work in its low wage service sector jobs. The reality is one of cut throat competition and fear between groups of immigrants who economically undercut one another.

The reality is is a fragmented United Kingdom on the cusp of disintegration. Britain's foreign policy is a disgrace, an entirely self serving one of grovelling to states such as Qatar so that we can get its gas and its petrodollars can be invested in British made military hardware and London's property market.

The property market alone seems to drive the economy .Belief and trust in decayed institutions has waned and dwindled as the sovereign consumer works harder and harder to merit the right to own a banal legostyle brick box and spend on goods that help stave off despair and loneliness.

People living in Britain are increasingly miserable, liable to divorce, binge drinking and drug taking because they have no other form of overcoming their atomised status. This is known by those in Britain and those who come to witness the place from outside and are shocked to see whole swathes of British cities where few even speak English

It is just as well money is not being spent on 'soft power' because it is the hard realities that are those that now have meaning within and beyond Britain's shores. As it has become a global entrepot, it has also become a centre for global terror plots and plans so that foreign and domestic policies merge.

The consequence is an increasingly authoritarian security state monitoring its citizens because of the brutal power games the British government is playing in regions where there is oil and gas at stake. Naturally, these realities are seldom explicitly mentioned but outsiders realise Britain's essentially cynical global role.

No amount of investment in spin and soft corporate propaganda is going to be able to acheive anything other than create a hallucinatory view of Britain as an kleptocrat investor's paradise of prestige property and sports amenities, one that's a vision of a future dystopian hell for those who view and see the reality from below.