make no mistake, this is the start of what will (despite the geneva summit) be a nuclear world war

Russian forces fire warning shots at UK destroyer HMS Defender over territorial encroachment in Black Sea
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Jun 24 2021

The so-called ‘Defender’ leaving Portsmouth harbour, May 1, 2021

A Russian patrol ship fired a warning shot yesterday at the British destroyer HMS Defender off the coast of Crimea. This was followed by the dropping of high-explosive OFAB-250s fragmentation bombs in the path of the UK vessel. According to Russia’s defence ministry, HMS Defender made a 3-km incursion into Russia’s territorial waters off Cape Fiolent in the south of Crimea. Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea, was annexed by Russia in March 2014, following a US-backed far-right coup in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The incident began with a major military and political provocation by the UK. HMS Defender had just left Odessa in southern Ukraine and was carrying out exercises with a Royal Netherlands Navy Frigate, HNLMS Evertsen. The Financial Times reported Wednesday:

British and Ukrainian officials met on board the destroyer on Tuesday to agree a defence deal in which the UK will help boost Kyiv’s naval capabilities. The co-operation will include training of Ukrainian navy personnel, the creation of new naval bases, and the purchase of two Sandown class minehunters.

A statement from Russian ministry’s TV channel Zvezda said of the incident:

The Black Sea Fleet together with the FSB stopped a violation of the Russian border by a British destroyer, Defender. Today, at 11:52, the Defender crossed the state border of Russia in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. It entered the territorial waters for three kilometres, in the area of Cape Fiolent … At 12:06 and 12:08, a Russian border patrol ship fired a warning shot. At 12:19, the Su-24M aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet performed a warning bombing, dropping 4 OFAB-250 bombs on the course of the destroyer. At 12:23 the British destroyer left the borders of the territorial sea of Russia.

Clearly caught by surprise at Russia’s swift and aggressive response, the MoD stated:

The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law. We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity. No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.

This denial was refuted by BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale, speaking from aboard HMS Defender, who made a statement uploaded onto the BBC’s news site as a sound file, and in comments included in an accompanying news update. Beale wrote:

Two Russian coastguard ships that were shadowing the Royal Navy warship, tried to force it to alter course. At one stage one of the Russian vessels closed in to about 100 m. Increasingly hostile warnings were issued over the radio, including one that said ‘If you don’t change course I’ll fire.’

While speaking on a recording just 99 seconds long, the roaring jet engines of a Russian air force jet can be heard at 23 seconds in, for more than 10 seconds—forcing Beale to exclaim:

That is another Russian aircraft buzzing the warship, here in the Black Sea. There have been at times more than 20 aircraft above the warship. And there have been warning from Russia coastguard vessels and indeed we have heard shots fired. We believe they were out of range.

A section of Beale’s report that was taken down within minutes of being published on the BBC site reveals how tense the situation was:

At one stage they did put on anti-flash masks to protect their faces, just in case there was going to be an exchange of fire … They didn’t think that would happen and it did not happen. But the Russian jets have taken an interest in this and they had warned the ship not to go into Crimean territorial waters, claiming that they are Russian waters.

That events took this course was no accident given the provocative mission being carried out by the UK in the region. As Beale notes in his report:

The crew were already at action stations as they approached the southern tip of Russian occupied Crimea. Weapons systems on board the Royal Navy destroyer had already been loaded. This would be a deliberate move to make a point to Russia.

The incident with HMS Defender must be seen in the context of a ramping up of militarism by British imperialism and its NATO partners, with Moscow and China in their crosshairs. A Type 45 destroyer primarily designed for anti-aircraft and anti-missile warfare, HMS Defender is one of the several warships, alongside warplanes, submarines, UK and US soldiers and sailors, that are forming a “ring of steel” around one of the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, the Queen Elizabeth, which is on its maiden operational deployment.

The ‘Queen Elizabeth’ at Portsmouth harbour. May 1, 2021

Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) left the UK last month on a six-month trip to the Indo Pacific region. CSG21 was described by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Tuesday, just 24 hours before the Black Sea incident, as “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” Eighteen warplanes, including UK and US F35B jets, “carried out operational sorties for the first time from HMS Queen Elizabeth in support of Operation Shader and US Operation Inherent Resolve.” The bellicose statement continued:

For the task group, which has spent previous weeks in the Mediterranean working with NATO allies and partners, it marks a change of emphasis. From exercises and international engagements, the Carrier Strike Group is now delivering its full might of naval and air power.

Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Shader are code names for military interventions by the US and Britain, set up in 2014 ostensibly to target Islamic State, which mainly consist of constant air strikes and hostile surveillance missions in a host of countries including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Lebanon. The MoD statement quoted Captain James Blackmore, Commander of the Carrier Air Wing, who pointed to the significance of Royal Navy-led bombing operations:

This time they’re flying from an aircraft carrier at sea, which marks the Royal Navy’s return to maritime strike operations for the first time since the Libya campaign a decade ago.

The provocation in the Black Sea, as with all CSG21 operations, could not proceed without the say-so of the United States. Blackmore pointed to the integral role of US forces in the military strikes:

This is also notable as the first combat mission flown by US aircraft from a foreign carrier since HMS Victorious in the South Pacific in 1943. The level of integration between Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and US Marine Corps is truly seamless, and testament to how close we’ve become since we first embarked together last October.

The FT ’s report of the Black Sea exchange quoted Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute:

Moscow was trying to show it’s not going to be pushed around by provocative actions such as HMS Defender’s voyage. The Brits are often in this role as a proxy. They don’t want to be too aggressive against the Americans … so there is a sense you do it against the Brits because it’s not quite as dangerous.

The MoD announced in May:

CSG21 will participate in NATO exercises such as Exercise Steadfast Defender and provide support to NATO Operation Sea Guardian and maritime security operations in the Black Sea.

Shortly before the Carrier Strike Group left the UK, MoD sources revealed that HMS Defender would “peel off” in the Mediterranean from the main force and head through the Bosphorus “to carry out her own set of missions in the Black Sea.” On Jun 10, the Royal Navy said that HMS Defender would be “heading to the Black Sea after a stop in Istanbul.” Over several weeks, it had “completed intensive training and worked on Operation Sea Guardian, NATO’s mission in the Mediterranean to deter and counter terrorism.” NATO’s anti-Russian operations will be intensified in the days ahead, with its annual Sea Breeze military exercises taking place in the Black Sea region from Jun 28-Jul 10. Announcing the operation, the US Embassy in Ukraine said:

This year’s iteration involves the largest number of participating nations in the exercise’s history, including 32 countries from six continents, 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operation and dive teams.” It would “focus on multiple warfare areas including amphibious warfare, land maneuvre warfare, diving operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, special operations integration, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue operations.

Wednesday’s incident in the Black Sea is a stark indication of how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the interests of competing imperialist powers have transformed the entire region into a powder keg that could ignite a worldwide conflagration. After the events off Sevastopol, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted:

This is clear proof of Ukraine’s position: Russia’s aggressive and provocative actions in the Black and Azov seas, its occupation & militarization of Crimea pose a lasting threat to Ukraine and allies. We need a new quality of cooperation between Ukraine & NATO allies in the Black Sea.

US seizes PressTV.com and 32 other Iranian media website domains
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Jun 24 2021

The Biden administration’s Dept of Justice (DoJ) confirmed on Tuesday that the US had seized 33 websites affiliated with the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three others operated by Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iraqi Shia group supported by Iran. In a press statement, the DoJ stated that the website domains, including the English and French language PressTV.com based in Teheran, were “in violation of US sanctions.” The statement said that the US Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC) had “designated IRTVU as a Specially Designated National (SDN)” during the Trump administration in Oct 2020 for “being owned or controlled by the IRGC.” The DoJ also said that organizations labeled as SDNs are “prohibited from obtaining services, including website and domain services, in the US without an OFAC license” and that IRTVU “and others like it” are not news organizations but are used to launch “disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations.” It also claimed that the 33 website addresses were owned in the US by IRTVU which “did not obtain a license from OFAC prior to utilizing the domain names.” In the case of Kata’ib Hizballah, the DoJ says that it was both designated an SDN by OFAC and as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State in July 2009. It claims that Kata’ib Hizballah has “committed, directed, supported or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces” and also did not obtain an OFAC license prior to acquiring the domain names.

Whatever the public justifications provided for its aggressive act, the transparent political purpose of the Biden administration’s website seizures is the effort to ratchet up pressure on Iran amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna over the 2015 nuclear agreement and following the June 18 selection of the hardline conservative Ebrahim Raisi as the next Iranian president. Iran’s foreign ministry on Wednesday called the seizure an example of a “systematic effort to distort freedom of speech on a global level and silence independent voices in media.” One of the seized sites, Al-Masirah, is not owned by Iran, but by Ansarullah, the movement of the Houthis in Yemen, a faction the US has claimed to be “proxies” of Iran. The news outlet is headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon. In a statement reported by RT, Al Masirah said it was “not surprised” by the seizure, as it “comes from those that have supervised the most heinous crimes against our people.” The website shutdown “reveals, once again, the falsehood of the slogans of freedom of expression and all the other headlines promoted by the United States of America, including its inability to confront the truth,” the statement said.

Indicating the broader political aims of the website seizures, AP) reported that the US took over the domain name of the news website Palestine Today, which publishes the views of Gaza-based Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, redirecting the site to the same takedown notice. Visits to the seized websites bring up a graphic with the headline:

This website has been seized” and a message that says the domain has been taken offline due to a “seizure warrant” issued under the authority of US code involving civil and criminal forfeiture and special powers given to the president during “unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency.

Some of the websites have been operating for many years, such as PressTV.com which was launched in 2007. The Wikipedia entry for the Iranian news and documentary network says that the annual budget of PressTV was $8.3m and it had 400 employees worldwide as of 2009. AP reported that most of the seized domains are .net, .com and .tv domains. The .net and .com domains are considered generic “top level domains” (TLDs) and they are controlled by the global provider of the domain name registry, Verisign, based in Reston, Virginia. The contract with Verisign is managed jointly by the US-based non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the US Dept of Commerce. The domain .tv is “owned by the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu but administered by the US company Verisign,” according to AP. Other news and media domains which are owned by Iran, such as the website PressTV.ir which also publishes in English, have not been affected by the seizures. A similar action was taken by the DoJ under the Trump administration in Nov 2020, when the FBI seized 27 domain names it claimed were used by Iran’s IRGC to spread a “global covert influence campaign.” Coming from the number one worldwide purveyor of “influence campaigns” involving money, murder and military occupation, the unsubstantiated accusations against the Iran-based media outlets must be completely rejected as part of the preparations for further wars of aggression in the Middle East and Central Asia. Meanwhile, the use by Biden of designations made by both the Obama and Trump administrations makes clear the fundamental agreement over foreign policy between the two parties of Wall Street and the US military-intelligence apparatus, regardless of whether it is the Democrats or Republicans that control the executive or legislative branches of government.

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