wsws

Finnish parliament approves proposal to join NATO
Andrea Peters, WSWS, May 17 2022

The Finnish parliament voted Wednesday to approve its government’s proposal to join NATO, with just 12 lawmakers out of 200 dissenting. The same day, Russia announced it is permanently ending its participation in the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), an 11-member intergovernmental organization tasked with managing issues related to security and economic development in the region. As Finland, along with Sweden, formally submitted their NATO membership applications yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow released a statement declaring:

The governments of NATO and the European Union in the CBSS have rejected equal dialogue and the principles upon which this regional structure in the Baltics was built and are consistently transforming it into an instrument of anti-Russian policy.

It described the atmosphere in the CBSS as one of “Russophobia” and “lies.” In March, the organization suspended Russia’s membership and stated it might be readmitted if it adhered to “fundamental principles of international law.” Belarus, which held observer status in the CBSS, was ejected at the same time. In the course of a comment in the Russian financial news outlet Kommersant appealing for Moscow to respond to the crisis in the Baltic with restraint, Russian political scientist Andrei Kortunov laid out the implications of what has now happened.

“The Baltic Sea is now actually turning into a ‘NATO lake,’ which will require retaliatory measures to build up the Russian naval presence in this area, air defense forces, land-based missile systems, and so on,” he said. With the line of contact between Russia and NATO doubling should Finland’s application for admission to the trans-Atlantic alliance be approved, Moscow will have to militarize its northwestern border to a new level, dramatically beefing up its forces in Karelia and around Murmansk.

The breakdown of the CBSS, which was formed in 1992 with the express purpose of promoting interstate cooperation in the post-Soviet era, is a manifestation of the crisis gripping the global order as the US and NATO go barreling head first towards world war. Other institutions are also giving way.

On Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the Duma a list of proposed international organizations from which the country may withdraw. It includes the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with at least 10 others. Already, 14 WTO members have ended Russia’s status as a “most favored nation” trade partner. The departure of Russia from the WHO under conditions in which the COVID-19 pandemic is, despite all official declarations to the contrary, hardly under control will gravely undermine scientific coordination around the monitoring and treatment of the disease with a country that occupies one-tenth of the world’s landmass.

Canada, the US and the Scandinavian countries have suspended their participation in all meetings of the Arctic Council, which is currently chaired by Russia and charged with responsibilities similar to those of the Council of the Baltic Sea States but in the northern polar region. In a statement on Wednesday, Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s security council, described the contemporary state of affairs as “an unprecedented geopolitical crisis” and charged the US and NATO with provoking “the collapse of the global architecture of security and the international system [of] law and agreements.” He insisted that the West’s policies threaten “Russia’s statehood and very existence” and that the conflict over Ukraine has been used to “conduct an undeclared war against Russia.”

In an opinion piece published the same day, the editorial board of the WaPo demanded that the war in Ukraine continue and that efforts to negotiate a ceasefire be halted. While recent efforts on the part of France, Germany and Italy to end the bloodshed were “understandable,” opined the newspaper, “the risks of relaxing the pressure on Mr Putin before he is thoroughly beaten, and maybe not even then, are too high.” It insisted that Paris, Berlin and Rome not let “their desire to shorten this destructive war—and thus limit the damage both to Ukraine and to their own hard-pressed economies” stand in the way. If a “thoroughly beaten” Putin is not enough, what is? The answer is: War with Russia until the very end, until Russia itself is destroyed. The fact that, as the WaPo tacitly acknowledges, Ukraine will be turned into a wasteland and the economies of Europe plunged into crisis as a result is the cost of doing business.

Announcement on Assange’s extradition due any day as protest held in London
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, May 17 2022

An announcement on Julian Assange’s extradition to the US is imminent. The WikiLeaks founder faces a life sentence or worse on charges under the Espionage Act for exposing the war crimes, intrigues, and grave human rights abuses of the US and its Allies. The decision to extradite is in the hands of Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel. She can make the announcement any time from May 18 until May 31. Assange was put in this perilous situation, at the mercy of the vicious authoritarian Patel, part of a government slavishly oriented to the US, by a series of rulings delivered by the British judiciary over the last year. In Jul 2021, the US government was given leave to appeal a carefully calculated decision by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser that January blocking Assange’s extradition on the sole grounds of its oppressive impact on his mental health, with all other defence arguments dismissed. That appeal was upheld in Dec 2021, with the High Court ordering the WikiLeaks founder handed to the US. An attempted appeal of this decision by Assange’s legal team was denied by the Supreme Court this March and the case sent to Patel in April. Throughout this time, the 50-year-old journalist and father has been imprisoned in London’s Belmarsh maximum security prison, in conditions which have exacted a terrible toll on his health. He suffered a stroke during the High Court hearing in October.

Assange’s legal team will respond to the Home Secretary’s inevitable decision to extradite by launching their own appeal of Baraitser’s initial decision, the majority of which found in favour of his being sent to the US. If this goes forward, his lawyers would finally be able to address the issues of factual misrepresentation, political motivation, legal malpractice and abuse of democratic rights central to Assange’s persecution—largely excised from proceedings since the US made its appeal. Such an outcome is possible. It would allow the British state to continue going through the motions of giving the WikiLeaks founder a fair hearing while keeping him buried in Belmarsh. But the recent history of his case shows nothing can be taken for granted. The High Court can refuse, as did the Supreme Court, to hear his case. If this happens, then Assange has run out of road with the legal process in the UK and nothing stands between him and extradition. The Australian government has said it will not intervene. Assange is an Australian citizen.

It remains unclear how an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, previously raised by Assange’s lawyers, would proceed. There is no guarantee, or even the likelihood that the UK post-Brexit will recognise its authority in this case, or that it would prevent Assange being transferred to the US in the meantime even if an appeal does get underway. The danger cannot be overstated. In the last two years of legal wrangling over Assange’s health, the point has been repeatedly stressed that the mere fact of his extradition, let alone the conditions he will face in the US prison system, will likely drive him to suicide. Professor of neuropsychiatry Michael Kopelman told the original extradition hearing in Sep 2020 there was a “very high risk of suicide” and that in his opinion, “it is the imminence of extradition and/or an actual extradition that will trigger the attempt.”

Once in the clutches of the US government, Assange would face a trial and period of detention designed to isolate, mentally destroy and convict him. He will be tried in front of a grand jury, which US criminal and civil rights lawyer Robert Boyle described in Assange’s extradition hearing as operating “without adherence to the technical and evidential rules of criminal trials” and providing “fertile ground for prosecutorial abuse.” The jury is drawn from an area with a “high concentration of companies which are government contractors working in the military and intelligence sectors,” in the words of human rights researcher Bridget Prince. During that time, he will be held in the Alexandria Detention Centre in conditions of “solitary confinement,” with inadequate medical care and no chance of remedying his situation, according to the direct experience of Virginia defence attorney Yancey Ellis, and sentencing expert Joel Sickler. If convicted and sent to the ADX Florence, he will suffer a “fate worse than death,” in the words of a former warden at the facility, almost entirely cut off from the outside world.

At a protest outside the Home Office building in London this evening to mark the final day Assange’s legal team is entitled to submit evidence to Patel, several hundred people gathered to demand she refuse his extradition. WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, Assange’s wife Stella, Labour MP Richard Burgon, representative of the Committee to Defend Julian Assange Emmy Butlin, and Don’t Extradite Assange (DEA) organiser John Rees gave speeches. Stella Assange raised the example of the Ishaqi massacre in Iraq, in which 11 people, including four women and five children, were handcuffed and executed by US troops, to make the point that the releases for which Assange is being punished “aren’t just publications in the abstract. These are tens of thousands of human casualties. Piles upon piles of human corpses. That’s what we’re talking about.”

The enormity of these crimes, which the ruling class hopes to cover up and perpetuate, is what is driving the ruthless manhunt of Assange. His treatment so far has proved that nothing can be entrusted to the British government or the judiciary. They are on the verge of rubber stamping his transfer to the US. The perspective of mounting appeals to politicians and the state, delivered by a collection of “left” parliamentarians and luminaries, is in ruins. At a meeting of the Don’t Extradite Assange official campaign in Feb 2020, Tariq Ali told the audience, “Hopefully as the case moves upwards to superior courts, we will find some judges who are prepared just to be decent.” Rees gave the same line in Aug 2021, saying of the US appeal in the High Court that Assange’s “case has finally reached a serious court.” At the same event, former leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, fêted as a champion of Assange’s cause, expressed his own “hopes” in the judiciary.

Between them, Corbyn and the DEA have called on the whole gamut of politicians chiefly responsible for Assange’s persecution to intervene and secure his release, including US Presidents Trump and Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and now Patel. The political impact of these pleas has been to turn Assange’s supporters away from the necessary struggle to build a popular movement in the broad mass of the population. The conspiracy of the US, UK, Australia, Sweden, which orchestrated a fraudulent sexual assault investigation as a pretext for Assange’s arrest, all their major parties and the corporate media to silence and isolate Assange has been carried out relentlessly for a decade. An equally determined campaign in defence of the WikiLeaks founder must overcome these obstacles. Popular support for Assange throughout the world must be activated. Younger generations who have not known a time when he was not imprisoned or gagged must be educated. Above all, a turn must be made to the working class as the only social force that can wage a successful fight for Assange’s freedom.

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