Author Archives: niqnaq

and they wonder why amerikkkans are racist

DMFI board member Archie Gottesman wanted to “burn” Gaza
Michael F Brown, Electronic Intifada, Apr 19 2021

190421-archie-gottesman

Archie Gottesman, a board member of Democratic Majority for Israel and president of the board of directors of Zioness, was exposed Wednesday as an advocate for genocide directed at Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. As first noted on Twitter by Eli Valley, a writer and artist, in Jun 2018 Gottesman tweeted:

Gaza is full of monsters. Time to burn the whole place.

Nearly as disturbing is that Gottesman acknowledged it “won’t matter.” She then contended:

The UN will just give another meaningless sanction.

For all the anti-UN vitriol from advocates for Israel and the Israel lobby, she is recognizing that the international body really doesn’t protect Palestinians at all.

Gottesman has deleted both her Twitter and her Facebook accounts. As of this writing, no statement has been issued by either DMFI or Zioness. Neither organization responded to questions from The Electronic Intifada. At the time of the tweet, Gottesman had a daughter serving in the IDF, the very military Gottesman is presumably calling on to commit genocide. Both mother and daughter regard such service in an occupying army as “badass.” DMFI’s biography for Gottesman describes her as a “Democratic activist and the co-founder of JewBelong, a groundbreaking organization focused on rebranding Judaism.” For nearly 30 years, the biography continues, she was the Chief Branding Officer/Principal of Edison Properties. With such branding expertise, it’s impossible to think she didn’t understand the import of her words. Her statement clearly must be branded as a call for Israel to carry out a genocide directed at two million Palestinians in Gaza living under Israeli occupation and siege. For his part, Valley rebrands DMFI as Democratic Majority for Genocide. So far, Gottesman remains on the board of both DMFI and Zioness, an astroturfing organization that describes itself as “unabashedly progressive,” even though it also calls itself “unapologetically Zionist.” Indeed, Brooke Goldstein, asserts Zioness was “funded and incubated” by The Lawfare Project, a right-wing organization. Goldstein, the executive director of The Lawfare Project, holds the bizarre and bigoted opinion that “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian person.” Twitter responses were highly critical of the 2018 tweet from Gottesman:

https://twitter.com/Ali_Gharib/status/1383076061999681537
https://twitter.com/EliClifton/status/1383073831087144960

Valley also highlights that in Dec 2018 Gottesman directed her vitriol at Rebecca Vilkomerson, accusing the then executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace of being an “anti-Semitic bitch.” For the record, I know Vilkomerson as an advocate for equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. Gottesman is leveling a cruel and false charge of anti-Semitism.

Vilkomerson told The Electronic Intifada:

Archie Gottesman is saying the quiet part out loud. Her hatred for Jews who speak out for Palestinian rights is probably only second to hatred of Palestinians themselves. Despite trying to dress it up in more palatable language, this is exactly what the DMFI stands for.

In Dec 2020, DMFI approvingly cited the work of Regavim, a right-wing settler group connected to Bezalel Smotrich, an MK who supports segregation and expulsion for Palestinians, ideas that have been called potentially genocidal by Daniel Blatman, a prominent Israeli scholar of the Holocaust. Anti-Palestinian racism pervades DMFI, an organization that worked unstintingly to prevent Senator Bernie Sanders from winning the Democrat presidential nomination in 2020. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted her concern, though it’s not just anti-Muslim hate, but anti-Palestinian hate being voiced by Gottesman:

Such hate “should have no place in our party,” Omar wrote. It’s long past time for veteran leaders of the Democrat Party to ask some basic questions about the racism of the DMFI. But they won’t. And that failure to respond will be the same whether Gottesman stays on the DMFI board or is removed before the week is up.

J Street brings together progressives, Israeli war criminals

Ali Abunimah Lobby Watch 19 April 2021

A woman stands at podium with arms outstreched
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses J Street’s annual conference in 2019. This year’s gathering of the Israel lobby group has been held online. (via Facebook)

J Street has been holding its annual conference online this Sunday and Monday.

The liberal Israel lobby can boast of an impressive list of speakers, including so-called progressives in Congress, Biden administration figures and even a few Palestinians.

They are appearing alongside hardened Israeli war criminals with much Palestinian and Lebanese blood on their hands.

This comes the same month that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the most influential progressive in Congress, put on a remarkable display of pandering to a right-wing Israel lobby group in New York.

In recent years, more Democrats have shown reluctance to go to AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby group that is increasingly seen as aligned with the hard right both in the United States and Israel.

Representative Betty McCollum – who is not attending J Street – has even denounced AIPAC as a “hate group.”

Speaking at J Street – the kinder, gentler AIPAC – has therefore become a way for Democrats to pay tribute to Israel and its lobby, while attempting to soften criticism from a party base which is becoming ever more supportive of Palestinian rights.

Taking the virtual stage at J Street this week are progressive House members Ro Khanna, Ayanna Pressley, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee and Jamaal Bowman, as well as the boss they all voted to re-elect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1384194269477433351&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Felectronicintifada.net%2Fblogs%2Fali-abunimah%2Fj-street-brings-together-progressives-israeli-war-criminals&sessionId=d6a465bee358bf969ee51384006a904d7db51a80&siteScreenName=intifada&siteUserId=6721522&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ff2e7cf%3A1618526400629&width=550pxSenators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are speaking, as is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a former supporter of Palestinian rights, who quickly and completely sold out to the Israel lobby as part of his successful campaign to win one of Georgia’s US Senate seats.

His fellow senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff – who has never pretended to be anything but a pro-Israel hardliner – is there too.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1383921098924859396&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Felectronicintifada.net%2Fblogs%2Fali-abunimah%2Fj-street-brings-together-progressives-israeli-war-criminals&sessionId=d6a465bee358bf969ee51384006a904d7db51a80&siteScreenName=intifada&siteUserId=6721522&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ff2e7cf%3A1618526400629&width=550pxProminent among J Street’s speakers is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has denounced the nonviolent Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic,” and believes that God sent him to the Senate to protect Israel.

Schumer often claims his name comes from the Hebrew word shomer – guardian.

“I believe Hashem [God], actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate, to be a shomer for Israel, and I will continue to be that with every bone in my body,” Schumer has said.

The Biden administration is represented by US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who also recently smeared the BDS movement as anti-Jewish while reiterating her government’s opposition to it.

They are joined by House member Tom Malinowski, a hawkish supporter of US military intervention and yet another opponent of BDS.

There are several representatives of Israel’s vestigial Zionist left at J Street, including Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz, the head of Meretz.

And representing the alliance between Israel’s apartheid regime and US-backed regional dictatorships is Yousef Al Otaiba, the longtime ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in the US.

J Street opposes basic Palestinian rights

Much like the Democratic and Republican parties, J Street and AIPAC represent two wings of essentially the same interests – despite differences in style and rhetoric.

When it comes to the substance of Palestinian rights, J Street and AIPAC agree much more than they differ.

Both J Street and AIPAC claim to support the defunct “two-state solution” with the goal of perpetuating Israel as a “Jewish” state.

Like other pro-Israel hardliners, J Street fully supports Israel’s racist refusal to allow millions of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were ethnically cleansed solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.

J Street has even published vile racist propaganda about “the demographic threat from a stateless Palestinian population” – as if the mere existence of Palestinians is an act of violence against Israel.

And also just like AIPAC, J Street maintains its staunch opposition to BDS, a movement modeled on the international solidarity campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

J Street does try to sugarcoat this opposition by claiming that it does not oppose boycotts “that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory.”

But J Street regurgitates habitual Israeli government smears – without providing any evidence – that leaders of the BDS movement have “trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

There was no clearer demonstration of J Street’s commitment to these anti-Palestinian positions than when the group withdrew its endorsement of Representative Rashida Tlaib when she first ran for Congress in 2018.

J Street pulled its backing for Tlaib after the Michigan Democrat expressed support for BDS and for a single democratic state where Palestinians and Israeli Jews would be equal before the law.

It is true that J Street has shifted some of its views.

While remaining a strong advocate for billions in annual US military aid to Israel, the group is endorsing a new bill that would block Israel from using US funds for violations including detaining Palestinian children and demolishing Palestinian homes.

But J Street had nothing to do with the hard, grassroots work of bringing this bill to Congress.

That the group is jumping on the bandwagon is a sign it knows the ground is shifting and it needs to act to maintain its “progressive” credibility even as it continues to hold fast to deeply anti-Palestinian positions.

Notably, while J Street says US aid to Israel should not be used to foot the bill for annexation or “trample on Palestinian rights,” it does not believe the annual $3.8 billion in US taxpayer money should actually be cut, conditioned or ended, only that its use be “restricted” to specific purposes.

War criminals and racists

Undoubtedly, if challenged, many of the Democrats speaking at J Street would claim they are doing so in the name of “peace.”

But appearing with unrepentant war criminals is a strange way to show that.

They are sharing J Street’s virtual stage with Ehud Olmert, who as Israel’s prime minister ordered the Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza in December 2008, killing more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, among them 300 children.

Olmert was also in charge when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, carpet bombing the country with cluster munitions and killing more than 1,100 people, mostly civilians.

There is also former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who has evaded attempts by judicial authorities in several countries to question her about her role in the 2008-2009 massacre in Gaza.

Livni, it must be recalled, bragged in January 2009 that “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded.”

J Street’s esteemed speakers also include retired Major General Yair Golan, who participated in Operation Cast Lead and commanded the occupation forces that impose Israel’s oppressive military rule on Palestinians in the West Bank.

As commander of Israeli forces on the borders with Lebanon and Syria’s occupied Golan Heights a decade ago, Yair Golan played a significant role in Israel’s support – which ultimately included weapons and funding – for al-Qaida-linked jihadist armed groups in Syria.

Another cog from Israel’s machine of oppression finding a welcome at J Street is Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel’s domestic spying and torture agency Shin Bet.

One of the J Street conference’s sponsors is Commanders for Israel’s Security.

This group represents more than 300 retired Israeli generals, as well as veterans of Shin Bet and Israel’s international spying and assassination agency Mossad, who are committed to “Israeli separation from the Palestinians” in the name of preserving “Jewish democracy.”

These occupation administrators worry about Israel’s “demographic predicament” in precisely the same way as South Africa’s white rulers once did.

Commanders for Israel’s Security refers to the prospect of giving Palestinians – which it refers to as “Muslims” – full and equal rights as a “plague.”

Among the racist arguments the group advances for not giving Palestinians under Israeli rule full rights is that “Israel will be responsible for medical services for millions of annexed Palestinians” and that “our health will be affected” as a result.

Under international law, Israel is already legally responsible for the health of Palestinians it occupies, but it chooses to flout that obligation, including by denying Palestinians COVID-19 vaccines.

Such segregationism is what often passes for “progressive” politics when it comes to Israel.

Israeli organizations including Ir Amim, which documents settlement activity in Jerusalem, and Breaking the Silence, a group of veterans critical of the occupation, are also backing the conference that is giving the stage to unrepentant Israeli military officials.

In a masterful display of hand wringing, J Street said in March that it could “take no position” on the recent International Criminal Court decision to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the same time, J Street asserted that it cannot support “total impunity” for Israel’s actions.

But if J Street does not have the courage to support the ICC investigation, opposes the nonviolent BDS movement, opposes cutting US aid to Israel, and, needless to say, condemns any form of Palestinian armed struggle, then, in effect, it does support total impunity for Israel.

It cannot have its cake and eat it too.

At least by refusing to back the ICC investigation, J Street spares itself the awkwardness of hosting guest speakers who it believes may one day be required to account for their actions in a court of law.

Palestinian and Muslim cover

Sadly, some Palestinians and Muslim activists have chosen to give cover to J Street and its deeply anti-Palestinian policies.

It is obviously no surprise that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was among the major speakers.

J Street correctly sees Abbas as an ally in their joint quest to abrogate the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Other Palestinians taking part – despite J Street’s opposition to BDS and refugee rights – are Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament Ayman Odeh and Palestinian-American entrepreneur and activist Sam Bahour.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1383873449450373123&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Felectronicintifada.net%2Fblogs%2Fali-abunimah%2Fj-street-brings-together-progressives-israeli-war-criminals&sessionId=d6a465bee358bf969ee51384006a904d7db51a80&siteScreenName=intifada&siteUserId=6721522&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ff2e7cf%3A1618526400629&width=550pxAlso speaking is Rawan Odeh, a Palestinian recently revealed to be involved with “Heart of a Nation,” a new “progressive” pro-Israel initiative launched by a former senior AIPAC staffer.

They are joining Salam al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a staunch defender of Emgage, the Muslim American group that endorses and fundraises for pro-Israel candidates.

Another J Street participant is Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

It is part of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, which works closely with the Israeli army and hosts the Muslim Leadership Initiative.

MLI brings so-called Muslim American leaders on junkets to Israel as part of an effort to co-opt them as mouthpieces for Israeli propaganda under the banner of so-called interfaith dialogue.

Putting a pretty face on apartheid

J Street, with the help of progressives and some Palestinians, continues to market itself as the acceptable face of the Israel lobby, the one that Democrats can embrace without feeling guilty.

Perhaps the clearest sign of where J Street really stands is its silence about the January report by noted Israeli human rights group B’Tselem declaring – at long last – that Israel operates an apartheid regime against Palestinians in all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

As Phil Weiss and Joshua Gold observed at Mondoweiss, B’Tselem put Israel lobby groups “in a bind because in the wake of the report it’s all but impossible to call yourself both progressive and pro-Israel, as J Street and many other groups do.”

“If you acknowledge that Israel is practicing apartheid, you are in essence endorsing BDS,” Weiss and Gold added. “Because apartheid is a crime against humanity, and as was the case with apartheid South Africa, one’s duty is to support boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

J Street can’t acknowledge Israeli apartheid, because by opposing the rights of Palestinian refugees it supports racial segregation, supremacy and discrimination.

J Street won’t endorse BDS because it doesn’t want Palestinians to have power, leverage and equal rights, or be in control of their fate.

J Street remains an enemy of Palestinian rights whose mission is to put a softer, “progressive” face on apartheid.

No one should fall for it or assist in the charade.

ffs, people, just say no!

Scientists Warn of ‘Vaccine Treadmill’ as Vaccine Makers Gear Up for COVID Booster Shots
Megan Redshaw, Children’s Health Defense, Apr 20 2021

Vaccine makers are telling investors and the media that COVID booster shots are already in the works. In some cases, companies say the boosters may be needed because the vaccine’s effectiveness may run out. In other instances, they suggest booster shots will be needed to combat new COVID variants. Annual COVID booster shots are music to the ears of investors. But some independent scientists warn that trying to outsmart the virus with booster shots designed to address the next variant could backfire, creating an endless wave of new variants, each more virulent and transmissible than the one before. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Thursday a third dose of the company’s COVID vaccine was “likely” to be needed within a year of the initial two-dose inoculation — followed by annual vaccinations. Bourla said that “a likely scenario” is “a third dose somewhere between six and 12 months, and from there it would be an annual re-vaccination.” In a conversation hosted by CVS Health, Bourla explained how some vaccines are given only once, while others need annual boosters like flu shots. Bourla said during an interview with CNBC:

It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus. Booster shots will be an important tool in battling more contagious variants.

Moderna’s chief commercial officer, Corinne M Le Goff, said during a call with investors last week that Americans could start getting booster shots of its vaccine later this year to protect against COVID variants. Le Goff said:

It is likely that the countries that have already achieved high vaccine coverage are going to be ready to shift their focus to boosters in 2022, and possibly even starting at the end of this year.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has said its single-shot vaccine will probably need to be given annually. The US is also preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between 9-12 months after people are initially vaccinated against COVID, a White House official said Thursday. While the duration of immunity after vaccination is being studied, booster vaccines could be needed, David Kessler, chief science officer for President Biden’s COVID-19 response task force told a congressional committee meeting. According to initial data, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines retain most of their effectiveness for at least six months, though for how much longer has not been determined. Even if that protection lasts longer than six months, experts have said rapidly spreading COVID variants may emerge and could lead to the need for regular booster shots similar to annual flu shots.

According to Rob Verkerk PhD, founder, scientific and executive director of Alliance for Natural Health International, variants can become more virulent and transmissible, while also including immune (or vaccine) escape mutations if we continue on the vaccine treadmill, trying to develop new vaccines that outsmart the virus. Verkerk said “if we put all our eggs” in the basket of vaccines that target the very part of the virus that is most subject to mutation, we place a selection pressure on the virus that favors the development of immune escape variants. Scientists and vaccine developers are trying to work their way around these viral variants, but there’s no guarantee of the outcomes. It’s an experiment in which vast numbers of citizens have become unwitting participants, Verkerk explained. In early March, Dr Geert Vanden Bossche, a vaccinologist who worked with GSK Biologicals, Novartis Vaccines, Solvay Biologicals, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Discovery team in Seattle and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization in Geneva, put out a call to the World Health Organization, supported by a 12-page document that discussed the “uncontrollable monster” that global mass vaccination will create. In his letter, Vanden Bossche broke down the dangers of mass vaccination for COVID compared to natural infection and concluded:

There can be no doubt that continued mass vaccination campaigns will enable new, more infectious viral variants to become increasingly dominant and ultimately result in a dramatic incline in new cases despite enhanced vaccine coverage rates. There can be no doubt either that this situation will soon lead to complete resistance of circulating variants to the current vaccines.

As The Defender reported on Mar 26, a combination of lockdowns and extreme selection pressure on the virus induced by the intense global mass vaccination program might diminish the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the short-term, but ultimately, will induce the creation of more mutants of concern. This is the result of what Vanden Bossche calls “immune escape” (i.e. incomplete sterilization of the virus by the human immune system, even following vaccine administration). This will in turn trigger vaccine companies to further refine vaccines that will add to, not reduce, the selection pressure, producing ever more transmissible and potentially deadly variants. The selection pressure will cause greater convergence in mutations that affect the critical spike protein of the virus that is responsible for breaking through the mucosal surfaces of our airways, the route used by the virus to enter the human body, Vanden Bossche argues. The virus will effectively outsmart the highly specific antigen-based vaccines that are being used and tweaked, dependent on the circulating variants. All of this could lead to a hockey stick-like increase in serious and potentially lethal cases, in effect an out-of-control pandemic.

Pfizer made headlines last month when its chief financial officer, Frank D’Amelio, said the company would look to raise prices on its COVID vaccine, the second-highest revenue-generating drug in the world, after the pandemic waned and they are no longer in a pandemic pricing environment. The company has since doubled down on that stance as it now believes annual vaccinations are “increasingly likely.” During a recent virtual investor conference hosted by Barclays. D’Amelio told the analyst:

We see significant opportunity for our vaccine once the market shifts from a pandemic situation to an endemic situation. At that point, factors like efficacy, booster ability, clinical utility will basically become very important, and we view that as, quite frankly, a significant opportunity for our vaccine from a demand perspective, from a pricing perspective, given the clinical profile of our vaccine.

Pfizer has said it expects at least $15b to $30b in revenue from its mRNA vaccine this year with cost and profit margins split equally with BioNTech. At the Barclays event, D’Amelio said his company expects “return after taxes” of around 25% on the $15b figure, or around $3.75b. The CFO previously said he expects margins for the vaccine to grow over time, Fierce Pharma reported. Moderna said it expects 2021 sales of $18.4b. Barclays analyst Gena Wang forecasts sales of $19.6b in 2021, $12.2b in 2022, and $11.4b in 2023, assuming recurring vaccinations. According to The Guardian, a group of investors that backed Moderna when it was founded in 2010 will make substantial returns, with CEO Stéphane Bancelnow worth nearly $5b. J&J expected sales of $10b in 2021 prior to the US pause on its vaccine, with CEO Alex Gorsky poised to receive a $30m pay package. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID and Biden’s chief medical advisor, said Sunday the decision about whether a COVID vaccine booster shot would be needed would be made by public health officials and not by pharmaceutical companies. Fauci told NBC Meet the Press:

It is going to be a public health decision. It is not going to be a decision that is made by a pharmaceutical company. We’re partners with them because they’re supplying it. It’ll be an FDA/CDC decision. The CDC will use their advisory committee and immunization practices the way they always do.

But as the WaPo reported last month, Moderna has strong ties to the NIAID, which operates under the National Institutes of Health. NIAID, which partnered with Moderna on its mRNA COVID vaccine, owns half the patent for the Moderna vaccine and under an agreement with Moderna, its director, Fauci, will personally collect royalties on the vaccine. Fauci, during an appearance on ABC This Week with Martha Raddatz, was asked about the Pfizer CEO’s comments suggesting vaccine recipients would “likely” need a third dose of its vaccine within six to 12 months after being fully vaccinated, with Moderna, and J&J suggesting the same. When asked when Americans would know for sure if they would need a third booster shot, Fauci said it would depend on when immunity would wane, which would likely be determined by summer or fall.

sputnik for apr 19/20

Russian Diplomatic Source Says UK Warship Passage to Black Sea is Aimed at Intimidation
Sputnik News, Apr 20 2021

MOSCOW – UK warships planned passage to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus is aimed at intimidating Russia, as the West keeps trying to influence Moscow’s policies, but Russia expects non-Black Sea powers to implement the Montreux Convention, a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Sputnik on Tuesday. The source said, asked to comment on London’s plans;

Everything that is being done around ship entry into the Black Sea is done with the only goal of increasing pressure on our country. Apparently they hope we will ‘understand’ something and behave as they expect, show more flexibility. Perhaps, they believe it is possible to make us scared of something. This is the goal.

The source noted that the Montreux Convention sets the limits on the number, mass and displacement of non-Black powers’ vessels that can simultaneously be present in the Black Sea. The source stressed:

We count on the common sense of those on whom the implementation of the Montreux Convention depends.

Last week, Washington also notified Ankara about two warships passage to the Black Sea, but the Pentagon later abandoned the plans. The source expressed the belief that the plans were aimed at intensifying regional tensions. The source concluded:

We have not counted them. It is not our task to count how many of them there are. But the escalation of tensions applies not only to the Black Sea, but to our relations in general. We cannot support it. This is not our policy. This is not our choice.

Last week, it was reported that a destroyer and an anti-submarine frigate of the UK navy will enter the Black Sea in early May as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine amid tensions at the border with Russia. On Monday, a diplomatic source in Turkey confirmed to Sputnik that London had notified Ankara about the planned passage, scheduled for the first week of May.

Moscow Reserves the Right to Expel Ukrainian Diplomat in Tit-for-Tat Move
Sputnik News, Apr 20 2021

Russia reserves the right to expel a Ukrainian diplomat as a response to Kiev’s recent move to declare a staffer of the Russian embassy persona non grata, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. The ministry also said that the Ukrainian consul who will be expelled from Russia was involved in preparations to oppress Ukrainian holders of double citizenship. The ministry said in a statement:

The Russian Foreign Ministry expresses its resolute protest to this new unfriendly move of the Ukrainian side. The accusations against the Russian diplomat are groundless. He did not do anything outside his diplomatic mandate.

Moscow slammed as “absolutely unacceptable” Kiev’s claim that the move was a symmetric response to the “oral message about the undesirability of the staying on the Russian Federation’s territory of the consul of the Ukrainian consulate general in St Petersburg.” According to the Russian foreign ministry, the Ukrainian consul was recommended to leave Russia after it was revealed that he was trying to obtain classified databases of the Russian law enforcement agencies, in order to assist Kiev’s preparations for “political repression” against Ukrainian holders of Russian citizenship. The ministry concluded:

Taking into consideration all the circumstances, the Russian Foreign Ministry cannot qualify the Russian diplomat’s expulsion from Ukraine as a symmetric measure, and reserves the right for reciprocal moves against a diplomat of the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow.

Huawei Was Able to Spy on Millions in the Netherlands, Report Says
Arty Katkov, Sputnik News, Apr 20 2021

The Dutch government recommended the stronger vetting of telecoms equipment suppliers in July 2019.
Huawei had the ability to eavesdrop on people using the Dutch mobile network KPN, including the then-Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and various ministers, without the company’s knowledge, De Volkskrant reported. A 2010 secret report made by Capgemini, a firm hired by KPN to evaluate risks since it was using Huawei technology at the time, said that Huawei would have had free access to KPN’s network back then, De Volkskrant said, after reviewing the document. KPN started using Huawei technology in 2009 but commissioned the report from Capgemini after being warned by the Dutch domestic intelligence service, AIVD, about the risk of espionage. The internal report was kept secret due to its alarming nature. The outlet cites the report as reading:

The continued existence of KPN Mobile is in serious danger because permits may be revoked or the government and businesses may give up their confidence in KPN if it becomes known that the Chinese government can eavesdrop on KPN mobile numbers and shut down the network.

There were 6.5m users subscribed to the FPN mobile network at the time. Huawei said it never acted inappropriately in the Netherlands. The Chinese technology firm said:

Huawei employees have not had unauthorised access to KPN’s network and data, nor have they extracted data from that network. Huawei has at all times worked under the explicit authorisation of KPN.

KPN said that it has no indications that lines were tapped or that customer data was stolen. If it had, the company told ANP, it would have “certainly informed the appropriate authorities and our customers.” In 2020, KPN became one of the first European operators to exclude Huawei from its core 5G network, opting for Ericsson. The Netherlands still remains one of the European countries pushing back against US pressure to exclude the Chinese company.

south front for apr 19/20

Russian Attempts To Enforce Safety In Raqqa And Deir Ezzor
South Front, Apr 19 2021

The Syrian Arab Army and its Russian support are perpetually carrying out their containment of ISIS in Syria’s central region. On Apr 18, Russian Aerospace Forces warplanes carried out at least 70 airstrikes on various terrorist targets in several areas. Among the locations containing targets were the eastern countryside of Hama, the outskirts of the town of Resafa in the Raqqa countryside, and on the border between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. ISIS caves and bunkers were targeted, as well as the terrorists’ backline positions. There was an unknown number of casualties. This presumed sudden spike in activity followed a claim by ISIS that two Russian special forces operatives were killed in eastern Homs during a failed landing operation. There was no official confirmation and no other evidence apart from ISIS’ claims. Russia’s warplanes have, so far, been successful in their air raids. There is an evident reduction in ISIS attacks on Syrian government forces, and many positions on strategic highways had been vacated. To improve response time and operational effectiveness, Russian Forces are building a forward base with a helicopter landing zone along with a number of posts right on the border between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in central Syria. Russian forces have been working to strengthen their presence in Raqqa for a while. A delegation of the Russian military visited the Tabqah Air Base in southern Raqqa, that is held currently by US-backed Forces. Russian forces may soon move there. Additionally, on April 18th, units of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib, entered the town of Bosoufane in the Turkish-occupied area of Afrin. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated HTS were on a mission to establish positions in the town. Tensions were increasing as the group was attempting to capture the town and wrestle it away from the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL). The stand-off came to its end when the Syrian Arab Army shelled the militants. HTS was trying to capture the town in order to open a direct smuggling route with Kurdish forces, which control a strip of land south of Afrin. The militant group is constantly on the lookout to expand its influence, push ever further and gain more profit. Turkey seems to tacitly support HTS’ expansion endeavors, as it is quite interested in the oil and gas smuggling to continue, as resource trafficking was heavily impeded by the Damascus government’s operations.

Saudi Arabia Used TOS-1A “Solntsepyok” Against Houthis
South Front, Apr 19 2021

Saudi Arabia used the heavy flamethrower system TOS-1A “Solntsepyok” during operation against the Houthis (as Ansar Allah is known). The leaked photo and video reportedly show the use of TOS-1A in the south of Saudi province of Najran. No casualties have been reported yet as a result of the shelling. Ansar Allah has not commented on the issue yet.

The TOS-1A Solntsepek is a 24-barrel rocket launch (MBRL) system designed and developed by the Russian company – Omsk Transmash Design Bureau. It is the latest variant of the TOS-1 flamethrower system. The chassis of TOS-1A MBRL system is based on the T-72 main battle tank. It retains the same design with the turret being replaced with the rocket launch facility. The launch system integrates 24 220mm calibre launch tubes.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum with Russia on the acquisition of several types of weapons, including the TOS-1A, the Kornet ATGM, and the AGS-30 grenade launcher with the possibility of joint production in the kingdom. In April 2019, photos of the first delivered batch of “Solntsepyok” surfaced online. According to available data, Saudi Arabia is armed with ten TOS-1A. On the other side, on April 18, the Houthi-affilated media outlet “Yemen Wrath” released fresh combat footage showing a surprise attack of Ansar Allah on the positions of the mercenaries of the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni Talaah area.

The UK Sends Two Warships To Black Sea, As Russia Sends Dozens For Military Exercise
South Front, Apr 19 2021

On Apr 17, detachment of ships of the Russian Caspian Fleet passed under the Crimean bridge across the Kerch Strait and entered the Black Sea, while earlier it was reported that Russia relocated Su-25 SMZ attack aircraft to Crimea. This was reported by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. It is reported that among the 15 warships of the Caspian Flotilla there are 3 artillery and 8 landing boats, as well as support vessels. The ships entered the Black Sea allegedly as part of a control check during the winter training period. the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement:

According to the plan for passing the control check, the crews of the boats of the Caspian Flotilla, in cooperation with the forces of the Black Sea Fleet, will take part in test naval exercises.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, the Russian Federation previously closed part of the Black Sea for the passage of foreign ships. Four more warships of the Russian Navy entered the Black Sea the same day. The Istanbul sites reported that two large landing craft “Kaliningrad”, “Korolev” had passed the Bosphorus. Previously, “Alexander Otrakovsky” and “Kondopoga” of the Russian Northern Fleet entered the Black Sea. Over the previous weeks, more than 50 fighters, aircraft and attack aircraft were involved in the exercises over the Black Sea, the press service of the Russian Southern Military District said. The planes had to carry out rocket launches and bombing at sea targets. The ministry clarified that Su-27SM, Su-30SM fighters, Su-25SM3 attack aircraft and Su-24M and Su-34 bombers took part in the exercises. Additionally, pilots from the 4th Army of the Air Force and Air Defense and the Black Sea Fleet accompany ship strike groups, and also provide security in the Black Sea as part of reconnaissance strike complexes. During the exercise, Su-25SM3 attack aircraft from the Stavropol Territory were relocated to the airfields of the Crimea, and the Su-25SM3 squadron, based on the peninsula, to the Ashuluk training ground in the Astrakhan region.

On Apr 14, it was reported that a detachment of ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation went to sea for exercises. Separately, British warships will sail for the Black Sea in May, the Sunday Times reported on April 18, citing anonymous sources. The deployment is aimed at showing solidarity with Ukraine and Britain’s NATO allies, the newspaper reported. One Type 45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate will leave the Royal Navy’s carrier task group in the Mediterranean and head through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, according to the report. RAF F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin submarine-hunting helicopters will stand ready on the task group’s flag ship, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to support the warships in the Black Sea. A ministry spokesman told the newspaper that the UK government was working closely with Ukraine to monitor the situation and continued to call on Russia to de-escalate. The newspaper quoted the spokesman as saying:

The UK and our international allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Ukraine: American Bomb In Europe
Manlio Dinucci, Il Manifesto. Translated by Thomas ST, SouthFront, Apr 19 2021

US F-16 fighter jets, sent from the Aviano base in Italy, are participating in “complex air operations” in Greece, where the “Iniochos 21” exercise began on Apr 12. They belong to the 510th Fighter Squadron based in Aviano, whose role is featured on its emblem: the symbol of the atom, with three thunderbolts hitting the ground, framed by the imperial eagle. These are nuclear attack aircraft deployed by the USAF in Greece, which in 2020 granted the US the use of all its military bases. F-16 and F-15 fighter-bombers from Israel and the UAE are also taking part in the “Iniochos 21” exercise. It is conducted in the Aegean Sea on the edge of the region, including the Black Sea and Ukraine, where the US Army Defender-Europe 21 exercise is concentrated. These and other military maneuvers, which make Europe a major military training range, are amping up the tension with Russia, which is focused on Ukraine. NATO, after the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation by inserting the wedge of war into internal rifts, is now consolidating as the crusading knight of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The chairman of the NATO Military Committee, British Air Force Air Marshal Sir Stuart Perts, met with Zelensky and Khomchak in Kiev, and said:

NATO members are united in their condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its offensive operations in eastern Ukraine.

He reiterated that Russia annexed Crimea by force, forgetting that it was the Crimean Russians who decided in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and return to Russia in order to avoid attacks by Kiev’s neo-Nazi battalions, as it was the case for the Russians of Donbass. Those neo-Nazi battalions that were used in 2014 as a strike force in the Maidan coup, launched by Georgian snipers who fired on protesters and police, and then engaged in a series of atrocities: villages slaughtered and set on fire, activists burned alive in the Odessa Trade Union House, unarmed civilians massacred in Mariupol or bombed with white phosphorus in Donetsk and Luhansk. A bloody coup led by the US and NATO, with the strategic goal of provoking a new Cold War in Europe, to isolate Russia and at the same time strengthen the influence and military presence of the US in Europe. The conflict in Donbass, whose people have self-organized in the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics their own militia, had gone through a period of relative calm with the opening of the Minsk talks for a peaceful solution. But now the Ukrainian government has withdrawn from those meetings, under the pretext of refusing to go to Minsk because Belarus is not a democracy. At the same time, Kiev forces resumed armed attacks in Donbass.

The head of the Ukrainian General Staff, General Khomchak, who was congratulated by NATO’s Stuart Perch on his “commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict,” said that the Kiev army was “preparing for an attack on the eastern part of the country.” in this operation “the participation of NATO members is planned.” It is no coincidence that the conflict in Donbass erupted when, along with the Biden government, the post of Secretary of State passed to Anthony Blinken. Of Ukrainian origin, he was the main organizer of Maidan Square putsch in the role of Deputy National Security Adviser to the Obama-Biden administration. As Deputy Foreign Minister, Biden appointed Victoria Nuland, in 2014 assistant director of the US operation, which cost over $5b, to establish “good government” in Ukraine (she said). It is possible that they now have a plan to launch an attack by Kiev forces in Donbas with the support of NATO. It would put Moscow in front of a choice that would in any case benefit Washington: to leave the Russian people of Donbass a victim of the massacre or to intervene militarily to support them. A game with fire and not metaphorically, lighting the fuse of a bomb in the heart of Europe.

colonel cassad for apr 19/20

US Ambassador to Leave Russia “to See Family”
Colonel Cassad, Apr 20 2021

Despite the fact that US Ambassador to Russia Sullivan twice refused to follow the “recommendations” of the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave for “consultations” in the United States, he will temporarily leave Russia. Although yesterday evening it was reported that the US Ambassador did not want to follow the recommendations and leave, seeking to be officially kicked out in full uniform. According to clck.ru with reference to a State Dept spokesman, the US Ambassador will leave for Washington for “communication with his family and consultations.” The departure will take place this week. He will return to Russia “in the next few weeks.” In general, in its recommendations, the Russian Foreign Ministry this time turned out to be very persistent and convincing.

Czechs leave Moscow
Colonel Cassad, Apr 19 2021

Departure of the staff of the Czech Embassy in Russia. The rush is due to the fact that they were given 24 hours to get ready. After the expulsion of the Czech diplomats, only 5 people will remain in the embassy. In fact, we are talking about minimizing diplomatic relations. The Czech Republic called Moscow’s reaction “tougher than expected.” What can I say, in recent years they have been taught to be “mirror-like” and “symmetrical.” And no one especially appreciated this “mirroring.” And as they began to beat with an overlap, surprises for the respected “partners” immediately began.

Despite the reluctance of US Ambassador Sullivan to leave for consultations in Washington, the Russian Foreign Ministry once again “recommended” him to get out “for consultations.” So far, the US embassy is pretending that they do not understand what the Russian Foreign Ministry means by “the current proposal to leave for consultations.” Apparently, after another 1-2 refusals, they may be asked to “consult” on their own, especially if the current trends continue. The Russian ambassador is not going to return to Washington yet.

PS. Borrell said that the Russian Federation has concentrated up to 150k bayonets on the border with Ukraine and “it worries.” Here he even surpassed the estimates of the most stubborn Ukrainian media outlets, who called the numbers 80k and 120k bayonets. However, the EU has not yet planned new sanctions.

PS2. And suddenly. After the arrest of a US citizen for participation in a conspiracy to overthrow and murder Lukashenka, the US stopped some of the sanctions against Belarusian enterprises. 9 enterprises of Belarus are allowed financial transactions until Jun 3. This is called the bargaining stage and “damage control.”

PS3. The Prague authorities demand that the Czech government hold negotiations with the Russian Federation in order to take away from the Russian Embassy in Prague a part of its territory, which is called “occupied territory.” At this rate, it can even reach the rupture of diplomatic relations.

RT.com for apr 19/20

British warships set sail for Black Sea showdown with Russia, days after American sailors ‘cancel’ plan to chart course for region
RT.com, Apr 9 2021

Two British gunboats will soon be cutting through the waters off the south coast of Russia, amid escalating tensions between Moscow and the West over troop deployments and NATO military activity on Russia’s border with Ukraine. The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that a Type 45 destroyer, armed with anti-aircraft missiles, and a Type 23 submarine-hunting frigate will detach from the Royal Navy’s carrier fleet in the Mediterranean in order to pass into the Black Sea next month. At the same time, defense sources told the newspaper that British warplanes would be standing ready on the country’s flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to intervene, should the vessels run into problems. Like other carriers, the waterborne runway, which can carry up to 60 jets and helicopters, is banned under international treaties from entering the Black Sea. The move comes after Moscow ordered its own navy to carry out live-fire exercises in the region. In a statement last week, defense chiefs said that a frigate, Admiral Makarov, had been dispatched to the waters, along with ships Grayvoron and Vyshny Volochek, which will be supported by a missile-wielding hovercraft and a minesweeper. Large landing vessels, used for amphibious invasions, will also take part in the drills, along with fighter jets and helicopters. The officials said:

The role of a mock enemy will be played by maritime targets.

The war games were announced just days after Turkish envoys claimed they had received notification that two US Navy ships would pass through their territorial waters on the way to the Black Sea. The move was widely seen as a show of support for Ukraine, where hostilities between government forces and troops fighting for two breakaway republics in the east of the country have escalated in recent weeks. However, within a few days, the Pentagon was claiming the warships’ movements had been misunderstood by Ankara, and had never actually been confirmed. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has since claimed the US “canceled” the plans. No reasons were given, and Washington insisted any courses charted by its sailors would be “routine.” The US has expressed concern about “credible” reports of Russian troops massing on the borders with Ukraine, and, earlier this month, State Dept spokesman Ned Price issued a “call on Russia to refrain from escalatory actions.” Dmitry Peskov told reporters:

The situation on the contact line in Ukraine is extremely unstable. The dynamics of the development of this state of affairs, and the behavior of the Ukrainian side, creates the danger of a resumption of full-scale hostilities.

Capitol Police officer media claimed was ‘killed’ in Jan 6 riot died of NATURAL CAUSES, says medical examiner
RT.com. Apr 19 2021

Officer Brian Sicknick of the US Capitol Police died after suffering two strokes, but there was no evidence of internal or external injuries from the Jan 6 unrest, the Washington, DC medical examiner has finally revealed. Sicknick, 42, died after suffering two strokes at the base of the brain stem caused by a clot in an artery, medical examiner Francisco J Diaz said on Monday. The autopsy found no evidence of internal or external injuries, or an allergic reaction to chemical irritants, Diaz added. Diaz told the Washington Post that “all that transpired played a role in his condition,” but declined to say if Sicknick had a pre-existing medical condition, citing privacy laws. Monday’s revelation undermines the official narrative about the Jan 6 “insurrection,” as it was labeled by the Democrats and the corporate media, in which hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol grounds during a joint session of Congress meeting to certify Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Capitol Police initially said that Sicknick “succumbed to his injuries” on Jan 7. Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said on Jan 8 that Sicknick died of “the injuries he suffered defending the US Capitol.” Sicknick’s cremated remains were honored in the Capitol rotunda before he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in early February. Media reports citing unnamed sources claimed for months he had been struck with a fire extinguisher, but no evidence was ever provided, or found. Two men were charged last month for allegedly assaulting him with “bear spray.” Sicknick’s death was even cited in the impeachment claims against Trump by congressional Democrats, who sought to disqualify the 45th president from federal office in the future by claiming he “incited insurrection” against the government that resulted in the officer’s death. While media reports spoke of a “deadly insurrection” that killed five, counting Sicknick, the only person in the Capitol that was actually killed was pro-Trump protester Ashli Babbitt, fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer. The officer has not been named and will not face charges, authorities announced last week. Three more pro-Trump demonstrators died that day, but their cause of death was either natural or accidental. Diaz did not explain why it took more than three months to announce the results of the autopsy. Nor have there been any apologies from the media outlets that promoted the narratives about his death, in the wake of the revelation. Commenting on the findings, the Capitol Police tweeted:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald was among the voices who condemned the media cynicism in the case, accusing the corporate talking heads of never caring about Sicknick in the first place. Greenwald tweeted:

OAN journalist Jack Posobiec tweeted:

America can successfully defend Taiwan against China, but only in its dreams
Scott Ritter, RT.com, Apr 19 2021

The US military has deteriorated to the point that the only way it could win a simulated war game in which it was called upon to defend Taiwan from a ‘Chinese invasion’ force was by inventing capabilities it does not yet possess. In 2018/19, the USAF conducted detailed simulated war games that had its forces square off against those of China. On both occasions, the US was decisively defeated, the first time challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea, and the second time defending Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. In 2020, the US repeated the Taiwan scenario and won, but only barely. The difference? In both 2018 and 2019, it played with the resources it had on hand. Last year, it gave itself a host of new technologies and capabilities that are either not in production or aren’t even planned for development. In short, the exercise was as far removed from reality as it could get. The fact is the US can only successfully defend Taiwan from a full-scale Chinese invasion in its dreams.

What the current war games underscored is that, as currently configured, equipped and deployed, the USAF lacks the required combination of lethality and sustainability necessary to wage full-scale conventional conflict against a peer-level foe. The mix of aircraft currently in the USAF inventory was unable to ‘compete’ in the war game, even the current model of F-35 was excluded as not being up to the task of fighting and surviving against the Chinese military. Instead, the wargamers completely altered the composition and operational methodology of the USAF, providing it with combat aircraft that are either still on the drawing board, or have not even been considered for procurement yet. They also completely altered the ‘layout’ of forces, manufacturing new airfields that do not exist, and connecting them with command-and-control capabilities just as fictional. There was a time when the notion of US air superiority, if not supremacy, was virtually guaranteed on any battlefield that could be imagined. This was especially true in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the corresponding disintegration of Russian combat power. The US was able to hold onto this edge over the course of the 1990s simply by exploiting the advantages accrued from years of investment made in modern aircraft and combat systems during the Cold War, and the fact no other nation was able and/or willing to invest in their respective military to challenge the US in that arena.

The events of 9/11 proved to be seminal in the decline of American military power. The US poured its entire national security focus into defeating the forces of ‘global terrorism’ and engaged itself in the futile act of ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. In doing so, the needs of one combatant command, CENTCOM, responsible for US military interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, took priority over all others. Gone were the days when the US spent billions of dollars preparing to fight a major war in the Pacific, another major war in Europe, and a ‘holding action’ in the Middle East. In the post-9/11 world, the sole focus of the US military became low-intensity conflict and counter-insurgency. Every aspect of military existence, recruiting, training, organization, equipment, employment and sustainability, was defined by the needs of CENTCOM in fighting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. If something did not further the CENTCOM mission, it was either discarded or modified so it would.

The US military spent itself in the CENTCOM AOR, physically, fiscally, morally and intellectually. Every single principle of war necessary for a military to prevail was sacrificed in the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, with the political decision having been made to depart Afghanistan, and a similar decision being brooded regarding Iraq and its corollary conflict in Syria, the US military is a fundamentally broken institution. It lost its ‘forever wars’ in the Middle East and Southwest Asia by not winning. As such, the senior leadership at the helm of the US military has been conditioned to accept defeat as de rigueur. It comes with the territory, a reality explained away by lying, either to yourself, to your superiors or to both. Too many successful careers were created on the backs of lies repackaged as truth, defeats sold as victories and deficits portrayed as assets.

In many ways, the recently concluded USAF war game is a byproduct of this psychosis – an exercise in self-delusion, in which reality is replaced by a fictional world where everything works as planned, even if it does not exist. The USAF cannot wage a successful war against China today. Nor can it do so against Russia. Its ability to sustain a successful air campaign against either Iran or North Korea is likewise questionable. This is the kind of reality that would, in a world where facts mattered, cost a lot of senior people their jobs, in uniform and out. The culpability of this systemic incompetence is so widespread, however, that there can be no serious accounting for what has transpired. Instead, the USAF, having been confronted by the reality of its shortcomings, ‘invents’ a victory. In and of itself, this ‘victory’ is meaningless. If China were to invade Taiwan, there is literally nothing short of employing nuclear weapons the US could do to stop it. But by ‘beating’ China using fictional resources, the USAF has created a blueprint of procurement that will define its budgetary requests for the next decade. In doing so, however, the USAF is simply repeating the mistakes of the CENTCOM-driven ‘forever war,’ focusing on achieving ‘victory’ in one theater of operations at the exclusion of all others. By building a fictitious ‘model’ military for the purpose of prevailing in a simulated war game in which every advantage was conceded to the US, the USAF is simply continuing the pattern of behavior built around lies, deceit and self-deception that has guided it, and its senior officers and civilian leadership, for the past two decades. The end result will be that, even if the USAF gets all the tools and capabilities it claims it needs to win in any ‘defense of Taiwan’ war game (and it will not), the only way it can prevail in any such conflict will be in its dreams.

Duterte says he will send Philippines’ navy ships into South China Sea to ‘stake claim’ over oil resources
RT.com, Apr 19 2021

The Philippines will send naval vessels into the disputed South China Sea in a bid to defend what it claims are its oil and mineral resources, President Rodrigo Duterte has said, in remarks he partly directed at China. Duterte said in a speech on Monday:

I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim. I am not interested in a quarrel over fishing, but I will protect our oil. If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement? If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there.

The president’s announcement of a potential show of military strength comes after political opponents warned him against bowing to Beijing amid alleged Chinese incursions into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Opposition senator Leila de Lima said in a statement last week:

Duterte’s policy of groveling before China risks the Philippines becoming another one of China’s satellites.

China has repeatedly denied allegations it has encroached on the Philippines’ territory unnecessarily and said it wants only to “safeguard” its own territorial sovereignty and maritime rights. Duterte has tried to build bridges with Beijing in recent years, saying that he wants his country’s ties with China to remain friendly. He has also said that the Philippines is not able to exercise its jurisdiction in the South China Sea, which many Filipinos call the Luzon Sea, due to China’s power, despite an international arbitration tribunal in 2016 recognizing the Philippines’ sovereignty over its EEZ. In 2018, China and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding over oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea as they agreed to cooperate over energy in the region. However, last October Duterte approved a proposal by the Dept of Energy to resume oil and gas exploration in the disputed ocean. Since last month a fleet of Chinese boats was reported to have been moored at the Whitsun Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands archipelago in the Philippines’ EEZ, but is claimed by governments of both countries.

Czech PM says Russia did NOT attack country, alleged blowing up of munition depot was ‘not act of state terrorism’
RT.com, Apr 19 2021

Russia “did not attack” the Czech Republic and the 2014 explosions at the Vrbětice arms depot were “not state terrorism,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters, but insisted the ‘GRU’ was still involved in the blast. Babis said on Monday:

It was not an act of state terrorism, which means that Russia did not attack the Czech Republic. Once again, it was not an act of state terrorism, it was an attack on goods belonging to a Bulgarian arms dealer.

He maintained, however, that the presence of ‘GRU’ agents in Czechia is “absolutely unacceptable” and that they “messed up” the alleged attack. Babis’ remarks seemed to be a partial climb-down from Prague’s position over the weekend, as Czechia expelled 18 Russian diplomats and blamed the seven-year-old incident on alleged agents of Russian military intelligence, the same two fingered by the NATO-backed outfit Bellingcat as culprits in the 2018 Salisbury ‘novichok poisoning’ incident. The current theory held by the Czech police was that the weapons, owned by a Bulgarian arms dealer, were rigged to explode once they were delivered to a buyer in a third country, but there was still “sufficient evidence” to believe Moscow’s spies were behind it, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek told Ceske Noviny on Sunday. Two people died in the first of the two explosions at Vrbetice, in Oct 2014. Another blast took place at the depot in December that year. The munitions affected were owned by a Bulgarian arms dealer, and their final destination was rumored to be Ukraine or Syria. Czechia has now accused Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said by Bellingcat to be the culprits for the alleged poisoning of the Skripals in the UK, of masterminding the Vrbetice blasts as well. Moscow has denied the allegations and in response ordered 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia. Hamacek, who is also the acting Czech foreign minister, was taken aback by the retaliation, saying it was “stronger than we expected” and complaining at a press conference after the meeting of EU foreign ministers that Czechia was a “victim of Russian operations.” The surprise claim by the Czechs seems to have derailed both a bid by Russia’s atomic energy developer Rosatom to build a power plant at Dukovany, and the planned trip by Hamacek to Moscow, for talks about providing Prague with the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. PM Babis said on Monday:

I made it clear that I did not like the trip to Moscow. I did not want Jan Hamacek to fly to Moscow. In the end, it turned out that he’s not going.

rozoff for apr 19/20

Pentagon adds Africa to global battleground with China and Russia
Rick Rozoff, AntiBellum, Apr 19 2021

General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, and General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of CENTCOM, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Apr 22. The testimony, both open and closed, will address the proposed 2022 NDAA, which is reported to include a total of $753b for the Pentagon’s operations around the world. The last time AFRICOM’s Townsend addressed that committee was in January of last year, when he spoke in depth of his command’s, and more broadly the US’s overall, strategy toward Africa. Commanders of the six geographical unified combatant commands the Pentagon employs to divide up the world, are duty bound to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee and its equivalent in the House of Representatives to solicit funding, and so must give an account of themselves and their commands. General Townsend also appeared before the House Armed Services Committee in Mar 2020 with McKenzie in a hearing on National Security Challenges and US Military Activities in the Greater Middle East and Africa.

In his testimony last year Townsend’s comments not only laid out AFRICOM’s perspective and plans for the world’s second-most populous continent but prefigured what has become the US’ central global strategy, which is now coming fully into its own with the Biden-Harris administration: that the US is in competition, in fact in conflict, with China and Russia individually and jointly in every part of the world. From Africa to the Arctic, from Europe to South America, from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region. And in most every category, military and civilian. Trade and finance, ownership of foreign debt, mineral and other resources, energy and energy transit, port and rail and road construction projects, foreign investments in the private and public sectors, diplomatic relations with the other nations of the world, control of shipping lanes and maritime choke points, international arms sales, military training of other nations’ armed forces, communications and cyber-security, democracy and human rights and their alleged subversion, information (ours) and disinformation (theirs), almost ad infinitum.

Townsend identified three security threats in Africa, to Africa itself and to the US and its allies and grandiosely, to the world: in his order, China, Russia and violent extremist organizations (VEOs) of the al-Shabaab and other varieties the US has been waging war and counter-insurgency war against in Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic, Congo (Kinshasa), South Sudan, Uganda and elsewhere over the past twenty years. However, now the emphasis has been shifted away from those wars as, in the commander’s words:

We must orient the bulk of our efforts against China and Russia, even as we counter VEOs that threaten America.

His comments, excerpts of which appear below, have recently been echoed by NATO SACEUR & EUCOM commander General Tod Wolters, Blinken and Stoltenberg inter alia in regard to what Washington and its military and political allies in Europe and elsewhere have collectively identified as the global challenge of China and Russia. Townsend’s presentation last year, in a section called Africa and National Security, contained unadulterated geopolitics that evoke the writings of Halford Mackinder in defining Africa as a global crossroads:

Africa watches over strategic choke points and sea lines of communication, including the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar on NATO’s southern flank, the Red Sea and the Bab al Mandeb strait, and the Mozambique Channel.

The reference to NATO’s southern flank is neither fortuitous nor peripheral. As every country in Europe except Russia (and the tiny island nation of Cyprus) is a NATO member or partner, and as every North African country except Libya (for the moment) is a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue military partnership, Africa is now NATO’s southern flank as Russia is its eastern one; by NATO’s expansion toward both locations. The waterways mentioned above, he added, are essential to the functioning not only of AFRICOM but all US unified combabant commands throughout the world, and are vital to “African, US, and global prosperity.” He immediately moved on to a discussion of Global Power Competition, which begins with this paragraph:

China and Russia have long recognized the strategic and economic importance of Africa, and continue to seize opportunities to expand their influence across the continent. The National Defense Strategy directs us to prioritize great power competition with China and Russia due to the magnitude of the threats they post to US security and prosperity today and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.

Again, the threats supposedly presented by China and Russia, inevitably coupled, to Africa (and to the world in Africa) are inseparable from the alleged threat the duo poses to the US and its allies and partners in every other part of the world. Referred to as “malign actors,” China and Russia were accused of “coercive and exploitative activities” which “undermine and threaten” the stability of African nations. Anyone familiar with the history of Africa over the past five hundred years would have to be astonished by that claim. That Washington, which has not only coerced and exploited most of Africa since the end of World War II and played a hand in several violent coups and wars, direct (as that against Libya a decade ago) and proxy, would accuse China and Russia in the above regard is beyond presumption. Beyond reason. Perhaps beyond sanity.

The commander went on to accuse China of disguising military penetration of Africa behind the construction of ports (“These Chinese seaports are not genuine commercial ports”) and other infrastructure projects, specifically in Djibouti where China established a naval base four years ago. Elsewhere Townsend spoke of there being 6k US in Africa at any given time, half of those at the Pentagon’s Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti where the US has been for twenty years. He evidently saw no contradiction in his statements. That the commander of AFRICOM, whose area of responsibility includes all of Africa’s 54 nations except for Egypt (which remains under CENTCOM), would accuse China of posing a military threat to Africa and the world by opening a small naval base in minuscule Djibouti (population: 973k) is beyond any sensible person’s ability to comprehend. He also castigated China and Russia for selling arms to African nations, with Russia reportedly being the largest arms dealer, not mentioning that Russia, as successor state to the Soviet Union, inherited military relations with nations from Egypt to Angola and Ethiopia among dozens of others on the continent. One of the purposes of inaugurating AFRICOM in 2008 was to dominate, if not to monopolize, the arms trade there with the sales of “NATO interoperable” weaponry. In general, in an exercise that goes beyond mere irony, Townsend declared:

It is clear that China prioritizes Africa, and Russia sees an opportunity to gain a strong position on NATO’s southern flank.

As Russia is encroaching on NATO’s eastern flank simply by remaining where it is. Regarding NATO and Africa, before the beginning of its post-Cold War expansion into Central and Eastern Europe, NATO’s members included every European colonial, imperial and settler nation in Africa over the last half millennium: Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey. Townsend didn’t neglect any part of the contingent in conjuring up the China-Russia threat. North Africa, where Russia “continues to harvest benefits from the instability in Libya,” the Horn of Africa with China in Djibouti, and the rest of Africa as well:

China and Russia are in a position of advantage in central and southern Africa. Russia is testing its playbook for malign activity in the Central African Republic.

Russia is doubly villainous in seeking to “provide second-rate counter-terrorism assistance in Mozambique, in the hopes of buying oil and gas concessions.” The AFRICOM chief summed up Pentagon concerns over Africa, and by implication every other part of the globe, in declaring:

Long-term global power competition with China and Russia and the need to limit the harmful influence of malign actors in the region is of utmost importance. If the US steps back from Africa too far, China and Russia will fill the void to our detriment.

This also applies to Europe and the Middle East and Central Asia and Southern Asia and East Asia and the South Pacific and the rest of Oceania and South and Central America and the Arctic and the Antarctic, but these areas aren’t in AFRICOM’s area of responsibility.

WSWS for apr 20

UK sends warships to the Black Sea, targeting Russia
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

The UK is deploying warships to the Black Sea next month, further ratcheting up provocations by the United States and its stooge regime in Ukraine against Russia. Russia has amassed substantial forces near the Ukrainian border, after the Ukraine regime endorsed a strategy to “recover” Crimea. The strategically vital peninsular was annexed by Russia following the US- and EU-backed far-right 2014 coup in Kiev. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence told the Times:

The UK and our international allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are working closely with Ukraine to monitor the current situation and continue to call on Russia to de-escalate. Our armed forces continue to support Ukraine through our training mission Operation Orbital, which has trained over 20k members of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the UK-led Maritime Training Initiative.

Britain is sending a Type 45 destroyer equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate. F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin helicopters based on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be on standby to provide support. An international treaty currently prohibits aircraft carriers themselves from entering the Black Sea, although this arrangement is under threat. The UK already has special forces and aircraft deployed to the region. An SAS special forces team and Royal Signals electronic unit were officially sent to Ukraine last week, alongside a US special operations team, to “monitor Russian activity.” Six RAF Typhoon jets, armed with Paveway bombs and Brimstone missiles, have been despatched to Romania as part of a NATO “air policing mission” to patrol the Black Sea region. These developments make clear that Biden’s decision to cancel the deployment of two American warships to the region last week was a tactical pause in a still escalating conflict. Russia responded to the news that US warships were on their way with a statement warning of a high likelihood of serious “incidents.” Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said:

There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action. Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength. They will not succeed. We warn the US that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good.

There are currently more than a dozen Russian naval vessels on deployment in the Black Sea. Fifty Russian fighter jets, bombers and attack aircraft are engaged in “exercises over the Black Sea,” according to Russian news organisation Interfax, including “missile launches and bombardment of naval targets.” The Russian air force and Black Sea fleet are also scheduled to carry out joint exercises designed to “ensure security in the Black Sea”. Military planners in the US and allied militaries clearly drew from this warning the necessity of getting their pieces in place before making such an incendiary move. The US has neither confirmed nor denied the dispatch of its warships or the cancellation of the operation. Meanwhile, the UK will establish a significant presence. British forces have been leading participants in anti-Russian provocations in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Last September, 250 soldiers in the 16th Air Assault Brigade, including from its elite Pathfinder platoon, parachuted into Ukraine just 100 miles from Crimea in the largest British army parachute drop in decades. They took part in an 8k-strong exercise with Ukrainian, US and Canadian forces. Ukrainian General Yevhan Moysiuk commented:

The main message for Russia is that the UK is our true and reliable partner who will help us in our hardship. The UK is ready to stand up to Russian aggression with us.

Later this year, British soldiers will take part in NATO’s Operation Cossack Mace, involving 1k troops from at least five NATO member states and which will simulate offensive strikes on positions held by pro-Russian and Russian forces. The UK’s taking a lead in additional deployments to the Black Sea is proof that the ruling class intends to follow through on the warmongering plans outlined in the recent Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy. The document positioned the UK at the head of the US war drive against Russia, describing the country as the “most acute threat to our security.” It argued that the UK should place itself “at the forefront of implementing NATO’s new Deterrence and Defence Concept” across the Euro-Atlantic region and supporting “others in the Eastern European neighbourhood and beyond to build their resilience to state threats. This includes Ukraine, where we will continue to build the capacity of its armed forces.” The review also called for an increase in the UK’s stockpile of nuclear weapons to meet “the full range of state nuclear threats.”

Military deployments are being matched with an escalation of anti-Russian agitation and propaganda. On Sunday, the Czech Republic claimed that two Russian agents, the same two alleged by Britain to have been responsible for the Salisbury poisonings, were behind an explosion at a Czech munitions factory in 2014. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab quickly declared the UK’s “full support” for “our Czech allies, who have exposed the lengths that the GRU will go to in their attempts to conduct dangerous and malign operations. This shows a pattern of behaviour by Moscow, following the novichok attack in Salisbury. We are as determined and committed as ever to bring those responsible for the attack in Salisbury to justice and commend the actions of the Czech authorities to do the same.” Tom Tugendhat, Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted:

Czech Republic is standing up to Putin’s Russia committing warlike acts in Prague. They’re right and all NATO must stand with them. We are all threatened by such violence. We defend ourselves best when we defend each other.

The UK’s stepped-up aggression against Russia is bound up with the crisis of British imperialism, attempting to maintain its position on the world stage after Brexit and to create an outlet for explosive domestic tensions, and of world capitalism, racked by escalating class and nationalist antagonisms. The ruling class in every country is seeking a way out through an increasingly reckless deployment of military force, turning the world into a tinderbox. Provocations in the Black Sea have already come close to sparking a major confrontation. In Nov 2018, Ukrainian naval vessels entered Russian-claimed waters near Crimea and were fired upon and seized by the Russian Coast Guard. The Ukrainian regime declared martial law and put the army on full alert, receiving assurances from Washington that it would provide “full support, full assistance, including military assistance.” In Jun 2015, Russian jets intercepted the US destroyer USS Ross after the ship set a course which would have taken it into Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea. The ship changed course. Russian military sources latter commented:

Scrambled Su-24 attack jets demonstrated a readiness to forcibly suppress border violations and defend the country’s interest.

The deployment of more forces to Ukraine and the Black Sea makes military confrontation ever more likely. Any incident could escalate into a full-scale engagement and war between nuclear-armed states. The urgency of the situation demands an urgent struggle by the international working class to form an anti-war movement to bring an end to the insane warmongering of the ruling elite.

US, EU step up campaign over right-wing Putin critic Navalny
Clara Weiss, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Amid mounting military tensions in the Black Sea region and a diplomatic crisis between the US and Russia, the EU and the Biden administration have stepped up yet again the campaign over the right-wring anti-Putin oppositionist Alexei Navalny. Navalny was sentenced to over two years in prison in February after he returned to Russia from Berlin where he had spent several months after allegedly being poisoned in August. Between August and January, the American and German press was filled with ongoing reports about the alleged attempt of Russian President Vladimir Putin to murder him with the nerve agent Novichok. These allegations, presented as fact by the Western media, were, in fact, never proven and have been riddled with contradictions. Now the US and EU have stepped up the campaign over Navalny again. For the past three weeks, he has been on a hunger strike. His doctors now claim that his blood chemistry is so concerning that they believe that he could “die any moment.” On Saturday, Biden described the treatment of Navalny as “totally, totally unfair” and “totally inappropriate.” The White House said that there would be “consequences” should Navalny die while in detention. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki again emphasized:

What happens to Mr Navalny in the custody of the Russian government is the responsibility of the Russian government. They will be held accountable by the international community.

According to US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, “communication to the Russian government on this issue” would primarily proceed “privately and through diplomatic channels direct to the uppermost levels of the Russian government.” The NYT also published an editorial on Saturday, demanding that Putin allow Navalny to see his doctors in order to “save his life.” Senator Bernie Sanders lost no time to line up behind the renewed campaign over Navalny, tweeting:

Make no mistake about what is happening here: activist Aleksei Navalny is being murdered in front of the world by Vladimir Putin for the crime of exposing Putin’s vast corruption. Navalny’s doctors must be allowed to see him immediately.

In a similar vein, the high representative of the European Union, Josep Barrel, called upon the Kremlin to provide Navalny with the necessary medical treatment. Barrel said the EU was “very concerned” about his condition and that they held Russia “responsible” for it. On Monday, it was reported that Navalny has now been transferred to a prison hospital but his staff insists that he was only transferred to a different penal colony. Workers should reject the hypocritical campaign by the imperialist powers over the alleged mistreatment and “murder” of Navalny with the contempt that it deserves. The same politicians who now attack the Kremlin for alleged mistreatment of Navalny bear full responsibility for the year-long torture and illegal detainment of Julian Assange, a journalist and publisher who has exposed historic war crimes of US imperialism in the Middle East. If there is any political prisoner in the world who has been documented to really be tortured and murdered in slow motion by the state, it is Assange, and it is the US government that is primarily responsible.

The reality is that none of these imperialist politicians would care about Navalny if he had not been built up for more than a decade as a pro-capitalist opposition figure, capable of mobilizing layers within the Russian oligarchy, the state and upper middle class against Putin. While the New York Times and American and EU politicians present him as a “democratic” oppositionist, Navalny has well-documented connections to the Russian neo-Nazi scene. He co-organized the notorious annual far-right Russian March for several years in a row and published rabidly racist propaganda videos on his YouTube channel, denouncing immigrants from the Caucasus as “cockroaches” that had to be “removed” like rotten teeth. He never apologized for or distanced himself from these far-right views and activities. In February, Amnesty International, no doubt facing enormous public pressure, felt compelled to revoke his status as a “prisoner of conscience” because of what they acknowledged was “hate speech.”

The renewed campaign over Navalny comes amidst mounting tensions between NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine in the Black Sea region. Last week, the US recalled the planned deployment of two warships to the Black Sea. A Kremlin representative had earlier warned the US to “stay away from the Black Sea for their own good.” However, shortly thereafter, on Thursday, Biden announced new sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has since expelled 10 US diplomats in response. The Czech Republic, using a dubious explosion at an arms factory seven years ago as a pretext, has now also expelled 18 Russian diplomats as “spies,” the Kremlin retaliating by expelling 20 Czech diplomats. On Sunday, the UK announced that it would send two warships to the Black Sea. Commenting on the rapid deterioration of US-Russia relations, Fyodor Lukyanov, one of the main foreign policy pundits in Russia with close ties to the Kremlin, wrote on Monday:

Between Russia and the US there is basically no common agenda left apart from what they call ‘deconfliction’ (in Syria & Ukraine) which is something that the military must take care of.

He noted that the back and forth in Washington with regard to Russia, including the proposal by Biden for a bilateral summit, indicated “chaos.” Lukyanov wrote, “we are witnessing the final demise of the relations between Moscow and Washington as they have existed” over the past decades. Moscow’s response, he argued, had to be an ever-stronger orientation toward an alliance with China. As Russian-US relations have been breaking down rapidly, the Kremlin has been particularly concerned about Berlin’s heavy involvement in the campaign over Navalny. When Navalny fell ill on a plane in August, he was transferred to the Berlin hospital Charité following the direct intervention of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last week, the Spiegel magazine revealed that several leading German politicians, including Jürgen Trittin (Greens) and Nils Schmid (SPD), had written a letter to Navalny accusing the Russian government of “targeted torture” and expressing their “complete solidarity” with him. The Spiegel also reported that the Russian ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev made a formal visit to the German foreign ministry on Feb 16 to accuse the German government of having assisted Navalny in the production of a two-hour-long video which details corruption allegations against Putin. The video deliberately tapped into mass discontent over social inequality which, thirty years after the destruction of the USSR by the Stalinist bureaucracy, is higher in Russia than in any other major economy in the world. It has been watched by 116m people.

On Monday, the Tagesspiegel published an interview with Alexei Gresko, a member of Navalny’s staff. Acting as if his team had not warned the world almost daily about Navalny’s imminent death from Novichok just months ago, he said, “We previously never dared speak about the possibility of his death. Now we are openly discussing that he might die.” He called upon the West to respond by showing “strength.” saying:

There has to be a response with financial consequences: The bank accounts of Putin’s supporters must be frozen. This is the only language that he and those he trusts can understand.

These appeals make very clear what stands behind the campaign over Navalny: It is aimed at destabilizing the Putin regime by pressuring the oligarchs that still overwhelmingly back Putin, while mobilizing right-wing layers of the middle class behind a rival section of the oligarchy and imperialism. It is a part of a regime-change operation which is aimed at installing a right-wing, pro-Western government. The working class can only advance its own interests by basing its opposition to the oligarchic Putin regime on a socialist basis, completely independent from the machinations of imperialism and sections of the oligarchy.

Australia announces withdrawal from Afghanistan
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last Thursday that the country’s remaining 80 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by the end of the year, bringing to a close Australia’s continuous involvement in the longest-running war of recent history. The announcement underscored the extent to which Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition government, with the full support of the Labor opposition, is marching in lockstep with the Biden administration in the US. It came a day after Biden had declared that American troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of the year. As the WSWS has noted, the withdrawal will not end the decades of imperialist criminality visited upon the Afghan people. The Central Asian nation will still be ruled over by a US-aligned puppet government, thousands of American military advisors and intelligence operatives will remain, and murderous drone warfare is to continue. Morrison, like Biden, presented the invasion and occupation, which has claimed at least 100k Afghan lives and further laid waste to one of the poorest countries on earth, as a noble exercise in philanthropy. The PM affected emotion as he read out the names of the 41 Australian military personnel who died in the conflict. Morrison said:

The war has taken a heavy toll, but freedom is always worth it … That is why Australians who have served in our defence forces have always pulled on that uniform.

One reporter pointed to the elephant in the room, referencing the official Brereton report, released last November. It found credible evidence that Australian troops had committed war crimes in Afghanistan, including at least 39 murders, torture, and a redacted incident described as “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history.” Morrison was having none of it. he replied:

There will be time to talk about those things. Today is not that time.

In fact, the government and Labor opposition do not want to talk about the atrocities at any time. Five months after the Brereton report appeared, an official investigation into whether criminal charges can be brought against any of the perpetrators is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Despite the fact that no-one has been held accountable, Defence Minister Peter Dutton has insisted that it is time to move on and for the military to “get back to business.” His assistant minister Andrew Hastie, a former special forces captain in Afghanistan, was more explicit, declaring last week that the military had to focus on its “core business,” which was the “application of lethal violence in the defence of our values, sovereignty and interests.” Liberal backbencher and Afghan veteran Phillip Thompson, who is collaborating closely with Dutton and Hastie, added that the military had been beleaguered in recent times by a culture of “woke” political correctness. When soldiers were deployed on operations, Thompson said, they needed to “have an unapologetic aggression and violence to get the mission done.” Dutton put this line into practice yesterday, overruling a recommendation from the Brereton Inquiry for the removal of a “meritorious citation” awarded to the Special Operations Task Group. The award honoured the group for its activities over the same period that some of its members were accused of murdering, torturing and otherwise terrorising the Afghan population.

In other words, the capstone of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan is a more or less open defence of shock troops accused of the gravest violations of international law. This underscores the criminality of Australia’s participation in the war, and the fraudulent character of the paeans to a supposedly “humanitarian mission” by virtually the entire political and media establishment. Australia’s two decades in Afghanistan implicate the ruling class in all of the crimes committed by the US and allied forces against the oppressed nation. This began with the 2001 invasion itself. The Coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard was among the most enthusiastic participants in the launching of a war of aggression. Together with Labor leader Kim Beazley, dubbed “bomber Beazley” because of his promotion of imperialist interventions, the Howard government touted the fraudulent claim that the conflict was a legitimate “war on terror” prompted by the 9/11 attacks, and immediately committed troops. In reality, the US had long been preparing a war aimed at securing greater dominance over the geo-strategically crucial Central Asian region. Australian troop numbers ebbed and flowed over the course of the conflict, in line with the requests of the US, but the unconditional support for the occupation, on the part of Labor and the Coalition, has been a constant.

The first public allegations of Australian war crimes, date from 2006, and involve reports of unarmed civilians being shot dead. Between 2001 and 2009, the Australian authorities paid some $120k in compensation to Afghan civilians, a tacit admission that such events did take place. Every military force involved in the occupation has had similar charges laid against it. The most-heavily documented Australian war crimes, covered in the Brereton report, span from 2009 to 2013. The timing is hardly an accident, coinciding with the most active combat role that Australian troops took at any point during the occupation. While Australia’s troop deployment may not have been as large as other US allies, it played a crucial role in the illegal war, stepping in precisely when the US occupation was under challenge. In 2010, as Afghan militias stepped up their struggle against the occupation, the US intensified a “counter-insurgency” operation, including through a massive troop surge overseen by the Obama administration. The Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard fully supported this effort, presiding over a dramatic increase of Australia’s participation in US “kill or capture” operations targeting alleged Taliban commanders.

Contemporaneous press reports revealed that between Dec 2010 and Sep 2011, Australian troops had played a central role in more than 30 of these decapitation raids. During this period, Australian forces took a lead role in Uruzgan province, following the withdrawal of troops by the Netherlands. There they partnered with Matiullah Khan, a warlord involved in drug-running, extortion and the murder of his political rivals. The actions of the Australian special forces, as documented in the Brereton report and whistleblower exposures, themselves resemble those of a criminal gang. Junior soldiers were “blooded” by murdering civilians; illegal killings were covered up by planting weapons on the victims, detainees were routinely tortured, if not done away with altogether. While the Brereton report states that there is evidence of 39 murders, it acknowledges that there were likely more. There is good reason to believe that the figure is a significant understatement. A preliminary 2016 report heard accounts of My Lai-style massacres:

Australian troops would take the men and boys to these guest houses and interrogate them, meaning tie them up and torture them. The men and boys would be found dead, shot in the head, sometimes blindfolded and throats slit. These are corroborated accounts.

The entire Australian establishment is implicated in the atrocities. This includes various Greens and left-liberals, who promoted the Afghan occupation as the “good war,” contrasting it with the “quagmire” in Iraq and even claiming that it was being waged to advance the rights of women as such crimes were taking place.

The official haste to move on from the war crimes is a continuation of a protracted cover-up. It is motivated by the untenable character of the central claim of the Brereton report, namely that no one in government or military command was aware of the crimes as they were being carried out. In reality, the atrocities flowed directly from the “counter-insurgency” operation presided over by governments and army headquarters, and the predatory nature of the entire war. The attempts to downplay the war crimes, coupled with the promotion of an “aggressive” military oriented to the “application of lethal force,” are also bound up with Australia’s central role in the US preparations for war against China. Biden’s withdrawal is explicitly aimed at concentrating American forces in the Indo-Pacific, to target China, and in eastern Europe, where they are directed against Russia.

Australia has been aligned with the US “pivot to Asia,” since it was announced by Obama in 2011. Dutton and Morrison, with the backing of Labor, have signalled a further intensification of Australian involvement, backing all of the provocations and threats against Beijing by the Trump and Biden administrations over the past year. Dutton’s recent installation as defence minister has coincided with the announcement of plans for a further Australian military build-up, including through a domestic program to construct missiles for the first time since the 1960s. An article in the Murdoch-owned Australian last week, hailing Dutton’s “support” for soldiers and his opposition to the revocation of the special forces meritorious citation, bluntly declared:

Heightened security threats, including the possibility of a great power conflict over Taiwan, mean Australia’s service men and women must be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Macron’s Global Security bill passed into law in France
Will Morrow, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Last Thursday, Apr 15, the French National Assembly voted to approve the Macron government’s “global security” bill, which significantly expands police powers. The law had already been approved by the Senate in February; with Thursday’s vote, it now comes into law. The law has triggered mass protests since it was first placed before the National Assembly in November last year. Its centerpiece, Article 24, restricts the right of the population to film the police. While presented in the name of defending police officers from targeted attacks, its clear aim is to provide police, who are regularly filmed engaged in violent attacks on protesters and workers, with impunity to violently assault the population, by preventing the population from filming them. In the face of protests of tens of thousands, the Macron government had pledged to “rewrite” Article 24. The new version no longer explicitly mentions the “sharing of images” of police agents. Instead, it criminalizes any act aiming to “provoke, with the obvious aim that their physical and mental safety will be subject to attack, the identification of an agent of the national police, military or gendarmerie while they are acting as part of a police operation.” It carries a maximum sentence of five years’ jail and a €75k fine. In practice, anyone who publishes a video identifying a police agent faces the danger of being criminally prosecuted, and the onus will be placed on them to demonstrate that they did not have an “obvious aim” of bringing about an attack on an officer.

Workers and young people in France and internationally have been outraged at the videos of the violence and brutality of the French state toward peaceful protests. In 2018, millions witnessed the videos of riot police dragging protesters across the road, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and using attack dogs and truncheons against “yellow vest” protesters opposing social inequality. Last November, hundreds of thousands joined protests across the country in response to incidents of police brutality that were caught on video. On Nov 26, Loopsider published a video of a vicious police assault on music producer Michel Zecler in his Paris recording studio. Zecler was beaten for over 20 minutes. He was then thrown in prison for 48 hours and falsely charged with assault, and only released after police were presented with the CCTV footage proving what had actually happened. The following week, police had been filmed on a rampage at the Republic Square in the center of the city, beating refugees who were camped there in protest at the lack of housing and government support. The Macron government is seeking to oppose the spread of videos of police because it is aware of the explosive opposition to the repression by his government against the working population.

The “global security” law also includes other measures further strengthening the police. For the first time, it authorizes in legislation the use of drones for police surveillance, which had already been in place in practice. Drones are permitted to be used to monitor all protests. Police are to be equipped with body cameras which are to stream live video directly to headquarters. The bill includes no restrictions on the use of bodycam footage by automated facial recognition technology. Last December, the Macron government enacted a series of executive decrees which expanded the conditions in which police could collect detailed files on the population, including the views and political activities of citizens. It removed a clause in the existing police rules which explicitly precluded the use of police files by large-scale automated facial recognition technology. The legal liberties association Quadrature du Net noted at the time:

If, via the global security law, all protesters can be filmed at a protest, and … a large portion of them can be identified via facial recognition technology, the [police filing systems] have already prepared for them a complete system for centralizing all the information concerning them, without this surveillance ever being authorized nor weighed by a judge.

Under the “global security” law, police are also permitted to carry a weapon with them at all times in public places, such as restaurants and cinemas, including when they are off duty. In an interview with the right-wing daily Le Figaro on Sunday, Emmanuel Macron said he would meet his election pledge to create 10k new positions in the police before the end of his five-year term next year. He said:

Every French person will see more blue on the ground in 2022 than in 2017.

The National Assembly’s vote approving Macron’s police-state law came as the official, under-counted death tally of the coronavirus in France surpassed 100k. The mass death is the result of the policies pursued by Macron, who has refused any scientific lockdown policy that would require the closure of non-essential production. Schools and non-essential workplaces have been kept open so that workers could remain on the job, and profits continue to grow for French corporations. Alongside this death on a mass scale, the year has witnessed the further enrichment of a tiny corporate elite. Its 42 billionaires now have a combined wealth of $512.2b, after an increase of more than 66 percent in a single year. The French ruling class views with fear the eruption of social anger against its policies of profiteering on mass death and is building up the forces of state repression against that. The Socialist Party, the Greens and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France have all postured fraudulently as opponents of Macron’s police law. The Socialist Party has announced that it will be launching a legal challenge against the entire bill. When it was in power under François Hollande, the Socialist Party significantly expanded police powers, including the enactment of a two-year state of emergency under Hollande, and the suspension of civil liberties, voted for at the time by Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise. Macron’s “global security” law expands police powers in the same direction as pursued under Hollande with La France Insoumise’s support.

Biden extends Trump anti-Chinese TikTok policy
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Apr 20 2021

Picking up where the Trump administration left off, the Biden White House has refused to drop the forced sale of the Chinese-owned social media video platform TikTok to an American company and is continuing to treat it as a matter of national security. Amid talk of “aggressive push-back” against Chinese economic expansion, Biden’s commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, said on Apr 7 that reviews of TikTok and its corporate owner ByteDance are “ongoing” and being handled by NSA Sullivan. While she would not go into any details, Raimondo said:

We have to level the playing field, no one can outcompete the American worker if the playing field is level. China’s actions are uncompetitive, coercive, underhanded, they have proven they will do whatever it takes, and so I plan to use all the tools in my toolbox as aggressively as possible to protect American workers and businesses from unfair Chinese practices.

Raimondo’s reference to “American workers” is a ploy and has nothing to do with ensuring jobs and decent living standards for the working class in the US. Far from it, the Biden administration is utilizing the extensive connections between the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO and other labor unions in a reactionary anti-Chinese propaganda campaign that is aimed at lowering the living standards of American workers such that US-based corporations can more effectively compete in the world markets. When asked by reporters specifically about forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok, Raimondo refused to directly answer, saying:

What we do on offense is more important than what we do on defense.

With the overtones clear, the Biden administration is seeking to mobilize the American public behind a military confrontation with China. On Apr 12, it was reported that the Commerce Dept needed more time to review the plan for a sale of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart that was worked out during the final months of the Trump administration. The original proposal ran into multiple legal challenges and reports that the Chinese government was in favor of shutting down the service in the US, keeping it running in the rest of the world, rather than having it sold off in a fire sale to Wall Street. The Trump administration initially issued a series of executive orders banning TikTok and other Chinese-based apps last summer after both Democrats and Republicans in Congress said the video-sharing app posed a national security threat and should be not be used by US federal employees on government-owned devices. Pompeo went on Fox News on Jul 7 and claimed that sensitive consumer information was going straight into “the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” without providing a shred of evidence to prove the assertion. The Biden administration has done nothing to either substantiate the accusation or dispel the falsehood about the passage of sensitive data from Americans going straight into the servers of the Chinese government. Such claims have been denied by TikTok executives all along. A statement published by American offices of the platform in Los Angeles stated at the time:

TikTok US user data is stored in Virginia and Singapore, with strict controls on employee access. These are the facts.

On Mar 22, the WSJ published the results of a study by the University of Toronto cyber-security group Citizen Lab which found that the underlying code of TikTok poses no national security threat to the US. The Journal report says:

Citizen Lab, which releases regular reports on censorship and surveillance by Chinese social media apps, found no evidence of ’overtly malicious behavior’ after a technical analysis of TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

The researchers found that the TikTok algorithm that learns what kind of videos users like to watch is “no more invasive than Facebook when it comes to data collection.” The Citizen Lab research also found that neither the Android nor iOS version of the software “appeared to collect contact lists, or record or send photos, videos, and location data without user permission.” The data collected, such as device information that can be used to identify and track users when they are not logged into the app and in-app behavior such as “likes,” is “comparable to the practices of other major social media platforms.” All of these facts did not stop a group of Republican Party lawmakers headed by the fascist supporter Josh Hawley (R-Miss) from reintroducing legislation to ban the use of the TikTok app on federal government devices based on national security issues. The “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” which was unanimously passed by the Senate last August, is now moving forward in the House of Representatives. Recognizing an opportunity to win enthusiastic support from the Democrats—including the Biden White House—for a complete ban of TikTok in the US, Hawley said:

TikTok is a Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party that has no place on government devices, or any American devices, for that matter. My bill is a straightforward plan to protect American government data from a hostile foreign power.

The Biden administration announced an “abeyance” on the plans for the sale of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart in mid-February so that it could “revisit” the issue. Part of the administration’s review is devoted to the lawsuits filed to block the sale and the complicated arrangements between the current owners of TikTok—including the billionaire ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming and the American private equity investment groups General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital, and the interagency of the Commerce and Securities called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS). A new deadline of Jun 11 has been set by the Commerce Dept to release a plan for the financially valuable and highly popular short-form video platform in the US. In 2020, TikTok surpassed Facebook as the number-one downloaded app on both Android and iOS devices, and it hit the 2.5b download milestone earlier this year. TikTok is valued at $180b and ByteDance is estimated at $250b.

plans are 2 a penny, but 634 assassination schemes is still a very large number

As Cuban chief Raul Castro leaves office, declassified CIA files expose how Washington planned to assassinate him
Kit Klarenberg, RT.com, Apr 19 2021

On Apr 16, Cuban leader Raul Castro announced his intention to resign and pass leadership to a younger generation “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit.” Having taken over power from his brother Fidel in 2008, his departure marks the seeming end of a dynasty that has ruled Cuba since 1961. To mark the historic occasion, the National Security Archive released a number of previously classified CIA documents that expose how Washington had well-developed plans to assassinate Raul. A general overview of the plot is provided by a Jan 1975 memorandum, prepared for the CIA Inspector General, with a stated subject of “questionable activities.” It noted that Jose Raul Martinez Nunez, “a Cuban national and ranking Cubana Airline pilot,” was “developed and recruited” by the Agency at some point in 1960. On Jul 18 that year, the CIA’s freshly-recruited asset requested an emergency meeting with his handlers, in which he revealed that “he was the likely choice to pilot a chartered Cubana Airline flight from Havana to Prague, to pick up Raul Castro and his official party,” scheduled three days hence.

CIA headquarters and “appropriate field stations along the flight route” were duly advised of the flight schedule, and on the morning of Jul 21, Langley cabled its Havana station suggesting that the voyage represented a golden opportunity for the “possible removal” of the Cuban revolution’s “top three leaders,” a prospect under “serious consideration.” Martinez was contacted to determine his willingness to arrange “an accident” during the plane’s return trip from the Czech capital, and offered $10k, equivalent to $90k today, for successfully completing the operation, or “a reasonable amount in excess of that.” A CIA representative then met with Martinez to discuss the “accident,” the pair discussing the conspiracy’s finer points as he drove to the airport. Martinez wanted assurance that in the event of his death, Washington “would see that his two sons were given a college education,” which he received. However, upon returning to headquarters in Havana, the Agency operative was advised a cable had been received ordering that the plan be called off. It simply stated, “do not pursue … would like to drop matter.” The declassified files indicate this was for practical rather than humanitarian reasons. A cable sent to Langley from Havana station the next day spells out the limitations of the two “possibilities which can pass as accidental,”an “engine burnout on takeoff to delay or harrass trip; vague possibility water ditching approximately three hours out from Cuba.” The cable states:

Martinez ruled out engine failure in flight due imminent danger of fire and lack opportunity to save any passengers or crew. Doubts ability effect puncture of tire since plane will be under guard. Doubts ability perform real accident without endangering lives of all on board but willing attempt harassment if opportunity presents.

As Martinez was in the air by the time the plot had been called off, there was no way the Agency could inform him of its cancellation, although as luck would have it, no such opportunity to arrange the “accident” actually arose at any point during the sojourn, meaning Raul et al travelled to and from the Czech capital without hitch. As the 1975 memorandum records, the plucky pilot formally defected to the US in Dec 1960, taking up residence in Miami, Florida. Around 0.5m Cubans fled there in the 15 years following the 1959 revolution, many of them subsequently becoming embroiled in the CIA’s secret war on Fidel Castro’s government. Perhaps the most notorious episode in this long-running campaign is the Apr 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. Raul Castro announced his resignation on its 60th anniversary. The effort saw 1.4k Agency-trained and armed exiles attempt to overwhelm and seize control of the island. The daring incursion’s success was entirely contingent on US air support, which JFK refused to provide, meaning it foundered in just three days, with at least 114 insurgents killed, 360 wounded, and 1,200 captured and jailed. In December the next year, the release of 1,113 Bay of Pigs veterans was secured by a CIA-assisted lawyer, in exchange for $53m in food and medicine, worth $464.5m today. The detailsof the embarrassing episode are farcical in the extreme, but the newly-released files make abundantly clear the CIA and their exile proxies were deadly serious, quite literally. A Jun 1966 internal Agency document outlines a labyrinthine plot to assassinate Fidel Castro in the immediate wake of the invasion.

In Aug 1960, Richard M Bissell, the senior Agency staffer tasked with overseeing the Bay of Pigs operation, contacted the CIA’s Office of Security, seeking assets who could assist with “a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action.” The plan was so sensitive it was even kept secret from representatives of JM WAVE, a major covert operations and intelligence-gathering station operated by the CIA from an airship off the coast of Florida. As a result, private investigator Robert Maheu, whose agencyinspired the classic TV series Mission Impossible, was contacted and asked “if he could develop an entree into the gangster elements as the first step toward accomplishing the desired goal.” As Maheu later explained, the CIA was his “first steady client,” giving him “cut-out” assignments, “those jobs in which the Agency could not officially be involved.” Maheu met with mobster Johnny Roselli in Sep 1960 in NYC, claiming to represent business interests that suffered substantial losses as a result of the Cuban revolution, and offering up to $150k for Castro’s “liquidation.” The documents report:

It was to be made clear to Roselli the US government was not, and should not, become aware of this operation.

Initially reluctant to get involved, the mobster was eventually persuaded to introduce Maheu to his associates Santos Trafficant and Sam Giancana, both members of then-Attorney General RFK’s top 10 most wanted list. Giancana suggested a “potent pill” be placed in Fidel’s food or drink by Juan Orta, “a Cuban official who had been receiving kickback payments from gambling interests” and “still had access to Castro.” The CIA’s Office of Technical Service was then asked to “develop a pill that had the elements of rapid solubility, high lethal content, and little or no traceability.” Six were tested, with three ultimately provided to Orta for the mission. However, after several weeks of trying, he “got cold feet and asked out of the assignment,” recommending another candidate who likewise “made several attempts without success.” Presumably getting desperate, the CIA approached prominent exile Anthony Verona, who “jumped at the opportunity of getting involved” and made clear he was “willing to handle the mission through his own resources.” However, his “potential was never fully exploited,” as the assassination plan was cancelled after the Bay of Pigs cataclysm, and the pills “retrieved” by Langley. It was far from the only bullet, or pill. Fidel dodged during the 49 years he led Cuba. In all, he may have survived at least 638 Washington-sponsored assassination attempts. Fabian Escalante, retired chief of Cuban counter-intelligence, estimated the number of assassination schemes or actual attempts by the CIA under separate US administrations to be 38 under Dwight Eisenhower, 42 under JFK, 72 under LBJ, 184 under Nixon, 64 under Carter, 197 under Reagan, 16 under Bush 41 and 21 under Clinton. Figures for other US presidents whom Fidel outlived are unavailable. Evidently, immense good fortune, if not outright invincibility, runs in the family.

a rare eye for complexity

A Middle East in Motion
Alastair Crooke, Strategic Culture, Apr 19 2021

If we view the Middle East as a complex network system, it is possible to discern a number of dynamics that now are touching on their potential to shift the regional matrix entirely, to put it on a fresh path. Some of these ‘seeds’ were sown, a while past: President Putin, in 2007 at Munich, told the largely western audience that the West had taken an adversarial stance toward Russia, challenging it. ‘Ok’, said Putin: We accept the challenge, and we shall prevail. His statement was met with open derision from the Munich audience. Now, many years later, following the contentious exchanges at Anchorage, Putin’s riposte has emerged fully-fledged: China told Washington flatly, that it refused the imposition of western values and hegemony. China thus accepted, with Russia, the ‘western challenge’: It had its own values and vision that it intended to pursue, and noted that the US was in no position of strength to demand otherwise. China (or Russia) does not seek war with the US, nor want Cold War, either, but both stand steadfast by their ‘red lines.’ They should be taken literally (ie they were no ‘posture’), China indicated. Two days later, the Chinese FM and Lavrov advised other states not even to contemplate siding with the US against the Russia-China concerted ‘team’; it would be pointless. A few days later Wang Li was in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, UAE and then Tehran. The message was uniform: throw off the yoke of hegemony; resist ‘pressures’ on human rights issues; and embrace your own sovereignty. A Rubicon crossed.

In Iran, FM Wang Li signed up, in principle, to $400b in transport and energy infrastructure projects. From the perspective of China, a Eurasian spider’s web of inter-connecting rail tracks and pipelines potentially slashes the costs of transportation; creates new markets, whilst investment in Iranian energy gives China energy security. The Chinese-Iranian roadmap however, also envisages security co-operation (with China endorsing Iranian full membership of the SCO), joint naval exercises, intelligence sharing, and more. Even more significant perhaps will be Iran’s incorporation into the Eurasian Digital Silk Road, incorporating telecommunications, fibre optic cabling from China to France, 5G, ‘Smart City’ AI systems, digital payment platforms (US hedge fund manager Kyle Bass argues that China’s digital payment systems will reach an estimated 62% of the world’s population), cloud storage analytics, and ‘sovereign’ internet structures. Iran, although not yet a part of the Digital Road, effectively is already (loosely) digitally ‘Chinese’, as is much of West Asia. Some estimates suggest that one-third of the countries participating in BRI—138 at this point—are cooperating on DSR projects.

Western narratives generally overestimate the extent to which DSR-related projects are part of a coordinated Chinese strategy. Projects lumped under DSR however, are largely private sector-driven, and allow Chinese companies to take advantage of policy support provided under the DSR brand (a type of franchise), while responding to growing demand in BRI countries for digital infrastructure. Until recently, BRI was understood largely in the more traditional mode (ie railways and pipes), than as a digital ‘road’; but it is the latter that ultimately will separate a ‘Chinese standards Eurasia’ from the West. Just to be clear, whichever way you slice the RBI snakes and ladders matrix of interconnectivity, either, east-west or north-south, Iran lies plumb-centre on the map. The point here is that much of the northern tier of the Middle East, from Pakistan to the Caspian, to the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and Europe, is on Moscow and Beijing’s drawing board. As the physical and digital network emerges from its chrysalis, no Gulf State will be able wholly to disregard this unfolding geo-political entity stretching from Vladivostok to Xingjian. In fact, they are not; they are cautiously (mindful of Washington’s ire), extending tentacles out to Moscow and Beijing (Saudi and UAE are already on the DSR), but they seem unlikely to go the whole hog of the full engagement, as Iran has done with China. How long it is viable to juggle both Chinese protocols and standards with those of the West, is an open question, eventually duplication of standards becomes clumsy, and expensive.

It is against this ‘right-side-of-history’ context that the JCPOA negotiations with Iran should be seen. The State Dept indicates that Biden circles insist the US will come into compliance; yet officials also say contrarily that some sanctions will remain (unspecified as to number, or typology). This is hardly surprising. There are some 1,600 sanctions that have been added post-JCPOA, together with those already in forceunder the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the CAATSA Act of 2017! The Obama administration implemented most of the US sanctions relief provided under the JCPOA by executing a series of national security waivers. The latter also left a number of sanctions in place, including the embargo on most US trade with Iran, sanctions on the IRGC, and other sanctions on Iran’s alleged support for terrorism, and linked to Iran’s ballistic missile programme. These national security waivers, however, are time-limited in duration, generally for either 120 or 180 days, depending on the specific sanction, and some require the Administration to justify any waiver and advance an argument in support of such, for prior Congressional review.

In short, US sanctions are easily done, but not easily undone, even temporarily. Very deliberately, lifting them completely is institutionally almost impossible. It is not at all clear that the US administration can come into full compliance, even if it so wished (and even the extent of Biden’s motivation to lift them is opaque). There have been recently two bi-partisan Congressional letters addressed to Blinken expressing opposition to any reactivation of the ‘deal’ (one containing 140 Congressional signatures). We must wait to see. Yet, Iran notionally in the Accord but with the US ‘out,’ nonetheless will be a regional game-changer, especially should a conservative be elected Iranian President, in June. The consequences will be felt across the region. The pressures to oust US forces from the northern tier states will augment significantly. A third dynamic (from Obama times), is that US, grudgingly, is dis-engaging from the region. This, of course, has given impetus to normalisation by some states with Israel, to shelter under its security umbrella.

Another is that the end to the era of Netanyahu (with his fixation on confronting Iran) may be approaching. Israel now is wholly fragmented at the decision-making level: the security cabinet does not meet; there is no oversight to the PM’s go-it-alone, decision-making; and security institutions are pushing into the void vying to have one-over on their rivals. Netanyahu possibly is attempting to signal to Washington that he has a veto over any Iran ‘deal’, and is suspected by Israeli commentators also to be inducing a crisis atmosphere in Israel order to bludgeon small parties into joining a government led by him. He has less than three weeks to find 61 Knesset seats, or face the possibility of imprisonment for bribery and corruption. (The trial already has started). The reality is that cohesion will not readily return to Israeli politics, whether or not Netanyahu survives. Israel is bitterly divided on too many fronts. Many Israeli officials, in short, are fearful that its various agencies, vying to prove their mettle, and absent any real oversight or policy co-ordination, may over-reach, and enter the state into a risky escalatory military cycle with Iran.

Washington is in a hole: Netanyahu and Mossad have sold to team Biden the meme that secretly the Iranians now are begging for the US return to the JCPOA. It is not true. Netanyahu insists on this line to validate his long-held hypothesis that maximum pressure would bring Iran to its knees. He want to prove his point through max-pressures continuing (maybe ‘forever’). Netanyahu’s premise always has been that Iran, on its knees, would beg to be allowed to return to the JPOA. He was wrong, and many Israelis now accept this. But perhaps it was this politically gerrymandered Israeli analysis that caused team Biden to imagine that Iran would accept to go to full JCPOA compliance, whilst the US didn’t. And further, that Iran would acquiesce to “certain” sanctions staying.