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My Turn: Putin and the Russian takeover of Crimea

Posted on March 29th, 2014 in History by Robert Miller

PutinWe have reached a point in the Putin-Russian-Crimea takeover where no one can predict how this imbroglio will end. Though neither party wants a war, it seems to have escaped notice in the West that groups like Svoboda, a neonazi group with a history of participation in the extermination of Jews during WW II and even more extreme groups that represent the radical right wing in Ukraine, have played a significant role in the riots; reports have appeared that a significant fraction of those killed during the riots in Kiev were actually members of the police force, killed by members of the radical right. The West seems hostile to the notion that Yanukovich was a democratically elected president but overthrown in some significant degree by the neonazi gangs of Ukraine. You can read about the ugly history of their operations during WW II here.

What matters to the West, in harmony with the neocon position, is to never allow another superpower to arise out of the ashes of the Cold War. That’s what this is all about. After promising Gorbachev that NATO would not be expanded to surround Russia, the United States broke that promise and in doing so have proposed NATO membership for the Ukraine and Georgia. In 2008 a brief war broke out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, in which the United States was, once again on the wrong side and with little justification for their support of Georgia, except that we had hoped to make that country a member of NATO to tighten the NATO noose around Russia’s neck. Putin finally got fed up and annexed Crimea. For all the faults that we can pin on Putin, he is acting as a nationalist who wants to restore Russia to its rightful place alongside the great powers and the West doesn’t want to see him get his way.  His approval ratings in Russia have soared since he annexed Crimea, as he plays his domestic hand with approval ratings at more than 85%, very dizzying heights never matched by Obama. Putin didn’t choose to annex Crimea so much as he was reacting like a nationalist trying to fend off the encirclement that we put in place when we violated our promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO. And no matter how Obama says otherwise, he is playing the hand of the neocons and the neoliberals.

From an article by Seumas Milne which appeared in The Guardian:

“We’ve been here before. For the past couple of months street protests in Ukraine have been played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government. The demonstrators are demanding the right to be part of the European Union. But Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has vetoed their chance of freedom and prosperity.It’s a story we’ve heard in one form or another again and again – not least in Ukraine’s western-backed Orange revolution a decade ago. But it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality. EU membership has never been – and very likely never will be – on offer to Ukraine. As in Egypt last year, the president that the protesters want to force out was elected in a poll judged fair by international observers. And many of those on the streets aren’t very keen on democracy at all. You’d never know from most of the reporting that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings. One of the three main opposition parties heading the campaign is the hard-right antisemitic Svoboda, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok claims that a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” controls Ukraine. But US senator John McCain was happy to share a platform with him in Kiev last month. The party, now running the city of Lviv, led a 15,000-strong torchlit march earlier this month in memory of the Ukrainian fascist leader Stepan Bandera, whose forces fought with the Nazis in the second world war and took part in massacres of Jews.”
From the same article :
“So in the week that the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army was commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day, supporters of those who helped carry out the genocide are hailed by western politicians on the streets of Ukraine. But Svoboda has now been outflanked in the protests by even more extreme groups, such as “Right Sector”, who demand a “national revolution” and threaten “prolonged guerrilla warfare.””
“It’s anger at this grotesque corruption and inequality, Ukraine’s economic stagnation and poverty that has brought many ordinary Ukrainians to join the protests – as well as outrage at police brutality. Like Russia, Ukraine was beggared by the neoliberal shock therapy and mass privatisation of the post-Soviet years. More than half the country’s national income was lost in five years and it has yet fully to recover.”
Putin’s speech. Putin gave an interesting speech in which he said: “Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading.“Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”
Everything he said is and was true. The United States behaved abominably during the Cold War and once it ended, we decided to turn a profit out of Russia’s assets over a period in which Russian life expectancy declined as many citizens became impoverished, while a few oligarchs got rich, including many who participated in “foreign investments” in Russia.
I blame the European Union for forcing Ukraine to choose between the EU way or the highway. Putin’s original suggestion that there could be a three-way arrangement between Russia, the Ukraine and the EU seemed like a sensible way out of the dilemma. But it appears to be too late for that solution, at least for now.  As for Obama’s assertions against Putin claiming that a country has no right to annex another country, just what did we do in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Panama? Those invasions were illegal based on international agreements that we helped sponsor. Yes, the oligarchs are running Russia, but who put them in there in the first place? It was our neoliberal policies. If our objective had been towards those Russians that were on the bottom wrungs of the economic ladder rather than use Russia as a feeder nation for our own exploitation, how much better off would we be now that we are faced with a strategy that will be dominated by realpolitik? This is not the way to begin paving the road for the world’s culture to face their most serious challenge to human existence—global climate change. Every alliance we make, every international arrangement we help to forge should be done with one objective in mind—saving the planet as we have known it from the broadly devastating effects of greenhouse gases.
Yesterday Obama addressed the EU gathered in Brussels in which he said “That in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force; that international law matters; and that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.” You cannot claim leadership for the free world if your country harbors leadership that from time to time violates the principles advocated in your speeches. The United States didn’t begin yesterday and because of that, going around the world giving speeches about noble causes and using rhetoric as if we had an unblemished record, doesn’t quite get the attention you may think it deserves. At best, these speeches are very disingenuous. As for the oligarchs who rule Russia, don’t we have something similar here in the states, where the Koch brothers for example and the elites of the oil and gas industry have successfully made it impossible to form effective policies to help adapt and mitigate global climate change? Don’t we live in a country run by oligarchs?
Finally, in the intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland  [a devout neocon] and U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, the two were, as Russian expert Stephen Cohen put it to Democracy Now, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of the Ukraine.”At one point Nuland endorses “Yat” as the head of a new government, referring to Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, who indeed is now acting Prime Minister. But she goes on to say that Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok should be kept “on the outside.”
To what extent was our State Department in on planning a coup in Ukraine? To get the answer to this question, we will have to wait 30 years and then go through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to find out!

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American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) joins fight over global climate change

Posted on March 18th, 2014 in Climage Change by Robert Miller
Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest non-government general scientific society with a membership of 121,200 scientists/subscribers.  Under the leadership of Nobel Prize winner Mario J. Molina (who discovered the fluorocarbon-ozone problem in the atmosphere), AAAS has taken on a project to educate the public about the dangers of global climate change. An article published in the NYT today in the science section by Justin Gillis alerts us to this new effort of the society to elevate the visibility of climate change. Science Magazine, published by AAAS, has opened a public access website that provides information on climate change and what we need to do about it. The “What We Know” website has practical descriptions of why we need to act now and one can download a multiple page document that describes most of what is available on the website. We don’t expect to get hit in our cars, or have our houses burn down, but we buy home and car insurance just in case it should happen to us and we buy life insurance for the same reason. Since 97 percent of climate scientists think our weather is being impacted by human activities, with too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is time to get insured against future catastrophes by reducing green house gases. The website is filled with information videos as well as information on the committees that were put together to formulate the strategy and the facts. The site also points out how the oil and gas industry has distorted the essence of green house gases based on the profit motive we already know about. It remains problematic today that in polls conducted last year 42 percent of those polled agreed that climate change was real, but 33 percent responded by saying that there was disagreement among scientists about the seriousness of the threat. That is why the AAAS website is emphasizing 97 percent of scientists agree that global climate change is caused by humans.

From the website:

The What We Know initiative is dedicated to ensuring that three “R’s” of climate change communicated to the public.

  • The first is Reality — 97% of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
  • The second is Risk — that the reality of climate change means that there are climate change impacts we can expect, but we also must consider what might happen, especially the small, but real, chance that we may face abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.
  • The third R is Response — that there is much we can do and that the sooner we respond, the better off we will be.

Science Magazine and the AAAS is a good place to host and sponsor public awareness. And something that I think is important to emphasize is how science is putting together all kinds of possibilities that include massive loss of species, dramatic rise in sea level, acidification of the oceans and loss of coral formations and more violent storms and hurricanes, but no scientist can predict under what environmental conditions each of the issues becomes a major problem. I think that is the main danger we face: as people get more acclimated to the mechanisms of climate change, it does not mean that anyone can predict when one or the other event may be triggered and reach catastrophic proportions, or as climate scientists like to state “reach a tipping point” beyond which nothing can be done. We are in danger of reaching tipping points now—the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland ice masses are melting and it may already be too late to stop them from melting all the way (James Hansen has pointed out the the polar ice caps and Greenland ice were formed at about the level of carbon dioxide we have in the atmosphere today—400 ppm, and we are on schedule to go much higher). The question is over what time course and whether we will have the capacity to adjust, to move shoreline cities to safer ground. Our cities were built over hundreds to a few thousand years, and we don’t have that kind of time to relocate large masses of people.  It would be much better to get that insurance policy today, but time for mitigation has passed us by and we will have to get used to adaptation, which is already going on all around us. The carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere today will stay around for decades, perhaps for centuries and because there is already too much in the atmosphere today, more than has existed for thousands of years, global climate change and doing something about it is the single most urgent problem we as humans have to address.


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