crioxblog

Crisis Analysis from Oxford's Crisis Research Institute

Royal Video from 1933 Shows How Lucky Britain Was to Lose Edward VIII.

Opening Royal Archives from 1930s and 1940s Won’t Damage the Queen’s Reputation.

By Mark Almond  (Oxford, 19th July, 2015)
“Long to reign over us” sings the national anthem. And its prayers have been answered. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned successfully over this country since 1952 with every indication of many more years to come.

But longevity has its price.

Skeletons can fall out of long-forgotten family cupboards. Yet the irony of the current fuss about the 1933 holiday video showing the royals larking around doing fascist salutes seems to me that its 20 seconds encapsulate how lucky we are to have our current royal family.

What makes the video controversial is the behaviour of the future Edward VIII not his niece. Our Queen and her parents had no truck with the Nazis but her uncle did.

The man who became merely Duke of Windsor in December, 1936, after a brief reign was the black sheep of the royal family. It was his paying court to Hitler in 1937 and keeping in contact with pro-Nazi German royals even after the outbreak of war which casts a shadow over his reputation.

Let’s be fair to Edward VIII. The mass murder of the Holocaust was in the future then. The mass killing on people’s minds was the blood-drenched trenches of World War One. The future Edward VIII was painfully aware of the human cost of that war.

Responding to the plight of unemployed ex-servicemen during the Great Depression, the then Prince of Wales shocked British  politicians by declaring, “Something must be done.” He wanted to rescue the ragged veterans from the dole queue. The problem was that the most seductive answer to mass unemployment was offered by Adolf Hitler.

The Nazi leader knew how to play up to foreign leaders who had seen the horror of war, 1914-18. Wasn’t he a frontline veteran, too? Hitler’s success in conquering mass unemployment owed a lot to his massive rearmament. Naïve souls like the ex-Edward VIII were gulled into thinking he wanted peace and prosperity not war and plunder.

The ex-King had several close German relatives who had been toppled from their thrones in 1918 when Germany became a republic. They shared is resentment against democratic politicians and hoped Hitler would reinstate them. But Hitler used ex-royals like Philip of Hesse and the Duke of Coburg to butter up their English cousin.

In 1937, now an ex-king himself, Edward visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden. He had been taken on a tour of the new Germany’s developments. He saw and travelled on the autobahn
network and apparently even met some of the forced labour being reformed in concentration camps. The Duke of Windsor wasn’t alone in taking the political equivalent of a guided tour. Another ex-insider now in the political wilderness, Lloyd George, had a similar experience and uttered the same sort of compliments on the Nazis’ ability  to put people back to work. But most of all, men like the Duke of Windsor and Lloyd George came away convinced that the Hitler, who knew trench warfare first hand, was as anxious to avoid a re-run of the horrors of war as they were. Probably each hoped that Britain would recognise that they still had great services to offer, particularly when compared with the pedestrian establishment in power in London by then.

Effectively exiled from Britain, the Duke of Windsor was prey to the world of snobs and spivs hoping to cash in on his celebrity and loneliness, but he was also the target of German agents of influence like Hesse anxious to use him as a potential ally inside Britain as appeasement gave way to a resolve to defy Hitler by early 1939. Even after the war broke out, Edward met Hesse in Lisbon in 1940. He was there to sound out the ex-King on what would happen if Britain surrendered.

This was foolish behaviour even if Hesse was a close relative. Even though there is no evidence Edward committed treason, doubts about what he might have let slip to his German cousins lingered as the Allies brought the war to a victorious close. He was known to have expressed strongly anti-Communist views, let slip a few anti-Jewish slurs and so on after his abdication. In 1945 the royal family sent a trusted courtier to Germany to retrieve correspondence from the Hesse family archive. Ironically, it was the Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt, who was a wartime MI5 officer, who was sent on this delicate mission.

The royal household wanted to protect the secrets of the ex-King as fiercely as the Crown Jewels. But whatever Blunt found was no secret from the Kremlin during the Cold War. If there was dynamite in the Hesse papers, surely Blunt’s Soviet masters would have ignited it in an anti-Western propaganda campaign at the height of the Cold War.

In any case, the ex-king’s naïve and irresponsible behaviour was in stark contrast with his brother’s. Whatever the self-centred faults of the Duke of Windsor, George VI and the Queen Mother rose to the challenge of the Blitz magnificently. By rallying the nation they completed the process of creating a genuinely British royal family. The German dynasty which inherited Britain in 1714 finally became thoroughly British. Unlike previous queens, the wife of the future George VI, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, wasn’t a foreign princess. The future Queen Mother was apparently more closely related to Macbeth than any German princeling! Marrying subjects for the royal family is now so normal that it would be a surprise if a future King or Queen married “out”.

It was Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha which had given the royal family an awkward long-winded German surname. In fact,  Albert himself was a model liberal reformer who used his influence behind the scenes, for instance, to oppose any blimpish support by Whitehall for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. But with the outbreak of war against cousin Kaiser’s Germany in 1914 put George V on the spot. The adoption of Windsor as the official name of the dynasty in 1917 was part of distancing itself from the legacy of Queen Victoria’s litter of foreign reigning and now deposed grandchildren – and certainly from the ill-omened and executed cousin Nicky of Russia, murdered along with his wife Alexandra of Hesse and their children by Lenin’s Communists.

It was George V’s very wooden public persona which made him such a suitable figurehead for a modern democracy with the Labour Party increasingly challenging for power. He pioneered  many of the public relations activities which royals still engage in. Their frequent lack of natural vim when meeting the public ironically fits their role very well: they are royal celebrities but by birth rather than as natural entertainers or skilled sportsmen. Fitting in to their role rather than dominating it requires a dedicated ordinariness in modern democracy. Edward VIII was not willing to subject himself to the demands of the new royal role.

It was one of Winston Churchill’s glaring inconsistencies in the 1930s that he chose to champion keeping Edward VIII on the throne in December, 1936, even though the King was a potential political liability in the looming atmosphere of political crisis abroad. Churchill’s decried political appeasers of Hitler but romanticised the royal one. Churchill’s anachronistic view that hereditary right trumped other considerations when it came to who was Britain’s head of state ignored the role of his great ancestor, the founder of the Churchill dynasty, in pushing James II out because he was politically and religiously unacceptable in 1688 and helping the Hanoverians in in 1714 because the Stuarts with a better claim to the throne by birth couldn’t satisfy the political elite here that they would stick to the newly-entrenched system of Parliamentary government.

Nothing of those sort of machinations is likely to be revealed by any papers or videos from the 1930s. Opening the archives hardly seems likely to damage their standing with the public. Elizabeth II’s long life is a living thread uniting the nation’s history and it has been lived in the limelight. Remember even before her uncle abdicated as King Edward VIII in 1936, she was his heir because the future Duke of Windsor had no children – and never did.

In many ways it was the disappearance of Edward VIII into a sad twilight which paved the way for making the monarchy a truly British institution. From wartime in the 1940s through the end of empire and the birth of the welfare state, the royal family’s standing has prospered despite their courtiers’ obsession with keeping the people at arms’ length.

In recent years even tragedy in the royal family has been treated with more openness. Buckingham Palace learned from the death of Princess Diana and quickly reached out to the British people. The marriage of William and Katherine and the births of their children have strengthened its popularity. Traditionalists cluck about taking the brand down-market, but so far it has worked and dampened the fears for the monarchy’s future which were so evident in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

Unlike fly-by-night presidents, the Queen’s long life means that she straddles history and the present. The archives of her personal story are inextricably bound up with national history. Maybe there are fears of the monarch getting drawn into party politics. The recent fuss about Prince Charles’s letters to ministers over issues of his particular concern to him which was brought into the public domain by the Freedom of Information Act requiring their publication even though they were written to the last Labour government. Such recent interventions were inherently controversial and, in my view salutary, because the monarch should be cautious about treading into divisive areas where inherently significant groups of British people will disagree.

But opening up aspects of the Queen’s early years is not going to damage public respect for the monarchy now. It is admittedly awkward to mix the personal and the public, but a hereditary royal family embodies that uncomfortable chemistry. In the end the public role of the monarch takes priority as the Queen herself has suggested by making clear that her coronation oath was a lifelong commitment.

The grainy cine film from summer, 1933, comes from very early in that long life of service. It was a time of looming crisis which could have shattered British society and toppled more than the monarchy. Far from discrediting our Queen, the video from 1933 should reminds us of how many challenges this country has overcome over the last eight decades under the Windsors.

Having performed  her role as a constitutional monarch impeccably for longer than most can remember, opening the archives can only reinforce the Queen’s standing. What the horse-play in summer 1933 reveals is how lucky Britain was in those years of crisis that Elizabeth II’s parents, and not her uncle, were in Buckingham Palace during the Blitz.

This is an edited version of an article by CRIOx Director, Mark Almond, from The Sun on Sunday (19th July, 2015).

Contact: criox.director@aol.com

The British Establishment fawns on the Saudi Regime for Past Favours forgetting to look to the Future

The Mail on Sunday (25th January, 2015) published CRIOx Director Mark Almond’s commentary Below is an edited version:

Did anyone in Britain take pride in the sight of the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister leading the mourning at the King of Saudi Arabia’s wake? Or in the spectacle of Union Flags at half-mast over Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey?

Our Establishment seems blinded by the glitter of black gold. Awed by the vast wealth that oil has brought to the desert kingdom since the 1930s, it is as if they are oblivious to the brutal fanaticism and shameless corruption that have been endemic in Saudi Arabia.

The late King Abdullah was eulogised as a reformer, liberal, even a friend of women’s rights. All the decapitations, stonings and hand-choppings were apparently somebody else’s fault. The Prime Minister and Archbishop of Canterbury both claimed King Abdullah had promoted “interfaith dialogue” – presumably it was a dialogue between Muslim and Mammon.

Not everyone is so blinkered. Saudis have funded terrorism from 9/11 in America to Islamic State (IS) today – and around the world, the Saudis’ toxic mix of religious fundamentalism and apparently limitless oil revenues is coming into proper focus.

It is true that the late king feared IS as a threat to his own regime. Yet his government had turned a blind eye to the cash doled out to IS by wealthy fundamentalists in the ruling Saudi clan until very recently.

So long as IS concentrated its fire on regimes Abdullah opposed – like Assad’s in Syria or the Shiite majority in Iraq – the Saudi king looked on benignly as his citizens exported terrorism. It was only when the fanatics of IS extended their reach to Saudi Arabia itself, murdering, for instance, a senior general earlier this month, that Abdullah reacted to the threat against him.

Maybe the West should welcome this change of heart. When the Saudis let Osama Bin Laden’s genie out of the bottle, they turned on him only when he bombed inside the kingdomas well as abroad, blowing up a barracks there in 1996 and the USS Cole in neighbouring Yemen in 2000.

Equally, the king only turned against IS when it used the fundamentalist ideology of Islam promoted by the Saudi regime to accuse the Saudi royal family – quite rightly – of not living up to the strict rules imposed on everyone else. Wahabbism has been a threat across the Middle East and in the wider world for years. Now it is biting back at home too.

It is precisely because of the Saudi regime’s grisly record of domestic repression and the export of terrorism that you sense that people across Great Britain feel our country is smaller and shabbier after seeing the Prince of Wales and David Cameron in the front row of those paying what the Saudi media called homage to the new Saudi absolute monarch.

It says a great deal about Britain’s decline and its dependence on Arab oil money.

The Saudis gained their mega-bucks in the 1970s with the dramatic spike in oil prices. It coincided with Britain’s bleak stop-go years of three-day weeks. Ever since then, Arab money has kept the London property bubble and our arms manufacturers afloat.

We should never forget how recent the oil bonanza was and what an extraordinary transformation it has brought about in the Gulf states. Nor should we forget Britain’s role in creating them.

Ninety years ago Saudi Arabia was born. But British intelligence was the country’s midwife. Strangely enough, Saudi Arabia was the product of the rivalry of two of the British Empire’s greatest agents.

Lawrence of Arabia suffered his worst defeat when his rival St John Philby backed Ibn Saud against the Bedouin loved by Lawrence. Today it is his Marxist spy son, Kim, who is remembered, but Philby Sr, who became a Muslim, had the real impact on history. But few would think that it was beneficial.

Perhaps with Britain’s past role presiding over the violent birth-pangs of the Saudi regime in mind, it is proper for the Establishment to mark the passing on of power from one son of Ibn Saud to another. But the refusal to acknowledge the Saudis’ many failings is another matter.

Moreover, since King Abdullah’s last days were overshadowed by looming dangers, shouldn’t Whitehall be hedging its bets?

Apart from the IS threat to the north in Iraq, evidence of discontent inside the kingdom has been growing. The sentence of a thousand lashes for a blogger who had made mild criticisms is a sign the regime feels it cannot afford to give an inch of tolerance. The new King Salman promises more of the same.

Education has opened the eyes of thoughtful Saudis to the rigid and blinkered nature of their leadership. Absurd fatwas against women driving or even building snowmen are difficult for an internet savvy generation to swallow.

But the real threat comes from the poor masses. The average family income has fallen, despite the high price of oil from 2003 until 2014, and the population has been growing quickly as the living standard falls. The budget deficit is spiralling too. In reality, Saudi Arabia is becoming a Venezuela in the Middle East – an oil-rich importer economy of even basic items – but for the moment it is a Venezuela with friends in Washington. (Compare the contemptuous US and West European reactions to the death of Hugo Chavez, who – whatever his faults – did not authorise public beheadings and stonings,  with the fawning Can-I-Have My-Goody-Bag-Now? obituaries of Abdullah ibn Addulaziz of that ilk in the Western papers of record,)

Discontent is rising in Saudi Arabia even if most of the academic experts on the Kingdom’s payroll in Western universities don’t acknowledge it.. Much of this seething dissent is found among the large Shiite Muslim minority. The Saudi government fears they are loyal to Shiite Iran, the regime’s mortal rival for leadership of the Muslim world.

Worse still for the dying Abdullah was the seizure of power in neighbouring Yemen by the local Houthi Shiites. Now Saudi Arabia’s stability is threatened north and south, as well as from the inside. Houthis live on both sides of the border. If Abdullah could fund insurgency in Syria and send weapons there, someone seems to have learnt how to do the same to his realm.  A slow burn of change is under way, but will it explode?

Because of Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s largest oil producer and the largest customer for Britain’s last major industry, weapons, along with our five-star hotels and £15 million-plus properties, upheaval there would hit the British service sector hard.

The fall of the House of Saud may be unthinkable in Whitehall, but not in the Middle East. The Arab Spring has soured, but it has shown that no regime is immortal.

Remember how our leaders curried favour with the Shah of Iran right up until his fall in 1979. Back then it seemed impossible that an absolute ruler, with all that oil wealth and all the Chieftain tanks Britain could sell, would be toppled by a bearded cleric and unarmed crowds. The ghost of the Shah hovers close.

A generation ago, a sharp fall in the price of oil suddenly crippled the Shah’s ability to pay people off. Let’s not bank on the Saudi regime staying the course if the cash flow dries up. AS Putin’s Russia is finding cash reserves are quickly eaten up if income falls sharply. The Saudi ruling elite – 40,000 plus pampered family members – have no experience of austerity. Will they stick together in a crisis? One or two are already positioning themselves as “reformer” from  outside, touting themselves to the West as saviours of our interests if things go sour back in Saudi Arabia.

If the Saudi family falls, everyone in Britain will notice the thud. But Whitehall seems paralysed at the prospect.

The collapse of the Saudi regime would pull down the other Gulf oil sheiks. That would send the price of oil soaring with desperate results for the world economy, particularly the West. As things stand, there is little we can do. Backing repression in Saudi Arabia will only pile up the resentment against us. Iran has shown us how our support for a corrupt regime has led to decades of popular anti-Western radicalism. Hasn’t anyone noticed how anti-Western ordinary Saudis are already?

Worse, there is the prospect of Saudi Arabia plunging into Syrian-style religious and tribal war. The harsh regime in power since the 1920s has kept a lid on tensions but for how much longer?  We must be prepared, yet even the act of preparing for a change risks alienating the Saudis with the money-bags today. Our banking sector depends on a cash-flow from corrupt tyrannies, none more flowing in corruption than Saudi Arabia.

Britain is home to so much Gulf money that few of our rulers will risk thinking of the longer term. But if they look to the future after the House of Saud, then they will see that those Union Flags were at half-mast for our outlook too.

Blowback on the Saudi Border – Senior General Killed

Anyone reading the New York Times report of a minor skirmish on the Saudi-Iraqi border on 5th January, 2015, would probably have shrugged and moved on. What with ISIS controlling roughly one third of Iraq and Syria and Shiite Houthi rebels overrunning about 70% of Yemen, Middle East watchers surely had more pressing violence to concern them than “a confrontation that left three guards and all the assailants dead”? [1] But then reports leaked out of the Kingdom that put the border clash in a very different light.[2]

Contrary to the New York Times which relied on the official spokesman of the Saudi Interior Ministry, not only had two of the assailants escaped, their Saudi victims included the general commanding the country’s northern zone. Brigadier-General Oud Alad al Balawi was not normally posted at the border crossing nor would chance infiltrators  have had reason to expect to find such a senior officer there. Why were armed men with suicide vests able to get close to the Saudi general?

There are uncomfortable echoes of the murder by jihadi extremists of the US ambassador to Libya in Benghazi in September, 2012. Just as Chris Stevens was plausibly reported by Turkish sources to have been in contact with Libyan jihadis arranging their transit via Turkey to fight Assad’s regime in Syria, so the northern zone of Saudi Arabia has been a major transit point for Saudi radicals and other volunteers from the Gulf states and Yemen entering both Iraq to fight the Shiite-dominated government there as well as to go to fight the Iranian-allied regime in Syria.

Ambassador Stevens’ last recorded meeting was with the Turkish consul in Benghazi to arrange visas for Libyan anti-Assad fighters. Some of these jihadis then appeared at the US compound in an angry mood – had they been cut out of the deal? – and murdered the US diplomat and three other Americans while the 30 or so CIA staff elsewhere in the compound hunkered down. The jihadis who killed General Al Balawi seem to have been admitted through the normal security surrounding a senior Saudi officer – rather as their Libyan counterparts were admitted to the US compound in Benghazi before opening fire with their weapons. Was Al Balawi in contact with them? It certainly seems they were trusted by his subordinates to get up close and deadly.

Saudi apologists have gone into overdrive since the Kingdom admitted the murder of such a senior security officer. Al Balawi’s murder disproves, they say, the allegations that Riyadh had stoked the ISIS uprising in Iraq and Syria. Maybe, but the suspicion must be that the ailing King Abdullah and his royal nephews and cousins running Saudi Arabia must be looking up the Arabic for “blowback”!

Remember Saudi Arabia wasn’t happy about George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t doubts about the existence of WMD in Saddam Hussein’s state which kept the Saudis awake at night. They did not believe that fairy tale. But what concerned them was that President Bush would keep his word and bring democracy to Iraq!

The Islamic Republic of Iran was one Shiite democracy too many already for Riyadh. But granting elections to a majority Shiite and Arabic-speaking country like Iraq was a mortal threat to the Kingdom, which is  a family tyranny with a significant but never officially-counted Shiite minority. Undermining Iraqi democracy once a Shiite parliament was elected was a key goal of Saudi Arabia’ dynasty. It fitted in with their desire to undermine non-Sunni Muslim regimes in Iran and Syria.

Funding foreign fighters to go to both Iraq and Syria to fight jihad for the Saudi’s own strict Wahabbite version of Islam made sense to Riyadh – as had funding Osaama bin Ladin to go to Afghanistan all those years ago.

But just as Osaama got too big for his boots, so the self-proclaimed ISIS caliph al-Baghdadi became convinced that his time had dawned. It wasn’t enough for him to pray in Mosul’s oldest mosque, he must come to Mecca itself to pray at the Kabba and be accepted as the Prophet’s caliph. For the Protector of the Holy Places in Riyadh – or whichever luxury hospital is treating the ninety-year old Abdullah – this ambition was too much. Saudi money and connivance with ISIS was supposed to promote regime-change in Baghdad and Damascus not back home in Riyadh.

The Saudi regime has been building bridges to the despised Shiite elected politicians in Baghdad, even announcing the opening an embassy in Iraq for the first time in twenty-five years. Reaching out to the “heretics” in Baghdad brought blowback as the ISIS murder squad came to meet the Saudi general for early morning tea and blew him to pieces.

From Afghanistan now to its northern border, Saudi sponsorship of ultra-radical Sunni fundamentalists has repeatedly brought deadly violence. Think only of the Al Qaeda bombing of the US base at Daran or the attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour (both blamed by Senator McCain on Iran in case you doubt  the evidence trail leads to Saudi-sponsored and US-colluded radicals) to get a hint of what might now threaten the Saudi dynasty itself. If the jihadis knew how to find General Al Balawi and to kill him, they could know a lot about the movements and agendas of other key Saudi security officers.

As Ibn Saud’s last son, Abdullah, seems to wheeze towards the end of his days, will the Saudi dynasty be secure enough to outlast him and face down the the sorcerer’s apprentice which it fostered in ISIS?

By Mark Almond  For more information: criox.editor@aol.com

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/world/middleeast/saudis-report-deadly-border-clash-with-infiltrators-from-iraq.html?_r=0 [this report was issued on 5th January, 2015, but dated for print edition as 6th January.]

[2] See the AP report (5th Jan. 2015): http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/suicide-attack-kills-senior-saudi-officer

EU-backed Libyan government bombs EU citizens but no new No Fly Zone in sight

Responsibility for the killing of at least two EU citizens in an air raid on the port of Derna on 5th January has been admitted by the EU-backed Libyan government based in the eastern Libyan port of Tobruk.[1] The bombing is the latest sign that violence in Libya is spiralling out of control. With two rival governments and at least 30 local militias fighting for control over the country’s energy resources and lucrative people smuggling rackets, the European Union is paralysed by the legacy of its backing for the NATO intervention against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Apart from the French President, the other EU leaders have hidden their heads in the sand and refused to comment. President Hollande, however, popped up only to insist France will not re-intervene in Libya.

Between 2004 and 2010, relations between the West and Gaddafi’s Libya had improved after years of sanctions following the downing of the Pan-Am 747 over Lockerbie in December, 1988. Gaddafi supplied oil and gas to the EU, not least the old colonial power, Italy, and his regime also cracked down on people smuggling which had imposed a huge burden on Italy in particular as the nearest EU destination for thousands of African migrants.

But the so-called Arab Spring chilled EU-Libyan relations dramatically. Within days of protests beginning, the EU governments which had previously courted the Colonel reverted to denouncing him as a terrorist and genocidal killer.

It was Colonel Gaddafi’s threat to use his air force against the uprising in eastern Libyan cities in early 2011 which was used to justify NATO’s imposition of a No Fly Zone over the whole of the North African country from mid-March, 2011. The UN Security Council authorised what became in effect an air campaign to back a rebellion against the 42 year-long rule of Gaddafi. But since his overthrow and murder in October, 2011, the NATO states have switched off their concern about human rights and the threat of aerial bombardment of civilian centres in Libya even though internecine violence has continued there.

In recent months, the scale of fighting between militias has intensified. The former CIA-backed ex-Gaddafi General Haftar has proclaimed himself the leader of an anti-Islamist campaign to cleanse Libya of al-Qaeda-style extremists.  Since the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered in September, 2012, Benghazi by such extremists, who until then had been seen as useful volunteer fighters for the Us-backed struggle against Syria’s President Assad, Washington has swung to supporting Libyan militias opposed to fundamentalists – even though in practice all the groups claim to adhere to strict Islamic criteria (and had denounced Gaddafi for not being Muslim enough).

Tens of thousands of Libyans were killed in the eight month war to overthrow Gaddafi, but at least as many have died violently since then. Since July, 2014, the scale of the fighting has intensified. The Western-backed government lost control of the capital, Tripoli, soon after the election in June, 2014, which supposedly gave it democratic legitimacy. It fled to the eastern port of Tobruk to try to keep control of as much of Libya’s energy exports as possible, but its members are based on a car ferry in the port so they can make a quick getaway of the strategic situation worsens.

If the EU states have stayed aloof from the fighting ripping Libya apart since their intervention in 2011, other states have been less restrained. Egypt and the Gulf members of the UAE have provided resources including air power to back up the Western-backed Tobruk government. Planes from these Arab states as well as a few old Gaddafi MiGs controlled by Haftar have periodically bombed civilian centres from Benghazi to Tripoli and Misrata claiming to target Islamist fighters, but frequently killing civilians. Until the bombing of the Greek tanker in Derna on 5th January, the EU states who boiled with fury at Gaddafi’s mere threats to use air power against rebellious Libyans have been silent about the repeated random air raids launched on behalf of the “internationally-recognised” government in Tobruk.

It has been claimed that Qatar and Turkey back the unrecognised government in Tripoli. If so their support is largely rhetorical. Turkey’s President Erdogan decries the military regime in Egypt which overthrew his “Muslim Brother”,President Morsi in 2013. Until the last few weeks Qatar and Cairo were in a state of cold war, but maybe the Emir in Doha and Field Marshal-President Sisi are about to kiss and make up. Qatar has shut the “independent” Al Jazeera satellite channel reporting on Egypt which had carried anti-Sisi propaganda and the courts in Cairo have ordered a re-trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English-language service previously convicted of backing the “terrorist” Morsi government.

But for Libya the problem is that however much external military intervention by  NATO and the Gulf States precipitated the country’s current crisis by imploding the Gaddafi regime without promoting a legitimate successor, external intervention is unlikely to resolve the internal conflicts now. Even if NATO reimposed its No Fly Zone, at best that would halt the desultory misguided bombing of civilian areas, but even though these air raids have costs hundreds of lives, thousands more have been killed by fighting between militias on the ground. Energy prices on the world markets may have fallen and Libya’s exports almost dried up but for thousands of young men with AK47s and rocket-launchers fighting to control oil fields, pipelines and terminals makes  sense as an investment in their future – if they have one at all. Sooner or later the Western world will come knocking as it did on Gaddafi’s door when oil prices rose after 2003.

Many of the local warlords cut their teeth in jihadi fighting sponsored by Western intelligence agencies from Afghanistan to the anti-Gaddafi uprisings in the years after Lockerbie. Back channels to Western intelligence agencies like MI6 and the CIA have a long history and could be reactivated when the price is right.

Meanwhile washing their hands of Libya has been the response of EU leaders. They have added crocodile tears about the five thousand or so migrants drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean from chaotic Libya, but refuse to admit that their policies since 2011 have made the bad situation of the country under Gadafi’s rule infinitely worse.

Maybe the killing of a Greek and a Romanian on an EU tanker will wake Brussels up to its share of the responsibility for the mayhem on the southern side of the Mediterranean, but on past form nothing will be done.

For further information: criox.editor@aol.com

[1] http://www.dw.de/libyan-government-admits-to-bombing-greek-owned-tanker/a-18170940

Twenty-Five Years On: Ghosts of Regime-Change Haunt Central Europe

Christine Stone   (23rd December, 2014)

The EU’s biggest players may be loyally lined up behind Washington   when it comes to sanctioning Putin’s Russia, but lower down the European pecking order, some  member states are not so happy with the economic consequences of the White House’s zero-sum approach to economic warfare against Russia. Unlike with the Baltic States and Poland –  usually praised for their “patriotic pride” meaning selfless subordination to Brussels’ Diktats – it took some arm twisting to get the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary to agree to punish Moscow for  annexing Crimea.

Although like the Poles and Balts, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians are also heavily dependent for their energy on Russia as well as other valued economic ties to the east while remaining net importers of Old EU goods and services. Prague, Bratislava and Budapest have to varying degrees and with  different decibels of dissent chosen to rock the Euro- sanctions boat.

Part of the reason is that, despite tabloid hyperbole in Washington and London claiming that Vladimir Putin was intent on taking them over and rebuilding the iron curtain, in reality, Russia has been an unproblematic neighbour for all of these countries for a quarter of a century.

If there has been a-symmetric warfare it has been the “plucky” Balts sacrificing their own economic well-being to cut out trade with Russia. The Balts like to twist the Russian bear’s tail and get brownie points from NATO for their “civic courage” but apart from unsubstantiated rumours of cyber-warfare in 2007 against Estonia, Russia’s commercial ties continued as normal. It was, for instance, Lithuania’s choice to drop Russian-supplied gas and turn to importing expensive US-sponsored LNG whose fixed price now soars relative to Russian energy exports!

But Hungary’s Viktor Orban argued against shooting oneself in both feet to get applause from a trans-Atlantic claque that not only pays no price for embargoing Russian trade but actually gains market share from Central Europe’s cutting off its nose to spite Putin’s face.

Could these  ripples of discontent with the  Western consensus on isolating Russia develop into something more troubling for both the U.S. and Brussels? What can they do about it? All three countries are members of both NATO and the EU. Promoting regime change in Ukraine to replace a disliked but elected president and parliamentary majority and install a client president and parliament might be acceptable to ordinary people in the West – or they may be indifferent to it – but what if dissident but elected governments inside the EU come under attack from externally-sponsored so-called “civic” protests because those governments have queried the Washington-Brussels consensus?

Would promoting street-protests and media campaigns to undermine elected presidents and parliaments be any more problematic for the Western elites who have used similar tactics against governments just a little further east? After all much-trumpeted “people power” protests have been turned on against governments whose legitimacy like that of Eduard Shevardnadze toppled in Georgia in 2003 the West once extolled as a model of transition to market democracy. Loss of favour in Washington and Brussels can seriously erode democratic legitimacy at least in the eyes of Western elites.

Passing through the Czech Republic on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the so-called “Velvet Revolution” offered a snapshot of the new battleground for hearts-and-minds in Central Europe.

On 17th November 2014, it was  drab and raining in Prague  as official Czech celebrations of the “Velvet Revolution” took place. The weather contrasted with the freezing early winter day of 17th November, 1989, but the evident lack of interest of the mass of Czechs in the anniversary, let alone a desire to celebrate it, was striking.

Maybe ordinary Czechs, whose healthy cynicism saw them through Communism, because they could see through it, also had a scepticism about the anti-Communist bombast since 1989. After all, everyone now know that what happened in 1989 wasn’t quite the fairy tale still peddled in neo-conservative media in the West.

Demonstrations to mark the events of 17th Nvember, 1989,  were slated to take place in Prague and a mass of candles  filled the passage way  on Narodni Třida (National Street) where the key spark for protests took place. A traditional Communist youth wing anti-Nazi march commemorating the killing of protestors by the German occupiers in November, 1939, was hi-jacked by students shouting anti-Communist slogans and clashing with riot police.

As reported by both Western and Communist media on the day, a student “Martin Šmid”  was said to have died at the hands of the police,. Another death was rumoured. Unused to such violence and aware of the fall of the Berlin Wall a week earlier, Czechs in Prague responded to the event with more protests that was said to have triggered the collapse of the communist regime. But, hold on: it soon emerged  that “Martin Šmid” didn’t exist; he had been invented by the Czechoslovak  security services, the St. B. (Státni Bezpečnost) as part of a ploy to bring a new, reformed post-communist regime to power to replace the stultified post-1968 regime as Gorbachev’s allies still hoped to rejuvenate Communism across Eastern Europe.

Let’s forget the bizarre machinations of the St.B back in 1989, and consider rather the bizarre nature of holding emotive commemorations of  a death that never took place. It seems weird but, in a way it  sums up the banality that lays at the heart of all things connected with the ‘velvet’ events. After all, their nominal hero, Vaclav Havel, had insisted that anti-Communists “live in truth” but their takeover of power depended on a Big Lie.

The “late” Martin Šmid, aka Ludvik Zivčak, had a second life as an anti-capitalist and anti-globalist protestor so he at least would have seen some consistency in the presence on Prague’s streets on 17th November, 2014, of a group of anti-capitalist protesters snaked it’s way through the city centre wearing papier mache masks caricaturing their hate figures. Were they central bankers or global financiers? No. For the counter-cultural protestors of Prague 2014 their masks were faces of the vile Putin, others wore the reviled (at least, by the local cogniscenti) Czech president, Miloš Zeman. A few Ukrainian flags brought up the rear. Other banners denounced Ecuador’s left wing president,  Rafael Correa, hardly a household name in Prague.[1] As the hundred or so protesters passed the Rudolfinum concert hall, a group of elderly rock musicians with lank, grey hair plugged away at some ancient protest songs watched by a handful of leather clad biker types.

Featured image

Over the river, at Prague castle, a more serious group had been gathering during the afternoon: students bent on delivering a message to President Zeman that it was time to go. They did this by leaving a trail of red cards inside the presidential palace complex. These neatly-cut red cards were intended to recall the ones used by the referee in a soccer match to send a player off the pitch. Several hundred protesters ended up under the ceremonial  balcony demanding  Zeman leave. Fluttering over the courtyard was the presidential flag denoting that Zeman was in residence. It is difficult to imagine such protests taking place in front of the doors of  White House or 10 Downing Street but, no one tried to remove the students who did not, to be fair, behave in a violent or intimidating manner. However, there had been scuffles earlier in the day at a “Velvet Revolution” ceremony attended by various  European dignatories, including Germany’s President Gauck when students pelted Zeman with eggs who was protected by an umbrella but one misdirected egg  managed to hit Gauck.

What, then, had caused the animus against Zeman? The president is a rather shambolic figure who, his detractors allege, besmirches his office by drinking heavily and speaking ‘off the cuff’ (he even smokes and is regularly photographed with a lighted cigarette as if to highlight his malevolence). As long time leader of the Czech Social Democrats and  a former prime minister, Zeman earned the ire of the chattering classes by joining a coalition with former president Vaclav Klaus between 1998 and 2002. By now, Klaus had developed a healthy scepticism towards the EU and both men opposed  U.S. sponsored wars in Kosovo and later Iraq which led to their being anathematized by Brussels and Washington and, by extension,  the local bien pensants, whose hero, ex-dissident Vaclav Havel, in 1999 became the first Czech to advocate bombarding Belgrade since the Good Soldier Šweijk in 1914!

When Klaus’s term ended in 2012,  such people assumed that their candidate, Prince Kari Schwarzenberg,  would be effortlessly elected to replace him.  However, even though the Czech Republic is the repository of much Hapsburg charm in the form of castles and cultural artefacts, the electorate consists of a  majority of  post- communist bumpkins unlikely to feel represented by a Knight of the Golden Fleece. 54.8%  voted for Zeman while 45.2% (mainly in Prague) chose Schwarzenberg.

As the role is mainly ceremonial, the president could have been ignored but  Zeman has chosen to speak out on numerous occasions and in ways to infuriate his imperial masters. He has regularly demanded normal relations with Putin’s Russia, called the Ukrainian crisis a “civil war” and then, in a radio interview categorised Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a criminal while reminding listeners of the double entendre involved in the moniker ‘Pussy Riot’. Despite their usual boasts of  über-liberal sexual mores, the intellectual elite of Prague expressed outrage at this outburst of vulgarity. “They don’t like him because he’s naughty” a young reporter from Czech Television said of the student protesters. “How can we have a president like that” they moan. “He must go”.

Added to their woes has been the  seemingly inexorable rise of a new political party, Ano 11[2], which came a close second in the 2013 parliamentary election and is now in coalition with the Social Democrats. Many people take it for granted that Ano’s founder, the billionaire, Andrej Babiš, now the country’s minister of finance will end up as prime minister since the party did well in autumn, 2014 local elections. What, then, is wrong with Ano 11?

According to the frequently German-owned Czech media (and the Euro-American orientated elite) Babiš is a Berlusconi clone, boss of  one of the Czech Republic’s largest conglomerates, Agrofert,  who, like Berlusconi, is also buying up media outlets. Ano is composed of old secret policemen and  headed by Informer-in-Chief,  Babiš according to this media rumour-mill. A Slovak by origin, Babiš took the allegations to court and was cleared, but the rumours have persisted as has the intention to appeal.  However, it seems clear that, apart from the twitterings of the Prague elite, ordinary Czechs are not particularly concerned by such allegations, nearly 30 years after the Communists fell from power. Anyway, many of the alleged Ano  nest of spies and informers were too young at the time of their ‘service’ to have been very important cogs in the machine. All this is a smoke screen. Babiš has trodden on various entrenched local interests. He has also supported the extension of nuclear power in the Czech Republic which has angered the EU’s generously subsidised renewables  lobby which probably sees the troubles with Russian gas as a golden opportunity to cash in. Whether European consumers will appreciate paying ever higher premiums for “clean” energy as the price of oil and gas falls is open to question, but it is a question European voters have never been asked.

Are things any better, more reliable from the Euro-Atlantic perspective,  in neighbouring Slovakia? The answer is: not entirely. Slovakia has thrown up politicians frowned upon by the West since its independence was secured by Vladimir Mečiar in 1993. Milan Knažko, an old ‘sixty eighter’ and sometime dissident feared that all the elderly would have to die off  before Mečiar finally exited the stage. “Slovaks are stupid” he said. But, it took twenty  years to eliminate Mečiar as a political force only for  him to be replaced by another ‘populist’,  Robert Fico, whose leftish Smer (Direction) party won  an overall victory in the last Slovak election in 2012. Fico has criticised the EU’s sanctions on Russia and seems to have been forced against his will to implement them, as well as allowing the reverse flow of gas to Ukraine from Slovakia’s  own reserves. Of course, his hands are tied as Slovakia is a member of the EU and the single currency. Nevertheless, the empire demands 100% obedience, nothing less. Fico stood as a candidate in the March 2014   presidential elections but was  surprisingly beaten by a maverick outsider, businessman Andrej Kiska who made what is described as his “fortune” in hire purchase. Unlike, Babiš his business back ground is regarded as a plus rather than an exercise in predatory capitalism, Kiska is popular with the elites both at home and in Brussels (unlike Fico) and will be an  ideal advocate for pushing Slovakia in the ‘right’ direction, for example, by recognising Kosovan independence, something it has refused so far to do to avoid trouble with its restless Hungarian minority.

But, nothing said or done by politicians in Prague and Bratislava equal the level of disobedience that has been coming from further down the Danube in Hungary. There, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has adopted an openly defiant position on a range of issues that have infuriated the EU, but even more dangerously for his long term survival, he has fallen into the cross hairs of Washington. Since summer 2014, demonstrations regularly take place on some pretext or other against the Orban government and long-term regime change watchers can only debate how the situation will finally be resolved. Supporters are confident Orban will survive as he is “popular” but that never stopped the engine of  regime change. Viktor Yanukovich’s party  handily won elections in 2012  but was deposed a year later; the hugely popular Hugo Chavez and Muammar Gaddafi both ended up dead.

Viktor Orban has come a long way from the days of his  Soros scholarship  at Pembroke College, Oxford. His party, Fidesz, was a classic middle of the road liberal outfit – a proud member of the Liberal International where it now sits somewhat uneasily. However, Hungarians have always been more nationalistic than many Europeans – with their almost unique language, their sense of national identity and solidarity goes back a long time.  When Fidesz   won an overwhelming majority in the 2010 parliamentary elections, Viktor Orban, now prime minister, started to put Hungary first. In the wake of the  2008 financial  collapse he threw out the IMF and cancelled Hungary’s  debt repayments in foreign currency thus lowering the pain for ordinary Hungarians. In 2011, he threw out Monsanto – Hungary has banned the use of GM crops,  lowered fuel prices and in the same year  changed the voting system to a mixed majority and proportional system modelled on Germany. A new constitution has  reduced the number of MPs by half. Something must have gone right because in spring 2014’s parliamentary election,  Fidesz again won an overall majority. All this took place against the back drop of a broken political order with most Hungarian parties, particularly on the left, scarred by corruption and failure. The ultra-right Jobbik  remained as the only effectively functioning  opposition party, since the Socialist Party’s internal scandals have compounded its heavy defeats in national elections.  Jobbik’s anti-Roma, xenophobic rhetoric and para-military pranks make it unappealing to most people, including in Hungary, but it represents a significant minority of up to 20% there..

Accusations of Orban’s ‘authoritarianism’ have gone on for some time, bolstered by a growing number of NGOs in Budapest (mainly foreign funded and backed) as well as tame academics like Princeton’s Kay Schepperle who has tied herself in knots trying to show that Fidez’s successive victories at the polls (in 2014 alone the party overwhelmingly won parliamentary, local  and European elections) were really failures because of modest turnouts![3] Perhaps this might just rumble along, going nowhere while –  as in  Prague – providing low level political gossip  for the chattering classes in Budapest to  feed on, were it not for Orban’s rather bold foreign policy moves in the past year.

In January 2014 he announced that a deal had been reached with Russia to fund the expansion of Hungary’s Paks nuclear facility. As the Ukrainian events unfolded and energy security came under the spotlight,  this could have been viewed as  strategic foresight. Not so;  the Americans were now very angry. On top of this, when sanctions came up for discussion after the Crimean annexation, Orban baulked at implementing them: “Why should Hungary ‘shoot itself in the foot?’” he asked. Like Fico, he dragged his heels over providing Ukraine with reverse flow gas from Hungary’s reserves. As the Western hate campaign against Putin entered the stratosphere, Viktor Orban remained committed to participating in the South Stream gas project. The scheme only came undone when Bulgaria, the weakest link in the chain, pulled out followed by Russia itself  redirecting the pipeline to Turkey. According to observers on the ground in Budapest, Orban was now being “warned” by the Cosa Nostra in Washington that he was going “too far”.

At this time, Hungary  was without a U.S. ambassador. Colleen Bell, a TV producer of soap operas was stuck in the congressional vetting process so, finger wagging was left to the Chargé d’Affaires in Budapest, André Goodfriend.  Goodfriend has an impressive CV for such a diplomat holding a relatively lowly post and his excursions into Hungarian political life, ranging from support for LGBT events to the dramatic announcement that six members of the Hungarian government were to be sanctioned  and prevented from visiting the U.S. No names were mentioned but rumours abounded as to the whys and wherefores of the decision – and who is on the black list.

What to do? With a hopelessly divided and weak left-wing opposition and with the para-military ultra-nationalist Jobbik as the only substantial alternative to Orban’s party given the implosion of the Hungarian Socialists who backed EU-demanded austerity all the way, all that remains is to split Fidesz in the hope of producing something more compliant.

On 23rd October, 2014, as if on cue, the BBC’s long time Budapest correspondent, Nick Thorpe reported that “cracks” were appearing in the ruling party although he failed to put any substance behind the allegation, or name names. Otherwise, there are the NGOs of which  there are  numerous as well as  blogs and online publications which trash Orban and the Fidesz government.  In September 2014, the authorities  cracked down on the Ökotárs Foundation, which  disbursed  grants to local NGOs from Norway.  In a way, this was a clever ruse as it followed an expose in the New York Times detailing Norway’s many involvements in influence peddling via NGO in Washington.[4]

Do these expressions of dissent in Prague, Bratislava and Budapest  mean that the Euro-Atlanticist order that has ruled the post-communist world so comprehensively since  the early 1990s is under threat? Not quite: in the end, even Orban caved in to Brussels’ demand for sanctions against Russia. He still maintains that Hungary is a loyal EU and NATO member. Ditto, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. But, there does seem to be a change in the air. After years filled with allegations of corruption, most political parties in Central Europe are morally  bankrupt and derided by local populations. Massaging election results is becoming more difficult when parties acceptable to Brussels and Washington can barely make single percentage points. In the Czech Republic, Ano 11 is heading in the same direction as Fidesz with the prospect of getting overall control of parliament in the next parliamentary elections. Another headache for Washington looms if that happens.

 

These unexpected shifts from subservience in the Central European heartland of Euro-conformity only a few years ago may explain why many of the old anti-communists from the era of perestroika and glasnost are being brought out and dusted down. On 11th December, the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) “the only U.S. think-tank dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe” announced it was beefing up its membership with many formidable regime change figures including Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Anne Applebaum, Carl BildtEliot A. Cohen, Timothy Garton Ash, and other supporters of the freedom underground in 1989. It is hard to see these old regime-change advocates changing much without the kind of cash and technical resources to put into play twenty-five years ago. Even with similar resources, the regime-change in Central Europe second time around will run up against the harsh realities of post-Communist life.

Before 1989, people had illusions that with the end of the one party state prosperity would follow automatically and at once. However,  they now remember the successful application of the regime-changers’ economic policies after 1989 which resulted in socio-economic collapse and mass emigration from Poland and Baltic States. Ironically, the absence of young people there leaves their regimes able to parrot the required Western line without fearing protests because the younger generation has gone west!  But Central Europeans have enough austerity to make them question sacrificing their modest well-being for the geo-political ambitions of Washington’s neo-conservatives.

Mobilising a few thousand frustrated and under-paid Central European “artists and intellectuals” in big cities like Prague, Bratislava or Budapest is one thing, but turning electorates on their heads is quite another.  2015 will see whether the street or the ballot-box rules in Central Europe. If Maidan-style regime change comes west, will it stop in Budapest, Bratislava or Prague? What democracy will be safe from the well-funded and determined regime-changers?

[1] The US embassy was listed at the top of the backers of the protest in a leaflet handed out  as the procession marched by. This so-called “Prague Maidan” was an obvious imitation of the protests in Kiev’s main square a year ago which toppled the Ukrainian president.

[2] Ano is short for the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (Akce nespokojených občanů). “Ano” also  means “yes” in Czech. The party was founded in 2011.

[3] Princeton scholars never de-legitimise President Obama by pointing out that he has been elected by at most 25% of resident US adults.

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/us/politics/foreign-powers-buy-influence-at-think-tanks.html?_r=0

The Turks won’t do the West’s dirty work in Syria

On 9th October, 2014, the Daily Telegraph published CRIOx Director, Mark Almond’s article:

“The Turks won’t do the West’s dirty work”

Turkish military intervention against Isil in northern Syria looks like a neat solution to the West’s dilemma in dealing with the threat from jihadi terrorists. In London, Washington and European capitals we want to destroy Isil – but without getting our feet dirty. Boots on the ground are taboo for President Barack Obama and David Cameron, so all eyes are turning to our old ally in Ankara to solve the problem. As a neighbour to both Iraq and Syria, our leaders ask themselves, hasn’t Turkey got a direct national interest in stability across its borders?

What’s more, with Nato’s second largest army, Turkey could easily strike a deadly blow against Isil in what is no-go terrain for her Western partners. But for days the serried ranks of Turkish tanks have been marshalled a few hundred yards from the bitter fighting in the Syrian border town of Kobani, like Stalin’s Red Army outside Warsaw in 1944. Despite repeated pleas for action from John Kerry, Ankara’s troops remain spectators to the crisis.

Kobani is a Kurdish town. That’s the nub of the matter. Kurds, both in Turkey and across Europe, have been demanding action: the Dutch Parliament has been besieged by Kurdish-led protests (which were promptly followed by the Dutch Air Force joining Nato attacks on Isil in Iraq); meanwhile, as many as 14 Kurds have been killed in confrontations with the Turkish police. But still Ankara watches and waits.

The reasons are clear. For Turkey’s Nato allies, Isil is the problem and arming the Kurds part of the solution. For Turkey, however, Kurdish ambitions for a state are a mortal threat. Nor do Sunni adversaries of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria want to see a Kurdish state carved out of their country. And the reality is that, although a long-term Nato ally, Turkey has been diverging in key respects from its Western allies since 2002.

 For 12 years, Turkey has been ruled by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has its roots in an Islamic reaction to the tide of secularism that swept the country after Ataturk abolished the Ottoman caliphate 90 years ago. Ironically, since being elected president in August, AKP leader Recep Tayip Erdogan has achieved a political dominance unparalleled since Ataturk’s death in 1938. But Erdogan is the antithesis of modern Turkey’s father-figure.

Ataturk wanted to distance the new Turkey from the Ottoman Empire’s involvement with Arabs and Muslims. Europe is the future, forget the past was his motto. Yet neo-Ottomanism is the grand name of Erdogan’s foreign policy today. Although AKP leaders have publicly remained loyal to Turkey’s application to join the EU, the lure of religious solidarity with Sunni Arab movements from Hamas in Gaza to the Muslim Brothers of both Egypt and Syria has had a stronger emotional pull.

Since 2011, when the civil war began in Syria, Erdogan has called for the fall of Assad, an Alawite ally of Shia Muslims, and backed Sunnis in Syria who are no friends of the local Kurds. For those Kurds, the Turkish president’s demand that they subordinate themselves to his Sunni allies in Syria if they want the Turkish Army to advance south has been an unacceptable ultimatum. They are well aware that Sunni fundamentalist violence against Kurds in Syria predates 2011. Isil’s actions today have simply exaggerated it.

All of which is further complicated by the fact that the sectarian splits brutally on display in Syria and Iraq, are festering below the surface in Turkey, too. Roughly a quarter of Turks are Alevi Muslims, with the majority Sunnis. Although scholars remind us that Turkey’s Alevis should not be confused with Syria’s ruling Alawites, the AKP has routinely dismissed Erdogan’s critics as sectarian Assad-lovers, so that poisonous confusion does exist. Turks of Alevi background, including in the army, find intervention in Syria against Isil fundamentalists one thing; but pushing on to Damascus against Assad’s Alawite regime quite another.

That might be one reason that Erdogan has been slow to act in Syria. But given his almost messianic sense of mission, which has overcome every obstacle on his way to the pinnacle of power, it is more likely that he’s pursuing another strategy – bargaining with the West.

What will he be demanding in return for a decisive Turkish strike at Isil? He is sure to insist that Kurds remain not only stateless but also defenceless. Meanwhile, will European members of Nato swallow their opposition to Turkish entry into the EU? Even so, without being allowed to replace Assad with a Sunni regime not in the least friendly to Kurds, Erdogan still may not act.

His is a tempting offer, though. Turkish military intervention would solve the West’s immediate problem while avoiding discontent over casualties in Britain and the US. But any Turkish action would, in effect, be unilateral. Ankara – not Washington or London – will dictate the outcome of this diplomatic dance. For though the Isil problem might well disappear under the weight of Turkish firepower, the Middle East’s snake-pit of conflicting rivalries will remain. Will Israel, for instance, be happy to see allies of Hamas brought to power in Damascus by Turkish troops?

We must be clear about this deal. Leaping at the possibility of crushing Isil, and quickly, via Ankara, will seem cause for celebration today. After the party is over, however, we will wake up with a new Middle Eastern headache.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11148908/The-Turks-wont-do-the-Wests-dirty-work.html

If you want to be informed when CRIOx’s “Secular Turkey – A Short History” is published, register your interest by sending an email to criox.editor@aol.com. 

How can we win this war when our allies despise everything we stand for?

On 27th September, 2014, the Mail on Sunday published CRIOx Director, Mark Almond’s article,

“How can we win this war when our allies despise everything we stand for?Recent experience of building democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is not encouraging.”

No government could refuse the challenge after the bloody provocations of Islamic State. But having decided by a huge majority to embark  on what David Cameron warned would be a long campaign, the House of Commons vote on Friday did not make clear what the endgame would be.

Without knowing what victory will look like, have we embarked on a war we cannot win?

Our model of victory is what happened at the end of the Second World War when the West successfully established democracy in defeated Germany and Japan.

But recent experience building new democracies from faction-ridden Afghanistan to disintegrating Iraq is not encouraging.The US Army thought it had kept George W. Bush’s promise to bring democracy to Iraq. But ‘winner takes all’ at the polls in countries riven by bitter religious rivalries means democracy has a sour taste for losers.

Things went wrong in Iraq despite the presence of so many US and British troops and billions of dollars in aid, training and equipment.

Now David Cameron tells us to ‘forget’ the last Iraq war. This time things will be different. No ground forces. Just air power to back up local and regional allies who share our hostility to IS.

That all seems straightforward enough. The enemy is obvious, almost a caricature of evil. But though knowing your enemy is vital in war, knowing what your allies’ real aims are is equally important.

It is our allies who frighten me almost as much as IS.

On the ground, the West has friends who have daggers drawn with each other. And they have contempt for our values.

Even leaving aside the oil-rich Arab despots who have signed  up for the anti-IS campaign for their own reasons, inside Nato, its key regional member, Turkey, is not fully on board.

Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria and has Nato’s  second-largest armed forces after America.

But precisely because Turkey is right in the thick of the Middle East, its government has a very different take on the crisis.

In London and Washington, the Kurds of the region seem natural allies against the common IS enemy. Arming the Kurds to fight the jihadis seems a neat way to get local boots to do the fighting on the ground in Northern Iraq and Syria.

But to Turkey, Kurds are not natural allies.

With so many Kurdish people living in Turkey itself, Ankara fears arming Kurds to fight IS today will provide them  with the weapons to fight for independence from Turkey tomorrow.

Given how much expensive American weaponry fell into IS hands earlier this year as the Iraqi Army disintegrated, is Turkey unreasonable to harbour suspicions that defeat of IS by the Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas could be the signal  for a well-armed war for independence by its Kurds?

But the Islamic-led Turkish government has been drifting away from the West in any case. President Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal critic of Israel and his open border policy to Syria has let foreign fighters, including hundreds from Britain, flow into the ranks of the jihadi forces fighting the Assad regime, but also taking Western aid workers hostages.

Syria’s civil war is key to the crisis. But there, too, Western values and the West’s allies are  in conflict.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbours say they support the American-led alliance but they don’t want the victory of Western democracy in the Middle East. What we see as the best way to guarantee a future for peace and freedom, our Arab allies see as a mortal threat.

The Sunni fundamentalist monarchs tolerated their rich subjects funding IS-style  jihadis to fight Assad and other allies of Shia Iran, which they hate and fear.

But when upstart jihadis like the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began to get too big for their boots, the ruling sheikhs were happy to join in cutting him down to size.

But promoting democracy, human rights, respect for women and religious minorities are not their war aims.

Chaos breeds enemies like IS. It is not the solution.

If anarchy is the problem, and democracy doesn’t take root easily, is dictatorship the answer?

Given how unsavoury and unreliable some of our allies in the Middle East are, it is remarkable how reluctant Western leaders have been to  join up with the regimes of Syria or Iran, who have very good reasons of their own for hating and fearing IS.

David Cameron, like Barack Obama, has pronounced Assad beyond the pale. So it looks like the West is undertaking a three-sided war in the Middle East, fighting Assad and his allies as well as his enemies.

This may be consistent, but is it wise?

If the West isn’t prepared to cooperate with the forces fighting IS in its main strongholds in Syria, then mission creep by our troops seems inevitable.

A case exists for special forces operations against specific targets, like ‘high value’ IS targets or safe houses where hostages are held.

But large-scale deployment of Western soldiers on the ground would be an admission of failure.

 This is a war which we cannot win for the locals. Maybe they can’t win it for themselves. Barring a lucky strike which knocks out the IS leadership and demoralises their supporters, air power is not going to produce rapid results.
 Nobody should anticipate a Victory in the Middle East Day 1945-style.
 The crimes of IS give us the right to fight it, but the war cannot be won by the West without local support.
 Tragically for us, the enemy and our dubious allies will decide the terms of victory or defeat.

Forgetting His Own History: William Hague Once Understood How Not to Handle a Black Sea Crisis

  

    

 

                “All the assumptions on which… this  policy [was]

                 based turned out to be wrong….  British  domestic

                 opinion would prove hard to persuade that seeking

                 the return… of a fortress on the Black Sea merited

                 the risk of a war with Russia.”

 

                            William Hague on the Anglo-Russian Crisis (1791)[1]  

 

Oxford historian, Mark Almond, recalls the lessons from history once taught by Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in his study of Pitt the Younger’s mishandling of what he called the “Ochakov fiasco” in 1791.

 

The current imbroglio over Crimea may be America’s first crisis with Russia in the Black Sea, but it is not Britain’s. Even the Crimean War (1854-56) was not Britain’s first face-off with Russia. More than two hundred years ago as the French Revolution convulsed Western Europe (rather as the Arab Spring has sent shock waves across the Mediterranean), Catherine the Great expanded her hold on the Black Sea coast by seizing Ochakov, not far from the new city of Odessa. Under the supervision of the exiled French Duc de Richelieu who acted as governor, the Tsarina’s architects would soon erect as a naval base to match Sebastopol across the Black Sea in the Crimea which she had already annexed in 1783.

 

With her major rival, France, apparently rendered impotent by revolution since 1789, William Pitt’s Britain seemed the only superpower – at least to itself.  Whitehall was as convinced in 1791 as the White House seems to be today that a combination of global reach via the Royal Navy with the City of London’s financial hegemony would both cause the Tsarina to back off and the other European states to fall into line behind Britain’s demand that Russia retreat from its southern Ukrainian conquests from the waning Ottoman Empire.

 

Convinced of that the West could cow the East with its combination of advanced military technology and commercial wealth even in a theatre so far from its sources of power and so close to Catherine’s, William Pitt turned the Ochakov issue into a first-rate crisis by demanding Russia withdraw or else.

 

But when push came to shove, the British government’s assumption that everyone in Europe would fall into line behind its bellicose approach proved as illusory as the sanctions-first strategy-later approach of David Cameron’s government today.   The echoes of today’s crisis are obvious – except it seems to the author of an excellent biography of the Younger Pitt  described as  a “fiasco”.

 

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, set out a succinct account of Britain’s over-reach in 1791 back in 2002 when he was in the political wilderness. His diplomacy, albeit as the junior partner of the USA, suggests that he has forgotten everything about what lessons might be derived from Whitehall’s past performance in the great game for influence in the Black Sea region.

 

The EU summit in Brussels on 6th March, 2014, should have had painful echoes of Pitt’s brutal learning curve in 1791. Don’t trust the private assurances of “allies” that they will cut off their noses to spite Russia’s face, nor believe over-optimistic British diplomats telling you that everyone is on board and the Russians are too militarily weak and economically backward to face up to a Western challenge in their own backyard.

 

Looking back two centuries later, Hague described how the Old Etonian prime minister of the day presumed that his European partners would fall into line behind London’s publicly-proclaimed policy to sanction Russia for its occupation of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. But Europe’s capitals were far from firmly resolved to incur Catherine the Great’s wrath:

“While Prussia joined in pressing the British demands, the Dutch were unwilling to risk a war, the Swedes demanded a subsidy, the Spanish were not prepared to help and the Austrians became markedly less cooperative and were actually playing a double game with the Russians.”

 

Pitt’s majority in the House of Commons sank because he could not persuade MPs why they should risk a war “for a faraway fortress of which they had never before heard.” Because the Russians had not harmed a hair on a British head in 1791, public opinion like Parliament could not get its mind around the need for military threats. Pitt complained that emotions were not running high enough to overrun his MPs scepticism about war in the Black Sea. Raison d’état did not cut much ice in Britain: “They can be embarked in a war from motives of passion, but they cannot be made to comprehend a case in which the most valuable interests of the country are at stake.” Maybe, but the mercantilist elite which provided so many MPs then had a very good understanding of self-interest and could be ruthless about asserting Britain’s interests when they made pounds-and-pence sense. What they could not be won over to was a war for alleged strategic interests well beyond their commercial reach and in fact against a major trading partner like Russia.

 

Rather as phone intercepts have embarrassed Victoria Nuland – “F*ck the EU” – and Catherine Ashton over the apparently pro-opposition “snipers” in Kiev, so in 1791 the Russian acquisition of British establishment inside information from Robert Adair, an ally of Pitt’s bête-noire Charles James Fox, revealed to Catherine II’s government that – surprise, surprise – the British had been making contradictory promises to Austria and Turkey to keep them both on board – so both drifted away from London on the news. 

 

Pitt had to back down, but, in a lesson for the blundering Bullingdon Club bully[2] in 10 Downing Street today, a colleague noted, “He hoped means might be found to manage matters so as not to have the appearance of giving up the point.”[3]  

 

Diplomacy is often best when it provides a smokescreen for a retreating from a foolish policy. Maybe  if William Hague could act like his hero Pitt, he could persuade the White House to declare Vladimir Putin’s permission of a referendum on the future of Crimea to be a triumph of Western ideals to spread democracy and so a sign of Russia’s climb-down!  But don’t expect too much: Hague like his American patrons has approached real-time crises with an open mouth, so thinking first before shooting the West in the foot would require reflecting on his own experience as well as remembering the history which appears under his name.


[1] See William Hague, William Pitt the Younger (Harper Perennial: London, 2005), 285.

[2] Cameron’s main unilateral sanction has been to kick away the UK government’s crutch from our para-olympians going to Sochi for the Winter Games this weekend. 

[3] Quoted in Hague, William Pitt, 287.

 

Forgetting His Own History: William Hague once understood a Black Sea Crisis

“All the assumptions on which… this  policy [was]

based turned out to be wrong….  British  domestic

opinion would prove hard to persuade that seeking

the return… of a fortress on the Black Sea merited

the risk of a war with Russia.”

William Hague on the Anglo-Russian Crisis (1791)[1]

The current imbroglio over Crimea may be America’s first crisis with Russia in the Black Sea, but it is not Britain’s. Even the Crimean War (1854-56) was not Britain’s first face-off with Russia. More than two hundred years ago as the French Revolution convulsed Western Europe (rather as the Arab Spring has sent shock waves across the Mediterranean), Catherine the Great expanded her hold on the Black Sea coast by seizing Ochakov, not far from the new city of Odessa. Under the supervision of the exiled French Duc de Richelieu who acted as governor, the Tsarina’s architects would soon erect as a naval base to match Sebastopol across the Black Sea in the Crimea which she had already annexed in 1783.

With her major rival, France, apparently rendered impotent by revolution since 1789, William Pitt’s Britain seemed the only superpower – at least to itself.  Whitehall was as convinced in 1791 as the White House seems to be today that a combination of global reach via the Royal Navy with the City of London’s financial hegemony would both cause the Tsarina to back off and the other European states to fall into line behind Britain’s demand that Russia retreat from its southern Ukrainian conquests from the waning Ottoman Empire.

Convinced of that the West could cow the East with its combination of advanced military technology and commercial wealth even in a theatre so far from its sources of power and so close to Catherine’s, William Pitt turned the Ochakov issue into a first-rate crisis by demanding Russia withdraw or else.

But when push came to shove, the British government’s assumption that everyone in Europe would fall into line behind its bellicose approach proved as illusory as the sanctions-first strategy-later approach of David Cameron’s government today.   The echoes of today’s crisis are obvious – except it seems to the author of an excellent biography of the Younger Pitt  described as  a “fiasco”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, set out a succinct account of Britain’s over-reach in 1791 back in 2002 when he was in the political wilderness. His diplomacy, albeit as the junior partner of the USA, suggests that he has forgotten everything about what lessons might be derived from Whitehall’s past performance in the great game for influence in the Black Sea region.

The EU summit in Brussels on 6th March, 2014, should have had painful echoes of Pitt’s brutal learning curve in 1791. Don’t trust the private assurances of “allies” that they will cut off their noses to spite Russia’s face, nor believe over-optimistic British diplomats telling you that everyone is on board and the Russians are too militarily weak and economically backward to face up to a Western challenge in their own backyard.

Looking back two centuries later, Hague described how the Old Etonian prime minister of the day presumed that his European partners would fall into line behind London’s publicly-proclaimed policy to sanction Russia for its occupation of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. But Europe’s capitals were far from firmly resolved to incur Catherine the Great’s wrath:

“While Prussia joined in pressing the British demands, the Dutch were unwilling to risk a war, the Swedes demanded a subsidy, the Spanish were not prepared to help and the Austrians became markedly less cooperative and were actually playing a double game with the Russians.”

Pitt’s majority in the House of Commons sank because he could not persuade MPs why they should risk a war “for a faraway fortress of which they had never before heard.” Because the Russians had not harmed a hair on a British head in 1791, public opinion like Parliament could not get its mind around the need for military threats. Pitt complained that emotions were not running high enough to overrun his MPs scepticism about war in the Black Sea. Raison d’état did not cut much ice in Britain: “They can be embarked in a war from motives of passion, but they cannot be made to comprehend a case in which the most valuable interests of the country are at stake.” Maybe, but the mercantilist elite which provided so many MPs then had a very good understanding of self-interest and could be ruthless about asserting Britain’s interests when they made pounds-and-pence sense. What they could not be won over to was a war for alleged strategic interests well beyond their commercial reach and in fact against a major trading partner like Russia.

Rather as phone intercepts have embarrassed Victoria Nuland – “F*ck the EU” – and Catherine Ashton, so the Russian acquisition of British establishment inside information from Robert Adair, an ally of Pitt’s bête-noire Charles James Fox, revealed to Catherine II’s government that – surprise, surprise – the British had been making contradictory promises to Austria and Turkey to keep them both on board – both drifted away from London on the news.

Pitt had to back down, but, in a lesson for the blundering Bullingdon Club bully[2] in 10 Downing Street today, a colleague noted, “He hoped means might be found to manage matters so as not to have the appearance of giving up the point.”[3]

Diplomacy is often best when it provides a smokescreen for a retreating from a foolish policy. Maybe  if William Hague could act like his hero Pitt, he could persuade the White House to declare Vladimir Putin’s permission of a referendum on the future of Crimea to be a triumph of Western ideals to spread democracy and so a sign of Russia’s climb-down!  But don’t expect too much: Hague like his American patrons has approached real-time crises with an open mouth, so thinking first before shooting the West in the foot would require reflexion on his own experience not just remembering the history which appears under his name.


[1] See William Hague, William Pitt the Younger (Harper Perennial: London, 2005), 285.

[2] Cameron’s main unilateral sanction has been to kick away the UK government’s crutch from our para-olympians going to Sochi for the Winter Games this weekend.

[3] Quoted in Hague, William Pitt, 287.

The Sochi Syndrome

By

 

Christine Stone

 

Does the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the likely liberation of the members of Pussy Riot plus the dropping of charges against the so-called ‘Arctic 30’ mean that Vladimir Putin’s Russia will enjoy a trouble-free Sochi Winter Olympics in February, 2014?  

The answer must be ‘no’. Even without these high-profile jail-birds as “prisoners of conscience” to harp on about, the professional Russia-baiters in the Western media and “human rights community” are still  ranged against the Russian president and his pet project. For one thing, the LGBT issue has not gone away. None of the offenders mentioned above are  gay –  as far as we know. In fact, members of the Pussy Riot group who were part of the Voina [War] ‘collective’ dismayed  ordinary Muscovites in August 2008 when they staged a decidedly heterosexual orgy in Moscow’s Biological Museum.

The Kremlin seems gripped by the sporting equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome. Once terrorist hostages became enthralled by their captors and came to sympathise with them more than with their would-be rescuers. Today, the Russian government is so anxious for the Sochi Olympics to pass off without incident that it will appease any pressure group pursuing its own agenda even where that group’s aims clearly contradict the will of ordinary Russians or the laws passed by the Duma.    

Now as “straight” anti-Putin opponents are walking free, protest-events can focus  on the opportunities Sochi provides for gay outrage. Won’t one or another of the many foreign groups indignant at Russia’s  30th June law banning propaganda in favour of non-traditional sexual relations, stage some kind of provocation during the Games? Even if it were only a small scale event, when  filmed close up by one or another foreign broadcaster, it could be made to look serious – as though a pogrom was taking place.

Then there are the celebrity – if somewhat superannuated – gays sent by President Obama to Sochi to represent the USA. Their presence and the media circus accompanying them offers almost limitless opportunities for the well-manufactured “spontaneous” publicity stunt.

 The internet is  already full of gay outrage as well as supporting voices from the likes of Lady Gaga. Following on from Madonna’s “daring” and “bold” display of the words “Pussy Riot” on her flesh during a gig in Moscow, Gaga revealed that “during a previous trip to the country she unsuccessfully tried to get arrested with an onstage protest.” Even if they were not entirely coherent, the Dadaist Gaga’s words are revealing: “You know what, I don’t think I’m even allowed in anymore because I screamed ‘I’m gay, arrest me’ on stage last time I was there… I never really understand with activists when they get upset when they get arrested, I’m like ‘Isn’t that the point, that you get arrested?… Because you have to contest the law, and they didn’t arrest me when I was there so I couldn’t contest the law.’”[1]  This rather confused message of support for the gay over-ground in Russia is not logical but it forcefully shows how shallow is the anti-Sochi hysteria among Western human rights activists claiming that open expressions of homosexuality are outlawed in Russia and brutally silenced even as they take place unhindered.

Nowadays, no Olympics is complete without its vulgar marketing, and today’s indignant anti-SochiOlympians can indulge in shopping till their hatred of Putin is exhausted, or at least their credit cards are rejected. Online, there is a cornucopia of merchandise to choose from for the indignant Putin-hater: T-shirts, mugs, jewellery, mainly  designed to show  disgust at the anti-gay propaganda law but also providing the purchaser with something suitable to wear while [s]he  indulges in a Big Brother-style “five minutes of hate” for the Russian president.[2]

 The realities of the offending Russian legislation are overlooked despite the volume of words tossed off about it.  The law does not mention homosexuality per se, only ‘non-traditional’ sexual practices, and the promotion of them to children. Most Western gays don’t advocate paedophile practices anymore than most occidental straights, but the reportage in the West ignores the focus of the law -which means thate ordinary Russians aware of the agitation in the West, openly backed by President Obama, are left with the impression that it is precisely the right to abuse children which the Western establishment is demanding. The Russian law is much less oppressive than anti-homosexual legislation in many countries, for instance, in US allies in the Middle East, let alone Uganda. Nor has India’s recent court decision outlawing same-sex acts got the Sochi-bashers out in force. Even if sport should be a particular focus for gay rights, why were no LBGT voices  raised to question Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 football championships even though homosexuality is illegal there and gays can receive the death penalty? The hypocrisy of the anti-Sochi campaign hardly needs emphasising – except to its brazen advocates.

 Russia’s offending law looks likely to be as unenforceable as  the similar law which was on the books in the UK until it was overturned by Tony Blair’s government in 2000.[3] Even though Clause 28, as it was known,  was opposed by the homosexual community, strangely enough, boycotts against the European soccer championships in 1996 or other British sporting events were not demanded by the veteran LGBT activists so loud in their condemnations of participation in Sochi today.

But the real problem for Sochi must  be the threat of terrorism from Muslim extremists based in the North Caucasus region.  Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and, of course, Chechnya have experienced  numerous bomb plots, murders and targeted killings since the collapse of the USSR.  Since Putin returned to power in 2012 there have been fewer terrorist incidents, possibly because much tougher rules have been imposed on foreign NGOs some of  whom have probably had a hand in stirring up discontent in the region. Nevertheless the killings still take place. On 5th December, Dokar Umayev, the purported leader of the Caucasus insurgency, threatened to disrupt the Games, due to their “satanic” quality.[4] What did he mean by this? Could it be that the anti-Putin terrorists whose human rights are assiduously defended  by some of the same NGOs frothing at the mouth about Russia’s anti-paedophile law intend to attack openly gay visitors to Sochi to demonstrate their indignation against Russia’s authoritarian regime? Since the region’s Islamic extremists are not known for their tolerance of non-mainstream sexual conduct maybe they’ll need the protection of the very repressive post-Soviet security apparatus which they decry from abroad as homophobic. Without it, will they be safe so close to the lairs of Muslim terrorists?

 

Other disgruntled groups  chirruping from the wings include  descendants of the minorities  who were expelled from the region around Sochi by the Russians in the mid nineteenth century. For example, Circassians  (a Caucasian ethnic group)  in the   diaspora have  established several NGOs and  web pages dedicated to their desire to return home.  In 2011, the Georgian parliament declared that the Circassian people  had been the victims of  a “genocide”. Last year, Georgia’s president at the time, Mikheil  Saakashvili, always keen to stir up trouble with his neighbour in the north,  unveiled a monument commemorating this ‘genocide’ near the border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia.  On 16th December, the documentary film,  No Sochi,  was shown in Istanbul and heavily promoted in the media. According to the publicity material it describes  “how Circassians were affected by the Sochi Olympics”  and is   “showcasing the struggle of the Circassian activists as well as the opinion of the Russian officials”.[5] There is no indication that these people support, let alone, promote violence. More likely, they will be one more reminder of the evil done by Russian regimes in the past pre-Putin eras  before effortlessly fast forwarding to the present.

 Of course, leaving aside the many – often discordant  – groups with geo-political axes to grind there is  also the prospect of organizational chaos:  roofs falling in, ski-lifts breaking down, ticketing chaos. For some time, the nay-sayers have been screaming about  Sochi’s climate where it is palm trees rather than snow that attracts visitors.  However, the skiing events are scheduled for the high  mountains nearby which are already covered in snow. Only indoor events will be held in and around the town. It’s worth remembering that coastal Vancouver’s choice as official venue came in for much the same criticism about its climate although uttered  with less hysteria. 

 But, in spite of the long list of potential disasters – worthy of Job’s torments – that could befall Mr. Putin, the chances must be that the Sochi Games will go off without serious incident. After all, in whatever way governments in places like Canada, France and the US vow to “make a stand” against the Games, they know that their athletes want to compete in a trouble-free environment. It is them rather then Vladimir Putin who could be blamed if  there are too many provocations halting the competition. Before the 2012 European Football Championships hosted by Ukraine and Poland, British media claimed that  racists in Ukraine were preparing to take to the stands and shout  abuse at  coloured players  and attack non-white spectators.  It never happened[6] and the allegation was quietly dropped.

This doesn’t mean to say that it is wise for places like Russia to host these high profile sporting events. There seems to be little doubt that with the opening ceremony drawing ever closer, the Kremlin decided to pander to Western demands and rehabilitate some of  its more notorious offenders. Such gestures are unlikely to stop the steady stream of criticism that comes from Brussels and Washington. There has been a noticeable silence since Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released. Hardly a vote of confidence.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel – herself winner of the Soviet bloc Olympiade in the Russian language forty years ago – promptly announced she would not attend the Sochi Games despite Germany’s record of staging them with the Chancellor present since 1936. In fact,  hosting such important international events puts  Russia under the spotlight.  With its reputation and  amour propre  under siege,  Putin is giving  in to the often outrageous demands made by the West rather than running  the risk of  having a repeat of the boycott of the  Moscow Olympics in 1980.

 Even if the Winter Olympics are over without embarrassment, another  sword of Damocles still hangs over the Kremlin as Russia prepares to host the Football World Cup in 2018. Unless an ‘approved’ figure like Mikheil Khodorkovsky  is in power by then,  Moscow should prepare for a further  bout of  agitation on its human rights or environmental record from hypocritical Western NGOs who conveniently ignore such abuses in our allies or even oil-slicks off our coasts while beating the Russophobe drum.  Russia’s foreign minister likes to refer to western governments as  “partners” but,  in reality, they seek the country’s destruction. Bearing this in mind, it seems stupid and self defeating for the Russians to offer hostages to fortune by seeking to stage  these high profile but expensive and transitory sporting competitions which do not boost the country’s prestige so much as make it a convenient target for attack.

 


[1] See Joe Bowers, “Lady Gaga Calls for Boycott of 1014 Winter Olympics” Starpulse (6th December, 2013):http://www.starpulse.com/news/Joe_Bowers/2013/12/06/lady_gaga_calls_for_boycott_of_2014_wi.  

[3] The correct  name is Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988

[4] See Stewart Bell, “Notorious Russian terrorist could target Westerners at ‘satanic’ Olympic games: Canadian intelligence document” National Post, 15th December, 2013

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/12/15/notorious-russian-terrorist-could-target-westerners-at-satanic-olympic-games-canadian-intelligence-document/

[5] See “Istanbul premiere of ‘No Sochi!’ aroused great interest” Nosochi2014: http://www.nosochi2014.com/news/istanbul-premiere-of-no-sochi-aroused-great-interest.php.

[6] At least not in Ukrainian stadiums but in EU and NATO member Poland rabid nationalist mobs attacked Russian football fans which seemed to be an OK form of racism for the Western media.