Russia

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Meanwhile, We’re Still WAY Too Close To Nuclear Armageddon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 12:52pm in

Tags 

Russia, News, NATO

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

https://medium.com/media/31d9758921c3b2f3058a864898511a28/href

While the antiwar zeitgeist has been quite understandably focused on the genocide in Gaza, over the past few weeks we’ve been seeing some very disturbing reports about empire managers ramping up nuclear brinkmanship escalations in Ukraine that are worth going over.

Antiwar’s Dave DeCamp has been doing a great job covering these developments, as usual. Here are a few recent stories from Antiwar.com which deserve some attention today.

https://x.com/Antiwarcom/status/1793704011289501945

In an article titled “Blinken Pushing To Let Ukraine Hit Russian Territory With US Weapons,” DeCamp goes over a New York Times report about a “vigorous debate” within the Biden administration over whether to let Ukraine use US-supplied war machinery to attack targets in the Russian Federation itself. This would risk direct hot war between Russia and NATO, as Moscow already made explicitly clear recently with regard to similar developments in the UK.

“Moscow recently warned the UK that if Ukraine used British weapons on Russian territory, Russian forces would target UK military sites in Ukraine ‘and beyond’,” DeCamp writes. “The warning came after British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Ukraine had the ‘right’ to use British arms in attacks on Russia.”

Obviously Ukraine has the “right” to attack Russia since Russia is attacking Ukraine; nobody disputes this. What is of course disputed is that it is wise or moral to risk the life of every terrestrial organism by tempting hot warfare between Russia and NATO over who controls Kharkiv.

https://medium.com/media/fdd3cf05f11a184389107c3e19e2745d/href

In “Speaker Johnson Thinks Ukraine Should Use US Weapons on Russian Territory,” DeCamp reports on a letter sent by a bipartisan group of House representatives urging the president to lift any restrictions on the Ukrainians using US-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory “in the way they see fit.” Which means pressure is mounting both within the White House and on Capitol Hill to escalate nuclear tensions in this way.

In “Estonia Says NATO Countries Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Sending Troops to Ukraine for Training,” we learn of Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ casual support for openly sending large numbers of NATO forces into Ukraine for training purposes. Small, unofficial special operations forces from NATO powers have long been active in Ukraine, but what the Estonian PM is advocating would be a significant escalation from there. DeCamp notes that “Estonia, Lithuania, and France have all expressed interest in deploying troops” in Ukraine.

All this insanely hawkish rhetoric is already drawing a response from Moscow. In “Russia Begins Nuclear Weapons Drills Near Ukrainian Border,” The Libertarian Institute’s Kyle Anzalone reports on new war games which were announced by the Russian government “in response to Western leaders suggesting NATO troops could enter Ukraine.”

https://x.com/Antiwarcom/status/1793392837683544559

There was a lull in nuclear brinkmanship between NATO and Russia as the uncertainties of the Ukraine war and the influence the hawks would have over it got clearer, and things reached a cruel and bloody semblance of stability. But as Ukraine loses ground and runs out of manpower we’re starting to see some frantic flailings throughout the western empire on a front where cool heads are of existential importance to the survival of our species.

It would feel so unbelievably idiotic if we woke up to learn that nuclear war has begun after a series of reckless escalations and unpredictable developments led to a rapid sequence of events from which there could be no return. But that’s not an unreasonable fear at this point in history, and we are moving much, much too close to that ledge.

______________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece here are some options where you can toss some money into my tip jar if you want to. Go here to find video versions of my articles. Go here to buy paperback editions of my writings from month to month. All my work is free to bootleg and use in any way, shape or form; republish it, translate it, use it on merchandise; whatever you want. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. All works co-authored with my husband Tim Foley.

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Featured image via Adobe Stock.

How Russia’s War on Ukraine Opened the Door to New Partnerships That may End its Only Remaining Leverage

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 10:00pm in

Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted countries around the world to expand and diversify their trade and energy relations to end their reliance on the Russian Federation and in the 27 months since, considerable progress has been made.

Since Vladimir Putin's attack on 24 February 2022, five Central Asian states have taken steps to build and further develop relationships with Western countries and organisations including the European Union, who were similarly reliant on Russia.

Before the war, nearly 10% of EU imports came from the Russian Federation and 40% of its gas, and in 2023, it purchased 35 million barrels of refined fuel from the now sanctioned country. Russia is estimated to have made over €1 billion from the sales. In 2021, imports from Russia made up 4% of gas used in the UK, 9% of oil and 27% of coal with a combined value of £4.5 billion. This fell to £2.2 billion in 2022 and £1.3 billion in the year to January 2023, Government figures show.

Over the past two years, meetings between EU and Central Asian dignitaries have become more frequent as they pursue greater trade relations to boost their economies, diversify their energy markets and diminish their reliance on Russia.

Last year dignitaries from the five Central Asian states met with their European counterparts in Luxembourg and the EU agreed to support Central Asia’s efforts to “modernise and facilitate trade within and beyond the region” and “diversify their transport routes,” which would bolster their trade relations. The group also discussed how the EU and Central Asia can establish a “more integrated regional market”.

Then, earlier this year, the EU and Central Asian states held a forum, and announced the Prosperity Programme, which will move toward “trade facilitation along the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor”.

The EU committed to helping Central Asian states develop better relations with the World Trade Organisation and the European Commission stated it would invest €10 billion in sustainable transport connectivity to Central Asia to strengthen trade relations. The aim is to make the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor operational in 2024, making Central Asia less dependent on Russia.

Enhancing the EU-Central Asia energy market will strengthen energy security for all involved. Central Asia is a region rich in natural minerals and earth elements and gas from the area could “help the EU diversify its energy supply” and make it no longer a captive of Russia’s energy empire and reliant on a single entity.

The EU has signed a Memoranda of Understanding with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to further enhance their energy relationship. In a recent announcement, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan stated they aim to connect their energy systems and work together to further export green energy to the EU.

In return, the EU can help Central Asia achieve its own energy independence by sharing “know-how on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” which would help the region transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The countries in the region already have several earth minerals required for clean technology. It can also help Central Asia modernise and improve its energy sector.

In a relatively short period, EU-Central Asian relations appear to have strengthened with real developments underway, but only time will tell if they will achieve their aims.

Rishi Sunak’s Russian Hypocrisy: How the Conservatives ‘Emboldened’ Vladimir Putin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 2:17am in

Rishi Sunak this week accused his opponents of playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin, saying that Labour leader Keir Starmer’s policies would “embolden” the Russian President.

“The Labour Party and Keir Starmer not matching our investment on defence spending emboldens our adversaries", he said.

“What do you think Putin thinks when he sees that? That he thinks the West isn’t prepared to make the tough choices to invest in their security?

For Sunak to accuse his opponents of playing into Russia's hands is an incredibly bold move, given his own party's long record of doing just that.

The Russian Cash Carousel

Over the past decade the Conservative Party has taken millions of pounds from individuals and businesses with ties to Russia.

Just this week it was revealed that JCB, which is owned by a major Conservative donor, continued to send equipment to Russia for months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, despite publicly saying that they wouldn’t.

This is not a one off. Over the past decade, Russia-linked donors have repeatedly been given access to senior Conservative ministers after donating to the party. This culminated in the absurd spectacle of former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson auctioning themselves off for a game of tennis with Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former minister to Putin.

Even after the Russian President’s assassins attempted to murder Sergei Skripal on the streets of Salisbury in 2018, the flow of cash continued.

Despite former Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise of a “full and robust response” to the attack, donations to the Conservative Party from individuals linked to Russia actually increased in the years that followed. Later, in 2022, while Sunak was Chancellor, The Times revealed that Chernukhin, who was also pictured alongside May and Liz Truss, had bought herself into a special “advisory board” of Conservative donors which meets regularly with the Prime Minister to discuss Government policy.

Johnson’s own connections to wealthy Russians have also been well documented.

In 2020, he overruled officials in order to hand a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, who is the son of a Russian oligarch and former KGB agent. Evgeny Lebedev – whose newspaper the Evening Standard backed Johnson’s re-election campaign for London Mayor – repeatedly hosted Johnson at his Italian villa. The Conservative Party’s close ties to Russian influence led to Johnson repeatedly being photographed standing alongside suspected Russian agents.

Sunak has also continued to reward those with links to the country. Just two months ago the Prime Minister released a surprise new honours list, which included a knighthood for the Conservative donor Mohamed Mansour, who was a minister to the corrupt military Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and had well-documented business ties to Russia.

Last year hacked emails also revealed that under Sunak's leadership, the Treasury allowed the boss of Russia’s mercenary army to circumvent UK sanctions and aggressively target a British journalist in the UK courts.

Infosys

Sunak himself has his own family ties to the country. The Prime Minister is married to Akshata Murty, daughter of the Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, who founded the technology company Infosys.

Infosys has strong historic links to Russia. In 2004, Sunak’s father-in-law made a personal visit to Infosys’ headquarters in Bangalore where he was photographed shaking hands with him.

The Kremlin reported at the time that Putin was given a tour of the company buildings and asked to sign the “guest of honour book”, in which he wrote: “I congratulate you on your achievements and wish you all future success.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with N R Narayana Murthy (R) chairman of Infosys Technologies during his visit to the corporate headquarters of Infosys in the southern Indian city of Bangalore December 5, 2004. REUTERS/Jagadeesh Nv SD/TW

NR Narayana Murthy retired from his position at the company in 2014. However, according to Infosys’ own annual accounts, his daughter continued to own 0.91% of the company – worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Her use of her non-dom tax status until last year enabled her to protect much of this fortune.

Even after the invasion of Ukraine, Infosys continued to operate out of Moscow, despite insisting that it would cease to do so.

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a spokesperson for the company promised that they would "urgently" cease all trading in the country, but were still found to be present there some months later.

The company’s website continued to list itself as operating an office in Moscow right up until just last month. Spokespeople for the company have failed to respond to repeated requests by this paper to answer whether they still have any dealings with the country.

'Londongrad'

Rather than decisively confront the threat from Russia, successive Conservative prime ministers welcomed the widening flow of Russian money and influence into the UK with open arms.

In 2011, Cameron expanded the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme, which allowed Russian oligarchs – and their money – to flood into London.

In the years that followed, Cameron continued to downplay and dismiss concerns that the UK was allowing itself to become a ‘laundromat’ for dirty Russian cash.

Such was the spread of Russian wealth into the UK that some of Cameron’s own ministers ultimately ended up benefiting from it. His Chancellor George Osborne later went to work for Evgeny Lebedev, the son of one Russian oligarch in London, before winning a deal with an investment firm set up by another Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

Evgeny and Alexander Lebedev and Boris Johnson. Photomontage: PA Images / Alamy

Britain’s deep ties to Moscow have become notorious around the world.

When America prepared its package of sanctions against Putin, US diplomats warned that any Western attempt to retaliate against the Kremlin in the event of a Ukraine invasion would be badly weakened by the UK’s reliance on Russian cash.

“The fear is that Russian money is so entrenched in London now that the opportunity to use it as leverage against Putin could be lost,” one Washington source told The Times.

“Biden is talking about sanctioning Putin himself but that can only be symbolic. Putin doesn’t hold his money abroad, it is all in the kleptocrats’ names and a hell of a lot of it is sitting in houses in Knightsbridge and Belgravia right under your Government’s noses,” the source said.

So deep are the connections that, as the Russian President prepared to invade, Johnson took the time to invite executives from the City of London into Downing Street in an attempt to reassure them about the inevitable impact of any potential sanctions on their businesses.

The Conservative Government also stood by as Putin and his operatives sought to interfere in Western democracy. Despite repeated concerns being raised about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU Referendum, Johnson's government consistently played down the threat.

Even as Putin prepared to roll his tanks into Ukraine, Johnson dismissed a call from Green MP Caroline Lucas to clamp down on the problem, telling the House of Commons that “I have seen absolutely no evidence of successful Russian interference in any electoral event”.

The Russia Report

One reason why he may not have seen such evidence is that he has refused to look for it. When Johnson's Government finally allowed Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to release its report into Russian interference, it revealed that the Government had not even bothered to investigate Putin’s attempts to interfere in British democracy.

As the SNP’s Stewart Hosie MP, who sits on the committee, said at the time: “The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”

Johnson made much of his support for Ukraine while he was Prime Minister. However, this is not always the stance that he took.

In 2016, while campaigning for Brexit, Johnson was branded a “Putin apologist” after appearing to blame the EU for Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Johnson’s alliance with former US President Donald Trump – who described Putin‘s actions in Ukraine as “genius” – lso weakened the West in its response to Russia. Rather than allying with our European neighbours, Johnson instead chose to partner with a man who had threatened to withdraw America from NATO.

Addressing the nation in a televised statement, Johnson said the UK would take a tough response to Russia’s “attack on democracy and freedom in east Europe and around the world” and insisted that “diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure”.

However, the ties between Sunak's party, the City of London and Russia, means that any response to Russia's aggression was always going to be compromised from the start.

Cracks in the Crackdown? Pressure Mounts on Georgian Dream

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/05/2024 - 9:35pm in

Georgians woke this morning to grim reports of further beatings in Tbilisi. Overnight, protesters had remained outside parliament on Rustaveli Avenue, where security has literally welded shut the iron outer gates, to block ruling party MPs today from participating in the latest plenary reading of their controversial Russian-style law on ‘foreign influence’.

As dawn broke over the city, several exhausted and rain-soaked demonstrators were dragged behind a police line and slung to the floor to be punched, kicked, and summarily arrested. Around 9 am, the legal affairs committee, who had been smuggled into the building sometime earlier, approved the bill in a session that lasted just over sixty seconds. 

Last week, amid massive demonstrations and mounting international outcry, the Georgian government launched a full-scale crackdown on opposition voices, in a vicious campaign that has for many dredged up the trauma of state terror from before the South Caucasian country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

At least a dozen high-profile government critics have been savagely attacked by police and security forces either at rallies or outside their homes and in front of their families. Hundreds more have received menacing anonymous phone calls, even death threats, while Tbilisi remains plastered with posters denouncing various opposition figures as ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the state.’ 

The ruling Georgian Dream party’s proposed law, which today will almost certainly pass its third collective reading in parliament, comprises a set of draconian provisions to be imposed on media and NGOs who receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad. The bill’s critics say these represent an analogue of measures used by the Kremlin to crush domestic opponents of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Ahead of a guaranteed presidential veto sometime next week, which will simply see the bill sent back to the house for final review, the European Union has warned that if passed in its current form the law will all but scupper Georgia’s chances of one day joining the bloc, supported by up to 90% of the voting public. 

The Power of the Oligarch

At the heart of the unrest sits Bidzina Ivanishvili, the ruling party’s oligarch founder, who made his fortune in Moscow during the 1990s. Amid the conflict in Ukraine, Ivanishvili has faced repeated calls from US and EU officials to be targeted with sanctions for his longstanding ties to powerful Russian figures, as well as for the increasingly anti-Western track assumed by his government since the war began.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the created by him the Georgian Dream party greets demonstrators during a rally in support of "Russian law" in Tbilisi 29 April 2024. Photo: Associated Press/Alamy

Byline Times has previously spoken to sources with access to the oligarch’s inner circle, who say Ivanishvili believes he is already the victim of a Western conspiracy against his finances. The ‘foreign influence’ law, they add, is likely designed to shield his interests from watchdog scrutiny ahead of potentially transferring his offshore assets into Georgia, so as to protect his vast wealth from any future action by the US and the EU. 

If the government crackdown was designed to cow protesters into submission, the plan has spectacularly backfired. Far from withering under the heat, a rally on Saturday night arguably marked the largest public action in Georgia since the Rose Revolution of 2003, with some estimates putting the number of attendees at almost 500,000 – roughly 15% of the country’s total population.

International pressure has also intensified. “We are deeply alarmed about democratic backsliding in Georgia, [where] parliamentarians face a critical choice – whether to support the Georgian people’s EuroAtlantic aspirations or pass a Kremlin-style foreign agents law that runs counter to democratic values,” Jake Sullivan, a national security adviser to the White House, wrote in response to the sheer scale of demonstrations on Saturday. “Georgian Dream’s recent rhetoric, proposed legislative changes, and actions go against the aspirations of the Georgian people and are designed to isolate Georgians from the United States and Europe. We stand with the Georgian people.” 

James O’Brien, the Assistant US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, is now scheduled to visit Tbilisi next week, where he is expected to meet with government, opposition and civil society representatives to discuss the bill, which he has condemned along with the violence.

Nabila Massrali, a foreign affairs and security spokesperson for the EU Commission, has similarly said “intimidation, threats and physical assaults against civil society activists, politicians and journalists are unacceptable,” urging Georgian authorities “to ensure that fundamental rights of all citizens are protected and those acts are investigated.” 

Meanwhile, Georgian Dream has seen its first high-profile resignation over the ‘foreign agents’ furore. Gocha Javakhishvili quit his post as the country’s ambassador to France on May 9, going on to deliver a scathing indictment of the party’s trajectory in an interview with Le Monde.

“It is a question of principle and honour. I call for the withdrawal of this bill,” he told the French newspaper. “Today, our European friends criticise us, and Moscow compliments us. This is unbearable to me. My country has suffered so much from Russia. I don’t see how we can be friends with a country that occupies 20% of our territory.” Asked whether he anticipated other Georgian diplomats would follow suit, he said he had not discussed the matter with colleagues, but “most of them are deeply pro-European” and “I do not exclude that my example will be followed.”

As of Monday morning, however, Javakhishvili remains the only member of Georgia’s diplomatic corps to have left his post. “It’s absolutely shameful that only one person has expressed his concern publicly,” says Tamar Chugoshvili, a former Georgian Dream MP who resigned in 2019 over a lack of action on electoral reform. “Diplomats are civil servants, we should be expecting more of them to speak out when it is so obvious the political leadership is changing the foreign policy direction of the country.” 

Having been among a number of former ruling party officials to submit an open letter to parliament condemning the bill, Chugoshvili adds we’re unlikely to see any resignations of elected appointees in future, given the alleged stranglehold of senior Georgian Dream officials over the party’s current rank and file. “The orders come down from the top – if they are told to vote green, they vote green, and if not, they know there will be consequences for them,” she says. “There will be some people who are worried on a pragmatic level, but I’d be very surprised if there’s anyone left who might be concerned enough on ethical or moral grounds.”

A source with comparable experience of working with the party is less convinced. From recent conversations they’ve had with senior officials, they say there are already indications of growing alarm at the vice-ministerial level in the Ministry of Defence and among heads of department at the mayor’s office in Tbilisi.

“Cracks are definitely starting to show. For now people remain under control, but give it a week, maybe two?” the source explains. “I also wouldn’t underestimate the significance of an ambassador resigning, as Javakhishvili does have political connections. There’s a huge amount of discontent in the civil service – I’ve not heard from anyone at the top level who’s in support of this.”

Since Sunday, faint signs have begun to emerge that the Georgian government might be willing to engage with historic partners who have lately found themselves otherwise roundly snubbed on any discussions pertaining to the bill. Parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili has said “if Georgia’s international partners give acceptable recommendations,” then the legislative body would consider adhering to the President Salome Zurabishvili’s expected veto in order to review the bill’s provisions.

Byline Times understands the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic corps, is already preparing to take advantage of whatever window presents itself in the coming days. 

At this stage, any such move would likely encounter significant pushback from MEPs like Petras Austrevicius in Lithuania, Thijs Reuten in the Netherlands and Viola von Cramon in Germany, who’ve levelled repeated criticism at the EU Delegation in Georgia for “emboldening autocrats” by continuing much of its diplomatic mission these past weeks as if things were “business as usual.”

More importantly, there is also perhaps a zero chance the bill’s opponents, with the sheer scale and momentum of recent demonstrations behind them, will accept anything less than a wholesale termination of the entire legislative process.

“Any ‘softening’ of the law is just window-dressing, an attempt to avert protests and possible sanctions by tricking us and our international partners,” says Marika Mikiashvili, an opposition Droa party representative. “It will not calm the regime – this will remain an existential threat, and the EU must not take part in its legitimisation.”

The Kremlin’s Game of Thrones: Why did Putin Sack Shoigu? 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/05/2024 - 8:49pm in

"Cadres decide everything" is the famous phrase used by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1935. Quite aware that he cannot achieve at least some of his goals in Ukraine with incompetent and extremely corrupt officials running the Defence Ministry, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced his close ally Sergei Shoigu with a technocrat Andrei Belousov. 

But how will that affect Russian actions in the Eastern European country?

Putin seems to enjoy playing the role of a “good tsar” who is allegedly surrounded by “bad boyars” (noblemen). Although over the past 25 years, Putin has created a system of “total nepotism”, followed by kakistocracy and kleptocracy, he is almost never subjected to open criticism. Despite the catastrophic losses the Russian military has suffered in Ukraine – over 465,000 soldiers, according to the UK Ministry of Defence – very few people with any authority inside Russia blamed Putin for such a debacle. 

Their major target was a “bad boyar” – Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

After Shoigu’s deputy Timur Ivanov was arrested over bribery-taking charges, on 25 April, it became clear that Putin’s ally would also soon fall from grace. That, however, does not mean that Shoigu will end up behind bars. Putin’s shake-up gives the 69-year-old ethnic Tuvan a job that is technically regarded as senior to his defence ministry role. He will become the secretary of Russia's powerful Security Council, replacing incumbent Nikolay Patrushev.

At this point, it remains unclear what position will be taken by Patrushev, who served as the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) from 1999 to 2008. His older son Dmitry, however, has been promoted to Deputy Prime Minister from Agriculture Minister, while his younger son Andrei until recently headed the offshore Arctic branch of Gazprom Neft. 

But since Patrushev, following the Crocus City Hall terror attack, started employing virulently anti-migrant rhetoric, and even claiming that “illegal migration is a source of major risks and creates conditions for the collapse of the country”, it is not improbable that his new job will be related to migrants. 

The Corruption Problem

Critics would say that Putin’s cabinet reshuffle represents what is widely known in Russia as the "shilo na mylo" type of change, which means “to exchange something bad for something equally bad.” But unlike Shoigu and Patrushev, other Russian top officials such as Alexander Bortnikov as the FSB director, Sergei Narishkin as Foreign Intelligence Service head, Konstantin Chuychenko as the Justice Minister, Sergey Lavrov as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Kurenkov as the Minister of Emergency Situations, have all kept their positions.

Also, it remains to be seen for how long will the Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who is seen by critics as a “huckster who despises subordinates and makes incompetent decisions”, manage to preserve his post. If he eventually gets fired, it will be a clear signal that the Kremlin is not satisfied with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, despite Putin’s frequent claims that “everything is going according to plan.”

In reality, corruption remains a big problem for the Russian armed forces. Shoigu was often described as one of the most corrupt Russian officials. With him in charge, Putin had very little chance of achieving any of his strategic goals in Ukraine. His successor, Belousov – who has reportedly been a member of Putin’s inner circle for many years – is expected to conduct an audit of the financial-economic bloc of the Defence Ministry, switching to a long-standing war economy that would allow the Kremlin to continue its war of attrition in the Eastern European country. 

Putin is most likely hoping that relatively small changes in the Russian security apparatus can bring big results in Ukraine. At the same time, he does not seem willing to allow his associates to gain too much power, as that could threaten his reign. 

Given that his alleged loyalist Viktor Zolotov remains the head of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya) – often portrayed as the Kremlin's Praetorian Guard – Putin’s top priorities will almost certainly be to prevent any potential turmoil at home. Still, it remains uncertain if Zolotov – whose grandson was educated at a prestigious British school, Cranleigh School in Surrey, and whose daughter and son-in-law are billionaires – would really risk his life protecting Putin in case of another mutiny.

Plus Ça Change

One thing is for sure, though. Putin does not plan to change the course of Russian foreign policy. Despite the fact that Moscow is losing its influence in the post-Soviet space – which is the direct result of Putin’s actions in Ukraine – and that many Russian allies continue turning their back on the Kremlin, the Russian leader seems to be satisfied with the way Sergey Lavrov has been running the country’s Foreign Ministry for the past 20 years. 

Indeed, the 74-year-old Putin’s decoy-in-chief – whose daughter Ekaterina Vinokurova attended Columbia University in New York, where she lived for 17 years, before obtaining her graduate degree at the London School of Economics, and whose stepdaughter Polina Kovaleva lives a luxurious lifestyle in London – is the longest-serving foreign minister since the fall of the Soviet Union.

But Lavrov's boss has a very high chance of becoming the longest-serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, who reigned over Russia for 34 years.

Even if Putin stays in power until 2036, his rule, as well as his cabinet reshuffles, are unlikely to bring anything good to the Russian people. There is no shake-up that can hide the fact that the fish rots from the head – the head of state. 

‘Our Injuries Will Heal, but the Georgian Government’s Reputation Will Not’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/05/2024 - 12:59am in

Levan Khabeishvili arrives late to his interview, delayed by an emergency trip to the dentist after dislodging his new tooth at lunch. In the early hours of May 1, the chairman of United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition party, was savagely beaten by police and security forces for almost half an hour in a sustained attack that saw his nose broken and both cheekbones fractured.

Since then, there have been at least eleven vicious physical assaults against high-profile government critics in the South Caucasian country. Hundreds of others have received anonymous phone calls threatening them and their families, with posters plastered all over the Georgian capital of Tbilisi denouncing almost every prominent opposition politician, journalist, activist and NGO representative as ‘enemies of the people’ – a term with especially totalitarian resonances in the former Soviet space.

The brutal crackdown comes as Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, charges ahead with its second attempt since last year to pass a draconian bill on ‘foreign influence’ targeting independent media and NGOs. Decried by the country’s historic Western allies as an analogue of measures weaponised by the Putin regime to crush dissent amid war in Ukraine, the move has been widely received as a barefaced attempt to sabotage Georgia’s ongoing bid for European Union membership, contrary as the draft law is to conditions for admission to the bloc. 

The head of the largest opposition party in Georgia, the United National Movement, Levan Khabeishvili, recovering from being beaten by the police. Photo: X/Twitter

For several weeks, mass demonstrations have steadily mounted in Tbilisi and other cities across the country, as a public overwhelmingly in support of Euro-Atlantic integration pushes back against their Government’s accelerating authoritarian slide into Moscow’s orbit. “Since the protests began, almost every night the police and security forces have violated all laws – they have used violence without necessity, without any justification,” says UNM chair Khabeishvili. “They believe the more severely they beat us, the more scared we will be. But our injuries will heal, while the Government’s reputation will not.”

As Georgian Dream’s founder and éminence gris, who made his fortune in Moscow during the post-Soviet privatisation frenzy of the 1990s, much has been made of Ivanishvili’s longstanding ties to powerful Russian interests, with multiple Western officials calling for him to face sanctions in the two years since Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On April 29, the famously camera-shy billionaire spoke at a rally in support of the controversial bill currently making its way through parliament. Addressing the crowds, many of whom were allegedly bussed in and paid to attend, Ivanishvili took aim at the US and the EU for supposedly attempting to “engineer a revolution” in Georgia through their long-standing support for civil society, in comments widely regarded as a wholesale burning of his government’s remaining bridges with the West.

Byline Times has previously reported that Ivanishvili believes he’s already the victim of ‘unofficial’ US sanctions. Sources with access to the oligarch’s inner circle maintain the foreign agents bill likely represents an attempt to protect his assets from scrutiny by domestic watchdogs ahead of transferring his sizable offshore interests into his home country. “Like a kind of Macbeth of the Caucasus, Bidzina Ivanishvili seems driven by fears and a spectre of his own projection. He believes people are out to get him, and he thinks he needs to clamp down now, to secure his power,” says Hans Gutbrod, a professor of public policy at Tbilisi’s Ilia State University. “In Macbeth, the phrasing is ‘poor country [...] where violent sorrow seems a modern ecstasy.’ I hope we’re not headed that way, but it is a real risk.”

There are still several legislative stages before the bill finally passes into law, but its effects are already being severely felt by the measures’ intended targets. Alongside Khabeishvili, other prominent figures assaulted by riot police and security forces at the protests include Aleko Elisashvili, leader of the opposition Citizens party, who suffered a broken rib and a cut to his lip, as well as Ted Jonas, a US national and lawyer who sustained a black eye and major concussion. 

But other tactics are being increasingly deployed away from the demonstrations. On May 8, the speaker of the Georgian Parliament Shalva Papuashvili announced the launch of a new police database containing information on “radical opposition” figures and “violent youth groups.” The move was swiftly slammed by NGOs as amounting to a blacklist of critics to harass, coming hot on the heels of the first reports of titushky being deployed across the country. 

The term titushky was first used to describe hooligans hired by the Viktor Yanukovych Government to violently suppress dissent during the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, though the tactic is reported to have been used extensively by the Russian and Belarusian regimes in the years since. “It’s a standard KGB practice, one that comes when law and order begin to break down, and one whose only purpose is to spread terror among protesters,” says Dima Chikovani, a PR director with Khabeishvili’s UNM party, who was assaulted outside his home just hours after the ‘blacklist’ was announced. 

Lasha Ghvinianidze after an attack by titushky. Photo: Lasha Ghvinianidze

Another victim of this sort of attack is Lasha Ghvinianidze, a biker who has organised motorcycle ride-a-longs at many of the recent demonstrations, who was beaten in front of his wife outside a friend’s house on the same night. “I can no longer go along [to the rallies] because if I stand on my feet for more than one or two minutes I begin to feel dizzy,” he explained. “But my heart remains alongside my brothers and sisters out there on the streets.” Others include award-winning teacher Lado Apkhazava, think-tank director Giorgi Klidiashvili, university professor Gia Japaridze, and opposition party officials Giorgi Mumladze, Boris Kurua and Nodar Chachanodze. Rati Bregadze, Georgia’s Justice Minister, has since suggested they might have “beaten themselves up.”

Nor are titushky attacks the only cases of intimidation and harassment to have gathered pace in recent days. At least two UNM politicians, Irakli Edzgveradze and Goga Oniani, claim unknown assailants attempted to break into their houses earlier this week, despite their underage children being home at the time. Hundreds of other people have reported receiving anonymous phone calls threatening violence against them and their families, while thousands of posters have in recent days been put up all over Tbilisi denouncing various leaders of government-critical organisations as ‘foreign agents’, ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people.’

These incidents have proven the source of much hand-wringing among Georgia’s Western allies. Speaking at a press briefing on May 10, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US was “deeply troubled” by the reports of harassment and physical violence, adding “the Georgian Government needs to change course.” The EU Delegation in Georgia has released a similar statement, decrying the attacks as “unacceptable” and urging authorities “to ensure that fundamental rights of all citizens are protected.”

But for Marika Mikiashvili, a representative of the liberal pro-Western Droa party, there’s a sense these historic partners may be late in waking up to the true gravity of what is currently unfolding in Georgia. “The Government is seeking to remove any sense of security we might have by pursuing their goal of mass terror,” she says. “Unless Georgian Dream backs down and withdraws the law, then frankly, I just don’t see how there’s any way we can progress to meaningful parliamentary elections in October.”

Top Ukrainian ‘fact-checker’ arrested for assault on Grayzone contributor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/04/2024 - 9:14am in

Marko Suprun, an influential NATO state-funded Ukrainian ‘fact-checker’ with close ties to Nazi activists, was taken into police custody in Washington, DC, after assaulting a contributor to The Grayzone at an event hosted by a neocon Beltway think tank.  The Ukrainian-Canadian host of a self-styled ‘anti-disinformation’ outfit — which receives thousands of dollars from the US and UK governments and works with Facebook to censor content — was arrested on Capitol Hill last week after assaulting a contributor to The […]

The post Top Ukrainian ‘fact-checker’ arrested for assault on Grayzone contributor first appeared on The Grayzone.

The post Top Ukrainian ‘fact-checker’ arrested for assault on Grayzone contributor appeared first on The Grayzone.

Putin Hoped for a Swift Victory in Ukraine to Rebuild his Russian Empire — Instead he may Have Lost all Military Influence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/04/2024 - 7:54pm in

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Vladimir Putin believed his army would capture Kyiv in two days, and expected a decisive victory, expanding Russia’s borders. The Russian President assumed ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine would welcome his forces and believed a swift victory would strengthen his country's influence throughout Eurasia, and restore Russia to its imperial past.

Instead, the Russian invasion has been a massive failure. Twenty-six months since the invasion on 22 February 2022, Russia has suffered more than 50,000 deaths and the Russian Federation has reportedly lost "87% of the total number of active-duty ground troops it had prior" to the start of the invasion, “two-thirds of [Russia’s] pre-invasion tanks” have been destroyed, and a third if its naval fleet on the Black Sea has been destroyed or disabled. The destroyed war machines and military hardware have left Russia tens of billions of dollars out of pocket. Hundreds of billions of dollars have also been lost through international sanctions. The loss of life, firepower and money, has been catastrophic, but the impacts don't end there. Russia's influence in Eurasia have also waned. This has been most apparent with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) - Russia's answer to NATO.

The Russian Federation created the intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and participants have grown to include countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Throughout its history, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been members. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan were previously members, but later withdrew.

Since its conception, CSTO members have held military training exercises and defence
ministers and other political figures have met to strengthen relations between member countries. But recently, that has changed with one report calling it a "lifeless, shambling alliance".

Armenia's decades-long fight with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabkah region is an example of Russia's crumbling influence. Both countries have staked claim over the territory and Russia has attempted to serve as an intermediary in the negotiation process, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed the soft underbelly of its military capabilities. Once believed to have the second-strongest military in the world, Russia is now seen as having the second- strongest military in Ukraine. This has led Armenia to second guess its reliance on the Russian Federation. Azerbaijan recently launched a series of attacks and forcefully reclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russia was powerless to intervene on Armenia’s behalf. Russia has since confirmed it will completely withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the region.

Armenia has now determined it can no longer rely on the Russian Federation for assistance. Last year, the Armenians announced they will scale back their involvement in the CSTO. They refused to participate in CSTO training organisations and “renounced its right to take part in the [CSTO’s] leadership rotation”. Now, Armenia has frozen its participation in the organisation and opted to strengthen its relationship with Western organisations and is “considering seeking EU membership".

The EU is also collaborating with the Armenians on a new trade relationship and has pledged a $290 million financial package.

Kyrgyzstan has also previously had problems with the CSTO. In 2010, ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks clashed in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in over 400 deaths. Kyrgyzstan requested that the CSTO intervene to try and dissolve the situation, but the organisation chose not to.

Several years later, in a border clash between fellow CSTO members Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2021, the organisation also failed to intervene despite dozens of deaths. The Kyrgyz government noted the CSTO’s inaction over these two events. When it was Kyrgyzstan’s turn to host joint military exercises in October 2022, the Central Asian country opted to cancel the drills. This was seen as a slap to the face for the Russians.

Kyrgyzstan officials also met with the European Union during the Cooperation Committee and the Human Rights Dialogue and discussed “political and security issues,” economic development, and bilateral trade relations.

Kazakhstan has also toyed with its involvement in the CSTO. The shift in Russo-Kazakh relations first began in January 2022. At the time, thousands of Kazakhs had gathered to protest their government for raising the price of fuel. The CSTO, under the direction of Russia, intervened with thousands of soldiers sent to crush the protests. Many Kazakhs were unhappy with Russia’s interference.

When the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, there was a belief within Russia that
Kazakhstan would assist - but that never happened. The Kazakhs, instead, sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Finally, like Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has sought to enhance its relationship with the West. Last year, senior Kazakh and European officials discussed reform and modernisation in Kazakhstan. More recently, Kazakh and European dignitaries met to focus on Kazak-EU trade relations. To date, the European Union accounts for 40% of Kazakhstan’s external trade.

Three of the CSTO’s final six members are pursuing stronger relations with Western organisations, choosing not to participate in CSTO events and programs, and taking steps to diminish their interactions with the Russian Federation. It has become apparent that Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are now seeking alternative economic and security relationships with other organisations to find ways that would guarantee their safety. This will lead to a greater decline in the CSTO, and Russia’s influence in the region.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin had hoped to rebuild his Russian Empire. Instead, he has caused the demise of the CSTO.

Buy tickets to watch Byline Media's documentary, The Battle for Kyiv, which premiers on Monday. Tickets are available here. It will soon be available on Byline.TV

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay0WOEv9vFo&t=1s

UK insurers refuse to pay Nord Stream because blasts were ‘government’ backed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2024 - 11:10am in

The legal team representing high-powered insurers Lloyd’s and Arch says that since the Nord Stream explosions were “more likely than not to have been inflicted by… a government,” they have no responsibility to pay for damages to the pipelines. To succeed with that defense, the companies will presumably be compelled to prove, in court, who carried out those attacks.  British insurers are arguing that they have no obligation to honor their coverage of the Nord Stream pipelines, which were blown […]

The post UK insurers refuse to pay Nord Stream because blasts were ‘government’ backed first appeared on The Grayzone.

The post UK insurers refuse to pay Nord Stream because blasts were ‘government’ backed appeared first on The Grayzone.

Vid: Mason’s deranged Corbyn smear – ‘He’s disarming Ukraine and tolerating antisemitism’

Corbyn apparently travelling the length and breadth of Europe to stop the neo-Nazi Ukrainians from ‘fighting fascism’…

Paul Mason was caught last month in a full-blown meltdown of deranged accusations, at a woman who dared to challenge Israel’s mass slaughter of innocent civilians and the unhealthy influence of pro-Israel lobby groups in British politics – and also caught misrepresenting what she had said, when a recording of her comments and his diatribe was revealed.

And he was caught on the same evening in another deranged rant, when he accused Jeremy Corbyn of ‘touring’ Europe ‘tolerating antisemitism’ and ‘disarming the Ukrainian people in their struggle against fascism’:

Audio capture by @UrbanDandyLDN, subtitles by Skwawkbox

As ‘Urban Dandy’, who recorded Mason’s ramblings, commented:

Mason’s suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn tolerates antisemitism is false, just as the widespread, mainstream claims that there was a serious antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership were false, and have been debunked repeatedly. The MP for Islington North is taking legal action against Nigel Farage for similar defamatory statements, while another political commentator favoured in the mainstream media recently had to make a humiliating public apology for his baseless allegations against Corbyn.

Screengrab from X / johnmcternan

Disarming the Ukrainians

Paul Mason’s second allegation against Corbyn, that the MP has been on a European tour aimed at disarming the Ukrainian people, is also false. Corbyn has never called for the disarming of Ukraine. The anti-war veteran who fronts the Peace & Justice Project has spoken in many European cities since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, mainly at events organised by peace campaigners. Corbyn has called for diplomacy instead of escalation, and expressed skepticism about the relentless arms sales by western companies. 

Mason’s claim that the left wants to somehow stop Ukrainians ‘fighting fascism’ is also bizarre enough to verge on the delusional. Ukraine is well known, despite the best efforts of the UK media to rewrite history, to be rife with actual nazis, some of whom are in influential positions in the Zelenskiy regime. Zelenskiy himself has seized control of Ukraine’s media, stripped workers of their rights and shut down opposition groups, all key identifiers of fascism.

Mason’s reputation, already falling apart because of his support for Keir Starmer, was shredded in 2022 when The Grayzone revealed his emails plotting with security-state figures to take down left-wing news outlets, accompanied by a notorious, sprawling chart showing the links he imagined among left groups Russia and China – and boasting of ‘cauteris[ing] Corbyn and Stop the War’ so that ‘no MP will touch them:

Mason’s support for Starmer despite the so-called ‘Labour leader’s backing for Israel’s genocide in Gaza has left him a risible figure, yet he keeps spouting his nonsense despite the inevitable backfiring and mockery.

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