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UkrainianPendulum1. Two invasions

The stakes are high in the Ukraine: after the coup, as Crimea and Donbas asserted their right to self determination, American and Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory, both under cover.

The American soldiers are “military advisors”, ostensibly members of Blackwater private army (renamed Academi); a few hundred of them patrol Kiev while others try to suppress the revolt in Donetsk. Officially, they were invited by the new West-installed regime. They are the spearhead of the US invasion attempting to prop up the regime and break down all resistance. They have already bloodied their hands in Donetsk.

Besides, the Pentagon has doubled the number of US fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltics; the US air carrier entered the Black Sea, some US Marines reportedly landed in Lvov “as a part of pre-planned manoeuvres”.

Read more…

 

It is freezing cold in Kiev, legendary city of golden domes on the banks of Dnieper River – cradle of ancient Russian civilisation and the most charming of East European capitals. It is a comfortable and rather prosperous place, with hundreds of small and cosy restaurants, neat streets, sundry parks and that magnificent river. The girls are pretty and the men are sturdy. Kiev is more relaxed than Moscow, and easier on the wallet. Though statistics say the Ukraine is broke and its people should be as poor as Africans, in reality they aren’t doing too badly, thanks to their fiscal imprudence. The government borrowed and spent freely, heavily subsidised housing and heating, and they brazenly avoided devaluation of the national currency and the austerity program prescribed by the IMF. This living on credit can go only so far: the Ukraine was doomed to default on its debts next month or sooner, and this is one of the reasons for the present commotion.

A tug-of-war between the East and the West for the future of Ukraine lasted over a month, and has ended for all practical purposes in a resounding victory for Vladimir Putin, adding to his previous successes in Syria and Iran. The trouble began when the administration of President Yanukovich went looking for credits to reschedule its loans and avoid default. There were no offers. They turned to the EC for help; the EC, chiefly Poland and Germany, seeing that the Ukrainian administration was desperate, prepared an association agreement of unusual severity.

The EC is quite hard on its new East European members, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria et al.: these countries had their industry and agriculture decimated, their young people working menial jobs in Western Europe, their population drop exceeded that of the WWII.

But the association agreement offered to the Ukraine was even worse. It would turn the Ukraine into an impoverished colony of the EC without giving it even the dubious advantages of membership (such as freedom of work and travel in the EC). In desperation, Yanukovich agreed to sign on the dotted line, in vain hopes of getting a large enough loan to avoid collapse. But the EC has no money to spare – it has to provide for Greece, Italy, Spain. Now Russia entered the picture. At the time, relations of the Ukraine and Russia were far from good. Russians had become snotty with their oil money, the Ukrainians blamed their troubles on Russians, but Russia was still the biggest market for Ukrainian products.

For Russia, the EC agreement meant trouble: currently the Ukraine sells its output in Russia with very little customs protection; the borders are porous; people move freely across the border, without even a passport. If the EC association agreement were signed, the EC products would flood Russia through the Ukrainian window of opportunity. So Putin spelled out the rules to Yanukovich: if you sign with the EC, Russian tariffs will rise. This would put some 400,000 Ukrainians out of work right away. Yanukovich balked and refused to sign the EC agreement at the last minute. (I predicted this in my report from Kiev full three weeks before it happened, when nobody believed it – a source of pride).

The EC, and the US standing behind it, were quite upset. Besides the loss of potential economic profit, they had another important reason: they wanted to keep Russia farther away from Europe, and they wanted to keep Russia weak. Russia is not the Soviet Union, but some of the Soviet disobedience to Western imperial designs still lingers in Moscow: be it in Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, Cuba, Angola, Venezuela or Zimbabwe, the Empire can’t have its way while the Russian bear is relatively strong. Russia without the Ukraine can’t be really powerful: it would be like the US with its Mid-western and Pacific states chopped away. The West does not want the Ukraine to prosper, or to become a stable and strong state either, so it cannot join Russia and make it stronger. A weak, poor and destabilised Ukraine in semi-colonial dependence to the West with some NATO bases is the best future for the country, as perceived by Washington or Brussels.

Angered by this last-moment-escape of Yanukovich, the West activated its supporters. For over a month, Kiev has been besieged by huge crowds bussed from all over the Ukraine, bearing a local strain of the Arab Spring in the far north. Less violent than Tahrir, their Maidan Square became a symbol of struggle for the European strategic future of the country. The Ukraine was turned into the latest battle ground between the US-led alliance and a rising Russia. Would it be a revanche for Obama’s Syria debacle, or another heavy strike at fading American hegemony?

The simple division into “pro-East” and “pro-West” has been complicated by the heterogeneity of the Ukraine. The loosely knit country of differing regions is quite similar in its makeup to the Yugoslavia of old. It is another post-Versailles hotchpotch of a country made up after the First World War of bits and pieces, and made independent after the Soviet collapse in 1991. Some parts of this “Ukraine” were incorporated by Russia 500 years ago, the Ukraine proper (a much smaller parcel of land, bearing this name) joined Russia 350 years ago, whilst the Western Ukraine (called the “Eastern Regions”) was acquired by Stalin in 1939, and the Crimea was incorporated in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic by Khrushchev in 1954.

The Ukraine is as Russian as the South-of-France is French and as Texas and California are American. Yes, some hundreds years ago, Provence was independent from Paris, – it had its own language and art; while Nice and Savoy became French rather recently. Yes, California and Texas joined the Union rather late too. Still, we understand that they are – by now – parts of those larger countries, ifs and buts notwithstanding. But if they were forced to secede, they would probably evolve a new historic narrative stressing the French ill treatment of the South in the Cathar Crusade, or dispossession of Spanish and Russian residents of California.

Accordingly, since the Ukraine’s independence, the authorities have been busy nation-building, enforcing a single official language and creating a new national myth for its 45 million inhabitants. The crowds milling about the Maidan were predominantly (though not exclusively) arrivals from Galicia, a mountainous county bordering with Poland and Hungary, 500 km (300 miles) away from Kiev, and natives of the capital refer to the Maidan gathering as a “Galician occupation”.

Like the fiery Bretons, the Galicians are fierce nationalists, bearers of a true Ukrainian spirit (whatever that means). Under Polish and Austrian rule for centuries, whilst the Jews were economically powerful, they are a strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Polish lot, and their modern identity centred around their support for Hitler during the WWII, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of their Polish and Jewish neighbours. After the WWII, the remainder of pro-Hitler Galician SS fighters were adopted by US Intelligence, re-armed and turned into a guerrilla force against the Soviets. They added an anti-Russian line to their two ancient hatreds and kept fighting the “forest war” until 1956, and these ties between the Cold Warriors have survived the thaw.

After 1991, when the independent Ukraine was created, in the void of state-building traditions, the Galicians were lauded as ‘true Ukrainians’, as they were the only Ukrainians who ever wanted independence. Their language was used as the basis of a new national state language, their traditions became enshrined on the state level. Memorials of Galician Nazi collaborators and mass murderers Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych peppered the land, often provoking the indignation of other Ukrainians. The Galicians played an important part in the 2004 Orange Revolution as well, when the results of presidential elections were declared void and the pro-Western candidate Mr Yuschenko got the upper hand in the re-run.

However, in 2004, many Kievans also supported Yuschenko, hoping for the Western alliance and a bright new future. Now, in 2013, the city’s support for the Maidan was quite low, and the people of Kiev complained loudly about the mess created by the invading throngs: felled trees, burned benches, despoiled buildings and a lot of biological waste. Still, Kiev is home to many NGOs; city intellectuals receive generous help from the US and EC. The old comprador spirit is always strongest in the capitals.

For the East and Southeast of the Ukraine, the populous and heavily industrialised regions, the proposal of association with the EC is a no-go, with no ifs, ands or buts. They produce coal, steel, machinery, cars, missiles, tanks and aircraft. Western imports would erase Ukrainian industry right off the map, as the EC officials freely admit. Even the Poles, hardly a paragon of industrial development, had the audacity to say to the Ukraine: we’ll do the technical stuff, you’d better invest in agriculture. This is easier to say than to do: the EC has a lot of regulations that make Ukrainian products unfit for sale and consumption in Europe. Ukrainian experts estimated their expected losses for entering into association with the EC at anything from 20 to 150 billion euros.

For Galicians, the association would work fine. Their speaker at the Maidan called on the youth to ‘go where you can get money’ and do not give a damn for industry. They make their income in two ways: providing bed-and breakfast rooms for Western tourists and working in Poland and Germany as maids and menials. They hoped they would get visa-free access to Europe and make a decent income for themselves. Meanwhile, nobody offered them a visa-waiver arrangement. The Brits mull over leaving the EC, because of the Poles who flooded their country; the Ukrainians would be too much for London. Only the Americans, always generous at somebody’s else expense, demanded the EC drop its visa requirement for them.

While the Maidan was boiling, the West sent its emissaries, ministers and members of parliament to cheer the Maidan crowd, to call for President Yanukovich to resign and for a revolution to install pro-Western rule. Senator McCain went there and made a few firebrand speeches. The EC declared Yanukovich “illegitimate” because so many of his citizens demonstrated against him. But when millions of French citizens demonstrated against their president, when Occupy Wall Street was violently dispersed, nobody thought the government of France or the US president had lost legitimacy…

Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State, shared her biscuits with the demonstrators, and demanded from the oligarchs support for the “European cause” or their businesses would suffer. The Ukrainian oligarchs are very wealthy, and they prefer the Ukraine as it is, sitting on the fence between the East and the West. They are afraid that the Russian companies will strip their assets should the Ukraine join the Customs Union, and they know that they are not competitive enough to compete with the EC. Pushed now by Nuland, they were close to falling on the EC side.

Yanukovich was in big trouble. The default was rapidly approaching. He annoyed the pro-Western populace, and he irritated his own supporters, the people of the East and Southeast. The Ukraine had a real chance of collapsing into anarchy. A far-right nationalist party, Svoboda (Liberty), probably the nearest thing to the Nazi party to arise in Europe since 1945, made a bid for power. The EC politicians accused Russia of pressurising the Ukraine; Russian missiles suddenly emerged in the western-most tip of Russia, a few minutes flight from Berlin. The Russian armed forces discussed the US strategy of a “disarming first strike”. The tension was very high.

Edward Lucas, the Economist’s international editor and author of The New Cold War, is a hawk of the Churchill and Reagan variety. For him, Russia is an enemy, whether ruled by Tsar, by Stalin or by Putin. He wrote: “It is no exaggeration to say that the [Ukraine] determines the long-term future of the entire former Soviet Union. If Ukraine adopts a Euro-Atlantic orientation, then the Putin regime and its satrapies are finished… But if Ukraine falls into Russia’s grip, then the outlook is bleak and dangerous… Europe’s own security will also be endangered. NATO is already struggling to protect the Baltic states and Poland from the integrated and increasingly impressive military forces of Russia and Belarus. Add Ukraine to that alliance, and a headache turns into a nightmare.”

In this cliff-hanging situation, Putin made his pre-emptive strike. At a meeting in the Kremlin, he agreed to buy fifteen billion euros worth of Ukrainian Eurobonds and cut the natural gas price by a third. This meant there would be no default; no massive unemployment; no happy hunting ground for the neo-Nazi thugs of Svoboda; no cheap and plentiful Ukrainian prostitutes and menials for the Germans and Poles; and Ukrainian homes will be warm this Christmas. Better yet, the presidents agreed to reforge their industrial cooperation. When Russia and Ukraine formed a single country, they built spaceships; apart, they can hardly launch a naval ship. Though unification isn’t on the map yet, it would make sense for both partners. This artificially divided country can be united, and it would do a lot of good for both of their populaces, and for all people seeking freedom from US hegemony.

There are a lot of difficulties ahead: Putin and Yanukovich are not friends, Ukrainian leaders are prone to renege, the US and the EC have a lot of resources. But meanwhile, it is a victory to celebrate this Christmastide. Such victories keep Iran safe from US bombardment, inspire the Japanese to demand removal of Okinawa base, encourage those seeking closure of Guantanamo jail, cheer up Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, frighten the NSA and CIA and allow French Catholics to march against Hollande’s child-trade laws.

What is the secret of Putin’s success? Edward Lucas said, in an interview to the pro-Western Ekho Moskvy radio: “Putin had a great year – Snowden, Syria, Ukraine. He checkmated Europe. He is a great player: he notices our weaknesses and turns them into his victories. He is good in diplomatic bluff, and in the game of Divide and Rule. He makes the Europeans think that the US is weak, and he convinced the US that Europeans are useless”.

TheTugI would offer an alternative explanation. The winds and hidden currents of history respond to those who feel their way. Putin is no less likely a roguish leader of global resistance than Princess Leia or Captain Solo were in Star Wars. Just the time for such a man is ripe.

Unlike Solo, he is not an adventurer. He is a prudent man. He does not try his luck, he waits, even procrastinates. He did not try to change regime in Tbilisi in 2008, when his troops were already on the outskirts of the city. He did not try his luck in Kiev, either. He has spent many hours in many meetings with Yanukovich whom he supposedly personally dislikes.

Like Captain Solo, Putin is a man who is ready to pay his way, full price, and such politicians are rare. “Do you know what is the proudest word you will ever hear from an Englishman’s mouth?”, asked a James Joyce character, and answered: “His proudest boast is I paid my way.” Those were Englishmen of another era, long before the likes of Blair, et al.

While McCain and Nuland, Merkel and Bildt speak of the European choice for the Ukraine, none of them is ready to pay for it. Only Russia is ready to pay her way, in the Joycean sense, whether in cash, as now, or in blood, as in WWII.

Putin is also a magnanimous man. He celebrated his Ukrainian victory and forthcoming Christmas by forgiving his personal and political enemies and setting them free: the Pussy Riot punks, Khodorkovsky the murderous oligarch, rioters… And his last press conference he carried out in Captain Solo self-deprecating mode, and this, for a man in his position, is a very good sign.

 

Mediastan will have a limited viewing schedule in Australia. Find details here…..

(A review of Mediastan, A Wikileaks Road Movie. The film was screened for the first time in London Raindance Film Festival October 1, 2013, and in a Moscow Festival a week later.)

A diverse gang of five journalists in their early thirties ride a car through deserts and high mountains of Central Asia.  Amidst breathtaking scenery, they cross impassable tunnels, negotiate steep curves and flocks of sheep on country roads, visit the capitals of new republics that came into being since the fall of the USSR, meet interesting people and discuss freedom of speech and its limits. A road movie par excellence, it’s Easy Rider by Wim Wenders, but in a better setting.

Soon we learn that theirs is not a joyride. These young people had been sent on a quest to far-away lands by the maverick genius of Julian Assange, captive of Ellingham Hall in East Anglia. (The events unfold two years ago, before Julian’s escape to the Ecuador Embassy) He has his adventure by proxy, unable to leave the walls of the manor. Assange makes a few appearances in the film, and one of the scenes, a fast night walk in the woods, is an artistic gem, as the director Johannes Wahlstrom (the Swede in the gang) conveys dramatic urgency and Julian’s acute personal involvement by cinematic means. Assange speaks to editors via Skype, and argues with his co-workers about the purpose of the whole exercise. Thus we learn that the young party’s goal is to deliver the State Department  cables deftly lifted by Sergeant Manning to remote lands, so the peoples of these countries will know the truth, namely how they are perceived by the imperial power. This truth is to liberate them, but they need a mediator: the media.

Somebody has to select, translate, explain and publish the cables so they will reach the target audience. Assange’s missionaries meet with editors of newspapers, news agencies and radio stations, and offer them their tempting and dangerous load, for free. The majority refuse the offer. They are too tightly connected with the American power structure, with the all-embracing tentacles of the Empire. Some take it, but we do not learn whether they actually use it. (I personally had better luck disseminating these cables in Russia, with its vibrant media and anti=American sentiment). Our travellers easily accept that Central Asian media is far from free, but in a subtly presented turn of events they will later discover that the mighty Western mainstream media is equally suborned.

The area they travel  is comprised of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and they deal with local media as they go: hence the title, Mediastan. Our travellers learn that the US habitually pays these local media to publish articles favourable to the US; some of those articles are published first in Russia, and afterwards reprinted in local publications, so that they appear to carry more authority. Some chief editors actually reside in the US and control their publications remotely. In timid Turkmenistan they visit a central newspaper office; every issue of the newspaper carries a photo of their president in full colour on the front page, and the editor tells his visitors that he is not looking for trouble. Leaving his office, they drive through a rebuilt-from-scratch Ashgabat, an architectural wonder of marble houses and clean broad avenues. Apparently not all the natural gas revenue has been siphoned abroad, and this seems a positive development. However, our visitors end up being expelled from the republic, just in case.

In Kazakhstan, they encounter the oil workers of Zhanaozen, who have carried a long hunger strike: no media reported on this development, until a month later, after they had been dispersed by bullets.  A dozen strikers were killed, many wounded and even more imprisoned. This film footage is remarkable for preserving the sorrows and complaints of the oil workers before the violent repression.   Even afterwards, the drama of the oil workers received very little exposure, for they were working for Western oil companies, and the President, Mr Nazarbayev, is considered West-friendly. For the mainstream media, gay pride parades have greater news value than a workers’ hunger strike.

The travellers also meet up with a character from another Wikileaks exploit, a released Guantanamo prisoner. Wikileaks had published his secret CIA file (among others). This big, grim, handsome and bearded man spent five years in that hellish camp; he tells our gang of his life in limbo, and they reveal to him why he was imprisoned – like Edmond Dantes of The Count of Monte Cristo, Gitmo prisoners are never told of the accusations against them.  When he learns that he had been locked up for so long simply because American interrogators  wanted to learn from him the mood among Tajik refugees in Afghanistan, he became furious: “Couldn’t they just ask me, and let me go?” he exclaims.

The Afghan episode stands apart from the rest, but that is the attraction of a road movie: it allows the film-maker to piece together quite disparate items. In semi-occupied Northern Afghanistan our gang visits a Swedish camp, where the Swedish press officer admits that they have no clue why they are there in the first place. The Afghans want them to leave, because the Swedes do not give bribes. We learn that under American pressure, the Swedes do something similar to bribing, in order to stay. Why are they there at all? The US wants to impress the natives with Swedish good will, at no expense for itself.

In a somewhat comic episode, Johannes tries to push his leaked cables to the head of local Radio Liberty, the US-owned and financed propaganda network. He is solemnly informed that Radio Liberty enjoys full freedom of expression, can discuss any subject, and knows no censorship. Johannes might as well have offered the cables to the US embassy!

2

The realm of Mediastan is not enclosed by the high mountains; it stretches all the way to Hudson River and the Thames, for there Wahlstrom meets two people thriving at the top of the media food chain: in London, chief editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger and in New York,  the then executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller. The two are smooth, glib and polished, suave and botoxed, they have their answers at the ready, but they are as subservient to power as a lowly editor of Stan-News.

The Guardian played a tricky part in the Wikileaks story, a part they are likely to repeat now with Snowden. In the case of Snowden, they published his materials, previously vetting them with the NBA, induced him to reveal his identity, beefed up their ‘’progressive’’ reputation, and at the end, commissioned their own hatchet-man, Luke Harding, to write a book, presumably trashing him. They gained a feather in their cap with the intelligence services, with the trusting readers, and are likely to end up destroying the man.

They did the same with Julian: they used his stuff, vetted it, censored it to fit their masters’ agenda, and afterwards published all the dirt on him they could find, bringing him as much disrepute as they could. The NY Times was even worse, as they collaborated with the CIA and Pentagon all the way, and fully supported the Assange witch-hunt.

The CP readers were able to follow this unique saga in real time, from its very inception, probably better than anybody in mainstream or blogs. They could learn how cables were published, and how the Guardian maligned Assange (they received confidential Swedish police records and distorted its contents). When, some months later, the records were made public, a Swedish site wrote: “The sleaze printed …above all [by] the toxic Nick Davies of The Guardian, can stand no more… Nick Davies’ account of the protocols was maliciously skewed”. The Guardian tendentiously headlined the cables obtained by Manning and delivered by Assange. Ordinary people rarely read beyond headlines. So the Guardian habitually ascribed to Wikileaks certain remarks of the US officials, as you can see here, most often in order to undermine Russia and delegitimise its president. Only now can we understand the reason for these relentless attacks on Putin – only he was strong-willed enough to bridle the impending US attack on Syria, and thus signal the end of American hegemony.

The Central Asian cables were more interesting, than somewhat,  for the US ambassadors in the region were incautious, even brutally frank, in their communications with the State Department. “The Guardian has deliberately excised portions of published cables to hide evidence of corruption [by Western companies in Central Asia]”, as CP readers were told in this piece, which is difficult to locate via Google (surprise, surprise!). Wahlstrom asks Alan Rusbridger why he excised the names of the grafters and receives a true-to-(Mediastan)form response: these are very rich people and they could take us to court.

3

The film appears just in time to coincide with first screening of The Fifth Estate, the Hollywood film on the same subject. It’s not a coincidence: Assange was very unhappy with the Hollywood project and he said so openly to its producer, its director and to the actor who played his part. He wisely decided to keep his hands off Mediastan: he refused to get involved so the film maker would be independent. This is definitely not a groupie movie about their guru: the central figure is not Julian, but media.

The films are vastly different. The Fifth Estate is based on a story by Assange’s co-worker turned enemy and wannabe rival, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and was produced on an above-the-average budget of $40 million, while Mediastan was done by the young director Johannes Wahlstrom, a friend of Assange, on a shoestring budget out of his own slim pocket; the DP (Director of Photography) and other dedicated, but lacking in resources, crew members worked for free. Despite all odds, they succeeded in producing a powerful and haunting thriller for the thinking man – an epic quest to deliver vital truth to the unwilling.

The film occupies a very special niche of a documentary that uses all the tools of a feature film: it’s dynamic, tightly wound, rich with nuances,a pleasure for the eyes and food for thought, beautifully photographed by Russian virtuoso of the camera, Feodor (Theo to his friends) Lyass, the DP for the recent top success of Russian cinema, Dukhless.  Director Johannes Wahlstrom – (I do not dare to say how wonderful he is, because, after all, he is my son) – was  brought up in Israel, and moved to Sweden with his Swedish mother when he was 12. This is his first full feature film;  he previously worked in Swedish TV and edited a magazine. He is one of these brave young men who want to fix the world instead of giving it a fix.

I suggest you see this film, for the sheer pleasure of watching these keen young faces, wild landscapes and far-away lands, if not also to learn more about how Wikileaks has changed the world.

[Language editing by Ken Freeland]

Israel Shamir lives in Moscow.

 

Governments love to celebrate their participation in past wars but there are no celebrations for the wars that didn’t happen. Perhaps this is because these are so rare.  Anyway I suggest we all celebrate the war that didn’t happen in September 2013.

Early in the morning of Saturday, August 31, an American official called the office of President Hollande telling him to expect a call from Obama later in the day.  “Assuming that the evening phone call would announce the commencement of U.S. air strikes (against Syria), Hollande ordered his officers to quickly finalize their own attack plans. Rafale fighters were loaded with Scalp cruise missiles, their pilots told to launch the 250-mile-range munitions while over the Mediterranean.”  In other words, at this point in time the French pilots and the US forces were only waiting for the final command from President Obama to begin their attack. However, later that same day, at 6:15 pm, Obama called the French President to tell him that the strike scheduled for 3:00 am, September 1, would not take place as planned. He would need to consult Congress.

Three days later, at 06:16 GMT Tuesday, September 3, two missiles were launched “from the central part of the Mediterranean Sea” heading for the Syrian coast, but they did not reach Syria.  “Both missiles crashed into the sea.”  There are several different accounts of what took place. According to Israel Shamir:

“It was claimed by a Lebanese newspaper quoting diplomatic sources that the missiles were launched from a NATO air base in Spain and they were shot down by the Russian ship-based sea-to-air defence system. Another explanation proposed by the Asia Times says the Russians employed their cheap and powerful GPS jammers to render the expensive Tomahawks helpless, by disorienting them and causing them to fail. Yet another version attributed the launch to the Israelis, whether they were trying to jump-start the shoot-out or just observed the clouds, as they claim.”

It is hard to know what was behind this failed missile launch, but it did not trigger an all-out war. We can all be very thankful for this.

In an earlier post I provided a map  (presented below) which shows the significant collection of warships in position off the Syrian coast at the time.  An article in Global Research referred to a “massive US and allied naval deployment is occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean off Syria’s coastline as well as in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.”   At the time it looked “almost certain” to me that the US and its allies would launch an attack on Syria. Instead it the proposed attack has been put off indefinitely. As Israel Shamir says, “the steely wills of America and Eurasia had crossed in the Eastern Mediterranean,” and the US suddenly decided to back away from such a serious military conflict.  One commentator quipped that Obama finally deserved his Nobel Peace Prize after all.

Fleets off Syria

It is difficult for us to know all of the manoeuvres which took place behind the scenes during August and September, 2013, but the final outcome is clear.  After years of increasing tensions and threats, the US and its allies did not attack Syria as planned.  Given the rhetoric and military deployment directed against Syria seemed to follow the script used for Iraq and Libya, there has been little discussion in the West about why the US and its friends suddenly changed their plans.

Two of the obvious reasons I can see for this sudden change are not the sort of things the political leaders of the West want to discuss.  One is the fact that these wars are very unpopular.  As a result of countless lies and failures revealed about the pointless and savage wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, it seems that some of the politicians are listening to their citizens.  How else can you explain the unexpected decision of the British Parliament on Thursday, 29 August, to vote against the UK taking part in any strikes on Syria?

The other reason is the extent of the military build-up by Syria, Russia and even China.  The Russians and Chinese have not only blocked the US in the Security Council. They “voted” with their military hardware.  They are not happy about what the US planned for Syria and made it quite clear that they would use force to stop them.  When was the last time the Chinese ever sent warships to the Mediterranean?  As far as I know, they have never been there. This is perhaps even more important than the Russian opposition to the US, which looks like a rerun of the Cold War.  Wake up folks!  China is now a world power, and they are clearly not happy with the way the US decides to invade one country after another.

For reasons which are not hard to find, there has been little discussion of the broader significance of these events in the Western media. However commentators like Israel Shamir and Pepe Escobar believe these events signal an important shift in the balance of power in the world.  The following is taken from a presentation by Israel Shamir at the Rhodes Forum October 5, 2013:

“First, the good news. American hegemony is over. The bully has been subdued. “We cleared the Cape of Good Hope, symbolically speaking, in September 2013. With the Syrian crisis, the world has passed a key forking of modern history. It was touch and go, just as risky as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. “

The chances for total war were high, as the steely wills of America and Eurasia had crossed in the Eastern Mediterranean. It will take some time until the realisation of what we’ve gone through seeps in: it is normal for events of such magnitude.”

For “Eurasia” read Russia and China. In blunt terms. These two countries simply forced the US to back off and cancel their plans for war. Generally speaking, the ordinary people of the US, the UK and many other countries were just as opposed to the attack as the people in Syria itself.

Pepe Escobar is even more dramatic. Writing on the 17th October, after the Syrian back down and the government shutdown in Washington, he explains that there has been a policy shift in Bejing. Now, for China, the diplomatic gloves are off. It’s time to build a “de-Americanized” world. It’s time for a new international reserve currency to replace the US dollar.  This new approach is presented in a Xinhua editorial.  The last straw for them was the US shutdown coming on top of the financial crisis provoked by Wall Street banks. He quotes perhaps the most important paragraph:

“Instead of honoring its duties as a responsible leading power, a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas, instigating regional tensions amid territorial disputes, and fighting unwarranted wars under the cover of outright lies.”

China has at least three parts to this new strategy.  The first is to stop the military adventures of the US. All nations must respect international law and deal with conflicts within the framework of the UN.  The second is to broaden membership of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to include countries in the emerging and developing world.  The third is to work towards a “new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar.”

Perhaps this is why the leaders in the West are not celebrating the war that didn’t happen.  The Russians and Chinese have forced the West to adhere to international law and avoid an illegal war.  Further, the Chinese see this as a beginning of a new era in world politics.  They want to “de-Americanize” the world.  The Russians want to see a “multi-polar” world.  This means that the US and its small group of friends in Western Europe and Japan will need to recognize that they cannot make all the major decisions in the world on their own.

All of this puts Australia in a very delicate position.  Our major trading partners, China, Japan and the US, will have very different approaches to this new world reality, the rising power of Eurasia.  When it comes to political, military and security matters, Australia’s position is virtually indistinguishable from that of the US.  Is it possible to slide gracefully out of this cosy embrace and avoid being trampled by the Major Players?  Are the people in Canberra astute and subtle enough to pull this off, or will we be carried down to the bottom when the Titanic hits the inevitable iceberg?  It is time we start talking about this issue before it is too late.

NB:   http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2013-10/13/c_132794246.htm. This seems to be the same important editorial discussed by Jeff J. Brown in the Wikileaks Party post “Baba Beijing’s Belly Laugh Felt Round the World.”, http://www.wikileaksparty.org.au/baba-beijings-belly-laugh-felt-round-the-world-2/. The only difference I can see is that Jeff Brown refers to the author as Tang Danlu, while the Xinhua website refers to the author of the article as Liu Chang.