Voices from Russia

Monday, 28 May 2018

Interfering in Italy’s Democracy… and It’s Not Russia

________________________

Italy’s political turmoil tends to prove the wry old saying that “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. The country is facing a mounting constitutional crisis amidst calls for impeaching the president after he blocked the formation of a new government. According to to the Financial Times, the crisis seems to be mainly about a clash over financial policy and a populist challenge to EU economic austerity. However, lurking too is a concern among the EU establishment in Brussels that a new populist Italian government is proposing to restore friendly relations with Russia. No doubt, Washington and NATO share that concern.

After the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and League parties topped the polls in a general election in March, they formed a would-be coalition to govern. It took nearly three months of negotiations to hammer out a governance plan. Nevertheless, there are core policies on which the coalition partners are in strong agreement. Those policies include an end to the EU’s orthodoxy of neoliberal economic austerity; and, perhaps just as significant, to end EU sanctions on Russia in a step towards normalising relations. Both M5S and League praised Russia’s military intervention in Syria to end the seven-year war there. Both parties also blamed the USA and the EU for meddling in the Ukraine’s internal affairs as the cause of the continuing conflict in that country. The latter viewpoint turns upside-down the conventional USA-NATO-EU notion of accusing Russia of interfering in the Ukraine.

For these reasons, that’s why the Italian government-in-waiting wants to abandon the EU position of imposing economic sanctions on Russia for the past four years since the Ukrainian conflict erupted in 2014. The EU’s sanctions require unanimity among its 28 member states for implementation. If Italy were to vote against the sanctions… as M5S and the League firmly propose to do… then, the USA-EU policy of trying to isolate Russia would collapse. After the populist parties won the Italian election in March, a Guardian headline captured the apprehension felt among the Washington and Brussels NATO axis:

Electoral gains or M5S and League may threaten Italy’s strong support for NATO and US.

In fact, this may be the decisive factor in the latest twist of Italy’s political crisis. Over the weekend, long-time President Sergio Mattarella sparked fury after he blocked the key appointment of a finance minister. The nominee for the position, Paolo Savona, is a prominent critic of the EU economic policy of austerity and tight fiscal control. The would-be coalition government nominated Savona because his Eurosceptic views dovetail with the populists’ demands for more public investment and a basic income for poor families. The populists believe that, in this way, Italy can stimulate its economy and grow its way out of high indebtedness, rather than through the orthodox neoliberal position prevailing in Brussels of reducing debt through cutting public spending and imposing austerity.

Italy’s largely figurehead President Mattarella said he refused to mandate the appointment of the populist finance minister out of “fears about Italian and foreign investors” pulling out of the country’s economy. Italy’s economy is the third biggest in the Eurozone, but it remained mired in sluggish growth for years, with a massive debt-to-GDP ratio of over 130 percent and soaring unemployment. The blocking of the new finance minister’s appointment rebounded in a constitutional crisis. Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte resigned in protest. The coalition can’t form a new government, and there are furious calls from M5S and League for President Mattarella to be impeached for impeding the “will of the people”. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of M5S said:

Why don’t we just say that in this country it’s pointless that we vote, as the ratings agencies and financial lobbies decide the governments?

The League’s Matteo Salvini was equally vehement:

In a democracy, if we’re still in a democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say. Italy isn’t a colony. We aren’t slaves of the Germans or the French or finance.

Incumbent President Mattarella faces accusations of being “pro-Brussels” and compliant with the dominant economic policy of austerity and strict public finances. Italy’s 132 percent debt-to-GDP ratio is more than double what EU rules allow, and second-highest to Greece, as cited by the BBC. Therefore, if a populist government in Rome were to relax debt rules and grow its way out of economic stagnation, the result would be a head-on challenge to Brussels, the EU administration, and the German government in particular, which is a fiscal hawk. However, the point is that a radical challenge to EU economic policy is what the Italian people voted for. Large numbers of them are fed up with “slave-like” obedience to fiscal policies that accommodate the priorities of financial institutions and foreign capital.

A sense that their votes are being overturned propels the fury felt in Italy over the latest crisis. That is, “if your vote changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. This perceived blatant interference in democratic rights on behalf of neoliberal economic interests and financial investors is bound to further rile up the populist backlash against the EU establishment… not just in Italy, but also increasingly across the bloc, from Britain to the Netherlands, from France to Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and elsewhere. However, another factor may be equally important, if not quite as openly stated. That is Russia and the geopolitics of the US-led NATO axis.

Perhaps, it’s significant that President Mattarella, like many of the traditional EU ruling elite, is very pro-USA and pro-NATO. For instance, when he was previously Italy’s defence minister, Mattarella strongly supported the USA-led NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s. Already, as noted above, the incoming M5S/League government coalition proposes to end the EU policy of economic sanctions on Russia. Both parties said that we shouldn’t treat Moscow as a military threat, but rather as a partner and ally. As Italy is a founding member of the EU, its position on the matter of relations with Russia would be crucial. If the new government overturned the EU’s sanctions policy and restored friendly ties with Moscow that’d scuttle the pro-Atlanticist axis between Washington and Brussels. Arguably, for Europeans, that’d be a beneficial release from Washington’s irrational hostility towards Russia in recent years, a move that EU leaders lamentably followed.

In other words, huge geopolitical interests are at stake if the Italians exercise their democratic freedom to form a populist government. No doubt, Washington and its allies in Brussels stepped in to “brief” the Italian president on what’s deemed acceptable limits of democracy. Yet, laughably, the USA-NATO-EU Atlanticist axis has the brass to berate Russia continually for “interfering in Western democracies”.

28 May 2018

Finian Cunningham

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201805281064884502-italy-democracy-political-turmoil/

Advertisements

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Macron Emphasises “We Must Follow” All Inked Agreements… Even Iran Deal

_________________________

On Friday, during a plenary session of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), French President Emmanuel Macron stated that all parties must honour signed accords, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme:

I want us to respect each other so that there won’t be any kind of interference. If we sign an agreement, we need to stick to it, no matter who chooses to leave. What we sign, we must follow. We must fight for sovereignty to remain an inalienable right. I’m committed to the sovereignty of France and the choice it made when it signed a nuclear agreement with Iran. It was our choice. Today, we need to develop a multilateral approach to international issues. It includes sovereignty. We can’t trust each other if we don’t respect ourselves, and I think that we need to fight for all to respect sovereignty in this sphere. Sovereignty serves as a necessary base for cyberspace, data protection, and sovereign debates. There needs to be strong sovereignty for us to implement all global rules.

In 2015, Iran and six major powers (Russia, the USA, France, the UK, China, and Germany) agreed on a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which particularly stipulated the removal of sanctions imposed on Tehran. In turn, Iran would limit its nuclear programme and submit it to international supervision. On 8 May, Trump announced that Washington was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. He said that the USA would restore previous sanctions against Iran and introduce new ones in case Tehran attempted to pursue its nuclear ambitions. In the wake of Trump’s decision, the leaders of the UK, Germany, and France called on other participants of the deal to continue their commitments to it. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran wouldn’t abandon the JCPOA and would continue to comply with its obligations, as long as the agreement takes into account Iran’s interests. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed disappointment in Trump’s decision and called it a front for the USA to settle its political scores with Iran.

25 May 2018

TASS

http://tass.com/world/1006600

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

EU Slams Pompeo’s Iran Strategy: It Won’t Make Region Safer From Nuclear Threat

________________________

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s promise to slap the “strongest sanctions in history” on Tehran after Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal prompted an outcry from European officials. EU foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini, commenting on the possible unprecedented sanctions against Iran pledged by Pompeo, warned:

There’s no alternative to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Secretary Pompeo’s speech hasn’t demonstrated how walking away from the JCPOA made or will make the region safer from the threat of nuclear proliferation or how it puts us in a better position to influence Iran’s conduct in areas outside the scope of JCPOA. The Iran nuclear deal is the result of more than a decade of complex and delicate negotiations; it’s the best possible outcome, striking the right balance. This deal belongs to the international community, endorsed by the UN Security Council. The international community expects all sides to keep the commitments they made more than two years ago. Iran’s adheres to the JCPOA; the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed ten times that Iran delivered on all its nuclear-related commitments.

Just hours before Pompeo’s speech on Iran, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared:

Washington’s plan to tighten the screws against the Islamic Republic won’t work. If you try now to fold all those issues… the ballistic missiles, Iran’s misbehaviour, Iran’s disruptive activity in the region and the nuclear question… if you try to fold all those into a giant negotiation, I don’t see that being very easy to achieve, in anything like a reasonable timetable. After Washington’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, the prospect of a new jumbo Iran treaty is going to be very, very difficult. I’m not totally pessimistic about the situation. In the end, there’s a deal to be done that gives Iran greater economic access to the West but also constrains it. I think, in the end, we’ll get back to the kind of additions to the JCPOA that we initially envisaged, but it may take a long time.

For his part, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said:

Berlin took into account the US position. It didn’t come as a surprise. During my visit to Washington later this week, I’ll meet with Pompeo to discuss the issue. The situation hasn’t changed for us. During its summit in Sofia, the EU gave a unified signal that we want to keep the Iran nuclear deal. Without this agreement, we could run the risk that Iran could restart a nuclear programme.

In turn, the Iranian Foreign Ministry used stern language to comment on Pompeo’s speech:

Iran rejects the allegations and lies in this so-called new strategy; it condemns the US Secretary of State’s open interference in its internal affairs and its unlawful threats against a UN member state. Pompeo’s remarks are a naïve attempt to divert the international community’s attention away from Washington’s violation of the JCPOA. The US government will be responsible for the consequences of any persecution as well as unlawful and violent actions against the Iranian nation. The insignificant, insulting, and secondary remarks of the new US Secretary of State and his unacceptable attitude to the great and civilised Iranian nation testify to the US government officials’ despair and helpless stance on the Iranians.

In his speech “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy” at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Pompeo pledged:

The USA will apply unprecedented financial pressure on Tehran via sanctions. The sting of sanctions won’t ease until Iran changes its course. The new sanctions will be the strongest in history and will make Tehran battle to keep its economy alive. The USA would hold any entity conducting business with Tehran to account; we hope that US allies beyond Europe will support the new anti-Iranian sanctions.

In early May, President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in a move that sparked a cold snap in Washington’s ties with its European allies and co-signatories to the deal, including the EU, Germany, France, the UK, Iran, Russia, and China.

22 May 2018

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/world/201805221064672753-pompeo-iran-sanctions-mogherini

Editor:

The USA is sounding desperate. It doesn’t have the ground forces to attack Iran… neither can it count on any from its allies, especially not from the KSA and Israel, which are its only local allies with any substantive ground forces (and they don’t match the Iranian ground forces in size). Naval force is irrelevant, as carriers couldn’t operate in the Persian Gulf and Iran could trade via land links to China and Russia. Air forces would face a robust air-defence system. Therefore, the only card left to the peevish Anglo toddlers is the nuclear option. With the adolescent Trump in charge, we’re in the deep kimchi, indeed. The only saving grace in this is that Hillary would’ve already used nukes on Iran… God alone knows what that would’ve led to.

The world holds its breath and waits…

BMD

Sunday, 20 May 2018

US Policy: Provocation and War

________________________

Many observers note that the USA appears to be undergoing a historic process of “strategic decline”. In order to stave off deterioration in its political and economic power, the USA resorts to greater dependence on militarism and aggression. For that to work, a policy of ramping up provocations against other nations is a necessary concomitant, as militarism and aggression need a pretext of conflict. This is the unavoidable conclusion from several international interfaces. The USA resorts to stepped-up aggression as a means of asserting its power against its perceived global rivals, as well as to shore up its debt-ridden decrepit capitalist economy. Washington explicitly identifies those rivals as Russia and China, as well as to a lesser extent Iran, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Syria, the DPRK, and Venezuela. Washington views all of them as impediments to American ambitions for global hegemony.

One can see the violence in Gaza this week by the Israeli military in the context of a wider policy in Washington of provocation. The shooting dead of over 60 unarmed Palestinians in a single day by Israeli snipers and the maiming of thousands of others, including women and children, was arguably a deliberate attempt to incite greater violence across the Middle East. It seems no coincidence that the atrocity happened on the very day that the USA controversially opened a new embassy in the contested city of Jerusalem, despite widespread international warning against the move as violating Palestinian rights. US President Donald Trump embraced the right-wing Israeli leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu to articulate an extreme partisan view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in which Palestinian rights are non-existent. The gratuitous use of lethal force, as American dignitaries gathered a short distance away in Jerusalem, seems to have been a calculated attempt to provoke a violent reaction.

If the USA and Israel incited an armed response from Lebanon’s Hizbullah or Iran…parties that long-denounced American imperialism in the Middle East… then, the ensuing chaos plays well for Washington. It’d give the USA and Israel an excuse to step up military force against these rivals. That could take the form of more US-backed Israeli air strikes on Iranian and Hizbullah bases in Syria, despite those bases being legally present. For the USA, the main objective of provoking greater instability and conflict is to undermine Russia and its recently regained stature as a major international power in the Middle East, owing to its successful military intervention in Syria at the end of 2015 to defeat US-backed régime-change proxies.

Russia’s intervention in Syria ordered by President Putin served to accelerate the sense of strategic decline for the USA. Russia’s military deployment in Syria abruptly stopped the American policy of régime-change in the Middle East (as seen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere) in its tracks. Iranian and Hizbullah forces legally requested by the Assad government to defend the state also halted the American bingeing on regime-change. The defeat of its terrorist proxies in Syria was a major setback for the USA and its British, French, and Turkish NATO allies, as well as for American client régimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia that colluded in the covert regime-change assault. To salvage this momentous defeat, and more generally, strategic decline, the USA seems to have embarked on a desperate policy of provocation, aided by its client régimes.

The aggressive way that Trump pulled the US out of the international nuclear accord with Iran last week caught many observers and European allies by surprise with his hardline obstreperous manner. Everyone knew Trump despised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 by President Obama. However, few expected Trump to violate the deal with such bellicose threats to intensify economic sanctions on Tehran, as well as on European states doing business with Iran. By vilifying Iran as a terrorist state and ranting against Tehran over its alleged secret nuclear-weapons building, Trump ostentatiously adopted the Israeli position of demonising Iran.

In particular, the Trump Administration’s warnings to Europe that the USA would penalise its firms and banks for continuing to do business with Iran, as is their right under the JCPOA, seemed to be a calculated provocation to crash the accord and incite Iran to resume past nuclear activities, which Trump, as well as Israel, intimated would be met with military attack. So far, Trump’s provocations over the Iran deal have failed. Iran and the other signatories… Russia, China, and the EU… agreed to continue implementing the accord. However, given this failure, so far, to sabotage the JCPOA, one can expect that the USA and its regional partners will try to ramp up provocations. The Israeli air strikes on Iranian bases in Syria the day after Trump announced the US pullout from the accord appears to have been a deliberate attempt at antagonising Iran even further. So too were Saudi claims that a missile attack on Riyadh from Yemen were “an act of war by Iran” owing to its alleged support to the Houthi rebels.

The renewed belligerence from the USA, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East appears to be a systematic effort to stoke conflict. Syria, Iran, and Lebanon, as well as Iraq and Yemen, are on the firing line for embroiling the region in further chaos. Ultimately, however, the bigger targets for US-induced instability are Russia and China, which Washington views as “great power competitors”. The American supply of lethal weapons to the Ukraine earlier this month… the first such supply after years of non-lethal military aid to the Kiev régime… rankled Russia. Deployment of US military advisors to oversee the use of Javelin ATGMs is a move that’d likely escalate the violence in the Eastern Ukraine on Russia’s border.

Of course, the continuing buildup of NATO offensive forces from the Balkans to the Black Sea along Russia’s Western flank presents an even bigger vista of provocation. The relaunching of the US Second Fleet in the Atlantic after years being in mothballs is evidently part of a massive NATO mobilisation. Elsewhere, increasing American deployment of warships in the South China Sea over alleged “freedom of navigation” concerns near Chinese territorial waters is another manifestation of Washington’s foreign policy of provocation. Trump’s superficial diplomatic engagement with the DPRK is now under test with Pyongyang’s warning this week that it isn’t going to give up nuclear weapons unilaterally on the say-so of Washington. It remains to be seen if Trump’s apparent flurry of diplomacy with the DPRK will give way to the previous pattern of American belligerence and threats of war. Indeed, if the USA is employing a systematic foreign policy of provocation, as seems the case, then, we can expect the USA to abandon the recent détente with the DPRK.

After decades of proclaiming itself a benign global power, the stark conclusion is that the USA is clearly emerging as a scourge on international peace. US foreign policy? There seems little else to it other than the USA is increasingly wired for provocation and war.

17 May 2018

Finian Cunningham

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201805171064551559-us-policy-provocation-war/

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.