kraine is a lot more portentous than it appears. It is fundamentally about the play for Persian Gulf oil. So was World War I. The danger lies in the chance of runaway escalation, just like World War I.
Let’s put Ukraine into a global strategic context.
The oil is running out. God isn’t making any more dinosaurs and melting them into the earth’s crust. Instead, as developing world countries aspire to first-world living standards, the draw-down on the world’s finite supply of oil is accelerating.
The rate at which known reserves are being depleted is four times that at which new oil is being discovered. That’s why oil cost $26 a barrel in 2001, but $105 today. It’s supply and demand.
Oil recalls that old expression: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” In industrial civilization, the nation that controls the oil is king. And 60% of the known oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf. That’s why the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003: to seize control of the oil. Alan Greenspan told at least one truth in his life: “I hate to have to admit what everybody knows. Iraq is about oil.”
But the U.S. lost the war in Iraq. Remember? The U.S. was going to install a democracy and 14 permanent bases there. They’re not there. The U.S. was run out after proving unable to pacify the Islamic jihad it had unleashed under the pretext of searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Instead, Iraq allied itself with Iran, its Shi’ite comrade-in-arms in the Muslim Wars of Religion.
So today, the battle for the Persian Gulf is being carried out through its two regional powers, Saudi Arabia, the champion of Sunni Islam, and Iran, the torch carrier for Shi’ite Islam. Think of the Wars between the Protestants and Catholics in the 1500s. The U.S. backs Saudi Arabia, as it has done since 1945, when Roosevelt cut a deal with Ibn Saud to protect his illegitimate throne in exchange for the House of Saud only selling oil in dollars.
Iran, of course, is implacably hostile to the U.S. after the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president, Mosaddegh, in 1953 and installed its own fascist puppet, the Shah of Iran. The Iranians overthrew the Shah in 1979 and installed a fundamentalist theocracy that continues to this day.
Iran’s main ally in the region is Syria, which the U.S. has been trying to overthrow for three years by helping the al-Qaeda-linked rebels that are attacking Syria. Syria’s chief military patron is Russia, which conveniently bailed Obama out of his childish “red line” declaration last year, a declaration he had neither the military nor political nor diplomatic capacity to carry out.
So, the upheaval in Ukraine is really about the U.S. trying to weaken Syria’s patron, Russia. If Russia is weakened, Syria is weakened. If Syria is weakened, Iran is weakened. If Iran is weakened, the U.S. has a better chance of seizing control of the world’s largest reserves of oil. That is the Great Game that is going on here.
The problem is the risk of escalation. It’s not at all fanciful to imagine some ambitious Ukrainian colonel firing at Russian forces. Russia fires back, decisively. This puts Ukraine at risk for its European suitor, the EU. So NATO intervenes to try to intimidate Russia. Russia retaliates to blacken NATO’s nose. And before anyone knows it, the U.S. is dragged into a shooting war where no one can understand how it ends. This is almost exactly how World War I started.
The Germans were gunning for Persian Gulf oil via their relationship with the Ottoman Empire. But this would have given Germany a choke hold on England, which had only just converted its navy to oil. So, England reversed its historical rivalry with France, in 1904, and with Russia, in 1907, to try to contain Germany. But a minor, unanticipated dust-up in the Balkans in the summer of 1914 escalated into The Greatest War The World Had Ever Known.
In a freak event, a Serbian teenager killed the heir-apparent to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. So Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. Russia couldn’t stand idle as its sole Balkan ally, Serbia, was humiliated. So it mobilized on Austria-Hungary, an effective declaration of war.
Germany moved to defend its ally, Austria-Hungary, by attacking Russia’s ally, France. England, France’s ally, responded by declaring war on Germany. Within less than one month of a minor incident in a minor region of the continent, all the major powers of Europe were at war.
World War I would inflict 27 million casualties through the industrialization of human slaughter. It destroyed four great empires, more than had expired in any single event, ever. Eleven new nations were created in its aftermath, including Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. It was the event that shifted the locus of global power from Europe to the U.S., where it has resided ever since. It rearranged the architecture of global power more than any event of the last thousand years.
So the portent of Ukraine is a global strategic order hanging in the balance. The U.S. must subdue Russia to gain control of the world’s oil. It is the same strategic objective that is driving the U.S.’s subversion of the democratically elected government in Venezuela: it sits on one of the world’s largest reserves of oil. Indeed, all of the U.S.’ aggressions on Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, and its subversion of the democratically elected government of Ukraine, can be understood in this context.
The wild card in the whole fracas is China. China is the biggest customer of Iranian oil, and the largest international investor in Venezuela. These represent some of China’s moves to counter the U.S. attempt to control the world’s oil. The potential escalation from Ukraine as the U.S. pressures Syria, Iran, and Venezuela, inescapably involves China. If China becomes involved, trying to defend its allies and its supply of oil, it is anybody’s guess where it ends. But it won’t be pretty.
MILAN — The Oprichniks were the murderous henchmen of Ivan the Terrible, torturing and killing the czar’s enemies.
It says a lot about the Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s world view that he has chosen to reimagine these thugs as contemporary television executives in his exhilarating production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” at the Teatro alla Scala here. This lurid tale of jealousy, insanity and the search for a royal wife has become, in Mr. Tcherniakov’s alchemical hands, a vivid, unsettling reflection on the media and the fast-disintegrating line between what seems real and what is.
It isn’t the first time that this director has brought a new angle to an older work. His charged, often claustrophobic interpretations of operas like Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” over the past few years have revealed fresh narratives and unexpected emphases in well-trodden classics. Just last month at the Metropolitan Opera, his new production of Borodin’s “Prince Igor” added some sections, cut others and rearranged what was left to create a dreamy portrait of a ruler and society thrown out of joint by the hunger for war.
But “Prince Igor” is a torso. Borodin never finished it and, as far as an overarching structure, barely even started it, a fact that even the Met’s strong production couldn’t conceal. While Mr. Tcherniakov’s version of “Igor” showed craft and care, it was bracing on Wednesday, at the second performance of “The Tsar’s Bride,” to see what he is capable of when he actually has a full opera to work with.
Like many Russian masterpieces, this Rimsky-Korsakov piece, which premiered in 1899, is still a relative rarity in the West, and it hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserves. It can seem, at first glance, a rather superficially sumptuous melodrama. But this performance made a strong case for its glimmers of forward-thinking angularity as well as its late-Verdian propulsion: it is an assemblage of set pieces — arias, ensembles, choruses — that presses forward with vigor.
The plot takes its cue from an encyclopedia footnote about which little is known: Ivan the Terrible’s brief third marriage to a commoner who was selected from 12 finalists for his hand and who died mysteriously a few days after their wedding. In the opera, this young woman, Marfa, is the pawn in a tangled love story that leaves her insane, succumbing to poison, and several other people dead.
The odd thing about Rimsky-Korsakov’s telling is that while there’s certainly a bride in it, there’s no czar. The one time in the original libretto that the fearsome Ivan seems to enter the picture, we’re not even sure it’s him: Marfa and her friend think they recognize his dreadful eyes in an anonymous man on horseback.
First at the Berlin Staatsoper in October and now in Milan, and both times with Daniel Barenboim conducting, Mr. Tcherniakov has taken this empty space at the opera’s core and run with it. The curtain rises on a TV studio where what seems to be a storybook pageant about old Russia is being filmed.
Before the overture is over, video projections bring us into an online chat among the Oprichnik-executives, who propose the need to invent a fake czar. A computer-generated leader is swiftly created for the public to revere and fear, and a “Bachelor”-style competition is started to help choose his bride.
At its heart this is yet another iteration of the theater-within-the-theater conceit that has tripped up even gifted directors. (See Stefan Herheim’s London production of Verdi’s “Les Vêpres Siciliennes” last fall.) But Mr. Tcherniakov makes it work with the fresh energy of his concept and the vital performances he draws from his cast.
All the world’s a screen in this “Tsar’s Bride,” a society distinguished most by the ceaseless generation and consumption of “content.” So Lyubasha, driven to desperation by jealousy, performs part of her first-act monologue in front of the cameras in an empty studio.
At the end, the innocent Marfa’s mad scene is filmed — ready to join happier, earlier clips flickering on the studio monitors. Becoming a media spectacle may be the most fitting way for her to go, in a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword way: Throughout the previous acts, the Oprichniks’ product — a manufactured reality, half-news, half-entertainment — has been gobbled up from the television at Marfa’s family’s home. (We glimpse a few seconds of battle footage, too, lest anyone forget what all the fuss about a royal wedding is distracting from.)
Mr. Tcherniakov’s tweaks yield some of the production’s most effective moments. In the original libretto, the vindictive Lyubasha secretly spies on Marfa, her romantic rival. But here the encounter was face to face, making Lyubasha’s furious vows both more terrifying and more pitiable.
This director designed his own set, as is his usual practice, and it is a rotating wonder that makes possible, for instance, an elegant transition into the first-act trio. The world of the opera is rendered as a hermetic, arid interior. Nature is just another image, whether in the form of video of sun-dappled leaves or in the flowered wallpaper of Marfa’s living room.
The intense performances, not least that of the theater’s vibrant chorus, popped against this stark setting. The dusky-voiced mezzo Marina Prudenskaya’s Lyubasha was a small miracle of barely contained despair. The tenor Pavel Cernoch was a bright-voiced wimp as Marfa’s childhood sweetheart, Lykov, and the bass Anatoli Kotscherga a bearish presence as her father, Sobakin.
His baritone husky and lithe, Johannes Martin Kränzle was a bitter cynic at the heart of a cruel game as Gryaznoy, the Oprichnik mastermind of the czar’s bride scheme. The mezzo Anna Lapkovskaja was warm-hearted and warm-toned as Marfa’s friend, Dunyasha. The veteran soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow was touchingly deluded as her mother, Saburova.
Her voice and manner agile and girlish in the early acts, the soprano Olga Peretyatko was transformed into a bitter Norma Desmond lookalike for a riveting mad scene, her eyes glittering under the studio spotlights. (She gets another descent into insanity next month as Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” for her Metropolitan Opera debut.)
Mr. Barenboim brought out the music’s broad sweep and agitated details in moments like the febrile trembling as Gryaznoy toasts the bride-to-be in Act 3. He led the brass blasts at the start of the fourth act, each of which recedes into quiet unease, with a tautness and weight that revealed their debt to the opening of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.”
I wondered how the plusher Metropolitan Opera Orchestra would sound in this score, which has never been performed at the Met. I hope to have the chance to find out before too long, perhaps in Mr. Tcherniakov’s daringly theatrical production, a natural fit if ever there was one for media-driven New York.
The Tsar’s Bride. Directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Teatro alla Scala, Milan.Through March 14. teatroallascala.org.
German chancellor Angela Merkel came away from a phone conversation with Russian president Vladmir Putin this week convinced that he is living “in another world,” she told Barack Obama — an Orwellian alternative universe, perhaps, in which freedom is slavery and lies are propagated by a Ministry of Truth. The political crisis that is consuming Ukraine has re-ignited the embers of cold war hostility and paranoia.
Yet as the West and Russia square off, Merkel has been reluctant to sanction and isolate Russia for destabilizing Ukraine. This only reinforces Washington hardliners’ disdain for Europe’s supposed ineffectuality: it was the European Union’s trade initiative that Putin torpedoed, triggering the Ukrainian upheaval — and now the E.U. expects the Americans to deal with Russia’s hardball reaction?
Europhile Henry Kissinger caustically blames E.U. “bureaucratic dilatoriness” for “turning a negotiation into a crisis.” The last disciple of Metternichian realpolitik, Kissinger at least recognizes the perils of reacting intemperately and urges a compromise with Moscow involving “Finlandization” of Ukraine. But his fellow Republicans have seized on Ukraine to launch a full-throated assault on Obama as a “weak indecisive leader” whose “feckless foreign policy” invited Russian aggression and who lacks the backbone to force Putin into ignominious retreat.
If cold-war reflexes still come quickly to life in conservative quarters in Washington, they are far more deeply ingrained in Russia. Putin famously told the Duma that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century.” NATO’s expansion eastward and its war with Serbia over Kosovo propelled his ascension to power in 1999, and what he sees through the Moscow looking-glass is an implacable Western drive to hem in Russia and impose Western economic and political models worldwide.
Russian rhetoric about Ukraine bitterly parodies the language of current Western internationalism. Russian military forces are undertaking a “humanitarian intervention,” just as the Western countries did in Libya and have proposed for Syria (though in Ukraine no one has been killed or remotely threatened by the current Kiev authorities).
The Crimean autonomous region has the right to secede from Ukraine, just as the Western countries asserted for Kosovo (juridically an uncomfortably snug parallel, though missing the small detail of internationally certified lethal repression by Belgrade).
Ejection of sitting government officials from their posts by militant protesters in Russified districts of Ukraine is an expression of the popular will, a just riposte to the “Euro-Maidan” protesters who finally forced the flight of president Viktor Yanukovych.
Sergey Aksyonov, whose fervently Russian party won four percent of Crimeans’ votes in regional elections, could then be legitimately installed as the region’s leader, while it was illegitimate for the national parliament, including Yanukovych’s own party members, to appoint Oleksandr Turchynov, whose Fatherland party had garnered 26 percent of Ukrainians’ votes for the Rada in 2012, to fill the purportedly vacant presidency.
All this pretended symmetry is simply pretextual. The bottom line is that Putin deemed even a modest European link for Ukraine as a serious threat to Russia, perhaps a first step toward NATO. He gambled that he could prevent it.
The gamble backfired badly, mobilizing legions of protesters and knocking Yanukovych, who had walked a fine line between Ukrainians’ European aspirations and Russian sympathies, off balance and finally out of power. While Obama does not see “some cold war chessboard,” Moscow concluded it had just lost its queen, and riskily upped the ante.
The confrontation, however, actually poses more danger to Putin’s economically brittle regime than to the West. And for a leader who craves international respect–basking in hosting the G-20 summit last September, sulking in the absence of his peers at the Sochi Olympics–Russia’s deepening isolation is a blow.
Last year the Pew Research Center found barely a third of citizens across 38 countries had a favorable view of Russia, compared to the half that saw China favorably and the nearly two-thirds favorable to the United States. Without bonds of amity, every relationship becomes transactional. Now, Putin’s tough talk and rough action are only exacerbating the international distaste. Even China, often an ally in the United Nations Security Council, is warning Moscow “not to interfere in others’ internal affairs.”
The militiamen in Crimea who blocked U.N. envoy Robert Serry’s way sent a particularly disquieting signal. The United Nations provides one of the few international mechanisms of ingrained impartiality that can walk everyone back from confrontation.
Presumably a deal can be made. Putin had evinced no interest in Russian control of Crimea so long as the government in Kiev was neutral between East and West, and permanently detaching it from Ukraine tilts the country’s electoral balance decisively toward the Russoskeptics. An international accord that guarantees a democratic Ukraine’s territorial integrity and bars it from any military alliance, on the Finnish and Austrian model, will likely be at the heart of a resolution. And if Putin decides to proceed with Crimea’s incorporation into Russia, he is signing off on NATO membership for Kiev, and other countries can permanently reject visa applications from Crimea or economic transactions with it.
The United States has proved itself essential to mobilizing the political pressures most persuasive to Putin, and Secretary of State John Kerry is managing the diplomacy with admirable firmness and nuance. But this is really a European affair. It is Europe that has the economic leverage that matters to Russia, and Europe whose prosperity Ukrainians want to share. Let Europe lead.
Dear colleagues, The Africa Climate Change Alliance (ACCRA) invites you to discusshow development sector currently plans for the future, and what practical tools can be used better equip decision makers (whether within government, NGOs or private sector) in preparing for change and uncertainty.This public event will showcase findings from a major report, building on 4 years of research and capacity building from the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA). It documents ACCRA’s efforts to design, trial and evaluate a tool for promoting Flexible and Forward-looking Decision Making (FFDM) through a “game-enabled reflection approach”. The tool was trialled with local and national decision makers in Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique.When: 26th March, 16:30 – 18:00
Where: The event is hosted by the Overseas Development Institute in London and will be streamed live online. Follow this link for direction to the ODI office:
How to register: Sign up here if you’re able to attend the event in person or if you’ll be watching us online. Places fill up quickly so please make sure you register early enough!
Related content: The phase 2 research report will be launched a week before the event. In the meantime, you can learn more about the concept of flexible forward looking making and the tools to experience itin this report. How can you practice your ability to plan for the future? Watch us playing the game in Kotido district, Uganda.
THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ – IT HELPS ME UNDERSTAND MY OWN FEELINGS AS WELL – SPECIALLY AS I LOST A GRANDMOTHER AND AN AUNT TO THE BUTCHER KNIVES (LITERALLY) OF THE UKRAINIAN BANDERA NATIONALISTS IN MILLIE – (THE BUKOWINA OF OLD AND NOW IN THE CHERNIVTSI OBLAST OF THE UKRAINE TAKEN BY THE SOVIETS FROM ROMANIA) – THAT WERE INCITED BY A PRIEST THAT CAME FROM KUTTY (UKRAINIANS LIVING THEN UNDER POLAND BEFORE BEING ANNEXED BY THE SOVIETS), ACROSS THE CHEREMUSH RIVER in 1941. THOSE UKRAINIANS THAT SURVIVED THE WAR ENDED UP IN BRITISH COLUMBIA AS RESPECTED WAR REFUGEES LIKE THE SURVIVORS OF MY MOTHER’S FAMILY ENDED UP IN TORONTO. THE CANADIAN UKRAINIANS MARCHED WITH THE RED&BLACK FLAG THEN NEXT TO CANADA FLAG IN LVIV WHEN I WITNESSED THERE THE UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENCE – AND THEY WONDERED WHY I DO NOT MARCH WITH THEM ALSO. I SAW NOW THOSE SAME RED/BLACK FLAGS ON THE MAIDAN VIA TV.
INTERESTING HOW AVNERY REMINDS US THAT I MIGHT BE A DESCENDENT OF THE UKRAINIAN KHAZARS – PERSONALLY I KNOW THAT FATHER AND ME LOOK LIKE THAT – BUT HE ALSO TELLS US THAT BINATIONALISM DOES NOT WORK, AND THAT NETANYAHU IS BUILDING THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL AS A JEWISH STATE – AND THAT HURTS VERY MUCH. YES – ABSOLUTELY A MUST STUDY ARTICLE.
March 8, 2014
God Bless Putin
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU is very good at making speeches, especially to Jews, neocons and such, who jump up and applaud wildly at everything he says, including that tomorrow the sun will rise in the west.
The question is: is he good at anything else?
HIS FATHER, an ultra-ultra-Rightist, once said about him that he is quite unfit to be prime minister, but that he could be a good foreign minister. What he meant was that Binyamin does not have the depth of understanding needed to guide the nation, but that he is good at selling any policy decided upon by a real leader.
(Reminding us of the characterization of Abba Eban by David Ben-Gurion: “He is very good at explaining, but you must tell him what to explain.”)
This week Netanyahu was summoned to Washington. He was supposed to approve John Kerry’s new “framework” agreement, which would serve as a basis for restarting the peace negotiations, which so far have come to naught.
On the eve of the event, President Barack Obama gave an interview to a Jewish journalist, blaming Netanyahu for the stalling of the “peace process” – as if there had ever been a peace process.
Netanyahu arrived with an empty bag – meaning a bag full of empty slogans. The Israeli leadership had striven mightily for peace, but could not progress at all because of the Palestinians. It is Mahmoud Abbas who is to blame, because he refuses to recognize Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.
What…hmm…about the settlements, which have been expanding during the last year at a hectic pace? Why should the Palestinians negotiate endlessly, while at the same time the Israeli government takes more and more of the land which is the substance of the negotiations? (As the classic Palestinian argument goes: “We negotiate about dividing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.”)
Obama steeled himself to confront Netanyahu, AIPAC and their congressional stooges. He was about to twist the arms of Netanyahu until he cried “uncle” – the uncle being Kerry’s “framework”, which by now has been watered down to look almost like a Zionist manifesto. Kerry is frantic for an achievement, whatever its contents and discontents.
Netanyahu, looking for an instrument to rebuff the onslaught, was ready to cry as usual “Iran! Iran! Iran!” – when something unforeseen happened.
NAPOLEON FAMOUSLY exclaimed: ”Give me generals who are lucky!”He would have loved General Bibi.
Because, on the way to confront a newly invigorated Obama, there was an explosion that shook the world:
It was like the shots that rang out in Sarajevo a hundred years ago.
The international tranquility was suddenly shattered. The possibility of a major war was in the air.
Netanyahu’s visit disappeared from the news. Obama, occupied with a historic crisis, just wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Instead of the severe admonition of the Israeli leader, he got away with some hollow compliments. All the wonderful speeches Netanyahu had prepared were left unspeeched. Even his usual triumphant speech at AIPAC evoked no interest.
All because of the upheaval in Kiev.
BY NOW, innumerable articles have been written about the crisis. Historical associations abound.
Though Ukraine means “borderland”, it was often at the center of European events. One must pity Ukrainian schoolchildren. The changes in the history of their country were constant and extreme. At different times Ukraine was a European power and a poor downtrodden territory, extremely rich (“the breadbasket of Europe”) or abjectly poor, attacked by neighbors who captured their people to sell them as slaves or attacking their neighbors to enlarge their country.
The Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is even more complex. In a way, the Ukraine is the heartland of Russian culture, religion and orthography. Kiev was far more important than Moscow, before becoming the centerpiece of Muscovite imperialism.
In the Crimean War of the 1850s, Russia fought valiantly against a coalition of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, and eventually lost. The war broke out over Christian rights in Jerusalem, and included a long siege of Sevastopol. The world remembers the charge of the Light Brigade. A British woman called Florence Nightingale established the first organization to tend the wounded on the battlefield.
In my lifetime, Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians by deliberate starvation. As a result, most Ukrainians welcomed the German Wehrmacht in 1941 as liberators. It could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but unfortunately Hitler was determined to eradicate the Ukrainian “Untermenschen”, in order to integrate the Ukraine into the German Lebensraum.
The Crimea suffered terribly. The Tatar people, who had ruled the peninsula in the past, were deported to Central Asia, then allowed to return decades later. Now they are a small minority, seemingly unsure of where their loyalties lie.
THE RELATIONSHIP between Ukraine and the Jews is no less complicated.
Some Jewish writers, like Arthur Koestler and Shlomo Sand, believe that the Khazar empire that ruled the Crimea and neighboring territory a thousand years ago, converted to Judaism, and that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from them. This would turn us all into Ukrainians. (Many early Zionist leaders indeed came from Ukraine.)
When Ukraine was a part of the extensive Polish empire, many Polish noblemen took hold of large estates there. They employed Jews as their managers. Thus the Ukrainian peasants came to look upon the Jews as the agents of their oppressors, and anti-Semitism became part of the national culture of Ukraine.
As we learned in school, at every turn of Ukrainian history, the Jews were slaughtered. The names of most Ukrainian folk-heroes, leaders and rebels who are revered in their homeland are, in Jewish consciousness, connected with awful pogroms.
Cossack Hetman (leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who liberated Ukraine from the Polish yoke, and who is considered by Ukrainians as the father of their nation, was one of the worst mass-murderers in Jewish history. Symon Petliura, who led the Ukrainian war against the Bolsheviks after World War I, was assassinated by a Jewish avenger.
Some elderly Jewish immigrants in Israel must find it hard to decide whom to hate more, the Ukrainians or the Russians (or the Poles, for that matter.)
PEOPLE AROUND the world find it also hard to choose sides.
The usual Cold-War zealots have it easy – they either hate the Americans or the Russians, out of habit.
As for me, the more I try to study the situation, the more unsure I become. This is not a black-or-white situation.
The first sympathy goes to the Maidan rebels. (Maidan is an Arab word meaning town square. Curious how it travelled to Kiev. Probably via Istanbul.)
They want to join the West, enjoy independence and democracy. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, except that they have dubious bedfellows. Neo-Nazis in their copycat Nazi uniforms, giving the Hitler salute and mouthing anti-Semitic slogans, are not very attractive. The encouragement they receive from Western allies, including the odious neocons, is off-putting.
On the other side, Vladimir Putin is also not very prepossessing. It’s the old Russian imperialism all over again.
The slogan used by the Russians – the need to protect Russian-speaking people in a neighboring country – sounds eerily familiar. It is an exact copy of Adolf Hitler’s claim in 1938 to protect the Sudeten Germans from the Czech monsters.
But Putin has some logic on his side. Sevastopol – the scene of heroic sieges both in the Crimean War and in World War II, is essential for his naval forces. The association with Ukraine is an important part of Russian world power aspirations.
A cold-blooded, calculating operator, of a kind now rare in the world, Putin uses the strong cards he has, but is very careful not to take too many risks. He is managing the crisis astutely, using Russia’s obvious advantages. Europe needs his oil and gas, he needs Europe’s capital and trade. Russia has a leading role in Syria and Iran. The US suddenly looks like a bystander.
I assume that in the end there will be a compromise. Russia will retain a footing in the coming Ukrainian leadership. Both sides will proclaim victory, as they should.
(By the way, for those here who believe in the “One-State Solution”: Another multicultural state seems to be breaking apart.)
WHERE WILL this leave Netanyahu?
He has gained some months or years without any movement toward peace, and in the meantime can continue with the occupation and build settlements at a frantic pace.
That is the traditional Zionist strategy. Time is everything. Every postponement provides opportunities to create more facts on the ground.
Netanyahu’s prayers have been answered. God bless Putin.
U.S. Provokes Russia, Acts Surprised to Get Nasty Reaction.
If too many people get sucked in by the current, distorted media coverage of events unfolding now in Ukraine, then there’s a good chance life will get very ugly for a lot of innocent people, since one of the logical end points is the use of nuclear weapons. Everyone in power knows that’s a potential reality, but the urge to demagogue the Russians is presently overwhelming honesty and caution.
Ukraine is NOT a real place. Ukraine has never been a real place, not in the sense that Madascar or Cuba are both undeniably real places with real edges. Ukraine has no real edges, just lines on a map imposed by some treaty or army over the past several thousand years. To speak, as the more pompous do, of Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” is to speak of an imaginary construct, useful for blurring people’s minds for political purposes.
Ukraine in recent years has been what the power brokers of the disintegrating Soviet Union decided to let it be in 1991. Ukraine has no coherent history as a nation. First inhabited some 44,000 years ago, most of the region’s history is as occupied territory.
Russia’s history of maintaining a military presence in Crimea is older than United States history. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Sevastopol in Crimea continuously since 1783. For the Russians, this is a crucial warm water port, currently leased from Ukraine till 2042.
To understand what this means to the Russians, it probably matters more to them than the United States would care if the Cubans decided to threaten the Naval Base at Guantanamo, and we know that wouldn’t have a happy ending.
Is anyone involved in Ukraine NOT to blame for something?
In spite of its history as a subjugated non-state, Ukraine has managed something like a functioning democratic government from time to time in recent years. Now is not one of those times. The elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, was by all accounts corrupt, but he was elected. Although the process was somewhat messy, he was duly elected in 2010 with almost 49% of the vote, concentrated in Russian-populated eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Now Yanukovych has been deposed, perhaps justly, but by an unjust process spearheaded by a street mob and a disenthralled parliament. The parliament has appointed an acting president and Yanukovych is in asylum in Russia. It’s not clear that Ukraine now has a legitimate government of any sort.
The Ukrainian presidential crisis, which is ongoing, is surely the result of longstanding, internal Ukrainian faultlines, ethnic, political, and economic. And the crisis is even more surely the result of deliberate, years-long interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine by the United States, the European Union, NATO, and other western forces, as Robert Parry has described. Ukraine appears to be the latest victim of those New American Century conspirators who brought the world such success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, and Syria (home to another Russian warm water port and only Mediterranean base).
“KREMLIN DEPLOYS MILITARY TO SEIZE CRIMEA” – N.Y. Times headline
That front page headline in the Times is, perhaps, less inflammatory than others elsewhere, but it was five columns wide and deploying “Kremlin” that way is pure Cold War journalism. As for accuracy, it’s close – even if it doesn’t acknowledge that Russian troops have long been based in Crimea and “seize” is a hyperbolic rendering of an unopposed deployment which may even have been welcomed by most of the population.
The subhead – “REBUFF TO OBAMA” – is essentially propaganda, as it tries to make the President personally relevant to a situation that has its own dynamic. It’s also propaganda insofar as it tries to make this an American crisis to which we’re supposed to respond, rather than one we promoted for reasons that remain obscure.
The Times offers some idea of why Russia might be wary, but that’s deep in an inside sidebar, not the front page story. The deadpan tone hides a host of implied threats to Russian stability and safety:
“Ukraine had accomplished some military reform with NATO advice, but since President Yanukovych said that Ukraine was not interested in full NATO membership, cooperation has lagged, the NATO official said. Ukraine has, however, taken part in some military exercises with NATO, contribute some troops to NATO’s response force and helped in a small way in Libya.”
In other words, the “pro-Russian” Yanukovych was contributing to NATO, albeit in a small way that might even have been part of a balancing act reflecting Ukraine’s unfortunate but inescapable geographic location bordering both Russia and NATO members Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. As far as the NATO allies were concerned, Ukraine’s effort to be a buffer state with good relations with all its hostile neighbors was not enough. Both NATO and the European Union were pressuring Ukraine to choose sides, NATO’s side. How did they honestly expect Russia to react, sooner or later?
These provocations have gone on for years in different forms, apparently with President Obama’s blessing, since he apparently did nothing, or nothing effective, to mitigate or even cease the relentless instigation of Ukrainians toward violence. In mid-December 2013, former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich warned of the trap Ukrainian demonstrators in Independence Square were headed toward.
The fascist, neo-Nazi, ethnic cleansing forces in Kiev and western Ukraine do not control the government at this point, but they control the streets and they the most armed and organized of the factions in Ukraine. They provided many of the shock troops in recent confrontations with police at Independence Square.
Concern about the possible rise to power of right wing forces contributed to the decision by Crimean authorities to reject the legitimacy of the Kiev government and establish de facto control of Crimea as, effectively, a temporary independent and autonomous province of Ukraine. After that, Sergei Aksyonov, prime minister of Crimea, asked the Russians for help safeguarding the region.
Aksyonov also announced that Crimea would hold a public referendum on independence on March 30, 2014.
The government in Kiev mobilized the military to defend Ukraine and dispatched some troops to Crimea. There the majority of those troops reportedly joined the forces of the Crimean autonomous region.
“PUTIN GOES TO WAR” – New Yorker online headline, March 1, 2014.
The usually brilliant David Remnick somehow sees this multi-faceted, low level, uncertain and ambiguous situation as a “war.” Since no shot had been fired by the time he wrote about what he called a “demonstration war,” that made it an especially interesting demonstration.
“Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectation,” Remnick wrote, suggesting that no one had realistic expectations. For this statement to be true, “we” must have been delusional. Remnick must know that a rational person’s expectations when provoking a huge nuclear power would have to be extreme – or detached from reality.
What did anyone expect Russia to do in the face of perennial probes affecting its vital interests, real or perceived? Writing with a Cold War approach that denigrates or omits anything that makes sense of Russian behavior, Remnick compares the Russian deployment in Crimea to Georgia in 2008, Afghanistan in 1979, Checkoslovakia in 1968. He omits any mention of Sevastop[ol or NATO. He argues instead that this is all about Putin’s psyche.
Without doubt, Putin’s Russia has its horrors, but not everyone is blinded by them, any more than they are blinded by American horrors. Writing in Haaretz on February 25, before Ukraine fully came apart, Amatzia Baram wrote with clear-eyed analysis of the developing situation:
“If Ukraine degenerates into chaos, Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol will be in danger. If that happens, Putin may have an interest in seeing Ukraine split, for he will have no choice but to seize control somehow – perhaps with the services of a loyal Ukrainian politician – of Sevastopol and the surrounding area, or even of Eastern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula where it is situated.”
The United States does not bear the sole responsibility for de-stabilizing Ukraine and risking a nuclear power confrontation, but there is little doubt that if the United States had not been an eager co-conspirator in twenty years of increasingly reckless global expansionism we wouldn’t be in this current quandary.
But here we are, headed into another media wonderland where the actual context of putting missiles near another country’s borders is expected to elicit a reaction different from the one the Russians would get if they tried to finagle Mexico into a military alliance or base missiles in Canada.
Come on, people, keep your wits about you. American exceptionalism isn’t always such a good thing.
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.”
JOHN KERRY, secretary of state, on Russia’s actions in Crimea, a region in Ukraine.
QUOTATION OF THE DAY
“The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in.”
WASHINGTON —For all his bluster and bravado, President Vladimir V. Putin’s assurance on Tuesday that Russia does not plan, at least for now, to seize eastern Ukraine suggested a possible path forward in the geopolitical crisis that has captivated the world. Global markets reacted with relief, and the White House with cautious optimism.
But the development presented a tricky conundrum for President Obama and his European allies. Even if Russia does leave eastern Ukraine alone and avoids escalating its military intervention, can it effectively freeze in place its occupation of the Crimean Peninsula? Would the United States and Europe be forced to tacitly accept that or could they find a way to roll it back — and, if so, at what price?
Ever since Russian forces took control of Crimea, Mr. Obama’s aides have privately conceded that reversing the occupation would be difficult, if not impossible, in the short run and focused on drawing a line to prevent Mr. Putin from going further.
If Crimea in coming weeks remains cordoned off, it will then require a concerted effort to force Russia to pull back troops, an effort that could divide the United States from European allies who may be more willing to live with the new status quo.
For the moment, the White House was focused on preventing the confrontation from escalating. While dismayed if not surprised by Mr. Putin’s bellicosity and justification of his actions, American officials took some solace that he said he saw no need at this point for intervention in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. They were also encouraged by his seeming acceptance of elections in May as a way to legitimize a new Ukrainian government and by his decision to cancel a military exercise near the border. And they detected no new influx of troops into Crimea.
While Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday to show support for its beleaguered pro-Western government, Mr. Obama consulted with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany by telephone about finding a face-saving way for Mr. Putin to withdraw in favor of international monitors.
Speaking with reporters, Mr. Obama said some had interpreted Mr. Putin’s remarks earlier in the day to mean he “is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened.”
Others cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Putin’s statements. “It would be a mistake on our part to look at what he’s saying and think this crisis is almost over: ‘O.K., we’ve lost Crimea, but the rest of the country is with us,’ ” said Ivo Daalder, Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
He said Crimea would become a precedent: “Crimea is a big deal. It means a country can be invaded, and a big piece of it can be taken away with no price. But two, this isn’t just about Crimea. This is about who is ultimately in control of Ukraine.”
The situation remained tense, as Obama administration officials moved forward with plans for sanctions that could be imposed by the United States and, they hoped, in conjunction with European allies. The administration is developing plans for actions that would escalate over time if Russia continued to leave forces in place in Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine.
Mr. Obama has authority to take several steps without new legislation from Congress. For starters, under a law called the Magnitsky Act, the State Department has already drafted a list of Russians tied to human rights abuses. The administration could promptly bar them from traveling to the United States, freeze any assets here and cut off their access to American banks.
The president also has the power under existing Syria sanctions to go after Russian individuals and institutions involved in sending arms to help President Bashar al-Assad crush the rebellion there. The administration had held back on such actions while trying to work with Russia to resolve Syria’s civil war, but if applied they could cut off certain Russian banks from the international financial system.
Mr. Obama could also sign an executive order creating another set of sanctions specifically against Russian officials and organizations blamed for creating instability in Ukraine and violating its sovereignty. In theory, that could include everyone up to Mr. Putin, but officials indicated that they would instead work their way up the chain of command.
Leaders in Europe, a region dependent on Russian natural gas and with far deeper economic ties to Russia, have expressed reluctance to go along with the toughest sanctions.
But an American order declaring a Russian bank in violation would be sent to banks around the world, forcing them to cut ties with that Russian institution or risk being barred from doing business with the American financial sector.
“My view is that Russia can be forced out of Crimea with the combination of financial sanctions plus straightforward hard diplomacy,” said Anders Aslund, a longtime specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Still, others are more dubious, noting that Mr. Obama may not be willing to go as far as necessary without the support of allies, particularly given that it would presumably jeopardize Russian cooperation on a range of issues, including Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Middle East peace.
The precedent may be Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pro-Moscow regions that broke away from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. After Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin defied the United States and the rest of the world by recognizing their independence and left troops in place to guarantee it. The United States and Europe ultimately resumed doing business as usual with Russia.
Mr. Obama’s aides said that Ukraine was different and that they had a hard time imagining going back to a normal relationship as long as Russian troops occupied Crimea. Their first priority is preventing Russia from annexing the peninsula outright, but even leaving it as an enclave under Moscow’s control would not be acceptable, they said.
White House officials said they saw three possibilities. The first would be a Russian escalation into eastern Ukraine, one they hope Mr. Putin was signaling he would not pursue. The second would be Russia deciding to stay put in Crimea, either through annexation or through de facto rule. The third would be Russia taking what American officials call an offramp, agreeing to let international monitors replace Russian troops in the streets to guard against any attacks on Russian speakers and accepting the Ukrainian government that emerges from the May elections.
Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he recognized that Russia had natural interests in its neighbor. But he said he would not accept what he called a violation of international law.
“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”
Mr. Obama added that Ukrainians should have the right to determine their own fate. “Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle,” he said. “There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.”
The tensions over Ukraine eased somewhat after President Vladimir Putin of Russia halted military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and declared at a news conference on Tuesday that there was no immediate need to send troops into eastern Ukraine. The conciliatory talk prompted Russian financial markets to rebound from their plunge on Monday. The markets reward peaceful behavior.
But the crisis is not over: Russia remains in control of Crimea, and Mr. Putin prepared the way for possible annexation of the peninsula to Russia when he said it was up to Crimean citizens, a majority of whom are Russian-speaking, to determine their future. The question remains what the United States and the European Union should or can do.
The Ukrainian crisis has provoked a broad range of reactions in the West, including angry demands for immediate sanctions against Russia and charges in the United States that President Obama is somehow “losing” in the confrontation to Mr. Putin and thus endangering Washington’s credibility and global leadership. Yet leadership and credibility in a crisis mean reacting coolly and rationally, not rattling sabers, or rushing into economic warfare that allies may or may not support, or painting “red lines” that the other side can cross with impunity.
A bully welcomes a slugfest, and Mr. Putin revels in claiming American conspiracies; at his news conference on Tuesday, he even described the battering to Russia’s markets on Monday as a result of American policies. But that battering and the decline of the value of the ruble were no doubt major factors behind Mr. Putin’s conciliatory tone on Tuesday.
The Russian economy is not in great shape, and Russian businessmen understand full well that the $60 billion wiped off the value of their firms on Monday was because of a needless crisis.
Mr. Putin and his countrymen must be reminded, again and again, that seizing Crimea under a blatantly concocted pretext, or taking other measures against the new authorities in Ukraine, will carry a price.
Short of war, there is little the United States can do on its own to punish Russia. It is not among Russia’s major trading partners. Europe, which does far more business with Russia, has more leverage, but also a dependence on Russian gas, and, so far, European leaders have shown little enthusiasm for economic sanctions.
The measures that have been suggested — exclusion from the Group of 8, selective sanctions and travel bans — would not alone cause much pain. But the consequences of isolation take a toll over time. With every new demonstration of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian and expansionary tendencies, whether it was the invasion of Georgia in 2008 or the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot members in 2012, the West has become more wary of doing business with Russia. In a conversation with Mr. Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she was unsure whether Mr. Putin was in touch with reality. That, from the leader of Europe’s most powerful economy and one of Russia’s biggest trading partners, cannot be heartening for Mr. Putin, and certainly not for Russian businessmen.
These are exactly the buttons Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are pushing — threatening further isolation if Mr. Putin does not back down, and cooperation if he does, while rallying allies and pledging substantial assistance to the new authorities in Ukraine.
Closing the door to any further dealings with Mr. Putin, as hard-core cold-warriors want Mr. Obama to do, would not serve any purpose. Russia has already announced that it is ending discounts on the sale of Russian gas to Ukraine, and it could make life even more difficult for its bankrupt neighbor. But at his news conference, Mr. Putin said he felt a sympathy for the longing of the Kiev crowds to throw out a corrupt regime, and he insisted that Russian and Ukrainian soldiers “will be on the same side of the barricades.”
If he meant all that, then he must agree that the optimal conclusion to the crisis would be the election of a balanced Parliament and a universally accepted president in Ukraine, which would also reassure Russians that their ties to Ukraine, including Crimea, won’t be severed.
The United States and its European allies must prepare contingency plans for any escalation of Russian aggression or for the unilateral annexation of Crimea. The Europeans will have to overcome their reluctance on sanctions and form a common front with the United States. But, at the same time, they should reassure Mr. Putin that the West appreciates Russia’s historic ties to Ukraine and has no interest in turning Kiev against Moscow. So far, Mr. Obama is on the right track.
Just as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.
Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.
So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.
So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.
What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.
For a long time, Putin has exploited the humiliation and anti-Western attitudes NATO expansion triggered to gain popularity, but this seems to have become so fundamental to his domestic politics that it has locked him into a zero-sum relationship with the West that makes it hard to see how we collaborate with him in more serious trouble spots, like Syria or Iran. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is engaged in monstrous, genocidal behavior that also threatens the stability of the Middle East. But Putin stands by him. At least half the people of Ukraine long to be part of Europe, but he treated that understandable desire as a NATO plot and quickly resorted to force.
I don’t want to go to war with Putin, but it is time we expose his real weakness and our real strength. That, though, requires a long-term strategy — not just fulminating on “Meet the Press.” It requires going after the twin pillars of his regime: oil and gas. Just as the oil glut of the 1980s, partly engineered by the Saudis, brought down global oil prices to a level that helped collapse Soviet Communism, we could do the same today to Putinism by putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead. I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard — all of which would also help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).
You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps.
But you know the story, the tough guys in Washington who want to take on Putin would rather ask 1 percent of Americans — the military and their families — to make the ultimate sacrifice than have all of us make a small sacrifice in the form of tiny energy price increases. Those tough guys who thump their chests in Congress but run for the hills if you ask them to vote for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would actually boost our leverage, they’ll never rise to this challenge. We’ll do anything to expose Putin’s weakness; anything that isn’t hard. And you wonder why Putin holds us in contempt?
Meet The First Carbon-Neutral Hotel Group In The World, And Why Your Business Should Take Notice.
In an interview with Kirsten Brøchner of the Arthur Hotel Group in Copenhagen, Denmark, we discussed their journey to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and how their 5-point climate action plan is not only good for the planet, but good for business.
Rahim Kanani: Tell me a little bit about the founding of Brøchner Hotels and the resulting Arthur Hotels group. Also, where did the desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization come from?
Kirsten Brøchner: Brøchner Hotels has been a family owned and family run business from day one in 1982. First by my parents, with my assistance, and later with the help of my brother. Until June 2013, Brøchner Hotels consisted of four hotels, but due to a generational change and different visions in management, my brother and I separated the company into two independent companies, and I thereby formed the Arthur Hotel group consisting of Hotel Kong Arthur and Ibsens Hotel.
Being climate-friendly was and is my mission, and this is why we continue our efforts for a greener planet with Arthur Hotels. I have been asked the question about why I have this desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization many times, and I have come to the conclusion that the reason must be found in the story of my upbringing. My family consists mainly of entrepreneurs and healthcare personnel—hospital professors, doctors and nurses—so I have always been inspired by both the desire to see new projects blossom and the desire to care for others. Quite a good combination when running a hotel group, when thinking about it. My philosophy has always been that if you value ethics highly in your business, the money will follow automatically.
When the climate debate began to rise, this immediately caught my attention. I found it important to take action, and this is why I decided that despite the hotel group being a very small player in the market, I believed we could make a difference and hopefully encourage others to make a difference as well. I am aware that we in my company cannot make a big change alone, but hopefully we could set an example, which we have done.
Kanani: What did it take to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and what challenges did you have to overcome to achieve such a feat?
Brøchner: I felt that we as a corporation had a co-responsibility for climate change and that we therefore had to take action. We investigated and discussed what to do, and I discovered that with the Kyoto Protocol, all parties committed were allotted the right to emit a certain amount of carbon. If emissions were not utilized, because an energy producer had converted their energy production into a more climate-friendly solution, these emissions could be sold via the European Union Emissions Trading System. I figured that if we bought some of these surplus energy offsets and destroyed them, and took them off the market, these emissions would not be utilized. Further, by buying these offsets we would also financially support these energy producers that had invested in alternative production methods. Finally, if buying and destroying offsets corresponding to the amount of carbon that our hotels emit, we would be able to neutralize our total energy consumption.
We then took the investigation one step further and researched what other businesses and hotels had done, and we discovered that we, by doing this, would become the first carbon neutral hotel group, which was confirmed by the international hotel organization IH&RA. However, it was nearly impossible to find out how to buy these offsets, as they were only available for energy companies. I talked to a lot of people, ministries, government boards and others, spending a lot of time to investigate this. Suddenly, I came in contact with the small, Danish, independent, climate-friendly energy company Modstrøm, who offered to sell energy offsets via them. Ever since, we have bought energy offsets equalling our annual carbon emission at the hotels based on electricity, heat and linen consumption. This was how we were able to call ourselves the first carbon neutral hotel in the world.
Besides buying offsets, we have changed our whole mindset in the company, investigating all details on how we can be climate-friendly in every corner of the company. And we have done this by creating a 5 step climate plan that we have followed since 2008. As the offsets market have lost value, we are thinking about what we can do next. But due to the recent creation of Arthur Hotels, we must be realistic and I must admit that this will take time if we want to present a new thought-through initiative and thereby make an even bigger impact. Nevertheless, our 5-step climate plan is still ruling.
The challenges with the offset system were not the only challenges we faced. I had a lot of ideas that were not realized, unfortunately. For instance, I wanted to set up a climate school for companies with training courses for employees, teaching them how to choose the green option at work and at home. One example is when boiling water for tea—only boiling the water needed, so energy is not wasted on boiling extra. Or eating more light than dark meat, as the production of beef is more harmful to the environment than the production of poultry. Unfortunately, none of the many government agencies I asked for help were interested in supporting the idea.
Through the years, I have met the Minister of Climate several times and have discussed my ideas. I have asked for more public information on how to choose green in the supermarket. How are we supposed to know, from a green perspective, what is best to buy: tomatoes grown in Danish greenhouses, or organic tomatoes transported from Spain? In my opinion, the government should create a system with which the average consumer will be able to understand how to shop with a carbon-minimizing mindset in the supermarket. I have also suggested the Minister carry out a governmental plan to help both citizens and companies finance the building of houses or renovation projects carried through by using alternative energy sources—giving people access to “cheap money”. Unfortunately, these are challenges I have yet to overcome.
Kanani: What are some of the details to your 5-step climate plan?
Brøchner: As of 2008, our plan is as follows:
1. CO2 neutralization now and in the future. 2. Create energy savings. 3. Involve guests. 4. Establish a CO2 neutral hotel network. 5. Collaborate with climate networks/alliances including climate friendly suppliers.
We have made many small adjustments such as changing to more energy-friendly sources when it comes to light bulbs, heating centrals, guest amenities, groceries and other items and always choose as green as possible when introducing new products. We bought electric cars for our guests to rent, and we have charging stations at Hotel Kong Arthur for guests arriving by electric car.
The biggest change must be the reduction of our linen consumption by 22 per cent. Reducing our linen consumption means, from a green perspective, that less laundry detergent, which is harmful to the environment, is used, energy consumption from the washing machines is reduced, the transport of linen to and from the hotel is reduced, which reduces carbon emission from the transport and so on. And all of this is due to a simple idea put forth by one of our maids: instead of leaving all towels visible in the bathrooms, we leave some of the towels in the cupboard with a cute hand-written post-it message on the bathroom mirror inviting the guest to help us protect the environment by only using the towels needed – and if needed, more towels are available in the cupboard.
Of other ways we are enacting out a climate-friendly agenda is by collaborating with suppliers supporting the green initiative. A green chain collaboration so to speak. We buy primarily organic food products and bread, and actually our organic bread supplier, the bakery “Det Rene Brød”, even bought electric cars to deliver the bread to us after having seen our own. We have reduced transportation by, for instance, having milk delivered every other day instead of every day. And all of these great initiatives are based on ideas from employees in the company. Whenever someone gets a new climate-friendly idea, we discuss it and see if we can implement it.
Kanani: The city of Copenhagen intends to become carbon neutral by 2025—the first goal of its kind in the world. Were you inspired by the city’s ambition, or was the city inspired by yours?
Brøchner: This is a difficult question. When the Municipality of Copenhagen launched their Climate+ campaign, which has now resulted in the goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city, we were appointed Climate+ Frontrunner, and I gave a speech at the opening ceremony. But I will say that the city’s ambition and our ambition were two parallel stories or processes. And I am very happy that the city and we share the same ambition, because it is only by working together towards the same goal that we can make a difference.
Kanani: Is pursuing a sustainable and climate-friendly agenda good for business?
Brøchner: Definitely. And in several ways. First, in relation to the market, being sustainable has always been good for us as a small player, as we have achieved great attention. Not only do we receive great media coverage, but it has also meant that we have expanded our client portfolio. Before becoming carbon neutral, it was difficult for us to attract the attention of big companies. However, a few years ago, the Danish government passed a law demanding that all medium-sized and large corporations in their annual accounts report their CSR accounting. These companies are welcome to report that they do not do anything at all, but who wants to write that? So when this law was passed, this definitely put pressure on, for instance, these companies’ green chain collaborations which meant that suddenly international companies like Novo Nordisk wanted us as their hotel partner.
Second, there is no doubt that being sustainable has an economical advantage for all types of businesses. Saving energy for instance also means saving money.
Third, thinking and acting green also has an impact on the company internally. When making an effort for good causes such as protecting our planet, companies will automatically attract the passionate fireballs who want to be part of that company, contributing to the good cause. In this way, sustainability is sustainable; it becomes a positive impact causal loop.
Fourth, being sustainable has had a great impact on me personally. These efforts have expanded my network. Suddenly, I was having dinner with Nobel Pease Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. I have met so many inspiring and creative people throughout this process, and continue to do so—people who have helped me develop my business in many creative ways. I believe that inviting innovation inside is always good for business.
Richard Falk’s wife is top nominee for a post on the Human Rights Council
By Hillel Neuer March 3, 2014
As UN chief Ban Ki-moon today joins foreign ministers from around the world in Geneva to inaugurate a month-long session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, he should tell the 47-nation body to stop a controversial appointment that will expose itself to ridicule.
More than once, Ban had to take the extraordinary step of condemning one of his organization’s own human rights experts — Falk — for spreading “preposterous” 9/11 conspiracy theories. After six years, term limits finally require Falk to go.
Yet it turns out that Falk may not really be leaving after all: the Human Rights Council is set to appoint his wife and closest collaborator to a similar post at the end of the month, days after Falk makes his final presentation to the plenary.
According to a UN document circulated in Geneva, Hilal Elver — a Turkish academic on law and climate change who has been married to Falk for the past 18 years, co-authoring many of his articles — is rated first among three nominees to become the council’s next “Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.”
The troubled history of this UN mandate suggests the practices Elver would likely follow.
Despite its lofty title, the position was created by Cuba in 2000 as a political tool to attack the West, one of several UNHRC mandates created by third world dictatorships to disguise themselves as victims of human rights violations committed by Western capitalism, imperialism and racism.
The first right-to-food expert was Swiss socialist politician Jean Ziegler, a long-time shill for Havana’s Castro regime, and the shameless co-founder (and 2002 recipient) of the Mummar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.
Turning a blind eye to genuine starvation in places like Burundi, Ziegler spent much of his time finding imaginative pretexts to use his UN mandate on hunger to attack America and Israel. He condemned the Jewish state so often that journalists began to describe him, mistakenly, as the council’s investigator on Palestine.
Sadly, there are many reasons to suspect that Elver would follow in this politicized and prejudiced path.
Like Falk, Elver is explicitly acknowledged in the world’s leading 9/11 conspiracy book, “The New Pearl Harbor” by David Ray Griffin, for the help she provided the author.
In turn, Elver’s academic work cites to Griffin’s conspiracy book, which argues that the Bush Administration helped orchestrate the attacks on the World Trade Center to justify wars against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Elver’s words are more cautious, but hint in the same direction. In a 2012 law journal article citing to Griffin’s notorious conspiracy tract, Elver compares 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, saying that both incidents “gave permission to the government to unleash the war power” and “invade countries”, “create new hegemonies”, and “racially discriminate against and segregate the people inside the United States.”
According to Elver, the “American establishment” – she singles out the media and Hollywood — is guilty of “hostility towards Islam.”
Second, like her husband, Elver’s work is infused with dogmatism and tendentiousness, with sloppy attention to facts.
In June 2011, after the Economist advised Turkish voters to vote against the party of Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Elver and Falk published an article on the Al Jazeera website accusing the British magazine of a “Eurocentric virus,” because it “never did venture such an opinion on the eve of the election of such reactionary and militarist figures as George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, or Binyamin Netanyahu.”
The magazine, they wrote, revealed “a mentality that has not shaken itself free from the paternalism and entitlements of the bygone colonialist days.”
Similarly, Elver’s very application for the UN post underscores her unprofessionalism. Her form is replete with spelling mistakes, non-sequiturs, and even self-disqualifying answers. Asked if she satisfied the job’s conflict-of-interest rules, she replied “No.”
Third, there is every indication that Elver would, like Ziegler, twist the hunger post to go after Israel.
In 2007, Elver connected the Jewish state to “genocide” and Israelis to “Nazis.”
As UN food expert, we know exactly what her first charge will be. At a December conference in Qatar, she gave a lecture on Israel entitled “Water Apartheid.”
Like Erdogan, Elver is obsessed with what she calls in her Turkish articles the “Yahudi lobisini” — “the Jewish lobby.”
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Elver wrote that “the Jewish lobby” is “manipulating American politics” to ensure unlimited support for Israel.
In 2012, she warned about “the strong Zionist lobby” in the United States. Indeed, “many Muslim organizations are being controlled” in the American political arena by “pro-Israel lobbyist groups.”
Appointing Elver will be like appointing Falk. They travel, work and write together. She is not only his “constant companion,” says Falk, but also his “deepest collaborator.”
When in 2012 I urged Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth to finally remove Falk from one his organization’s influential committees, after he was condemned by the UK and other countries for anti-Semitism, they did so. Yet Falk’s wife remained on, allowing the couple to continue hosting HRW events in their home.
It seems like the UN is now trying to pull the same trick.
Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch.
Remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference.
John Kerry Secretary of State
Washington Convention Center
March 3, 2014
Norm, thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you all, 14,000 strong or more. (Applause.) Howard, Howard Friedman and Executive Director Howard Kohr, incoming president Bob Cohen, incoming chairman Michael Kassen, outgoing chairman Lee Rosenberg, and Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Dan Shapiro. I don’t know where our ambassadors are. Would they – somebody ought to applaud both of them here. (Applause.) There they are. Thanks for your own, Norman.
Let me tell you, it really is an enormous pleasure for me to be able to be here. It’s a privilege. And good to see so many friends, all 14,000 of you – a little frightening to see myself on about eight, nine, ten screens up here – (laughter). The last time I spoke to AIPAC, I joined your national summit in Napa Valley. I did it via satellite. And you were in the vineyards, I was overseas – a different kind of vineyard. So today, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal because I am here with you in person, and your wine selection is a lot more limited this time.
I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of speaking to AIPAC back in the 1990s, it was a great honor, and every time I come here, whether I get a chance to talk to a smaller group during the daytime sessions or otherwise, this is a remarkably inspiring gathering – people from every corner of the country coming together to demonstrate our deep support as Americans for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. (Applause.)
And it is no exaggeration. It’s not just words to say that every single one of you brings here such a special passion to a cause that you so fiercely believe in. And let me tell you something unequivocally: After almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I can tell you that is precisely why AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy, and I thank you for practicing it. (Applause.)
I want you to know that in my judgment, these democratic values are stamped in the DNA of both the United States and Israel. But we also share something much deeper than that. Like no other two countries on the planet, against the deepest odds, both America and Israel confidently, purposefully set out to be examples to the world. Think about it. From its earliest days, Israel has always said it’s not enough just to be one of many in a community of nations; Israel has strived since Isaiah’s time to serve as a light unto the nations. (Applause.) And that responsibility to be a light unto the nations sounds actually unbelievably similar to something that we as Americans know is part of who we are, too.
My grandfather ten times over – too hard to count in other terms – was a man by the name of John Winthrop. And he came to what was then the New World, and he came in search of freedom, freedom to worship as he wished. He was a minister. He and his congregants were outcasts, persecuted, heading into a rough and unforgiving land with no guarantee even of survival. And on his way here, he delivered a now fairly famous sermon at sea in which he called on his community to create a city upon a hill in their new home, America.
So whether you call it a city upon a hill or a light unto the nations, it actually means the same thing: being a model to the world. It means having a home that sets a standard, a standard of dignity and a standard of freedom. So the foundation of the friendship between the American people and the people of Israel was actually laid centuries before a single stone was set under the U.S. Capitol or under the Knesset. And looking around this room tonight, it is clear that our friendship has never been stronger. (Applause.)
And I’ll tell you why. Because today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side. (Applause.) I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama – and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact – there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security. The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled. And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so. That is what we’ve done. (Applause.)
Security. Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to. And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel: preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Applause.)
Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions. I know many people – there’s been a healthy debate about the approach. We welcome that. But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal: We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period. (Applause.) Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation. (Laughter.)
But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts. This is not a political policy. This is a real foreign policy. And we mean every word of what we say. You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line: No deal is better than a bad deal. (Applause.) And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal. We are committed to a deal that gets the job done. (Applause.)
Why? Because we get it, we understand it. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat. We understand it. We understand it in our gut. And we also know something else. This is not some favor that we do for Israel. This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel. (Applause.) A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world. It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries. There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story. (Applause.)
Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time. Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal. Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen. That’s a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous. Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.
So we say – President Obama and myself and others – we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment. And that’s what we are trying to do. And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible. And we need to give it the space to work. We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.
Now, I understand the skepticism. I’ve been around this city for 29-plus years as a senator, became chairman of the foreign relations committee, worked with most of the members of your board and with AIPAC and others around the country, and proud to tell you that during that time I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel. (Applause.)
And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead. But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution. Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets –We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify. Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world – it’s verify and verify. And that’s what we intend to do. (Applause.)
Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place. And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it. We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture. And yet we are able to negotiate. Our eyes, my friends, are wide open. This is not a process that is open-ended. This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel. That, I promise. (Applause.)
Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer. The first step agreement, the first step agreement – it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement – and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back. And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations. Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium. And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect. The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller. Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero. Zero. Zero. (Applause.) You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.
The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor. Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow. You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long. We’ve never had people in it. But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening. (Applause.)
None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners. But now, my friends, we have to finish the job. Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy. It’s results that count, final results. And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.
Now, right now we are carefully – and I mean carefully – negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly. The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.
You might be asking: If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal? Well, you have my word – and the President’s – that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?
Those are the tests. Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement. It’s that simple. And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement. (Applause.) Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions. It’s up to Iran. It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.
Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation. And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions. And let me assure you – I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here – I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances. (Applause.)
In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions. I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted. And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms: Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs. (Applause.)
Now, strong diplomacy is also essential to another threat to Israel’s security: ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and in doing so, preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel. (Applause.) I’ve had some folks ask me why I’m so committed to these negotiations and why I’m so convinced that peace is actually possible. And they ask, “Why does John Kerry go to Israel so often?” I think I heard Steny Hoyer say he’d been there 13 times, Eric Cantor who’s been there 12 times. I’ve been there more times than that just in the last nine months. (Laughter.) And I’ve been in the Middle East more times than even that in the last months because I don’t always wind up going to Israel.
But apart from the question, I’m surprised because people ask, because apart from my affection for Israel which dates back to my first visit back in 1986, and it just strikes me that it’s the wrong question to ask, why do I go. This isn’t about me. This is about the dreams of Israelis and the dignity of Palestinians. It’s about reconciling two peoples who want at long last to live normal secure lives in the land that they have fought over for so long. It’s about answering King David’s timeless call that we seek peace and pursue it. It’s about fulfilling the fervent prayer for peace that Jews around the world recite to welcome Shabbat. It’s about parents from Tsefat to Eilat who want to raise their families in a region that accepts the nation-state of the Jewish people is here to stay. (Applause.)
Now, it’s not news to any Israeli to hear me say that they live in a difficult neighborhood. Israelis know that better than anyone. No one needs to explain the importance of peace and security to a mother who has just sent her daughter to the army or a son who is waiting for his father to come home from another mission. No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than those who will inherit them for generations to come. And I have seen all of these realities in so many different ways in my travels in Israel, from the rocket casings in Sderot to the shelter in Kiryat Shmona that I visited years ago where children had to hide from Katyusha rockets. I’ve seen it.
My friends, I also believe that we are at a point in history that requires the United States as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power to do everything we can to help end this conflict once and for all. Now, that is why America – (applause) – that is why America helped bring the parties back to the table, where, let’s be honest, Israelis and Palestinians have difficult choices to make. And no one understands just how complex those choices are or how emotional they are better than the leaders who have to summon the courage in order to actually make them.
I have sat with Bibi Netanyahu for hours and hours and days and days. We have become good friends. (Applause.) I believe – in fact, he ought to be charging me rent. (Laughter.) I’ve seen up close and personally the grit and the guts of this man and his love of country. And I can tell you with absolute certainty and without question, Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated his courage and his commitment in pursuit of peace with security. (Applause.) He knows that it is the only way for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state; not a bi-national state. (Applause.)
As President Obama said publicly in the Oval Office today, and I quote him: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership and the desire of the Israeli people for peace.”
Thus far, I will tell you also that President Abbas, and I know there are many doubters here – I’ve heard the arguments for 30-plus years, 40 years – that there’s no partner for peace, that Abbas won’t be there, that – both sides, by the way, say the same thing about each other. That’s one of the difficulties we have to try get through here. A very small needle to try to thread in terms of the trust deficit. Thus far, President Abbas, I will tell you, has demonstrated he wants to be a partner for peace. He’s committed to trying to end the conflict in all of its claims, but he obviously has a point of view about what’s fair and how he can do that. Let’s be candid. I know that some of you doubt that. But as Israeli security officials will attest, President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence, and his own security forces have worked closely with Israel in order to prevent violence against Israeli citizens.
I’ve also spent many hours with President Abbas, and I believe that he clearly understands both the tremendous benefits of peace and the great costs of failure. He understands that in terms of his own people, his own grandchildren, the country he hopes to be able to lead, and in terms of the history that beleaguers all. He knows the Palestinian people will never experience the self determination that they seek in a state of their own without ending the conflict in a solution that delivers two states for two peoples. (Applause.)
And so does Prime Minister Netanyahu. When Bibi looks me in the eye and says, “I can’t accept a deal with Palestinians that doesn’t make the people of Israel safer,” we agree 100 percent. (Applause.) But I argue that there is a distinction between a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon or from Gaza where nothing is resolved, and a phased withdrawal that is negotiated where everything is at least in an agreement resolved.
Now, I learned about Israel’s security on many different trips over there, but one stands out. I was – I’d been a pilot since I was in college and I was on a trip over there. I was having a luncheon at Ovda Airbase with the Israel Air Force. And the colonel who was in charge was – had flown. He was an ace from the Six-Day War. And we were having lunch at the time at Ovda and I had been badgering them to maybe let me go up and fly. And they disappeared at lunch and finally he comes back and he says, “Senator, I hope you don’t eat too much. We’re going flying.” I said, “Wow, great. This is what I’ve wanted.” And we went out, the two of us, drove out to this jet, and he trusted me. We put on our helmets, got in the jet, and he says, “The moment we’re off the ground, it’s your airplane.”
So literally, we took off, I take the stick, we go up, we’re flying around. Next thing I know in my ear he says, “Senator, you better turn faster. You’re going over Egypt.” (Laughter.) So I turned very fast and then I asked him if I could do some aerobatics over the Negev. And I turned upside down and did a big loop and I was coming down, I was looking upside-down, and I said to myself, “This is perfect.” I could see all of the Sinai. I could see Aqaba. I could see Jordan. I see all of Israel below me, each side to each side. Said, “This is the perfect way to see the Middle East upside-down and backwards.” I understand it. (Applause.)
The real point of this story is just to tell you that I can’t tell you the imprint on me, being up there and tiny – almost turning. You had barely space to turn. You get the sense of a missile from here, or a rocket from there, or the threat of war. You understand it’s impossible to ignore just how narrow those borders are, how vulnerable Israel can be, and why Israel’s security is our first priority. We understand that. (Applause.)
That is why, my friends, President Obama sent a four-star general, John Allen, one of the most respected minds in United States military to do something we’ve never done in all the history of administrations negotiating for Israel’s and Palestinians’ future and that is to work with Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians to make the Jordan River border as strong as the strongest borders on Earth. That’s what makes this effort different from anything we’ve ever done before. With the combination of the best military experience America can offer and the best ideas in the Pentagon and the best technology that we could deliver, we believe we can deliver to Israel security that Israel needs in order to make peace, and President Obama is committed to doing that.
Now we have no illusions. We saw what happened after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and Lebanon. We all learned lessons from that, I hope. That’s why a negotiated agreement is so important. That’s why the security arrangements that we are helping to design will need to be operationally proven. We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer. We will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza. (Applause.)
My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace. But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger. Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland. (Applause.) As Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles – to remain both Jewish and democratic. At last year’s AIPAC conference, he said statehood is not a favor for the Palestinians, and let me reaffirm: He is right; it is not.
Israel also needs peace in order to create greater prosperity. All of you here know the great economic benefits of peace. All of you have already seen what Israel has already been able to build with the forces of the region that raid against it. Just imagine what it will be able to build as a result of peace with Palestinian neighbors. I’ve had the foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries – a very wealthy country and a very smart foreign minister say to me if we make peace – this is under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Arab Follow-on Committee that is following everything we’re doing very closely and supporting it – and they said if we make peace, Israel will trade more in this community within a few years than it trades with Europe today. That’s what we have available to us. (Applause.) And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary unwarranted boycotts of Israel. For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel – (applause) – and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel. That will never change. (Applause.)
Every time that Israel is subjected to attacks on its legitimacy, whether at the United Nations or from any nation, the United States will use every tool we have to defeat those efforts and we will stand with Israel. (Applause.)
Finally, peace demands that Israel fulfill its destiny not just as a nation but also as a neighbor. And that begins with the Palestinians, and it extends to the entire Arab League whose Arab Peace Initiative can open the door to peace and normalized relations with 20 additional Arab countries and a total of 55 Muslim countries. The upheaval in the Middle East has shown us all that Arabs and Israelis share some of the very same security concerns. Without the Palestinian conflict to divide them, these common interests can grow into real relationships and transform Israel’s standing in the region. And I just invite you – I promise you these conversations take place. I’ve had them throughout the Gulf region, throughout the Middle East, where increasingly those countries begin to see the possibilities of mutual security interests coming together for all of them against an Iran, against terrorism, against religious extremism. This is a commonality that is a new thread in the region, and I believe it brings the potential of new possibilities.
It is also important to remember that ending the conflict means ending the incitement. President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed. And he has sought our help in order to try to deal with the problem. And I can tell you that with any final agreement it will also include a larger endeavor in order to help people on both sides move beyond a painful past and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.
After all these years, my friends, it is really no mystery what the end-game really looks like. I think you know that in your hearts. We understand what the end-game is. I know what peace looks like. When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, I think everybody shares this because this is not new. After Camp David and Oslo and Wye and Annapolis and Taba and all of these efforts, what the end-game should look like is straightforward: security arrangements that leave Israelis more secure, not less; mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people; an end to the conflict and to all claims; a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugees, one that does not diminish the Jewish character of the state of Israel; and a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace. (Applause.)
It will take hard work. I’m not pretending any of the answers – these are all narrative issues. They’re tough issues. They complicated. But there is a vision of peace, and it takes tough choices on both sides, especially over the coming days. I guarantee you that America, that President Obama and this Administration will be there every day of the week, every step of the way. And we will stand with Israel’s leaders today and with the leaders of the future. And we will ensure that our light shines not just throughout the nations, but throughout the generations.
Leaders like a fellow named Guy – I’ll leave his last name out – but he’s a young Israeli who took part in an exchange program with the State Department, sponsors that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about their histories and their hopes. Guy’s grandparents fled Europe. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. He served in the IDF. And he worked as an entrepreneur in Israel’s booming tech industry. And this is what he said in that program: We respect our past, but we don’t want to live it. We are young enough to dream, to believe that change is possible, and that fear can be defeated.
I think Guy is right. Change is possible. Fear can be defeated. But those are choices we have to make now.
My friends, a few months ago I landed in Tel Aviv and it was the 18th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. I went straight to Kikar Rabin, and I stood with the late-prime minister’s daughter, Dalia, at the site of her father’s murder. And we stood just steps away from where the great general, in the last moments of his life, sang the famous lyrics of Shir LaShalom: Don’t whisper a prayer; sing a song of peace in a loud voice. Don’t say the day will come; bring that day. (Applause.) That is our mission. All of us, in whatever capacity that we can, but just as important our mission is also to raise our voices for peace, and we also need to listen. We have to listen to those who first gave voice to our values, voices that still echo thousands of years later.
He almost – I think it was the first time I went to Israel. I spent a week there and went all over the country and like many first-time visitors, I climbed Masada. I climbed it with a guide – some of you may know him or heard of him, a fellow by the name of Yadin Roman. Yadin, the publisher of EretzIsrael. And our group debated Josephus Flavius’s account of what happened on the top of that mountain, the account of what happened 2,000 years before we were there.
Then Yadin, after we’d had this long debate, made us all vote to determine did it happen as he recounted or was it different. And we all voted unanimously it did happen the way he recounted. He told us to then walk to the edge of the precipice which we did, and to look out across the chasm and to shout, to shout across the ancestral home of the Jewish people. And as we stood where every new Israeli soldier begins his or her service, by swearing an oath to honor that history and secure the future, Yadin instructed us to shout, all at the same time, “Am Yisrael chai.” We shouted. (Applause.) And then I have to tell you, echoing across the chasm in the most eerie and unbelievably unforgettable way were these haunting echoes of “Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael chai, chai, chai.” I’ll never forget hearing the echo of those words bouncing off that mountain. It was literally like we were hearing the voices of the souls of those who had perished sacrificing their lives for Israel a thousand years ago. And we were affirming those words, the state of Israel lives. The people of Israel live.
We have to listen to those voices. Those long ago who encouraged us to build a city on a hill to be a light unto the nations, an example to the world, to ensure Israel’s survival. And we have to listen to the voices of young people whose futures depend on the choices that we, the leaders of today, make. It’s for their future that we will give new strength to the U.S.-Israel partnership as AIPAC does like no other organization in our country. It’s for their future that we will come together giving greater voice to the timeless oath and we will remember forever those words and be driven by them: “Am Yisrael chai” will be said generations upon generations into the future because of the work you do and the work we will do together.
Thank you all very much. Honored to be with you. (Applause.)
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Summary? Print In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, said that many of the plans to address Tehran’s pollution were not implemented under the previous administration.
Iran’s environment VP to Al-Monitor: ‘We lost eight years’
Tehran, the overpopulated and heavily polluted capital city of Iran, is in constant struggle with environmental issues. Among the most drastic and dangerous issues is the city’s ever-present pollution, which worsens in winter, causing schools and offices to close on some days, and prompting officials to caution residents — in particular children, the elderly and sick — to refrain from leaving their homes.
President Hassan Rouhani has invested his hopes in Masoumeh Ebtekar to resolve these issues. Ebtekar, 53, was the first woman to become a Cabinet member and a vice president after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ebtekar, who spent part of her childhood in the United States and attended an American school in Tehran afterward, became a well-known face during the hostage crisis. Due to her fluency in English, she was the spokeswoman and translator for the hostage-takers.
Ebtekar is a scientist and previously served as editor-in-chief of Keyhan newspaper’s English edition from 1981 to 1983. She has written books, articles and scientific papers on her domain of expertise — the environment — and she has also co-written an English-language book, titled Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 US Embassy Capture, on the hostage crisis and in response to the book Argo.
Under former President Mohammad Khatami, Ebtekar was a Cabinet member and head of the governmental Environmental Protection Organization for eight years. In 2007, she became a Reformist council member for the Tehran City Council, where she served until 2013 while maintaining her position as a university professor.
Following the 2013 election of Rouhani — whose candidacy she supported — there were speculations about her being tapped for the minister of science position. But she again assumed office as a vice president, and returned to head the Environmental Protection Organization.
Ebtekar has received several international awards and has been recognized for her efforts in protecting the environment, though she was also widely criticized for a paper she wrote in 2008, on the grounds that she had copied the material from previously published papers. The journal pulled her paper and apologized, and Ebtekar herself admitted that she had “made a mistake.”
On Jan. 15, she was asked to speak before Friday prayers in Tehran about the topic of clean air. Shortly after, it was announced that her speech was canceled, with no explanation as to why.
I spoke with Ebtekar about serious environmental and pollution challenges in Iran, and most of all, its capital. The interview was conducted over the phone in Farsi, and the following is an English translation.
Al-Monitor:What is the first step in addressing pollution issues in Iran?
Ebtekar: Tracking the root of pollution in Iran creates an in-depth understanding of it. Our society is a transitioning one — one that has, in fact, transformed at great speed from a traditional society dependent on agriculture to an industrialized, oil-dependent urban one. Such a transition requires enough resources to educate people and create the type of culture required for practical urban life, which has not been provided to our citizens, at least not as much as it should have been. Citizens’ cooperation is vital in reducing the extent of pollution.
Al-Monitor: Why, in your opinion, is there insufficient cooperation from Iranian citizens in this regard?
Ebtekar: To cooperate, people need to trust their government. They also need to know the details of decisions and priorities. Another important element is the active presence and effective role of nongovernmental organizations, which is what we in the current administration value greatly. President Rouhani’s focus on ecological issues and related shortcomings is significant; for which I am grateful.
Al-Monitor: You have made 12 trips to different provinces in Iran since you assumed office in the Rouhani administration. In what way do you believe them to have been mostly fruitful?
Ebtekar: One of the matters on which I have focused during these trips and will continue to focus on, is engaging with grassroots organizations and our need to rely on their help. People have generally become more hopeful and expect further engagement and transparency regarding data and planning, which we will provide with the hope of facilitating this cooperation and creating a fruitful mutual relationship in working on environmental issues.
Al-Monitor: Do you have faith in succeeding at improving the pollution in Iran’s bigger cities, most significantly in Tehran?
Ebtekar: The problem of pollution would have been resolvable with proper planning. I had overseen the planning a decade ago, and it was to be carried out over a time period of 10 years, which, for whatever reason, did not happen under the previous administration. Targeted subsidies and planning projects aimed at further improving the polluted air situation of busy cities will hopefully help. We must have faith, and we need to trust collective thinking and cooperation.
Al-Monitor: Are there any cities that have experienced similar problems to Tehran and have succeeded in solving them? Could you benefit from their ideas and experiences in this regard?
Ebtekar: Tehran’s nature is one of the most beautiful in the world, particularly thanks to the Alborz Mountains, which are, at the moment, snow-capped and even prettier than usual. These same mountains, however, act similarly to a bowl surrounding Tehran and obstruct sufficient air flow, thus adding to the amount of pollution.
Mexico City had similar problems in the past. It is also a similar city to Tehran from the viewpoint of urban patterns and structural aspects. They have managed to solve a major part of their issues, and we were making efforts to learn from both their strong and their weak points. All of these efforts were disrupted eight years ago. We need to restart the planning process and act according to the increased number of people living in Tehran.
Al-Monitor: You have criticized Iran’s petrochemical sector, saying that international standards are not met in refining petroleum products, resulting in nonstandard gasoline in cars, which contribute in a major way to the pollution in busy cities. What is the latest on this?
Ebtekar: We have no problem in communicating effectively with the current Ministry of Petroleum. [Oil Minister Bijan] Zanganeh is a very committed, precise and knowledgeable person, and we are working closely with his ministry to make up for lost time and the work on which we have fallen behind.
Our deputies have regular meetings considering such matters. A major problem we have with standardized, or lack thereof, fuel, is rooted in vehicles and their consumption structure. Both imported and domestic cars have some serious shortcomings, of which the auto industry and importers have been warned. Some have requested an extension to correct the failures, but regardless of the amount of time they need to correct these engineering, manufacturing or design issues, we are geared up to take serious action to implement the Euro 4 standards starting this spring.
Ebtekar: There are mixed ideas and feelings about this. There is the potential to create some other problems, even if such a proposal goes through. It’s difficult to predict the extent of benefits such a move would have.
There is, however, no doubt about Tehran’s serious overpopulation, being a city that reached its ecological resource limitations in 1996, and a city where water needs to be imported from other parts of the country, due to its drastic water shortage.
Al-Monitor: Is biking an option for Tehran residents? Do you consider it practical enough to be encouraged?
Ebtekar: There is one district of Tehran — the 8th District — that has bicycle lanes and safety measures for those who wish to rent a bike from the station, pay the rental fee with a credit card and leave the bike in the bike station at a metro stop.
There are some other areas of Tehran in which we are working on providing the necessary amenities and implementing safety measures for cycling — riding conventional or electric bicycles, or electric motorcycles — to become feasible. There are obstacles, though. One is that Tehran, as it is mostly inclined and not flat, could not be considered a cycling-friendly city, generally speaking. The other is Tehran’s high pollution levels, which make the city’s air dangerous to breathe on some days. On such days, being outdoors, and especially exercising, may lead to health hazards, so we strongly discourage such activities.
With AIPAC in town, and having a low-key meeting this year, President Obama tells in public Prime Minister Netanyhu that Time for Peace with the Palestinians is Running Out.Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Netanyahu Monday morning before the meeting with President Obama, and before taking off to Kiev.Vice President Biden will see Mr. Netanyahu after that.
Obama’s message to Netanyahu on peace with Palestinians: Time is running out.
In unusually blunt interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on eve of meeting with prime minister in Washington, U.S. president asks whether Netanyahu is ready to ‘resign himself to permanent occupation of West Bank.’
WASHINGTON – In unusually blunt language, U.S. President Barack Obama said his message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday will be that time is running out for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Obama’s remarks came in an interview with Bloomberg news agency journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that was published Sunday night.
Goldberg wrote that Obama was more blunt and direct than ever regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The president said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was the most moderate leader Israel would encounter in the foreseeable future. Obama, according to Goldberg, gave the impression that Netanyahu was the one who had to be flexible in order to advance the peace talks.
“There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices,” Obama said. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
Netanyahu was due to land in Washington on Sunday night. He is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Monday morning prior to his meeting with the president. After meeting with Obama, Netanyahu is to meet with Vice President Joe Biden. On Tuesday morning he is due to address the annual convention of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, after which he will fly to Los Angeles.
Before taking off for Washington, Netanyahu tried to relay a harsh message on his upcoming meeting with the U.S. president: “I’ll stand firm on the State of Israel’s crucial interests, first and foremost the security of the citizens of Israel,” he said. “In recent years, the State of Israel has been subject to pressures, but we have pushed through the storm and the regional tempest, and that’s how it will continue to be.”
‘If not now, when?’
In an hour-long interview conducted with Goldberg at the White House on Thursday, Obama said his question to Netanyahu regarding the Palestinians will be, “If not now, when?” Another will be: “And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”
Obama stressed during the interview that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.” He added: “It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
During the interview Obama spoke out strongly against the Netanyahu government’s settlement policy and warned of the consequences that failure in the peace negotiations Israel’s international standing, and on the United States’ ability to protect Israel in the institutions of the UN.
“The U.S.’ friendship with Israel is undying,” said Obama, but added: “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
During the interview, Obama expressed his support for Secretary of State John Kerry and his efforts to reach a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry reports to him almost once a week on the progress in the talks and sometimes asks for instructions, Obama said. He noted that he has spoken little on the subject in recent months since he thinks it would make Kerry’s mission even more difficult.
“We are coming to a point, though, over the next couple of months where the parties are going to have to make some decisions about how they move forward. And my hope and expectation is, despite the incredible political challenges, that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Abbas are able to reach past their differences and arrive at a framework that can move us to peace,” said Obama.
Relating to the warnings Kerry made on the rising threat of a boycott against Israel, Obama said: “With each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”
The president also said he is convinced that would be willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to provide the security arrangements Israel requires. “For us not to seize that opportunity would be a mistake,” he said.
“We don’t know exactly what would happen. What we know is that it gets harder by the day. What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure,” said Obama. “And as long as those security needs were met, then testing Abbas ends up being the right thing to do.”
Speaking about his relationship with Netanyahu, Obama praised the prime minister, saying: “What is absolutely true is Prime Minister Netanyahu is smart. He is tough. He is a great communicator. He is obviously a very skilled politician. And I take him at his word when he says that he sees the necessity of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think he genuinely believes that.”
As to the political sensitivity of the Palestinian issue in Israel, he said: “I also think that politics in Israel around this issue are very difficult. You have the chaos that’s been swirling around the Middle East. People look at what’s happening in Syria. They look at what’s happening in Lebanon. Obviously, they look at what’s happening in Gaza. And understandably a lot of people ask themselves, ‘Can we afford to have potential chaos at our borders, so close to our cities?’ So he is dealing with all of that, and I get that.”
“What I’ve said to him privately is the same thing that I say publicly, which is the situation will not improve or resolve itself. This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away. There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on,” said Obama.
“And for Bibi [Netanyahu] to seize the moment in a way that perhaps only he can, precisely because of the political tradition that he comes out of and the credibility he has with the right inside of Israel, for him to seize this moment is perhaps the greatest gift he could give to future generations of Israelis. But it’s hard. And as somebody who occupies a fairly tough job himself, I’m always sympathetic to somebody else’s politics,” he said.
Obama also said he has yet to hear a convincing vision of how Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state without a peace agreement with the Palestinians: ”Nobody has presented me a credible scenario.”
“The only thing that I’ve heard is, ‘We’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing, and deal with problems as they arise. And we’ll build settlements where we can. And where there are problems in the West Bank, we will deal with them forcefully. We’ll cooperate or co-opt the Palestinian Authority.” And yet, at no point do you ever see an actual resolution to the problem.”
”And so if I’m thinking about the prime minister of Israel, I’m not somebody who believes that it’s just a matter of changing your mind and suddenly everything goes smoothly. But I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it. “
Speaking about the situation in the world today, Obama said “where international cooperation is needed in order to deal with those threats, the absence of international goodwill makes you less safe. The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security interests. It means reduced influence for us, the United States, in issues that are of interest to Israel. It’s survivable, but it is not preferable.”
Obama: We can stop Iran from achieving nukes
Obama rejected the claim that his foreign policy – including his decision to attack in Syria in response to the Assad’s use of chemical weapons – broadcasts weakness. He told Goldberg that it was his threats of attack that convinced Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and that sparked Iran and Russia to put pressure on the Syrian leader to do so.
Obama said he thinks Iran is taking seriously the possibility the United States could attack its nuclear facilities if the talks with the P5 + 1 powers fail: “ We have a high degree of confidence that when they look at 35,000 U.S. military personnel in the region that are engaged in constant training exercises under the direction of a president who already has shown himself willing to take military action in the past, that they should take my statements seriously. And the American people should as well, and the Israelis should as well, and the Saudis should as well.”
“Now, that does not mean that that is my preferred course of action. So let’s just be very clear here. There are always consequences to military action that are unpredictable and can spin out of control, and even if perfectly executed carry great costs. So if we can resolve this issue diplomatically, we absolutely should.”
Obama added that he believes the ongoing negotiations could indeed stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons: “And if we have any chance to make sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, if we have any chance to render their breakout capacity nonexistent, or so minimal that we can handle it, then we’ve got to pursue that path. And that has been my argument with Prime Minister Netanyahu; that has been my argument with members of Congress who have been interested in imposing new sanctions. My simple point has been, we lose nothing by testing this out.”
The Obama Administration’s EPA finally takes an honest look at the Gasoline used in the US and at cleaner air by toughening auto-mobile emission rules.
E.P.A. Set to Reveal Tough New Sulfur Emissions Rule.
By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times,
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to unveil a major new regulation on Monday that forces oil refiners to strip out sulfur, a smog-forming pollutant linked to respiratory disease, from American gasoline blends, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks pollution-control equipment in vehicle engines, which increases tailpipe emissions linked to lung disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravated heart disease and premature births and deaths. Proponents of the rule say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term, but opponents, chiefly oil refiners, say it is unnecessarily costly and an unfair burden on them.
The E.P.A. estimates that the new rule will drastically reduce soot and smog in the United States, and thus rates of diseases associated with those pollutants, while slightly raising the price of both gasoline and cars. The rule will require oil refiners to install expensive new equipment to clean sulfur out of gasoline and force automakers to install new, cleaner-burning engine technology.
E.P.A. officials estimate that the new regulation will raise the cost of gasoline by about two-thirds of one cent per gallon and add about $75 to the sticker price of cars. But oil refiners say that it will cost their industry $10 billion and raise gasoline costs by up to 9 cents per gallon.
The E.P.A.’s studies conclude that by 2030, the cleaner-burning gasoline will yield between $6.7 billion and $19 billion annually in economic benefits by saving lives and preventing missed work and school days due to illness. The agency estimates that, annually, the new rule will prevent between 770 and 2,000 premature deaths; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; 19,000 asthma attacks, 30,000 cases of symptoms of respiratory symptoms in children, and 1.4 million lost school and work days.
“There is no other regulatory strategy that is as important from a health standpoint, in the foreseeable future,” said S. William Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Until now, the sulfur content standards in American gasoline lagged far behind those used in the European Union, Japan and South Korea. The new rule will close that pollution gap by cutting American gasoline sulfur content by more than 60 percent, from 30 parts per million of sulfur down to 10 parts per million, starting in 2017.
The cleaner gasoline standard has been years in the making. Mr. Obama asked the E.P.A. to create the rule in a 2010 presidential memorandum, and public health and environmental advocates lobbied the agency vigorously to complete it. It is the most recent in a cascade of aggressive air pollution regulations that have emerged as a hallmark of the Obama administration.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, the forthcoming gasoline rule was a hotly contested political target. Republicans criticized it as an example of what they called the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach.
But since the presidential election, some Republicans have said they welcome the rule. Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a conservative Republican, said that because of mountain weather patterns, tailpipe smog is often trapped around Salt Lake City, giving his state many days with “gunky air that rivals L.A.”
Mr. Herbert said the new rule would help clean up his state’s air. “We’ve got to find a way to eliminate that with cleaner fuels and cleaner autos,” he said in an interview. “Dirty air is not a partisan issue. The fact that we have technology that’s available — cleaner burning fuels, cleaner burning autos — we ought to embrace that.”
The new rule will have a significant impact on the health of low-income Americans who live near major highways, said Dr. Al Rizzo, a pulmonologist at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del., and a former chairman of the American Lung Association’s board of directors. “The population that lives close to highways, that has the greatest exposure to these pollutants, air quality makes a big difference for them,” Dr. Rizzo said.
But oil refiners say that the new rule will hurt their industry.
Charles T. Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which lobbies for the oil refining industry, said that the rule comes on top of a series of other burdensome regulations. A decade ago, American gasoline contained 300 parts per million of sulfur, but earlier rules required refiners to cut the sulfur content by 90 percent, down to the current 30 parts per million.
Mr. Drevna said it was easier to comply with the earlier regulations because removing the first 90 percent of sulfur molecules from gasoline can be done without difficulty. Wringing the last 10 percent of those molecules is harder.
“They’re tough little buggers that don’t want to come out,” Mr. Drevna said. “It’s like getting the last little bit of red wine stain out of a white blouse.”
Asked about the E.P.A.’s estimate that the rule would raise prices at the pump by less than a penny a gallon, Mr. Drevna laughed out loud. “I don’t know what model E.P.A. uses,” he said. “The math doesn’t add up.” His industry’s estimate that the rule could raise gasoline prices by up to 9 cents a gallon comes from a study by the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies.
Not all industries oppose the regulation. Although the auto industry estimates that the rule will cost automakers about $15 billion over 10 years, Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors, Ford and Toyota, said her group had worked closely with the Obama administration to develop the regulation, and does not oppose it.
That is in part, she said, because complying with the new clean-gasoline regulation will help automakers more easily meet another set of Obama administration regulations, tightening vehicle fuel economy standards.
“We understand that this is the trend, to get cars cleaner and cleaner,” Ms. Bergquist said. “Our engineers are prepared to work for it.”
ladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.
Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist and pro-democracy activist who was recently detained by the police in Moscow, described the scenario taking shape as “Afghanistan 2.” He recalled, for Slon.ru, an independent Russian news site, how the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of helping a “fraternal” ally in Kabul; to Parkhomenko, Putin’s decision to couch his military action as the “protection” of Russians living in Crimea is an equally transparent pretext. The same goes for the decorous way in which Putin, on Saturday, “requested” the Russian legislature’s authorization for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine until “the socio-political situation is normalized.” The legislature, which has all the independence of an organ grinder’s monkey, voted its unanimous assent.
Other critics of Putin’s military maneuvers in Ukraine used different, but no less ominous, historical analogies. Some compared the arrival of Russian troops in Simferopol to the way that the Kremlin, in 2008, took advantage of Georgia’s reckless bid to retake South Ossetia and then muscled its tiny neighbor, eventually waging a war that ended with Russia taking control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In a recent Letter from Sochi, I tried to describe Putin’s motivations: his resentment of Western triumphalism and American power, after 1991; his paranoia that Washington is somehow behind every event in the world that he finds threatening, including the recent events in Kiev; his confidence that the U.S. and Europe are nonetheless weak, unlikely to respond to his swagger because they need his help in Syria and Iran; his increasingly vivid nationalist-conservative ideology, which relies, not least, on the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been so brutally suppressed during most of the Soviet period, as a quasi-state religion supplying the government with its moral force.
Obama and Putin spoke on the phone today for an hour and a half. The White House and Kremlin accounts of the call add up to what was clearly the equivalent of an angry standoff: lectures, counter-lectures, intimations of threats, intimations of counter-threats. But the leverage, for now, is all with Moscow.
The legislators in the Russian parliament today parroted those features of modern Putinism. In order to justify the invasion of the Crimean peninsula, they repeatedly cited the threat of Ukrainian “fascists” in Kiev helping Russia’s enemies. They repeatedly echoed the need to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine—a theme consonant with the Kremlin’s rhetoric about Russians everywhere, including the Baltic States. But there was, of course, not one word about the sovereignty of Ukraine, which has been independent since the fall of the Soviet Union, in December, 1991.
If this is the logic of the Russian invasion, the military incursion is unlikely to stop in Crimea: nearly all of eastern Ukraine is Russian-speaking. Russia defines its interests far beyond its Black Sea fleet and the Crimean peninsula.
Marina Korolyova, the deputy editor of the liberal radio station Echo of Moscow, told Slon.ru, “I am the daughter of a military officer who went in with the troops that invaded Czechoslovakia, in 1968. Today’s decision of the President and the Federation Council—I feel the pain personally. It is shameful. Shameful.”
It is worth noting that, in Moscow, the modern dissident movement was born in 1968, when four brave protesters went to Red Square and unfurled a banner denouncing the invasion of Prague. Those demonstrators are the heroes of, among other young Russians, the members of the punk band Pussy Riot. This is something that Putin also grasps very well. At the same time that he is planning his vengeful military operation against the new Ukrainian leadership, he has been cracking down harder on his opponents in Moscow. Alexey Navalny, who is best known for his well-publicized investigations into state corruption and for his role in anti-Kremlin demonstrations two years ago, has now been placed under house arrest. Navalny, who won twenty-seven per cent of the vote in a recent Moscow mayoral ballot, is barred from using the Internet, his principal means of communication and dissidence. The period of Olympic mercy has come to an end.
It’s also worth noting that, in 1968, Moscow was reacting to the “threat” of the Prague Spring and to ideological liberalization in Eastern Europe; in 1979, the Kremlin leadership was reacting to the upheavals in Kabul. The rationale now is far flimsier, even in Moscow’s own terms. The people of the Crimean peninsula were hardly under threat by “fascist gangs” from Kiev. In the east, cities like Donetsk and Kharkov had also been quiet, though that may already be changing. That’s the advantage of Putin’s state-controlled television and his pocket legislature; you can create any reality and pass any edict.
I spoke with Georgy Kasianov, the head of the Academy of Science’s department of contemporary Ukrainian history and politics, in Kiev. “It’s a war,” he said. “The Russian troops are quite openly out on the streets [in Crimea], capturing public buildings and military outposts. And it’s likely all a part of a larger plan for other places: Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson. And they’ll use the same technique. Some Russian-speaking citizens will appear, put up a Russian flag, and make appeals that they want help and referendums, and so on.” This is already happening in Donetsk and Kharkov.
“They are doing this like it is a commonplace,” Kasianov went on. “I can’t speak for four million people, but clearly everyone in Kiev is against this. But the Ukrainian leadership is absolutely helpless. The Army is not ready for this. And, after the violence in Kiev, the special forces are disoriented.”
Just a few days ago, this horrendous scenario of invasion and war, no matter how limited, seemed the farthest thing from nearly everyone’s mind in either Ukraine or Russia, much less the West. As it happens so often in these situations—from Tahrir Square to Taksim Square to Maidan Square—people were taken up with the thrill of uprising. After Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, the coverage moved to what one might call the “golden toilet” stage of things, that moment when the freedom-hungry crowds discover the fallen leader’s arrangements and bountiful holdings—the golden bathroom fixtures; the paintings and the tapestries; the secret mistress; the lurid bedrooms and freezers stocked with sweetmeats; the surveillance videos and secret transcripts; the global real-estate holdings; the foreign bank accounts; the fleets of cars, yachts, and airplanes; the bad taste, the unknown cruelties.
The English-language Kyiv Post published a classic in the genre when it reported how journalists arriving at the “inner sanctum” of the mansion where Yanukovych had lived in splendor discovered that he had been cohabiting not with his wife of four decades but, rather, with—and try not to faint—a younger woman. It “appears” that Yanukovych had been living there with a spa owner named Lyubov (which means “love”) Polezhay. “The woman evidently loves dogs and owns a white Pomeranian spitz that was seen in the surveillance camera’s footage of Yanukovych leaving” the mansion.
But that was trivia. Masha Lipman, my colleague in Moscow, sketched out in stark and prescient terms some of the challenges facing Ukraine, ranging from the divisions within the country to the prospect of what Putin might do rather than “lose” Ukraine.
Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable. It faces the burden of legitimacy. Yanukovych was spectacularly corrupt, and he opened fire on his own people. He was also elected to his office and brought low by an uprising, not the ballot; he made that point on Friday, in a press conference in Rostov on Don, in Russia, saying that he had never really been deposed. Ukraine has already experienced revolutionary disappointment. The Orange Revolution, in 2004, failed to establish stable democratic institutions and economic justice. This is one reason that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister, newly released from prison, is not likely the future of Ukraine. How can Ukraine possibly move quickly to national elections, as it must to resolve the issue of legitimacy, while another country has troops on its territory?
Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Russian politician who no longer holds office, said that the events were not only dangerous for Ukraine but ominous for Russia and the man behind them. “It’s quite likely that this will be fatal for the regime and catastrophic for Russia,” he told Slon.ru. “It just looks as if they have taken leave of their senses.”
We are now witnessing the latest round of violence and tragedy in the Ukraine. And not for the first time, hundreds of thousands of Jews in that embattled country, perhaps as many as 400,000, find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Historically, Jews in Ukraine have suffered disastrous losses during times of upheaval. During the Cossack uprising of 1648-57, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, 15-30,000 Ukrainian Jews out of a total population of 51,000 were murdered or taken captive. The organized violence against the helpless and impoverished Jews in the Ukraine in the 19th and early 20th century spawned a new word in the lexicon of hate - pogrom. Many of our grandparents fled the Ukraine, arriving on American shores penniless with little more than a dream of a safe haven. During the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War, another estimated 30,000-100,000 Jews were killed.
The total civilian losses during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine is estimated at 7 million, with more than 1 million Jews shot by Einsatzgruppen killing squads and Ukrainian collaborators in Western Ukraine.
To be sure, the Jewish community has not been center stage in the current epic struggle for Ukraine’s future. The just-deposed Prime Minister represents the still powerful pull of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin has always made it clear he will not accept a Ukraine that is tied to NATO or the European Union. So far he’s used the economic carrot of cheap oil and other incentives, but possible military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, with its significant Russian population — cannot be dismissed.
On the other side are Ukrainian activists who rallied around a Euro-centric vision of the future. Anyone and anything that insists on a link to Moscow and the memories of 70 years of tyrannical Soviet rule is out of the question. Unfortunately, among the masses of people who braved beatings, bullets, and death, were members of the nationalist Svoboda party, some of whose leaders have openly expressed anti-Semitic views.
Against this unsettling backdrop, after last month’s beating of two Jews, Kiev’s Chief rabbi has called on the city’s Jews to leave. Now comes word that unknown perpetrators hurled firebombs at the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, located 250 miles southeast of Kiev. That house of prayer opened in 2012 – a sign of Jewish renewal in the Ukraine – was built on the spot where the Jews of that community were ordered to gather before being deported by the Nazis to their deaths.
It goes without saying that Jewish institutions are bolstering security and it has been reported that some public events have been canceled. One can only wonder what kind of Purim and Passover await our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Ukraine.
What will members of Europe’s third largest Jewish community do? Will they stay or go? The late Simon Wiesenthal imparted sage advice when he said, “Where democracy is strong it is good for Jews and where it is weak it is bad for the Jews.”
We can only hope and pray and that the forces of true democratic values and inclusion win the day in the Ukraine. That would be a blessing for all its people. In the meantime, today’s Ukrainian Jews are free to ponder an option their forefathers could only dream about. Israel is but a non-stop flight from Kiev. Look for those flights to be extra crowded in the days ahead.
The Head of the ALDE faction Guy Verhofstadt (The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Parliament), and Mikhail Kasyanov Co-Leader of People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) – on the escalation of the situation in Crimea:
“Putin has recklessly taken a step that has put Russia on the brink of war with a friendly country, Ukraine. Russia dropped the pretence of being a good neighbour and became a military aggressor.Putin’s justifications for the Russian military intervention are flimsy – no one is going to attack the Russian population living in the Crimea or in the eastern regions of Ukraine.Moreover a legitimate Ukrainian government of unity has assured all of its citizens of strict performance of their duties to protect the population, regardless of ethnic or linguistic identity.
The main reason for this senseless act is the reluctance of the Russian authorities to recognise the Ukrainian people’s sovereign right to decide their own destiny. And now Putin is trying to stifle freedom, not only in Russia itself, but also in the neighbouring country.
We demand that Putin immediately abandon his intentions of using Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine. We urge the Russian authorities at all levels to stop provocative actions leading to incitement to conflict in Ukraine. We remind the Russian authorities of their obligations under the Budapest Accord of 1994 to act as a guarantor of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and we deplore ongoing arrests in Russia of
peaceful demonstrators that came out in large numbers to protest against military intervention.”
What we ask is whom do represent the black clad military people that took over Crimea? Are they representing a new force or their old Russian military. We see a way out if the lack of insignia means that there is a new force being born.
FIRST CLEAR CASUALTY – THE SOCHI G8 MEETING THAT BECOMES IMPOSSIBLE WITH RUSSIA AT WAR.
SO – IT IS NOW CLEAR THAT SOCHI IS NOT THE PUTIN PLANNED RUSSIAN GOLD MINE.
Ukraine PR Says UN Charter Brutally Violated, Meeting Format Fight.
By Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press Follow Up
UNITED NATIONS, March 1 — As the UN Security Council on Saturday afternoon held its second emergency meeting in as many days on Ukraine, that country’s Permanent Representative Yuriy Sergeyev stopped and told the press it is now a Russian “aggression” and that the UN Charter has been “brutally” violated. Video here.
He said an appeal is being made to the US, France, UK and China, under the rubric of non-proliferation; he said there is still time, before Russian president Vladimir Putin signs the order for military moves in Crimea.
Then the Security Council “suspended” for ten minutes; Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin emerged and said some members of the Council are trying to change the format of the meeting, that Russia agrees with the format proposed by Luxembourg, which took over today as Council president.
After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s envoy Robert Serry spun the contents of a closed door Security Council consultation on Ukraine on which there was no agreed outcome, Ban himself did the same on Saturday.
Could Serry go to Crimea? Hours before Serry through the spokesperson had said no. But the purpose of the UN TV theater is to get this spin “on camera” – that’s the role Falk’s UNCA is playing.
Also Ban said he is going to speak with Putin soon. Will his spokesperson take question, this time with notice, on that?
On February 28, Serry’s impartiality as “UN” envoy on Ukraine was called into question, on camera, in front of the UN Security Council by Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.
Note to correspondents: Statement by Mr. Robert Serry, Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General, at the end of his mission to Ukraine
Kyiv, 1 March 2014
Following the consultations in the United Nations Security Council yesterday, the Secretary-General requested me to go to Crimea as part of my fact-finding mission. I have since been in touch with the authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and have come to the conclusion that a visit to Crimea today is not possible. I will therefore proceed to Geneva, where I will tomorrow brief the Secretary-General on my mission and consult with him on next steps.
In Crimea, I would have conveyed, also on behalf of the Secretary-General, a message for all to calm the situation down and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate an already-tense environment.
It became very clear from yesterday’s Council consultations that the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not to be called into question. This is a time for dialogue and to engage with each other constructively.
Note to correspondents: Statement by Mr. Robert Serry, Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General, at the end of his mission to Ukraine.
March 1, updated — After the Ukraine open meeting then consultations of the UN Security Council took place, Council president for March Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg came out and read a short statement.
Inner City Press asked her if this was a mere “elements to the press,” not even an agreed Press Statement. This seems to be the case. She politely answered, but not why China and the ten elected members did not speak in the open meeting.
Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Lyall Grant about the Budapest Memorandum — has it already been violated, including by the Western IMF side, in terms of economic coercion? Is it just a superseded document summoned up for pragmatic reasons now?
Lyall Grant acknowledged that some time has passed. From the UK Mission transcript:
Inner City Press: The Budapest memorandum. There’s been a lot of talk about it. It requires the UK, Russia and France to seek immediate Security Council action if there’s a threat of force, so is this the end of your duties, or do you have a duty to defend Ukraine? And it also seems to commit the UK and others to refrain from economic coercion, so some people have been saying that on both sides, the economic coercion factor has been played. Has this memorandum been complied with since ‘94, or is it just pulled out at this time as a convenient document?
Amb Lyall Grant: Clearly, this document has become very relevant in the last few days. We believe that the first step should be a meeting of the signatories of the Budapest memorandum, as Ukraine government has suggested should take place. Proposals have been made for a meeting of the three signatories as early as Monday, but so far Russia has not agreed to that meeting.
Lyall Grant also said his prime minister David Cameron spoke with Vladimir Putin and his foreign secretary William Hague will be in Ukraine on Sunday.
Inner City Press asked Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson of Russia’s critique of envoy Robert Serry “getting played,” and of the leaked (US) audio about former US now UN official Jeffrey Feltman “getting” Ban to send Serry to Ukraine.
Eliasson said Serry is an international civil servant, but that the UN is not mediating, he is only a go-between for now. Will that change?
US Samantha Power came out, saying another things that President Obama is suspending participation in the preparation for the G8 in Sochi. She took only two questions; it was not possible to ask her about movement on loan guarantees, or her view of the US’ duties under the Budapest Memorandum. So it goes at the UN.
BRUSSELS – Ukraine’s embassy to the EU has detailed Russian military movements in Crimea, saying operations to seize control began one week ago.
The Ukrainian embassy, in a two-page note circulated to EU diplomats on Friday (28 February) – and seen by EUobserver – cited seven “illegal military activities of the Russian Federation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine.”
Going back to February 21 and 22, it says Russia moved 16 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers of the 801st Marine Corps brigade from the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, which it leases from Ukraine, to the Crimean towns of Kaha, Gvardiiske, and Sevastopol.
It notes that on 23 February three BTR-80s moved from the base to the town of Khersones.
On 26 February, 10 armoured vehicles from the 801st brigade moved “into the depth of the Crimean peninsula towards Simferopol.”
On 28 February, 12 Mi-24 Russian attack helicopters flew from Anapa in Russia to the Kacha airfield in Crimea “despite [the fact] clearance was granted only for 3 helos.”
The same day five Il-76 Russian military transport planes landed at Gvardiiske with no clerance at all, while 400 Russian troops from the Ulyanovsk Airborne Brigade moved to Cape Fiolent, near Sevastopol.
The Ukrainian document says that also on Friday: “Belbek airport (Sevastopol) was blocked by an armed unit of the Russian Fleet (soldiers with no marking but not concealing their affiliation). Simferopol airport occupied by more than 100 soldiers with machine guns wearing camouflage, unmarked but not concealing their affiliation to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
It adds that Captain Oleksandr Tolmachov, a Russian Black Sea Fleet officer, led a group of 30 soldiers who blocked the Sevastopol Marine Security detachment of the State Border Service of Ukraine.
Speaking in Kiev on Friday, Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said: “They are provoking us into an armed conflict. Based on our intelligence, they’re working on scenarios analogous to Abkhazia, in which they provoke conflict, and then they start to annex territory.”
He added: “Ukraine’s military will fulfill its duties, but will not succumb to provocation.”
He also said Russia’s actions violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, signed by Russia, the UK, Ukraine, and the US.
Russia in 2008 invaded Georgia saying Georgian forces had fired on its “peacekeeping” troops in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. After an eight-day war, Russia retreated from Georgia proper, but entrenched its occupation of South Ossetia and a second breakaway entity, Abkhazia, in what is widely seen as a way of blocking Georgia’s EU and Nato aspirations.
The Budapest document obliges signatories to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.” It also says they “will consult in the event a situation arises which raises a question concerning these commitments.”
There is no shortage of consultations.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin on Friday phoned the British and German leaders and EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy.
Lithuania, which currently holds the UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency, also called a meeting of UNSC ambassadors in New York.
Statements coming from the Budapest signatories echo the terms of the agreement.
A spokesman for British leader David Cameron said he told Putin “that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.” US President Barack Obama said on TV “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Sweden, a close US ally, corroborated Ukraine’s accusations. “Obvious that there is Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Likely immediate aim is to set up puppet pro-Russian semi-state in Crimea,” Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said.
The Polish foreign ministry noted: “Any decisions that will be taken in the coming days, including of military nature, could have irreparable consequences for the international order.”
The UN meeting in New York did little to calm nerves.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, told press afterward: “We are strong enough to defend ourselves.”
Russia’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said all Russian military activity in Crimea is “within the framework” of a 1997 Ukraine-Russia treaty governing the use of its Sevastopol base.
Churkin added the EU bears “responsibility” for events because three EU foreign ministers – from France, Germany, and Poland – on 21 February signed a deal between Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, and opposition MPs which says he is to stay in power until December.
Yanukovych fled Kiev the next day when Kiev protesters rejected the agreement and threatened to storm his palace.
Churkin accused the EU of fomenting the revolution by criticising Yanukovych for refusing to sign an EU association and free trade treaty and by sending VIPs to Kiev to mingle with demonstrators. “They emphasize sovereignty. But they behave as if Ukraine was a province of the European Union, not even a country, but a province,” he said.
For his part, Andrew Wilson, an analyst at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, who was in Kiev during the unrest, told EUobserver on Saturday the Budapest accord should not be seen as a Nato-type treaty which obliges signatories to use military force
But he noted that the 1994 memorandum poses Cold War-type questions.
“Are we [the West] going to send a warship through the Bosphorus?” he said, referring to the channel which leads from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea and Crimea.
“These kind of questions were asked in the Cold War: Would America be willing to lose Detroit [in a Russian nuclear strike] to save Berlin? Later it was about Vilnius [when Lithuania joined Nato in 2004], now it’s about Simferopol. Budapest is not Article 5. But if we are being logical, it does offer security guarantees and it is still in force,” he added, referring to the Nato treaty’s Article 5 on mutual defence.
Crimea is a majority ethnic Russian region which became part of Ukraine in 1954.
Its local parliament this week elected a new leader, pro-Russian politician Sergiy Aksyonov, who called a referendum on independence on 30 March.
The ethnic Russian population made up 49.6 percent of Crimea in 1939. It currently makes up some 58 percent, after Stalin deported its Armenian, Bulgarian, Jewish, German, Greek, and Tatar minorities during World War II. But Russians are in a minority in nine Crimean districts.
The Right: All About Racism It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that racism is at the heart of the right’s obsessive hatred of President Obama no matter that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich and the rest of them never flat-out say it. But it predates Obama. The Republican strategy has centered on racism since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago this year. That was the moment that the old slave states switched from being the Solid [Democratic] South to the Deep Red Republican south.This isn’t news. But this is:
The Nation magazine has published the full text and video of an interview with Lee Atwater, the former GOP chairman who proudly used racism to elect the first George Bush in 1988 and whose race baiting is now standard both for Republican candidates and its media outlets like Fox News, Limbaugh,etc. It was first published in 2012 but I missed it. Maybe you did too. It is incredible even though we knew it all anyway. Here is Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”The rest is on the tape.
Since 2006, the price of quinoa has tripled and in Lima, Peru, the once unheard of grain now costs more than chicken. Overseas demand for the grain continues to grow which is all putting pressure on land in Peru and Bolivia that once produced a diverse range of crops to simply harvest quinoa. Writing in the Guardian, investigative journalist Joanna Blythman states: “the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. ”
Another example that Blythman highlights is that Peruvian asparagus which is grown in the arid Ica region has depleted water resources on which the locals depend. She also adds that soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America along with cattle ranching. It is worth pointing out however that according to a UN report in 2006, 97% of soya production was used for animal feed and not to fill vegetarian’s fridges. Even so, the food insecurity caused by the rising popularity of Quinoa is troubling and highlights the need for a more localised approach to food production and consumption. Especially when we are importing from countries with high poverty rates.