Who should we believe on Ukraine: East or West?

The rhetoric coming from the West especially the USA is that Russia is supporting the pro-Russian rebels with weapons and men. The conflict has seen shell battles between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian rebels, struggling to gain foothold in the eastern major towns of Ukraine such as Luhansk, Debaltseve and Donetsk. As a new ceasefire is in place, America’s foreign secretary has warned Russia to stop aiding the rebels or face further isolation and economic sanctions. However, the US and other major Western states have constantly  made the accusation that Russia is providing the rebels with military material in the absence of evidence. The only evidence provided are satellite images which appear pixelated and purportedly showing heavy Russian military hardware in Ukraine. But can America and their cronies’ accusations be trusted?

On the 12th September of 2002, George Bush addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on the threat that Saddam posed for the world. In his own words George Bush said,

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapon is when, God forbid, he uses one.’

12 days later, on 24th September 2002, the UK Government of Tony Blair published a dossier which accused Saddam Hussein of stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that were a threat to the world. Blair in the foreword of the dossier wrote,

In recent months, I have been increasingly alarmed by the evidence from inside Iraq that despite sanctions, despite the damage done to his capability in the past, despite the UN Security Council Resolutions expressly outlawing it, and despite his denials, Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMDs, and with them the ability to inflict real damage upon the region, and the stability of the world.’

That October, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  released a detailed report on how the Iraqi government continued with WMD programmes in the biological, chemical, nuclear and missiles field.

Retired Army General, Norman Shwarzkopf agreed with the general rhetoric that Saddam had WMDs and he said,

If we invade Iraq and the regime is very close to falling, I’m very, very concerned that the Iraqis will, in fact, use weapons of mass destruction.’

At some point, Condoleeza Rice even claimed that there was substantial evidence to prove that Saddam’s Ba’ath Party had strong links with Al-Qaeda. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other important dignitaries in the USA, all warned of a Saddam Hussein who was nearing completion of his nuclear weapons programme.

Earlier, on September 9, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard also demonstrated his support through his speech,

‘..There’s no doubt, on the evidence of the intelligence material presented to us, that not only does Iraq possess chemical and biological weapons, but Iraq also has not abandoned her nuclear aspirations.’

Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, appealed to European nations and the US to stand together in ridding Hussein of WMDS,

Europe and the United States must stand together in…preventing tyrannical and irresponsible regimes…[from] having weapons of mass destruction… Iraq is ruled by such a regime… The United Nations must live up to its responsibility to stop the spreading of the weapons of mass destruction. It will be too late when the toxic gases have…spread over one of our cities…’

The list of western leaders who supported the evidence that Saddam was stockpiling WMDs, and was willing to deploy them in conventional warfare with other countries, is endless. Despite the efforts of Russia, India, Iran, China and France to settle the matter with UN inspectors to assess the situation on the ground in Iraq, war was on the table.

The USA and allies attacked Iraq on 19th March 2003, and the war known as the ‘Iraq War’ only lasted up to 9 April. The Iraqi army was heavily defeated in 21 days, but all the purported stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq were nowhere to be found. The evidence provided by the British and American government was proven to be false when it was found that Saddam had no WMDs. The rhetoric suddenly changed to that of liberation and freeing Iraqi’s of a cruel dictator!

Earlier in 2003, BBC Radio 4’s Andrew Gilligan aired a programme that suggested that the ‘dossier’ commissioned by Prime minister Blair, which made the case for the Iraq war was exaggerated. Gilligan claimed to have had a high-ranking source in the government who imparted the claim that Iraq could launch WMDs in a matter of 45 minutes. This claim even though it came from an unreliable source, was published in the dossier to warn of Iraq’s capabilities of WMDs. Gilligan was later grilled by MPs  to name his source but refused to reveal the name of his source. Later on a government Scientist David Kelly admitted to having met Gilligan but claimed that he believed he was not Gilligan’s source. The Hutton Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue, and Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly were quizzed on the matter.

Gilligan later wrote of his experience with the ‘dossier’ issue on a column in the guardian newspaper,

I thought, a realistic idea of how politicians, intelligence officers and civil servants behaved. But over the months and years that followed, my views, and those of most of the country, changed. To borrow the famous words of David Astor over Suez, we had not realised that our government was capable of such folly and such crookedness.’

Today, although the leaders may have changed, it is essentially the same western governments who used false information over Iraq making claims that Russia is aiding the rebels in Eastern Ukraine with satellite image evidence that is unreliable at best. The Russian government has always challenged the notion that they are aiding the rebels, and have requested credible evidence from those states that believe they are complicit in the Ukraine crisis.

This challenge could be genuine, or it could be false.

In truth Ukraine and Russia share a very long border at 1,426 miles. Under any circumstances, it can’t possibly be an easy task monitoring against proliferation such a long border that is spread over rural (and in some cases remote) terrain. Not when your government is short of money as Kiev has been in recent months – relying on multi-billion euro loans from the EU to run its economy. Thus, it is probable that some equipment and military personnel slipped through the border into eastern Ukraine.

Still no state has produced any reliable evidence showing Russian troops aiding pro-Russian rebels in East Ukraine, and Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) not too long ago concluded that there was no evidence of Russian military equipment or personnel during the period in which they were monitoring the area. And yet many large media organisations such as FOX continue to claim that Russia is aiding the pro-Russian rebels with sophisticated military hardware, conveniently ignoring claims that some English-speaking people are fighting in Ukraine.

And at the front of this media campaign is the US Government, with the US Foreign Secretary John Kerry saying that the Russian government has been lying about its involvement in Ukraine. Even Obama mentioned ‘Russian aggression’ as a threat to the US. However, world-renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky, alludes to the lies of western politicians in this video here. He correctly makes the important point that Ukraine is right at the core of Russia’s geostrategic concerns, and to have NATO usurp Ukraine is not only a treachery, but a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Consequently, events that saw Crimea annexed by Russia prove that Russia is not an innocent bystander. Russia initially refused to admit that its military officials had entered Crimea, and were stirring unrest, even when there was some reliable evidence to support such a claim. But after the Crimean snap elections which saw it become a Federal state of Russia, they backtracked from their initial position and Vladimir Putin confirmed Russian involvement when he declared “Ofcourse, Russian servicemen backed the Crimean self-defense forces

Further, even in Ukraine there have been several video evidence emerge of Russian tanks in East Ukraine, including captured Russian soldiers – whose passports the president presented at the Minsk talks. In addition, several independent journalists have come forward claiming there was Russian presence in Ukraine. Still, these have been disputed by the Kremlin.

My question is, if the intelligence of the USA and its allies got it wrong with Saddam Hussein and WMD’s, how are we to trust them over the numerous claims they have made about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine? It is hard to believe such information because it was Blair’s dossier and the CIA’s report that ultimately convinced the world that Iraq had WMD’s and in the end, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians died over incorrect information. If anything, I believe the satellite images provided as evidence that Russia is aiding the separatists can be easily doctored in this age of technological advancement.

In this war of words and guerilla maneuvering between the East and the West, misinformation reins on both sides. Such misinformation has indeed reached dizzying new heights with unsubstantiated claims last week that Russia moved Saddam’s WMD’s to Syria. (See another link here making the same claim)

I believe neither side can be trusted to tell us the truth. It’s clear that there are agendas. Both sides have ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis, as they tend to do everywhere else. Therefore, it would be equally erroneous for one to think that information coming out of Washington or London is always correct, as it is to believe Russia’s rhetoric on Ukraine. Even though looking at how Putin came back to lead Russia, after the placeholder that was Dmitry Medvedev, most people know he cannot be trusted. What was not always clear (and here if any of us forgot about some of the wars of the 20th century, then  remember Vietnam), is that the military engagements of the 21st Century will have opened our eyes to western leaders waging interests driven wars under the pretext of democracy and liberation.

Margaret Thatcher: A turbulent life

It’s difficult to defend Margaret Thatcher after you’ve browsed through an extended list of the wrongs [more here] she is accused of committing during office. Especially when one is inclined to believe some of the allegations tossed about in her name. While there are hints of malicious vengeance, grossly inflated accusations and arguably overstated faults, there are quite a few which hold their own. And which appear to be supported by apolitical, clear and explicit evidence.

Thatcher had been in office for little over two years by the time I was born, and so I have no grand first hand memories of the early days of her era. However, what I do remember –later on in life – is reading the newspaper accounts of her hard-fisted and uncompromising do-as-i-say-or-get-lost resolute leadership style; cut-outs from Time Magazine and Newsweek (both of which my mother subscribed to), which depicted Thatcher as a strong and unwavering leader, quashing several riots at home, defeating the unions,  rising above the misogynistic era of the day, winning three elections, and defeating Argentina in an imperialist war. I remember as a small boy listening to banter between my mother and other ‘adults’ around the house regarding her premiership, especially the excitement generated during discussions in my living room. The radio would be on, and an account of proceedings in the house of commons would be played by the BBC world Service. In the presence of visitors this was perfect fodder for political or historical banter.  Admittedly, my mother – a single mother of two –  adored the “Iron Lady”, I suspect because of the whole hoo-hah over breaking the ceiling of achievement for women, and possibly because she became a leader in a world that was very much male dominated; when she was least expected to. But I also know that my mother didn’t know much else about Thatcher. She didn’t for example know that Thatcher had been a grocer’s daughter who studied Chemistry at Oxford and later became a barrister. I’m also certain that she knew nothing of these less than admirable antics Thatcher apparently was involved in, in Africa. Which, when I do get to show her, will inevitably cloud her early admiration of the Iron Lady.

Watching the big questions last sunday, an outsider would be forgiven for erroneously thinking Thatcher had been a communist dictator who thrived on quashing dissent, drove her subjects to abject poverty using high taxation, pushed policies that favoured the very rich through parliament and sent political prisoners to gulags.  I found myself in those rare but sober situations of indecision where I couldn’t make up my mind as to what I thought the legacy of Thatcherism would be, other than that there were as many people who disliked her as there were that worshipped her. Good leader or bad leader, Angel or Evil witch …Saint or Sinner… I’ll just toss a coin!

On a serious note, just two days ago, I walked into a hobby store in Nottingham, and found 3 men – including one who I assumed is the shop keeper who was standing behind the counter –  immersed in discussion over Thatcher’s death.  The Shop keeper claimed that “His father worked in the coal mines,  so his position on Thatcher is absolute, she destroyed people’s lives and he remembered how hard his family life became after his father lost his job.”  He then went on to give the example of Ian Duncan Smith’s £53 a week story, saying “It’s people who don’t know what the rest of us live like entrusted to make silly laws and policies that don’t work in our world, the real world that is the problem.

While it is probably a hard thing for those who were born with privilege, or in affluent families to fully grasp the suffering and hardship Thatcher’s actions caused to hundreds of thousands of families, others, such as the Bradford West MP George Galloway have not spared them this consideration, and have been a lot more scathing.

However, I was quite surprised of the numbers of people who were said to have turned up for the parties to celebrate Thatcher’s death. Most of the TV news channels talked of hundreds of thousands who gathered in London and Glasgow last Saturday to celebrate her passing. Now, that’s a lot of people celebrating the death of someone they didn’t like. It brings to mind pictures of mobs pulling down Saddam Husseins’ statue. Surely, while there is something known as freedom of expression, and while it is true that many people experienced untold hardship as a result of her government’s policies, celebrating the death of a person, other than a Stalinist, Nazist, murderous, holocaust perpetrator or other cruel inhumane sort, with joyous gatherings and Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead hijacking the charts couldn’t possibly be entirely right? Or is it right?

There’s got to be something good that Thatcher did for both rich and poor alike, that has contributed to Britain’s relative prosperity in the world today? Whether that something is good enough for someone who ruled Britain for 11 years, and whose family probably directly benefitted from some of her policies (for example towards South Africa) is an entirely different question.


1. Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: 23 things you could pay for with £10 million. 

2. The Economic case for or against Thatcherism

3. Thatcher “hullabaloo” due to “collective guilt” among Tories, says Tory MP