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Russia and Italy: No Breakthroughs

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The official visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Italy on July 4, 2019, the first in the past four years, became yet another confirmation of the “special relationship” between Rome and Moscow, but did not, however, signal a breakthrough. For Italy, the meeting came as another attempt to restore its role of a “protagonist” on the international scene, a role the country has been dreaming of playing for over two decades. It was not by chance that Guiseppe Conte, during his recent visit to Moscow, “rebuked” Vladimir Putin for not paying sufficient attention to the Italian people. In Italy, this lack of attention is seen as a sign that the country is not coping well with its role of a “protagonist” and a “bridge” between the West and the East. For Russia, a dialogue with Italy is more than just a conversation with a partner who is willing to listen and establish relations based on mutual trust — it is an opportunity to convey Russian opinions on key issues related to cooperation between Russia and countries of the Euro-Atlantic bloc.

The visit of Guiseppe Conte to Moscow in October 2018, and now Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome, the “friendly” meetings of Guiseppe Conte and Donald Trump in July 2018 during a period of acute tension in the Euro-Atlantic bloc, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s visit to Washington in June 2019, and the signing of a memorandum of cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative reached with Xi Jinping all testify to Rome’s ambitions for a more independent and autonomous foreign policy. Italy, under the leadership of the new “government of change,” is trying to play its own foreign policy game, guided by the principles of national sovereignty and national interests. However, at the moment, the hands of the yellow-green coalition are tied by the threat of sanctions from the European Commission for non-compliance with financial discipline. Naturally, this imposes significant restrictions on the potential of Italian foreign policy. In addition, the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 and the subsequent distribution of top posts in the EU testify to Italy losing a significant share of its say in relations between Russia and the EU. In this context, the visit served as a confirmation of the two parties’ intentions but did not produce any practical solutions to problems of mutual concern.

Bilateral political dialogue: dreams and reality

Improving relations with Russia is a separate clause of the “government contract” concluded between the two parties that form the governing coalition in Italy. This is the first time that such an agenda is set at such a high level. Generally speaking, this is evidence of the consistency of Italian foreign policy which was formed in the post-war years,the purpose of which is to fulfill the role of a “bridge” between the North and the South, the West and the East. Perhaps, the historical peak of this strategy occurred when Italy carried out active mediation to establish the Russia-NATO Council in 2002. Nevertheless, the Italian foreign policy is still following this strategy.

According to experts, the status of “privileged partnership”, which was repeatedly voiced at the level of heads of state and by official representatives of Russia and Italy, does not match the real level of relations. A more realistic description of relations between Russia and Italy is “the best among the worst” compared to other partners in the EU, or a pragmatic cooperation that is still a problem to implement at the European level. This time, the leaders of the two states, speaking of existing relations, used such epithets as “excellent”, “constructive” and “businesslike”, and several times addressed each other using the word “friends”.

Meanwhile, we can be confident that a political dialogue between Russia and Italy is gradually regaining strength after the crisis of 2014–2015, particularly following the arrival of the yellow-green coalition in Italy. In October 2018, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Moscow. On the eve of his visit, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the League Party, Matteo Salvini, arrived in Moscow too to meet with representatives of Italian businesses working in Russia. In 2019, Vladimir Putin and Giuseppe Conte met at the “One Belt – One Road” forum, and also at the G20 summit in Osaka. Bilateral contacts are gradually being restored between the defense and interior ministries, consultations are under way on international information security, and an inter-parliamentary dialogue is back on track too.

Even though Moscow highly values Russian-Italian relations, Russian leaders regularly emphasize that Italy could do more in the EU to improve relations with Russia. In a report on Russian-Italian relations, which was recently released by the Russian International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Italy is systematically criticized for following the general course of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, be it NATO’s bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999, the U.S. operation and coalition in Iraq in 2003, the bombing of Libya in 2011, or the adoption of anti-Russian resolutions on Crimea. In all these cases, the report says, Italy, even though it is not completely in agreement with the United States and other European leaders, did not come out actively against them. Similarly, in 2015, Italy did not protest against the lowering of the status of Russia-EU relations, which had previously been known as a “strategic partnership”. In addition, Italy, whose political leaders often publicly speak in favor of the lifting of sanctions, has never used its right of veto when voting in the EU to extend sanctions.

In particular, Russia points out that, having burned its fingers on the situation in Libya in 2011 and still paying for hasty decisions back then, Italy has been acting more carefully in Middle Eastern conflicts. It refused to participate in ground operations in Syria. Instead, it opted for providing humanitarian and logistical support. In Libya, Rome is actively trying to establish a dialogue between key warring parties, including with the help of Russia. In November 2018, Italy invited Russia to a conference on Libya in Naples, hoping to win the support of the Russian leadership, who at that time had better negotiating positions with Marshal Haftar than their Italian counterparts. On the issue of refugees, the Italian leadership took a number of independent measures and decisions to restrict migrants’ access to the territory of Italy (“porti chiusi”, or closed ports), and adopted a security law changing the rules for granting refugee status. This triggered criticism not only in Brussels, but also in the UN. Italy refused to recognize self-proclaimed Juan Guaido as the new president of Venezuela, thereby making it difficult for the EU to strike a common approach on this issue. On March 23, 2019, during Xi Jinping’s visit, Italy and the People’s Republic of China signed a memorandum of cooperation within the One Belt One Road Initiative, despite the numerous warnings against the move from Brussels. Such “independence” of the Italian leadership in foreign policy shows that Italy is at the epicenter of the conflict of national and supranational sovereignty in the EU, articulating this conflict as clearly and consistently as possible.

Italy-EU-Russia: not a love triangle

Such independence on the part of Italian leadership and their desire to assume some of the decision-making has triggered controversy domestically in Italy. On the one hand, these moves contribute to the status of Italy, both within the EU and on the international scene. On the other hand, some Italian experts say there is the risk of the country becoming isolated within the EU. Brussels, Paris and Berlin tend to view Rome’s moves in a negative way – as detrimental to European solidarity and hindering the development of further supranational integration.

The EU systematically criticizes Russia for prioritizing bilateral relations above dialogue with Brussels. As for Italy, the situation is aggravated by the fact that, from the point of view of Brussels, the “anti-system” forces have developed a special liking for the Russian leader, while Russia, in turn, uses them as agents of influence in the EU. In February 2019 the leader of the “League” Matteo Salvini was reported to have received 3 million euros from the Kremlin for running the election campaign in the European Parliament. Therefore, on the eve of his visit, Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Italian news agency Corriere della Sera that Russia is ready for dialogue with any political forces that come to power by legitimate means, “regardless of their political affiliations.” However, after Vladimir Putin’s interview with The Financial Times, one cannot but notice that the Russian president’s criticism of liberalism, being addressed, above all, to U.S. president Donald Trump, echoes the rhetoric of the Italian “government of change”. Both in matters of migration management and in terms of governments’ ability to respond to people’s needs, the views of the Russian and Italian leadership are fairly close. In this context, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy should certainly be considered not only as a bilateral dialogue, but also as an attempt to get across to leaders of the Western world the need to establish a dialogue with those political forces that express a different point of view on further socio-political and economic development in Europe and the United States.

The recent developments in the EU show, however, that the political mainstream is not prepared to heed alternative political groups. After the May 26, 2019 elections, Matteo Salvini, together with representatives of the “sovereignists” of Poland, France and a number of other countries, succeeded in building the largest coalition of “populists” in the entire history of the European Parliament – 73 deputies. This, however, did not provide them with enough say to affect the choice of candidates for key posts in the EU. The results of the EU summit on July 2, 2019, in which appointments to senior positions were made, testifies to Rome losing its influence in the EU. Unlike before, when representatives of Italy had occupied three key posts in the EU (Antonio Tajani – President of the European Parliament, Mario Draghi – Chairman of the ECB, Federica Mogherini – High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), now only one Italian – a representative of the opposition Democratic Party Divid Sassol – is part of the EU top management, having been given the position of President of the European Parliament. This yet again demonstrates that Paris, Berlin and Brussels are not ready for a serious dialogue with representatives of the yellow-green coalition of “sovereignists” and continue to rely on center-leftists.

In addition, the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Defense with extensive experience in foreign policy and defense, as President of the European Commission is likely to lead to attempts at greater EU integration in the sphere of foreign policy, which may narrow the window of opportunity for more independent foreign policy initiatives of EU countries, including Italy.

What also restricts Italy in its efforts is the looming threat of EU sanctions for breaching fiscal discipline and exceeding the budget deficit. After the EU summit on June 2, Giuseppe Conte said that he had reached an agreement that sanctions would not be applied if Italy cut down the previously planned budget expenditures. However, the threat of sanctions is still there, and this is likely to be one of the most effective instruments of influence from Brussels on the country’s position on many issues, including relations with Russia. Any harsh statements during the visit of Vladimir Putin or any so-called “big deals” would certainly cause even more irritation in Brussels, which means they could lead to a tougher policy towards Italy. Therefore, Vladimir Putin’s visit was, of course, an important confirmation of Italy’s proactive foreign policy but was not a breakthrough, since Italy is connected with the EU not only by the historical bonds of Euro-Atlantic solidarity, but also by tangible economic mechanisms that allow the EU to impose sanctions against the Italian economy.

The economy depends on politics

The economic dialogue between Russia and Italy does not correspond to the declared high level of bilateral relations. In 2017, after a three-year decline (from 2014 to 2016), bilateral trade regained momentum but is still far from the pre-crisis level ($ 27 billion in 2018 against 54 billion in 2013). Russia maintains a clear lead in Italian exports, being the fifth among top importers. The Italian presence is felt in almost all sectors of the Russian economy. About 500 Italian companies operate in Russia, which, however, holds no candle to Germany (4.7 thousand). Even though about 100 Russian-Italian joint ventures were set up during the period of sanctions as part of a program to move Italian production to Russia (“made with Italy”), this figure does not yet correspond to the existing potential. As for an economic dialogue, Italy is considerably behind Germany and France. While in Germany and France there have been functioning “Petersburg Dialogue” and “Trianon Dialogue” respectively, and the Sochi Dialogue has recently been launched with Austria, the Russian-Italian economic dialogue has yet to acquire an appropriate status. The Council for Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial Cooperation, which last gathered in Rome in December 2018, is still little known to both countries’ general public. The “Russian-Italian Forum-Dialogue on Civil Society”, which Vladimir Putin and Guiseppe Conte attended in course of the visit, has not received support from the Italian authorities since 2014. Only now is it approaching a new level of development. In addition, during the visit, the two parties agreed that the Russian Export Center and Vnesheconombank (VEB) would set up a bureau to support Russian exporters in Italy. Thus, the economic dialogue, which for a long time needed a new impetus, has finally received it following Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome. It is worth noting that the Italian leadership is acutely concerned about competition with Germany and France in two vast markets – Russia and China.

Russia, however, is waiting for more decisive steps from Italy to secure the lifting of the sanctions. However, according to Pasquale Terraciano, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to Russia, “Italy has never considered sanctions a smart decision, but Italy is part of the Western bloc and cannot stand against it alone.”[1]. Italy’s agenda, he said, is to change the EU’s opinion through the use of consistent steps. At the same time, as a practical measure aimed at expanding economic cooperation, Italy proposes to unfreeze the funding of small and medium-sized enterprises at the level of the EBRD and the European Investment Bank. As he addressed a press conference after the meeting, Giuseppe Conte pointed out that Italy is ready to assume the role of a consistent promoter of the idea of ​​lifting the sanctions but the conditions for this lifting had to be “ripe”.

Energy is a major area of ​​cooperation between Italy and Russia. Russia is the fourth most important supplier of oil and the first of natural gas to Italy. Supplies from Moscow account for more than 40% of the total gas consumption. However, as Italian experts remark, Italy expects an increase in prices in connection with the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, which will make Germany the number one transit country for Russian gas in Europe, bypassing Ukraine. Therefore, negotiations on the development of southern transportation routes are more than relevant for Italy. The meeting, however, yielded no breakthroughs on this issue either.

Regional cooperation: identifying problems, lack of solutions

Italy, just like Russia, sees a great potential for dialogue not only on issues related to bilateral cooperation, but also on those of the regional and global agenda. The priority for Italy is the Mediterranean, which produces the greatest number of challenges and threats to the country’s national security. Simultaneously, Italy is fully aware of the fact that the country will not be able to cope with these challenges alone, although it is taking independent measures, in particular, in matters of migration. Quite recently, Matteo Salvini held talks with the Libyan leadership in Tripoli to curtail illegal migration. However, Rome knows only too well that the solution to the problem lies not so much in reaching agreements with specific countries as in assisting the development of countries the migrants come from and in settling regional conflicts. Italy greatly appreciates the role of Russia as a non-regional player whose influence has increased significantly in recent years. During a press conference following the elections, Vladimir Putin, however, said that Russia is not ready to plunge head-on into resolving the Libyan crisis, and that forces that destroyed Libya’s statehood during the armed operation in 2011 should be involved;that is, NATO and the EU coalition. In solidarity with the Russian president, the Italian Prime Minister emphasized that Italy had warned from the very beginning that a military solution would not lead to peace. Under current conditions, the parties have indicated their readiness to participate in fostering a dialogue between all political forces in Libya.

As for Ukraine, Italy’s official position should be in line with the EU policy providing for no new opportunities to change the situation. In an interview before Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy, Giuseppe Conte directly linked the issue of lifting of the sanctions with the observance of the Minsk agreements, implicitly suggesting that Russia is a party to the conflict and urging both sides to demonstrate more understanding. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, and during a press conference following the meeting, President Putin reiterated that the new leadership of Ukraine should fulfill its election promises and enter a direct dialogue with representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. Guiseppe Conte repeatedly pointed out that, although Italy is not part of the Normandy format (a negotiation apparatus designed to resolve the Ukrainian conflict), it is nevertheless ready to play a role in resolving the conflict if necessary, which once again confirms the country’s willingness to play a greater role on the international scene.

The Russian president and the Italian prime minister also hold similar views on the situation in Venezuela, expressing concerns over foreign interference, which in their opinions will only aggravate the situation inside the country.

On the whole, it is essential to emphasize that Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy did not bring any breakthroughs, either in bilateral relations or in formulating common positions on issues of regional and global concern. Although the parties demonstrated identical views on the causes and nature of some of the issues on the international agenda, they proved unprepared to suggest concrete practical solutions. For Italy, the meeting provided yet another opportunity to identify its own national interests in promoting relations with Russia and to demonstrate its readiness to act as a “bridge” in the development of a dialogue between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic bloc. At the same time, it has revealed limitations in Italian foreign policy, linked to the economic situation in the country and the weak positions of the current leadership in the renewed European institutions.

1. Speech by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to the Russian Federation Pasquale Terracciano at the conference, at the Institute of Europe RAS, June 19, 2019

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Putin’s House of Cards: What will happen to Russia’s satellites if his regime falls?

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The war in Ukraine has astonished even knowledgeable observers, impressed by Ukraine’s valor and ingenuity and by the Russian military’s ineptitude. While the war’s outcome remains unknown, many are beginning to speculate what Putin’s failure to achieve his objectives in Ukraine might mean for the empire he has tried to reconstitute. 

Alexei Navalny has even suggested that a defeat for Moscow would result in the break up of the Russian Federation. But what would Putin’s humiliation on the world stage mean for those countries beyond Russia’s borders that he has dominated? What would it mean for leaders who derive legitimacy not from popular support, but from Vladimir Putin’s brutal patronage?

Bashar Al-Assad’s regime might be the first to fall. Assad recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates in search of new allies. Prior to that trip, he hadn’t left Syria in eleven years except for brief excursions to Tehran or Moscow, his main benefactors. Were Putin to fall, Assad could find himself as isolated internationally as North Korea and possibly the victim of a coup by his elite. Assad currently controls only 60% of Syrian territory. With the coming shortage of bread as a result of severely reduced grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, another Arab Spring could erupt.

The Lukashenko regime in Belarus cannot exist without the economic and power support from Moscow. The Belarusian democratic revolution of 2020 was suppressed by the Russian Federation. Lukashenko possesses few independent resources to defend his unpopular regime. His participation in the Ukrainian war has left him completely dependent on the Kremlin, effectively relinquishing his country’s sovereignty. The moment a political crisis arises in Moscow, the turmoil will immediately spread to Belarus. Currently detained opposition leaders, including Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhonovskiy, whose wife Svetlana probably won the  2020 Presidential election, would likely come to power.

The government of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacrificed Kazakhstan’s national sovereignty by inviting Russian troops to help suppress protests there last January, alienating the Kazakh-speaking majority, and the Almaty elite, who largely shape public opinion, and were already outraged by Tokayev’s orders to shoot peaceful protesters. The continuing turmoil has helped produce and is exacerbated by the sharp decline of Kazakhstan’s economy, Central Asia’s largest, a downturn compounded by sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, and by Kazakhstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.

The future leader of Kazakhstan will be someone who has the support of the Kazakh-speaking majority, and isn’t tainted by last January’s bloodshed. Imangali Tasmagambetov has the best shot. Immensely popular, and not a Kremlin puppet, he might be the only candidate who could consolidate support throughout Kazakh society, and enact independent and pragmatic policies.

Putin’s downfall could encourage the advancement of universal principles of democracy and human rights in all of Russia’s former satellite countries, and the restoration of their territorial integrity. With the support of Turkey, Azerbaijan will take complete possession of Karabakh while ensuring its historic autonomy within Azerbaijan. Georgia would be in a strong position to recover South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In Moldova, despite Acting Russian Commander Rustam Minnikaev’s recent claim that Moscow’s forces could extend control along the Black Sea coast to Transnistria, should the Russian army falter, Transnistria could be unified with Chisinău, paving the way for Moldova’s European integration. 

At the same time, Russia’s defeat in Ukraine could propagate new geopolitical risks. Ambitious Turkey will increase its regional influence, and countries bordering Taliban ruled Afghanistan like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be subjected to greater Islamist challenges.

China will take advantage of the situation. With Russia’s decline, Beijing’s Belt Road Initiative could supplant the Eurasian Economic Union in Central Asia. The influence of the democratic West will be limited unless the West provides greater economic assistance to countries in the region to encourage their commitment in word and deed to democratic principles.

Although Putin often compares himself to Czar Alexander III, his real historical parallel is Nicholas II, who believed a small victorious war with underestimated Japan would elevate his second rank power to great power status in the courts of Europe. The result was defeat on the world stage, and more violence and chaos in Russia. Putin made the same mistake with Ukraine, and the consequences will threaten the survivability of his regime and his cherished goal of restoring a great Russian empire.

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In the Aftermath of Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Victory without Peace or Peace without Victory?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Little did Putin from last year would have anticipated that victory would virtually be absent on Victory Day 2022 – domestically, no triumph from the battlefield to boast; internationally, no political echoes from prominent world leaders (not even from China).

Putin seemed to attempt to belie the faltering, if not foundering, so-called “special military operation” with a speech twice as long as the one from last year, relentlessly decrying the aggression from NATO and the US which ultimately led to Russia’s “forced intervention” in Ukraine. However, in the absence of claim of victory, he made no call for threat of a nuclear strike or escalation of the existential war. It is not difficult to tell, therefore, all his self-styled hardball amidst the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is being supplanted by hesitancy and second-guessing, contra his unwavering determination from three months ago.

The subdued tone exuded from Putin’s speech can be logically attributed to a slew of Russian military failures prior to Victory Day: not only did Russia fail its “Plan A” – to take down Kyiv in 24 hours and its “Plan B” – to besiege Eastern Ukraine, but Ukrainian troops succeeded in securing further gains of Kharkiv and sinking the Russian flagship Moskva with its Neptune missiles. With unambiguous support from the US and its European allies, it appears that Ukraine is to see the light at the end of the war-torn tunnel, especially after the release of a short yet powerful video message given by President Zelensky, featuring an inspiring and adamant vow of “We won then. We will win now.”

Nonetheless, it is still far too early to conclude that the peace between these two nations is right around the corner, Putin’s intransigency cannot be negligible, nor can Ukrainian citizens’ rising nationalism big with vengeance when they have witnessed the approachable upper-hand on the battlefield. As early as March, Zelensky was starting to seek peaceful solutions to the conflict with Russia. However, when Ukraine is gaining an advantageous position, the flexibility that Zelensky can bring to the negotiation table may otherwise diminish as a result of the pressure from the public opinion.

Blind and inordinate retaliation can oftentimes backfire if not handled carefully. In the early stages of the Paris Peace Conference, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George proposed a peace treaty that would punish Germany instead of crippling it. He was fairly concerned that excessive punishment may push Germany towards radical ideas such as Communism, which in turn would cause chaos and misery. The proposal was concurred with by the US President Woodrow Wilson, who was renowned for his “Fourteen Points” as a basis for peace and also believed that it was those in power that should be punished rather than the people. However, Lloyd George eventually gave in to the anti-German sentiment and Wilson’s blueprint of the US joining the League of Nations was shattered by isolationists in Congress. Consequently, the Treaty of Versailles played a resonate victory symphony while producing a short-lived peace before the emergence Nazi Germany.

Compared to the leaders involved in the first World War, political elites in the early 19th century seemed to have a deeper understanding of the trade-off between victory and peace. Despite the chaos that came with the drawn-out Napoleonic Wars, European leaders such as Metternich still made long-term peacekeeping for Europe the cornerstone of the Congress of Vienna instead of dismantling France. Leaders then were not blinded by or complacent about the short-sighted victory. It was their comprehensive and insightful planning that generated the balance of power, which sustained the peace in the continent for the next 100 years till the Sarajevo Assassination that triggered the World War I.

Does the West want to see an end to the Russia-Ukraine conflict? For most of ordinary people, it is a resounding yes. But for some leaders, the answer might become tricky. Take the Biden administration for example, what better way to compensate for the scores lost to the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan last year than a proxy war to cripple the already weakened Russia? As Ukraine’s resistance is gathering momentum, Zelensky needs to keep a cool head as he has done since the start of the war rather than being pushed around by either geopolitical calculations of great powers or irrational domestic thirst for vengeance. Pushing Putin too hard (e.g. suggesting Putin’s assassination) is likely to prod him to resort to drastic actions – a nuclear strike, which is something the West may not have completely prepared for. What Zelensky should prioritize is the peace in the region and the safety of Ukrainian citizens. After all, a lasting peace is more approachable and practical to prevent history from repeating itself than an abstract victory.

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Is Putin a war-criminal for invading Ukraine?

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I almost always agree with the courageous whistleblowing former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, but not including this from him on April 25th:

“I condemn the invasion of Ukraine and I have no hesitation in calling Putin a war criminal. However for precisely the same reasons so are Bush and Blair [for their invasion of Iraq]. It astonishes me how very few people in the media are prepared, in the current emergency, to acknowledge this.”

Here’s why I don’t “acknowledge this”:

When Bush/Blair invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003, it was entirely on the basis of lies by themselves and their respective Administrations, and by their mainstream ‘news’-media, which stenographically conveyed those politicians’ lies to the public despite knowing, even at the time, that at least some of those lies WERE lies and yet they failed to point this crucial fact out to their audiences at the time or even afterward. (Instead, the falsehoods had been mere ‘intelligence failures’ — which was/is another lie, retrospectively piled on top of the main one.)

For example:

U.S. President George W. Bush seems to have been informed, in advance, about a New York Times article (which was the lead-story in the newspaper on Sunday, 8 September 2002), titled “U.S. SAYS HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS”, in which the sources were anonymous “Administration officials.” The story concerned “aluminum tubes” that were “intended as casing for rotors in centrifuges, which are one means of producing highly enriched uranium …  to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.”

So, on Saturday, September 7th, of 2002, U.S. President Bush said, while standing beside British Prime Minister Tony Blair,

We just heard the Prime Minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied — finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need [in order for Congress to authorize an invasion of Iraq].

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Absolutely right.

Then, as soon as the weekend was over, on Monday 9 September 2002, was issued by the IAEA the following:

Related Coverage: Director General’s statement on Iraq to the IAEA Board of Governors on 9 September 2002 [this being a republication of their notice three days earlier, on 6 Sep.].

Vienna, 06 September, 2002 – With reference to an article published today in the New York Times [which, as usual, stenographically reported the Administration’s false allegations, which the IAEA was trying to correct in a way that would minimally offend the NYT and the U.S. President], the International Atomic Energy Agency would like to state that it has no new information on Iraq’s nuclear programme since December 1998 when its inspectors left Iraq [and verified that no WMD remained there at that time]. Only through a resumption of inspections in accordance with Security Council Resolution 687 and other relevant resolutions can the Agency draw any conclusion with regard to Iraq’s compliance with its obligations under the above resolutions relating to its nuclear activities.

Contact: Mark Gwozdecky, Tel: (+43 1) 2600-21270, e-mail: M.Gwozdecky@iaea.org.

It even linked to the following statement from the IAEA Director General amplifying it:

Since December 1998 when our inspectors left Iraq, we have no additional information that can be directly linked without inspection to Iraq’s nuclear activities. I should emphasize that it is only through resumption of inspections that the Agency can draw any conclusion or provide any assurance regarding Iraq’s compliance with its obligations under these resolutions.

So, this was proof of the falsehood of Bush’s and Blair’s reference, on September 7th, to the IAEA, in which Bush-Blair were saying that, upon the authority of the IAEA itself, there was “the new report … a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.”

Because of the news-media’s ignoring the IAEA’s denial of the President’s statement, the author of the IAEA’s denial, Mark Gwozdecky, spoke again nearly three weeks later, by phone, with the only journalist who was interested, Joseph Curl of the Washington Times, who headlined on 27 September 2002, “Agency Disavows Report on Iraq Arms” — perhaps that should instead have been “President Lied About ‘Saddam’s WMD’” — and Curl quoted Gwozdecky: “There’s never been a report like that [which Bush alleged] issued from this agency. … When we left in December ’98 we had concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program. We had confiscated their fissile material. We had destroyed all their key buildings and equipment.” Other news-media failed to pick up Curl’s article. And, even in that article, there was no clear statement that the President had, in fact, lied — cooked up an IAEA ‘report’ that never actually existed. Actually, the IAEA hadn’t even so much as been mentioned in that New York Times article.

Bush had simply lied, and Blair seconded it, and the ‘news’-media stenographically accepted it, and broadcasted their lies to the public, and continued to do so, despite the IAEA’s having denied, as early as September 6th, that they had issued any such “new report” at all. (The IAEA had, apparently, somehow known in advance that someone would soon be saying that the IAEA had issued a report alleging that Iraq was resuming its nuclear program.) Virtually all of the alleged news-media (and not only the NYT) entirely ignored the IAEA’s denial (though it was not merely one bullet, but rapidly fired on four separate occasions, into the wilderness of America’s ‘news’-media) that it had issued any such “report.” All of them were actually only propaganda-media: they hid the fact that George W. Bush was simply lying. Both the U.S. Government and its ‘news’-media were frauds.

The day after that 7 September 2002 unquestioned lie by Bush, saying Iraq was only six months from having a nuclear weapon, and citing the IAEA as his source for that, the New York Times ran their article. It included such hair-raisers as “‘The jewel in the crown is nuclear,’ a senior administration official said. ‘The closer he gets to a nuclear capability, the more credible is his threat to use chemical or biological weapons. Nuclear weapons are his hole card.’” The fake ‘news’ — stenography from the lying Government and its chosen lying sources (in this case anonymous Administration-officials) — came in an incessant stream, from the U.S. Government and its ‘news’ media (such as happened also later, regarding Honduras 2009, Libya 2011, Yemen 2011-, Syria 2011-, Ukraine 2014, and Yemen 2015-). Do the American people never learn — ever — that their Presidents and ‘news’-media) now lie routinely?

Also on Sunday, September 8th, of 2002, the Bush Administration’s big guns were firing off against Iraq from the Sunday ‘news’ shows; and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice delivered her famous “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” statement, which was clearly building upon the lying Bush allegation of the day before, that the International Atomic Energy Agency had just come up with this ominous “Atomic” “new report.”

Then, President Bush himself, on 12 September 2002, addressed the U.N. General Assembly, seeking authorization to invade:

We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable — the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom, and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

Bush (and Blair) failed to win any authorization to invade, but did it anyway. They should be hung for it. They were atop a bi-national and entirely bipartisan (in each of the two countries) public-deception operation, like had occurred in Germany during Hitler’s time. (Hitler was a boon for his nation’s armaments-makers then, just as America’s Presidents now are for America’s armaments-firms.)

And both of America’s political Parties are controlled by their billionaires, who fund the political careers of the politicians whom those mega-donors want to become s‘elected’ by the public to win public offices. For example, whereas George W. Bush lied America into invading and destroying Iraq, Barack Obama and Joe Biden lied America into believing that their coup overthrowing and replacing Ukraine’s democratically elected Government in February 2014 was instead a ‘democratic revolution’ there. It’s so bad that even the progressive Democratic Party site, David Sirota’s “The Daily Poster,” has NEVER exposed anything about that Obama coup and about those Obama-Clinton-Biden lies about Ukraine, and about the U.S. Government’s planned conquest of both Russia and China — the things that might actually produce WW III (in other words: are even more important than what they do report about). In fact, Sirota had the nerve, on 15 February 2022, to post to Vimeo an anti-Republican-Party propaganda video, “The Pundits Who Lied America Into A War”, against the Republican Party’s liars who deceived the American people into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 — though almost all leading Democrats, including Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, had voted in the U.S. Senate for (not against) that lie-based invasion, and though all Democratic-Party ‘news’-media (and not ONLY the Republican-Party ones) unquestioningly transmitted the Bush-Administration’s lies to the American people, against Iraq, in order to fool Americans into supporting the then-upcoming U.S. invasion. That Sirota video entirely ignores the Democratic-Party “Pundits” — such as the Party’s think tank, the Brookings Institution, whose Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, propagandized on TV and elsewhere to invade Iraq (such as in Pollack’s Council on Foreign Relations article, “Invasion the Only Realistic Option to Head Off the Threat from Iraq, Argues Kenneth Pollack in The Threatening Storm” did). Whereas Democrats blame Republicans, and Republicans blame Democrats, it’s the billionaires of BOTH Parties who actually fund all of these lies and liars — and who continue to fund those liars’ careers, and to present them on their ’news’-media as ‘experts’, to fool the public to okay the trillions of dollars that the U.S. Government pays to those billionaires’ corporations such as Lockheed Martin, to profit from those wars. It’s hypocrisy on top of lying, so as to convey an impression that neoconservatism — U.S. imperialism — is a ‘Republican’ (or else a ‘Democratic’) evil, when it’s ACTUALLY an evil by the billionaires who fund BOTH Parties AND who fund the ’news’-media, both liberal and conservative, and who profit from those invasions. It’s not just the lies of America’s Presidents; it is the lies that are funded by America’s billionaires, who placed such people as that into Congress and the White House. This regime is an aristocracy, and imperialism is second nature to aristocrats. But an aristocracy is a dictatorship by the very rich — NOT any sort of democracy. This is the type of dictatorship that America now has — NOT a Republican dictatorship, or a Democratic dictatorship, but a dictatorship by the aristocracy, of BOTH Parties. They have made a mockery of their ‘democracy’. Practically everything they do is fake, except the vast harms that they produce.

BY CONTRAST:

Putin, regarding Ukraine, was responding (stupidly, in my opinion, but that’s another matter) to the U.S. regime’s very real “provocations” (as he typically understates such things) against Russia’s most vital national-security interests. Russia has (and for years has publicly stated) a vital national-security interest in preventing nuclear weapons against Russia being installed on or near Russia’s border. It’s true in 2022, just as America had a vital national-security interest in preventing nuclear weapons against America being placed 100 miles from America’s border during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It wasn’t a made-up, lying, pretext for an invasion, like America’s “Saddam’s WMD” lies were in 2002 and 2003. That makes all the difference.

Russia is America’s victim in this. And America chose and trained and is arming Ukraine to serve as the first battleground of its World War III to conquer Russia. Biden and his team should be tried as international war-criminals, but Putin and his team aren’t anywhere even nearly as bad as all U.S. Presidents during this Century are and have been. Putin made a strategic error by invading Ukraine prematurely, as he did. But that does’t automatically make him a “war criminal.” He is trying to defend Russia’s most crucial national-security interests. That’s no lie — and that makes all the difference.

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