Trump National Security Adviser resigns after Russian talks cover-up

Retired general Michael Flynn, who had served as national security adviser to U.S President Donald Trump resigned on Monday after allegations of secret discussions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Mr Flynn claimed he had mistakenly misled the vice-president, Mike Pence, and other Trump officials about the nature of phone calls in December to the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kisilyak.

It was revealed that these discussions were regarding the lifting of U.S Sanctions against Russia, in place since the last days of the Obama administration and due to alleged state sponsored hacking by Russia.

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Flynn admitted to lying to the Vice President, Mike Pence

In his resignation letter, Mr Flynn said “In the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisers and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.”

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologised to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

The resignation comes after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had warned the White House that Mr Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

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Retired  General Joseph Kellogg

President Trump has named retired general Joseph Kellogg, as acting national security adviser, pending the appointment of a permanent successor. It has been widely reported that former CIA director David Petraeus may be appointed to the post but these reports have yet to be confirmed.

Mr Trump, who is currently playing host to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to directly comment on the resignation which is the latest in what has been a chaotic start to his life in the Oval Office. He instead took to twitter bemoaning the number of information leaks which have occurred over the last few weeks.

Adam Schiff, Democrat senator and member of the House Intelligence Committee has called on the Trump administration to confirm when contact with Russian officials began and who was ultimately responsible for allowing them to take place.

Schiff said: “The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”

Suspicions regarding Russian involvement in the U.S Election still remain and this latest resignation will do nothing to allay fears that Russia may be interfering in American politics at the highest level.

2016- The Year which changed everything

The last of the christmas presents has been opened, the turkey is now only fit for leftovers and everyone has fallen asleep.

As we approach the end of what has been a year of great change and turmoil, it’s customary to look back at the events which have shaped 2016.

10. The Year of the Reaper.

Carrie Fisher, George Michael, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Robert Vaughan, Anton Yelchin, Victoria Wood, Nancy Reagan, Doris Roberts, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Glenn, Fidel Castro to name but a few. It seems 2016 was the year that took so many famous and prominent individuals.

But as a wise Vulcan once said, how we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life, or what ever that means.  I choose to remember them for their unique contribution to shaping the modern world, however small or large.

9.  The Migrant Crisis Deepens

With the escalation in the Syrian Civil War and brush fire civil wars springing up all over Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring, Europe has never seemed a more attractive and safe place to live.

Massive numbers of migrants made the land crossing from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, with their destination Europe and safety, fleeing death and persecution by Islamic state and the Syrian Government.

They found countries unable or unwilling to cope with a massive influx of vulnerable individuals and families, as Europe seemed to collectively shut its doors. Lack of collective strategy and action at all levels of European government created conditions where the sheer numbers coming in had nowhere to go.

All the while ever increasing numbers made the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, with just the clothes on their backs and on what could at best be described as boats and at worst rafts. Preyed upon by unscrupulous people smugglers, they all too often became casualties of the crossing and the Mediterranean became a sea of tragedy.

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8. Nice Terror Attacks

A man drives a lorry down a crowded beach front. It seems so simple, but it was a tragically effective means of striking terror into the heart of one of France’s top beach destinations.

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87 people lost their lives that night before the police stopped the lorry, which travelled all of 1.7km. The driver was later found to be a supporter of Islamic State.

France mourned, as did the rest of the world.

7. Brussels Terror Attacks

Belgium joined the long list of countries affected by the scourge of terrorism when three separate terrorist attacks rocked Brussels.

The attacks, which later proved to be a coordinated by the same terror cell which struck Paris in 2015 were the deadliest in Belgium’s history.

An airport and underground station were attacked, claiming 35 lives, including the three perpetrators and injuring up to 300 people.

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6. Coup D e’tat in Turkey.

With any sort of insurrection, it is important to achieve your aims as quickly as possible before your enemy has a chance to react and counter your moves.

The speed and organisation by which elements of the Turkish military attempted to seize the reins of government from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was remarkable and clearly showed months of prior planning and forethought.

But in their haste, they counted on one thing that all uprisings count on: popular support.

Support which just as quickly eluded them, as the presidents forces quickly regained control of Turkey and instituted a bloody campaign of reprisals against the plotters.

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In trying to put down a seemingly dictatorial regime, the coup’s plotters ultimately unleashed him on a country in which legitimate opposition is now a dangerous thing to be.

5. Russia takes a front seat in international politics.

Following its suspected involvement in the Ukrainian civil war in 2015, Russia has pursued a more active role in international politics with the eventual aim of recovering its former status as a superpower (lost since the fall of the Soviet Union).

Its support of the Syrian government both militarily and politically have proved decisive in allowing Bashar Al Assad’s forces to regain control of large parts of Syria. While Russian backing has prevented the western powers from acting decisively against Al Assad’s government, for fear of Russian reprisals.

Russian based computer hackers are widely suspected of attempting to hack the email accounts of prominent US politicians to try to influence the recent US election result and interfering in the European Union referendum here in the UK.

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It’s athletes have faced suspicion and scrutiny after allegations of state sponsored doping, prompting the withdrawal of many Russian athletes from their Olympic team in Rio.

While it may be just bluster and hot air, it is becoming more and more difficult for the nations of the world to ignore the spectre of the great bear and its ringmaster, Vladimir Putin.

 4. Theresa May becomes UK Prime Minister

The political turmoil that engulfed the UK after it voted to leave the European Union in the 23rd June Referendum, claimed its most high profile victim when Prime Minister David Cameron tendered his resignation.

Many prominent Conservatives circled the job, all making lofty claims that they could effectively lead the UK into the unknown territory that is Brexit.

The successful Brexiteers, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove turned upon each other in a display of backstabbing not seen since Brutus showed Julius Caesar the proper way to carve a steak. In the case of Michael Gove, this betrayal ended a stellar front bench career condemning him to the backbenches.

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Amidst the loud voices and press coverage, the campaign of Theresa May began. With her good record as a public servant in her time as Home secretary and her position as one of the most prominent remainers aside from messrs Cameron and Osbourne, the quiet and unassuming Ms May became the only realistic choice for the top job.

And so it proved, when her only remaining rival, the engaging but ultimately error prone Andrea Leadsom’s campaign succumbed to the fallout from explosive and costly gaffes.

In the six months since her ascension as Prime Minister, Ms May has led the Conservative party relatively safely through this time of transition and has benefited from a largely infighting Labour party to form a successful and well respected government.

3. Syrian Civil War

I know it may seem a little funny to call this one of the political events of 2016, given that it has been a conflict since 2011, but 2016 has seen some of the Syrian civil wars worst moments as the conflict intensifies.

The war, which seemed locked in a deadly stalemate, has been pushed decisively in the Syrian government’s favour by the support of the Russian federation.

Support on this scale has exacerbated the humanitarian disaster which has pushed hundreds of thousands of people into neighbouring Jordan, Turkey and on into Europe.

We’ve watched as the regime has exacted a deadly toll on its people, most notably in the city of Aleppo where thousands have died and the city itself has been essentially flattened by the conflict.

Defeated Rebel forces in Aleppo have been forced to flee and a seemingly endless tide of refugees have exited the besieged city.

The longer the war continues, the more lives will be lost and that remains the tragedy of the conflict. If 2017 is remembered as anything it should be the year when the Western powers take action to end the violence and bloodshed.

2. The EU referendum- Britain votes to leave

One story dominated the summer political scene in Britain, the European Union referendum. It was a watershed moment in both the politics of the UK and of Europe, still dominating the headlines even today.

From the moment Prime Minister Cameron returned from meeting with the other members of the EU with the compromise deal, a tide of feeling was unleashed upon the British people not seen since we first entered the union in 1973.

The Conservative party split into two factions: one pro leave headed in part by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson and in the other camp, the remainers headed by the Prime Minister David Cameron.

The other parties in general chose to remain with the EU, which would cost them dearly when the result was revealed.

A polarising, punishing campaign followed which forced the British public to choose a side, making them fearful of the consequences of either choice.

Leavers were accused of racism, while remainers were accused of being EU cronies and all the while it was the truth which suffered. Vociferous debates pitted politician vs politician and supporter vs supporter, which indirectly resulted in an upsurge of violence and had tragic consequences in the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox.

No one, least of all the leavers could have predicted the result which was staggering to say the least. Britain voted to leave the European Union 51.9% to 48.1%. It was a result which cost David Cameron his job and completely changed UK politics forever.

  1. Donald Trump elected President of the United States of America.

It was a no brainer for Americans, choose a respected public servant from a recognised political dynasty in Hillary Clinton or choose a brash, inexperienced man of indeterminate political views in Donald Trump.

If you thought the EU referendum campaigning was an exercise in mud slinging then the US presidential campaign was a virtual mudslide of epic proportions.

Mr Trump showed very extreme political views, bordering on casual racism and a willingness to throw insults at his opponent. It seemed a strategy doomed to fail, but as the campaigning went on , Mrs Clinton found herself increasingly using similar tactics as she could not deal with the Trump political machine.

The extremist views of Donald Trump provoked a wave of protests across the USA, with violent clashes between Trump supporters and latterly racist violence on both sides.

In the final months of the election, events took a sinister turn when a video capturing off camera derogatory remarks made about women by Mr Trump was made public. It marked a very ugly period in which the election became about the person rather than the politics.

Hillary Clinton didnt get off entirely scot free as allegations of the leaking of state secrets in private emails exploded across the American media.

With both candidates seemingly not winning over the American people decisively, election night came with Clinton holding a slender lead over her New York rival.

Initial counts placed the candidates level on votes, but then Trump won the seemingly certain democratic seat of Ohio and an inexorable tide of wins followed to push Donald Trump over the required 270 seats for an unexpected victory and the Presidency.

With a certain amount of hesitation, we watched Trump give a speech which sounded notes of unity and talked about healing the wounds which the campaign had exacerbated. Mr Trump praised Mrs Clinton as an exceptional individual who fought a very hard campaign.

So, Donald Trump is President of the United States. What he does in that office will shape the destiny of the United States for good or ill. I’ll leave the final word to the President elect.

The Party Line is………Perception

At any point in the day, our brain receives trillions of sensory impulses from our body which flow from our nerves directly to our brain for processing and interpretation. It is these impulses which shape how we perceive the world, covering everything from pleasure and pain to the baser level bodily functions.

The interpretation of this data by our brain shapes our perception of reality at the sensory level. At a psychological level this shaping is more pronounced, if we have a negative experience of reality we are far more likely to behave negatively and vice versa.

The shaping of reality or perception at a psychological level can be influenced by individuals through behavioural training and learning more about our own character. An entire industry exists, generating millions of pounds, to promote these ideas and to enable individual introspection, character adjustment and behavioural modification with the ultimate aim of becoming more positive and productive individuals.

Take the simple idea of sensory based reality, substitute the brain for the collective consciousness of society at a political and sociological level; you have an almost infinite range of perceptions and impulses, experienced by the society as a whole and reflected in what it does, how it acts and how it responds in the world.

As with the brain, this reality can be shaped, tailored and where applicable manipulated to suit the overriding imperative of the government or society where they are experienced.

So how does a society experience and perceive politicians?

A perception of a politician is experienced at many different levels:  there are the acts of the individual within their local community and how they are perceived, how society perceives them in relation to their wider party affiliation and how they exist in the public eye.

The first two can be controlled, or at least attempted to be controlled, by the politician through the medium of spin.  This is a low-level example of the manipulation of perception to ensure a positive outcome for that individual, in the same way that you would use behavioural training to shape your behaviour.

Spin is a product of the media age and media as a whole contributes dramatically to how a politician is perceived in the public eye. Once an individual enters public life, their life essentially becomes public knowledge, with their every move scrutinised and commented on by countless individuals, even more in the world of social media and the internet. Politicians experience this on a much more fatalistic level, with every misstep potentially contributing to the end of their political career.

Indeed once an individual involved in the political sphere makes a political gaffe, or is involved in a scandal, the media can shape the public perception to such a degree that the individual can no longer function as a politician.

These two necessary functions of modern politics sometimes work in synergy with each other, but the sheer levels of exposure and potential profit render the media far more likely to want to cause damage to a politician than prevent it (as seen this week with the Keith Vaz sex sting scandal).

The public largely perceive two types of politician: the institutional politician and the populist politician. The institutional politician is seen as a stuffy, privately educated individual who is more likely to want to enhance their own position rather than act in the best interests of the people. By contrast, the populist politician is seen as a self-made individual, someone who the common voter can relate to and retain an interest in, a true man or woman of the people.

Go up a level to the international stage and the perception/manipulation of it becomes less obvious, but wider ranging in its implications.  Shaping public perception of the country involved is a national occupation and is vital to the longer term success of that country.

Manipulation at this level involves a more subversive method: that of propaganda.  The use of propaganda has been one of the bedrocks of statecraft for almost 500 years now and is enjoying a renaissance in the age of the internet.

Propaganda can be used to assert, subvert and otherwise engender the ideology of the country using it or be used to destroy the ideology and people of a target country.

Overtly obvious use of propaganda today is largely confined to those restrictive regimes, who need the constant reassertion of their ideology to place their message into the minds of their people, thus shaping their perception to embrace that ideology fully.

In those less restrictive regimes, pronounced propaganda as asserted by a regime or government cannot exist because it would inevitably clash with the fundamental right of freedom of speech, i.e. the freedom to express a contrary opinion to the prevalent political line of that country. The contradiction between these two precepts forces the use of propaganda away from the political sphere and back into media sphere.

As with the politicians, the media can be used as a tool by the government to create negative opinion about opposing countries and regimes, shaping the public perception subconsciously and not endangering the fundamental freedom of speech rights.  Indeed, the media is perceived as the guardian of free speech, despite increasing evidence that it is becoming the mouthpiece of political parties and governments.

The one thing that this manipulation can sometimes struggle to keep up with is the change in political position in respect to a country. For example if a rogue country moves overnight from a totalitarian regime, which is universally hated, to a democratic regime, the government of the opposition country may need to soften its political stance towards it and change its relationship. We’ve seen it recently in the open dialogues between the USA and its old adversaries Cuba and Iran.  The public’s perception, previously shaped to a negative opinion of these regimes, had to be shifted to a positive one in the long-term to ensure the opening of good relations between the nations. Again the media and government play a part in moving this process forward.

Another recent example of this is the softening of the negative opinion on Britain leaving the European Union. During the referendum campaign extremely negative sentiments were expressed about the potential consequences of leaving and our eventual place in the world. Politicians, both domestic and foreign were keen to add their opinions to the seemingly unceasing tide of negative press about Brexit. However once the vote was concluded and the decision to exit confirmed by the UK government, the overriding need to proceed with the publicly voted for mandate prompted an almost immediate shift in media and government communications from being negative about the consequences to active examination and criticism of the implementation process.

The perception that a country has in the world can often have a negative impact on how that nation is treated by its neighbours in the international community.  For example, while the Russian federation does not exhibit any overtly evil or totalitarian qualities, it is perceived as being a totalitarian regime or “evil empire” when in fact the truth can be something entirely different.  This perception and the implementation of it by the other nations of the world causes much of the diplomatic conflict which exists between Russia and the wider community, particularly the USA who has been the historical enemy of Russia for many years.

Another example of this is how the USA is perceived in the Middle East.  With significant interests in the oil rich nations of the middle east, the USA has always been keen to provide stability for the region through support of vassal regimes and clients. Additionally, the USA has been the most ardent supporter of the state of Israel, viewing it as a key ally in the region.

This support and, dare I say it, interference in the affairs of the region, while well-intentioned, does not garner popular support from the various tribes and ethnic groups of the region. Combine that with a secular religion that does not view outsiders as friends and you have a recipe for extremist opposition. A sort of opposition that manifests itself in the various terrorist organisations that operate in the region, opposed to the interests of the USA and their perceived puppet states.

Consider the political effectiveness of a nation if it was in tune with how it is perceived in the world, has full cognisance of the consequences of its actions and is in possession of a coherent and appealing ideological standpoint. Such a nation would have the blueprint for longer term stability and success, effectively making itself immune to all potential issues which would arise in the course of its life.

With the obvious example of a politician in the public eye being able to shape his or her perception to suit their objectives, you have to wonder why more countries do not employ this sort of perception manipulation in their political armoury.  With so much at stake, can they afford not to?

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is…….Summer Holidays

Ah, the summer holidays have arrived for millions of children. For their parents this means six weeks of keeping their children occupied, going on overpriced holidays and long stints out of the office. For me it means more available seats on the train, little kids on bikes doing wheelies down the wrong side of the road and a quieter period at work.

School children aren’t the only ones to enjoy an extended break, as Parliament has closed for the summer. It’s a curious notion, that all politics should cease from July and not recommence until September, with MP’s flying off in their droves to be photographed in their trunks by an unforgiving media.

Even the political commentators have quit for the summer and as their subject matter disappears from view so have they from our screens and newspapers.  What is there to talk about?

The EU referendum? Old hat. David Cameron’s resignation honours list? The establishment rewarding itself isn’t anything new.  Labour leadership election? A foregone conclusion.

It’s a desperate period for the press, who have to provide media regardless of the availability of sensational stories as this preserves their existing readership, attracts new readers and ultimately keeps their profit margin

Newspapers fill this time with stories about heatwaves, miracle drugs, NHS scandals and the always inevitable rehash of some older story like the London riots.

Doesn’t leave much for a political blogger like me, does it?

But then again there is the Olympics in Rio.

An epic contest between nations which is all about politics? Yes, that sounds good to me.

The modern Olympiad, which has its roots in the ancient world was envisioned as an environment where nations could compete against each other in a non-violent arena with medals being the prize for the victorious.

Nationalism was ingrained in the contest from day one, with each nation seeking to outdo each other, to prove that its citizens were stronger or better than the rest. In the 1930’s this became more pronounced in the Munich Olympics of Hitler’s Germany.  But in the face of that profound evil, sport proved itself greater than nationalism in the victories of the American Jesse Owens.

World War two put paid to all thoughts of Olympic glory as national contest was replaced with national warfare, but the spectre of nationalism would not easily leave the Olympic experience.

Once the travails of the Second World War were over, a new contest began between the two superpowers: The USA and the Soviet Union for Olympic and World domination. The contest became a means by which nations would attempt to prove their greatness and by virtue the validity of their ideology.  A communist athlete could not be seen to be outperformed by a capitalist athlete as this could undermine communist ideology and vice versa.

A profoundly nationalistic climate such as this produced truly great national athletes like Nadia Comaneci, Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. They reached the pinnacle of human excellence in sport winning numerous medals and adding substantive weight to their respective nations standing in the world.

However, with every great performance and athlete there were just as many accused cheats and supposed cheating governments, supplying their athletes with performance enhancing steroids. The only difference between this and todays controversy being the absence of sufficient technology and robust governance to prove the allegations.

For many other nations, the possibility of having an Olympic medallist coming from their country is a huge public relations boost enabling them to increase tourism and accrue revenue that the country would not otherwise receive. With the superpowers, there was always going to be more to it than that as past history has proven.

The Cold War rumbled on, manifesting itself in the US led boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and the reprisal boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles games by the Soviet Union and her Warsaw pact allies.

The fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s should have prompted the end of this version of statecraft, but it didn’t. It was merely suborned by a greater spirit of friendly completion and cooperation in the sporting arena.

Such a thing could not last and after a brief lull, nationalism in sport has begun to rear its ugly head again. The crucial difference between the nationalistic meddling that pervaded the cold war Olympiads and the nationalistic meddling that now exists is that it is easier to prove.

A prominent example of this is the recent Russian doping scandal which has overshadowed the build up to the Rio games. This wrongdoing at a national level is made all the more scandalous by the allegations that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was a willing participant in the very thing it was designed to prohibit.

Add to this a regulatory body riven with allegations of corruption in the IAAF and you have a recipe for a culture of doping and performance enhancement.

Infiltration of Russian officials into testing centres by covert means, widespread tampering with urine samples to induce false results and surveillance of International Anti-Doping agency officials.  Preliminary findings indicate this goes back to the Winter Olympics in Sochi but the uses of these sort of tactics could go back even further.

It all sounds very subversive doesn’t it?

Not when you look at the prime motivator of this action, the Russian premier Vladimir Putin, himself a product of the Soviet Union and more specifically the Cold War KGB. Although the communism that he was raised in no longer exists, Mr Putin has applied his own brand of Russian ideology to his country.

It is an ideology that does not allow for failure and promotes Russia as the pinnacle of nations. As with the Soviets, political ideology has invaded sport, skewing it from being about competition between nations to Russian supremacy at any cost.

This new perspective is already creating tension with the old enemy of the United States in the political arena, but it now pushes the two old adversaries into conflict in the sporting arena.

We’ve seen evidence of it in the early days of this Olympics, with the Russians being branded cheats and ostracised by the other athletes. It has resulted in a lot of negative press for Russian sport and it will continue as long as these alleged incidents of doping go unchecked.

It is always remarkable how something created quite innocently can become a political animal and vehicle for countries to exert nationalistic and ideological sentiments, which in turn can create larger conflict between nations.  A harder line needs to be taken to eliminate political interference in sport, but without a powerful motivating force this seems unlikely to occur in the near future.

 

 

With thanks to Russell McIver for the idea.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Six Steps from The Kremlin- The Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Lies, greed, political intrigue, corruption at the highest levels of government, conspiracies of silence and ultimately murder. In terms of a good story the murder of Boris Nemtsov has more in common with a bestselling thriller novel, than it does with real life, but unlike the plot of some blockbuster Hollywood movie, this scenario is being played out today in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov, father of four, environmentalist, nuclear scientist and most notably, outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin was shot in the back four times by an as yet unknown assailant just yards from the heart of the Russian seat of government, the Kremlin.

At the time of his murder, he had been arranging a massed rally of opposition supporters in Moscow, protesting against the alleged Russian military support and involvement in the Ukrainian civil war.  He had been attempting to unite the factions of the opposition movement and it was claimed that he had proof of Russian involvement in Ukraine.

In an article, published in Russia on the tenth of February 2015, Mr Nemtsov stated that “I am afraid that Putin will kill me”. To the untrained observer, this shocking turn of events would seem to implicate Mr Putin directly in Mr Nemtsov’s death.

However the real truth of the matter has yet to be brought to light.

This murder is just the latest in a long line of politically motivated murders stretching back to the murder of Sergey Yushenkov at his Moscow home in April 2003 and seemingly continuing with Mr Nemtsov’s murder at the weekend.  Individuals who have had connections with Mr Putin in the past or in the present have been targeted, opposition politicians have been assassinated, even foreign journalists are not safe on the streets of Russia today. Four people have died in Moscow alone under similar circumstances to Mr Nemtsov’s over the past ten years.

These murders are not endemic to Russia itself and have occurred in this country with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with the radioactive compound Polonium in London and the suspicious death of Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic at his London home in 2013.

Statements of denial from the Kremlin are as regular as the morning paper. During this time the truth has been blurred, covered and cloaked in lies and rhetoric. That being said, Mr Putin deserves his day in court, even if it is in the form of this blog. For if we are to claim that we live in a fair and objective society, we must first practice what we preach.

So, what if Mr Putin was not directly responsible for the deaths of these individuals?

Who would be the most likely group to gain from discrediting the Russian government? Well the most obvious candidate, aside from half of the world’s countries would be the Russian opposition movement itself. By killing prominent individuals within their ranks, they could hope to engender a change in public opinion in Russia, polarizing anti-Putin sentiment both internally and internationally.  The big issue with this is that the opposition movement remains a largely factional one, with no obvious unity and no means at their disposal to enact this heinous agenda.

An international power seeking to discredit Russia would have both means and opportunity.  The obvious candidate for this would be the United States, in collusion with its allies within the European Union. However, agitating the Great Russian bear into a state of war would not be beneficial to them as most of their member states are in the firing line.  Destabilizing Russia would be of greatest benefit to countries like China or the members of the oil producing nations of the Middle East.

A Russian economy in ruins or a Russia in a state of War would be both beneficial politically and economically to both of these groups. China could complete its great rehabilitation into international society and score untold political points by stepping in to mediate an end to the crisis. The oil producing nations of the Middle East would no doubt benefit from an interruption to or an ending of Russian gas supplies to the European Union.  But would the benefits of this course of action justify the means?

The murder of a popular opposition politician, beloved by many Russians and a contemporary of Mr Putin would place his government in an increasingly hostile position, in terms of the amount of damage it could cause to Russia itself.  Mr Putin may continue to deny his involvement but the world it seems has already made up its mind on the matter.

The murder and the subsequent protests, with its high media exposure may force Moscow to change its policies, but then again it may not. The mechanism of political change often relies on opposing forces and in Russian politics, opposition can often mean imprisonment and even death, as the weekend’s events has proven.

But what would such public killings achieve? Russia has ostracized itself from the international community, alienated  many of its former satellites, caused irreparable harm to its own internal structure all to preserve the myth of the Soviet ideal and the failings of one man and one man alone: Vladimir Putin.

So is it worth it? Internal damage of the sort now being inflicted would only be risked if the truth was potentially more damaging both to Russia and Mr Putin himself.

Only then could you make the sort of calculations that end human lives. Only then could you entertain such notions.

Boris Nemtsov was a patriot, a man who believed passionately in Russia and like Boris the perpetrators of this crime may also believe passionately in Russia. But that is where the similarities end. He exercised his right to free speech, under the lawful government of his country and was ultimately killed for it. Four bullets may have ended his life, but those four bullets may have started a chain reaction in his beloved Russia leading to the creation of a fairer, freer Russia for Boris’s four children.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Would NATO be more effective if it were disbanded?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to use its full title was formed by the victorious western powers in response to the politically uncertain world of post war Europe. Its objective was simple, the preservation of the western democratic way of life in a organisation based on mutual defence.

Over the years NATO has grown exponentially and after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 and it currently comprises 28 member states. With the notable exception of one of the biggest European powers: Russia.

The Russian government has never been included in NATO and with the political upheaval in Ukraine; the implication is that it never will.

Russian mistrust of the western powers can be traced as far back as the Second World War, when the Soviet Union signed a pact with Nazi Germany. This pact resulted in betrayal, invasion and the death of some 20 million of its citizens, so naturally they are mistrustful.

But what if NATO were disbanded and a new Pan-European organisation were created in its place?

The Russian mistrust of the west, though not completely dispelled would be moved to the background in the spirit of co-operation.

It’s military and industrial might would be at the disposal of the west rather than set against it. Russian gas and energy supplies would not be cut off from the west and inversely, the Russian economy would improve from its extremely tenuous current position.

To the non-NATO members, Russia would be seen as willing to change and this would be as much a perceptual victory as well as a diplomatic one. Its neighbours would be more willing to engage with it and conflicts like the South Ossetian war and the present crisis in Ukraine could be avoided.

The new international treaty organisation would be able to meet threats more readily and a stronger organisation would strike fear into the hearts of any terrorist or wrong doer.

There are those who would say that the United Nations achieves this and is an inclusive organisation. To them I would say one word, Iraq. The ineffectiveness of resolution 1441 and the coalitions blatant ignoring of the diplomatic rules showed what the United Nations is: A paper tiger, all roar and no substance. The more the nations of the world ignore it, the more it will diminish in its power.

But in any positive argument, there is always the other side of the coin. Russian membership of a NATO style organisation would make it more of an obvious target for terrorists and although the Russian people have experience of dealing with terrorists via the Chechens, their overall preparedness for a large scale terrorist attack can be called into question.

And what of the chief architect of the new imperialist Russia: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin?

Putin is a product of the cold war Russia, steeped in cloak and dagger tactics and clandestine activities. While post cold war America has influenced the world in a more obvious way, the Russia of Vladimir Putin uses its power in a more subtle way behind the scenes. The poisoning of the political activist Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 is a prominent example of this.

A Russia included in a large scale mutual defence and trade organisation would lead to a new breed of oligarchs, thriving in the new co-operative world. Restrictions both economic and social may be lifted, shining a light on the shortcomings of the current Russian system. Political change would come from the inside, motivated by the new oligarchs and those who would likely return from exile.

The clandestine tactics would have to go and more than likely so would Mr Putin.

However an international organisation that adopted both the subtle tactics of Russia and the more obvious manipulation of America would be a dangerous and far more subversive entity.

Not to end on air of pessimism, I choose to look at the positives.

There is a ceasefire in Ukraine, talk of arming the moderates in Syria and the mending of fences between the US and Iran, two long held enemies. There is every reason to think that inclusion of Russia in NATO will come about organically in its own time, but only time will tell.

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