Tag Archives: Russia

Russian Interference in Western Politics? What about Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE?

Russian Interference in Western Politics? What about Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
3 October 2018

With almost the entire Western media in a constant state of mass hysteria about Russian interference in Western political systems, it’s worth considering some pertinent information largely missing from the debate.

First, it is likely the scale and effectiveness of Russian interventions has been greatly exaggerated. “The simplistic narrative that basically imagines that a bunch of subliterate-in-English trolls posting mostly static and sort of absurd advertising could have influenced American public opinion to such an extent that it fundamentally changed American politics is ridiculous on the face of it”, argued Masha Gessen, a US-Russian journalist and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, when asked about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election by National Public Radio.

“I feel a lot of pressure… from interviewers and from people to kind of blow up the threat”, said New Yorker’s Adrian Chen – one of the first to write about Russian internet trolls – agreeing with Gessen. “People want to talk about how scary this is, how sophisticated it is. There’s not a lot of room for, you know, just kind of dampening down the issue.”

Turning to the Brexit vote, research by the Oxford Internet Institute looked at 22.6 million tweets sent between March and July 2016, finding just 416 tweets from the Russian Internet Research Agency – the organisation the US Senate says is involved in interfering in Western elections. A second report from the University of Edinburgh discovered 419 accounts operated by the Agency attempting to influence UK politics. However, the study’s lead researcher told the Guardian these 419 accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of just 3,468 times – mostly after the referendum had taken place.

Second, when asked about US claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential race, US academic Noam Chomsky replied “My guess is that most of the world is just collapsing in laughter.” Why? Because when it comes to undermining democratic systems Russia is an absolute beginner compared to the United States.

Here is the New York Times in February 2018: “Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s investigating the C.I.A. as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades.”

According to a database compiled by political scientist Don Levin from Carnegie Mellon University, the US attempted to influence elections in other countries 81 times between 1946 and 2000. In contrast, he found the Soviet Union/Russia had attempted to sway 36 elections in the same period. Reporting on the database in December 2016, the Los Angeles Times notes the US figure “doesn’t include military coups and regime change efforts following the election of candidates the US didn’t like, notably those in Iran, Guatemala and Chile.”

On top of all this, the evidence clearly shows other nations have exerted a level of influence on Western governments and political systems that Russia could only dream of.

Chomsky again, this time speaking to Democracy Now! in August 2018: “If you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support.”

Chomsky is referring to Israel, whose “intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done”, he says. “I mean, even to the point where the Prime Minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies” —a reference to Netanyahu’s attempt, in 2015, to destroy the US-led deal to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Back in the UK, in January 2017 the Middle East Eye reported on “undercover recordings” that “revealed how an Israeli diplomat sought to establish organisations and youth groups to promote Israeli influence inside the opposition Labour party, in an effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.” Shai Masot, the Israeli diplomat, said he had helped set up other groups in the UK which, although they presented themselves as independent, received support from the Israeli Embassy.

Israel is not the only Middle East nation who works to undercut Western democracies. In 2006 the Guardian reported that the British government – citing ‘national security’ concerns – had halted a Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged corruption by the arms company BAE Systems, connected to their dealings with Saudi Arabia. According to the article “In recent weeks, BAE and the Saudi embassy had frantically lobbied the government for the long-running investigation to be discontinued.”

Like its regional ally in Riyadh, the United Arab Emirates has also been busy, carrying out an “intense lobbying campaign… over the last few years” in the UK, according to a new Spinwatch report. This campaign has “helped shape UK government policy towards Muslims at home, and UK and US foreign policy in the Middle East”.

This “massive” PR effort by the corporate-friendly Gulf dictatorship appears to have “had the desired effect”, Spinwatch notes. “With pressure building on Downing Street… the Emiratis pulled off” a “spectacular lobbying success… in March 2014, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron, out of almost nowhere, announced a review into the Muslim Brotherhood” – a useful folk devil for the UAE government.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have also been trying to influence the heart of global power in Washington. For example, the Associated Press noted the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the UAE that started in June 2017 “ignited a multimillion-dollar battle for influence” with the two rivals spending “heavily over the last year on lawyers, lobbyists, public relations and advertising to seek better trade and security relationships with the United States”.

In a March 2018 article the New York Times reported on “an active effort to cultivate President Trump on behalf of the two oil-rich Arab monarchies” UAE and Saudi Arabia. The aim? “Pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson” and “backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar” – something Tillerson was seen as a block on.

This lobbying seems to have achieved one of its goals, with the New York Times’s Roger Cohen revealing that a European ambassador had told him about a December 2017 dinner party in Washington he attended along with Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba. After the ambassador had complained to Kushner that his nation’s foreign minister was having difficulty organising a meeting with Tillerson, apparently Otaiba said “Things will be much better when Mike’s installed.” Tillerson was sacked four months later, replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

What all this confirms is that media reporting and commentary is largely framed by the concerns of the governing elite. Which explains the difference in the size and tone of coverage – Russia has been designated an Official Enemy of the West, while Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE are close allies. However, it is important to separate the interests of Western elites and those of the general population. So while it is obvious why the British elite would want a close ties with the authoritarian monarchies in the Gulf, it is difficult to see what the British public get out of these unholy associations.

The obsessive focus on Russian interference serves a couple of important functions. First, as highlighted above, it hides inconvenient but important truths – that many of our so-called allies are carrying out sophisticated and long-running campaigns to undermine the will of Western publics. And second, it acts as a displacement activity – instead of looking at the deep-seated domestic reasons behind Trump’s victory and why the UK voted for Brexit we continue to be fixated on the all-powerful evil Disney villain Putin.

As always, to see through the fog of propaganda and gain an accurate understanding of the world citizens need to be careful and critical consumers of the mainstream corporate news, making sure to combine their intake with a healthy dose of alternative and independent media.

Ian Sinclair tweets at @IanJSinclair

The BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian peacekeepers and the democracy-creating British army

Compare and contrast comments made by the BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian forces in Europe with his 2012 comments on British forces in Iraq:

“I think it might just be worth making the point though that some people will raise their eyebrows at the idea Russian armies are peacekeeping armies. The people of Romania might take a slightly different view of that… just a very quick thought about Ukraine. The idea that what Russia has been doing in Ukraine is peacekeeping is a slightly bizarre notion, isn’t it?” (Interview with Vitaly Milonov, a Russian politician and member of the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, BBC Today Programme, 10 April 2017)

Vs.

“…a lot of British lives, 179 British lives, were lost for Basra in effect… If a country [the UK] has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?” (Interview with Baroness Nicholson, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Economic Development in Iraq and the Region, BBC Today Programme, October 2012)

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker

Is the UK helping to fuel the Syrian conflict? Interview with Oxfam’s Andy Baker
by Ian Sinclair

Open Democracy
19 August 2016

According to news reports, the fighting in Syria, especially in and around the city of Aleppo, has escalated in recent weeks. Can you summarise the scale and breadth of the humanitarian crisis in Syria today?

The crisis in Syria is well into the sixth year now. Civilians are increasingly the victim of bombings, attacks, and displacement by all warring parties which are primarily and directly responsible for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. Powerful countries such as Russia, the US, France and the UK are also fuelling the conflict to varying degrees whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure, political and military support to their allies, or direct military action. The recent fighting around Aleppo is the latest example of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children caught in the cross-fire, threatened by death from land and air, and facing severe shortages in food and medicine that could lead to even more deaths. Overall in Syria, humanitarian needs are increasing every day, while access to civilians, especially in besieged areas, has not improved beyond one-off deliveries here and there, tied to ongoing political negotiations.
 
Speaking to Sky News in March 2016 about the Syrian war, you
said “we can’t only lay the blame at the feet of the Russians”, noting that Britain – and other nations – have also “fuelled the fire” of the conflict. Can you explain how Britain has done this?

To start, it must be noted that the parties to the conflict – the Government of Syria, armed opposition groups and UN designated terrorist organizations – bear the primary responsibility for the suffering in Syria. Powerful countries such as Russia and the US are also fuelling the conflict, including via direct military action.  To a lesser degree, the UK and France are also fuelling the conflict whether through inadequate diplomatic pressure or their more limited military actions.

Some governments, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, have become belligerents in the civil war. For example, while Russia’s role in talks on Syria is key and it must play an important role in the resolution of the crisis, the reality on the ground is that the increased Russian military involvement and intervention since September 2015 marks a clear escalation of conflict, with devastating results for civilians. Russia and the US, countries with power and the main instigators of the recent provisional ceasefire, spend a combined $8 billion dollars on the war within Syria in 2015, dwarfing the $1.5 billion the US contributes in aid, with Russia contributing just $9 million towards humanitarian assistance.

Some countries like the UK have been top donors to aid efforts that are reaching Syrian refugees, and when and where possible civilians inside Syria. Their support to vulnerable populations that rely on humanitarian aid outstrips most other countries, and they have played a significant role in mobilising more money from other nations, but they also need to deploy more efforts towards an end to the conflict which is leading to more vulnerability and needs every day.

The UK and other members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected and peace and security maintained. Resolutions of the Security Council have been consistently flouted and ignored by their allies on the ground. Britain is also part of the US led coalition against ISIS that has ongoing military operations in Syria. This has done little, if anything, to deal with either civilian suffering or the root causes of the conflict.
 
Britain’s part responsibility for the ongoing conflict in Syria will be news to most people. From your vantage point as the head of Oxfam’s Syria response team, why do you think there is such a large disconnect between Britain’s Syrian policy and the public’s understanding of it?

There’s been a lot of focus in the UK on the issue of refugees, especially those who have taken the risky journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. But this issue is only the result of a bloody conflict that has driven nearly a quarter of the Syrian population out of their country. As long as powerful countries including the UK do not address both the protection of civilians and the root causes of the conflict and put an end to the bloodshed by pushing for a political solution and stopping any active role in the conflict, Syrians will keep on trying to reach safety.
 
What changes to Britain’s policy on Syria would Oxfam like to see?

  • The UK Government should use its power on the UNSC and other diplomatic routes to influence parties on ground both to seek a peace process, and to respect human rights and humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities
  • The UK Government must ensure UK arms and ammunition aren’t transferred to the warring parties
  • It’s deeply disappointing that the UK Government is not on track to meet even its modest commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020. The government must not only deliver on its existing commitments to resettle the most vulnerable Syrian refugees but also welcome to the UK more people fleeing conflict, including making it easier for families, split apart by violence, to reunite

If individual citizens are concerned about the Syrian war and want to act in some way to help, what do you propose they do?

They need to write to their elected representatives and push them to lobby the government for real political pressure on the Syria: on resettlement of refugees, the aid response, for protection of civilians and a more proactive diplomatic role on the resolution of the crisis.

People can also donate to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal. Oxfam has reached over 1.5 million people in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as communities inside Syria with desperately needed food, water and shelter.