On Tuesday evening, CNN reported unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence compiled a dossier on the president-elect during his visits to Moscow; BuzzFeed later published 35 pages of content from the alleged dossier. But Mr. Trump dismissed the developments as “fake news.” Judy Woodruff speaks with former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey and former CIA officer John Sipher for analysis.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. We are having some guests join me here at the “NewsHour” anchor desk in the coming weeks. Tonight, it’s Steve Inskeep, who many of you recognize from NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Welcome, Steve.
STEVE INSKEEP: I’m delighted to be here. It’s an honor. Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re so glad to have you.
And we are devoting much of tonight’s program to our lead story, and that is the Donald Trump news conference today.
It came amid a swirl of stories about the president-elect and Russia.
DONALD TRUMP (recording): Its all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At his first news conference since the election, Donald Trump flatly denied the Russians have any compromising information on him.
DONALD TRUMP (r): But it should never have been released, but I read what was released. And I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The bombshell burst Tuesday evening, when CNN reported the president-elect and President Obama were briefed on the matter last week. The report included unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence compiled a dossier on Mr. Trump during visits to Moscow.
The Web site BuzzFeed then published a 35-page cache of memos from the alleged dossier, including a claim of sexual activity caught on a Moscow hotel room surveillance camera. The New York Times and other major news organizations said they had been aware of the information for months, but could not verify the claims.
Today, Mr. Trump insisted he wouldn’t put himself in such a position.
DONALD TRUMP (r): I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. There are cameras all over the place, and, again, not just Russia, all over.
Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: From there, the president-elect lit into the news media again. He condemned BuzzFeed.
DONALD TRUMP (r): It’s a failing pile of garbage writing it. I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he accused CNN of being fake news, and brushed off persistent attempts by its correspondent to ask a question.
Later, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, defended its reporting, and BuzzFeed said it published what it called a newsworthy document.
As for the leak itself:
DONALD TRUMP (r): I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that. And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On Russian hacking more broadly, the president-elect suggested an upside to the probing of Democratic Party computers and e-mails.
DONALD TRUMP (r): The hacking is bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hacking, that Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Likewise, he acknowledged the intelligence verdict that President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking, but he didn’t leave it there.
DONALD TRUMP (r): I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And looking ahead, Mr. Trump suggested the hacking will not necessarily hinder future cooperation with Putin.
DONALD TRUMP (r): If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability. Now, Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he will be doing it more.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There were also questions about the Trump Organization’s business ties to Russia, and he denied there are any.
DONALD TRUMP (r): We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to. I just don’t want to, because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings and no current pending deals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Trump has not released tax returns to verify his claims, and he said again he won’t do so until a federal audit is finished.
He also declined to say whether his associates or campaign staff had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. An ABC reporter tweeted later that the president-elect denied any such contact after the news conference ended.
We take a closer look at Russia, the president-elect, and these latest revelations with former attorney at the National Security Agency Susan Hennessey. She is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution and is managing editor for the Web site Lawfare about the intersection of the law and national security. And John Sipher, he served almost 30 years at the CIA, both in the agency’s clandestine service and executive ranks. He was stationed in Moscow in the 1990s and he ran the CIA’s Russia program for three years. He’s now at CrossLead, a consulting firm.
And welcome to both of you.
So let’s start, Susan Hennessey, but I just want to ask both of you in brief, what do you make of this report?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, Former NSA Lawyer: Right.
So, for the moment, the real story is the allegations themselves are unverified. They’re obviously quite salacious in nature. The real story is that the intelligence community thought it was appropriate to brief the president of the United States and the president-elect.
That means that serious people are taking this seriously. That’s different than saying that the intelligence community believes the allegations or has substantiated them. But this is a matter that is not just simply a matter of fake news or something that we should disregard.
It clearly passes some degree of preliminary credibility.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, your take?
JOHN SIPHER, Former CIA Officer: I think the question is, is this real?
And there are things on the positive side and the negative side on that. On the positive side, for those of us who have lived and worked and worked in Russia and against the Russians, it does feel right. It does feel like the kind of thing that Russians do. A lot of those details fit.
Also, I think, the author has some credibility, which is on the positive side.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the former British intelligence officer.
JOHN SIPHER: That’s right. Yes.
On the negative side, it really is hard to make a distinction if we don’t know who those sources are. He talks about his sources providing various information. In the CIA, before we would put out a report like that, an intelligence report, there could be, you know, hundreds of pages of information on that person’s access, on their suitability, on their personality.
We don’t have that. And, secondly, the fact that a lot of this reporting is the presidential administration in Russia and the Kremlin is a little bit worrying, because, I mean, that’s essentially a hard nut to crack. And U.S. intelligence agencies have been trying to do that for years, and the fact that he has this much data about them does put it into question a little bit.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, let’s talk about your organization, Lawfare.
You had a copy of this, what, several weeks ago. And you started looking into it, decided not to put it out, but you did look into it. How did you go about figuring out or trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t here?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Right.
So, the document was shared with us to — so that we could provide some professional input as to whether or not it was credible. As we were satisfied that the relevant government entities were aware of the documents, and then like everybody else, we attempted to talk to people in various communities to see whether or not the allegations seemed credible to them.
I think the point that we’re at now, it’s really not about our organization or anyone else verifying the specific facts. The FBI is conducting an investigation. We will expect — there are very specific allegations in this document. Those allegations can either be proven true or proven false.
And so we should expect some answers that provide some additional clarity. One important note is just because a single fact in the document is true, it doesn’t mean the rest of the document is true. And just because a single fact in the document is false, that doesn’t mean the rest of the document is false.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That the entire thing is false.
Well, John Sipher, let’s go back to what you said a minute ago. You said there are parts of this that are credible, and you said it’s the way the Russians operate. What did you mean by that?
JOHN SIPHER: It must look odd to views or anybody who has read this thing. It’s such a different world.
But Russia is a police state. Russia has been a police state for much of its history. And this is the way they often do business. They collect blackmail on people. When I lived there, we had audio and video in our houses. We were followed all the time. Restaurants and places, hotels like this are — have video and audio in them. They collect this.
They do psychological profiling of people to try to see who might be sources for them. This is just the way the Russians operate. So when you read this, it smacks of the kind of thing that we would believe is credible. That doesn’t mean it is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The methods.
JOHN SIPHER: Right, the methods, right, and the — right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you went on to say that the precise details in here are not borne out, are not verified by any individuals outside of this report, the British — the British office.
JOHN SIPHER: Right.
And in that sense, it’s difficult because of the hyperpartisan atmosphere here. The fact that this is now in the public is going to spin up on the salacious details and these type of things, whereas I think the FBI does have a lot of experience doing very sensitive investigations like this, working with partners overseas and others to try to put this together, because there are a lot of details that we as citizens can’t follow up on.
Did people travel during those certain days? Who are these people? And that’s the kind of stuff that we just can’t do, and the FBI can and will.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For example, Susan Hennessey, there’s a reference in here to an attempt to get the FISA court, the court that has to OK investigations, surveillance of individuals, permission for them to look at four different people who were working for the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization. How unusual would something like that be?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, certainly, it’s highly unusual in the context of a political campaign or a presidential election.
That said, there is news reports that perhaps there were additional attempts to secure a FISA warrant, and that the FBI reportedly obtained one in October. If the allegations in the documents are true, are accurate, those are the kinds of things that would fall within FISA.
That’s the type of warrant that the government would pursue. That said, just like everything else, we’re a step away from actually verifying the substance of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Verifying.
John Sipher, if you’re in charge of the investigation to figure out what is and what isn’t right, if anything is accurate in here, what do you need to do now?
JOHN SIPHER: What you need to do is take each piece of this document and run it to ground.
So, you need to find out — they talk — the issue here is not the salacious details, the blackmail piece. The issue here is the criminal behavior if people in the Trump campaign were working with Russian intelligence to collect information on Americans.
If that’s the case, there’s a lot of detail in there that needs to be verified. And we have to find out, did the people travel on the days they said they traveled, those type of things? So, there are a lot of things to run down that you can run down with your partners and information that you can collect as part of an investigation in U.S. travel records, all these type of things.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, what would you add to that? If you were involved in trying to determine if any parts of this are accurate or to verify that they’re not accurate, how would do you that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Right.
So, certainly, the FBI is going to be calling on all of their resources to investigate the specific allegations, things like travel records, things like financial documents. They’re also going to need to draw on intelligence sources. And so there are specific sort of comments about meetings between Putin and others, very sort of high-level, high-value intelligence targets.
They would really need to reach very deeply into their intelligence networks and the networks of allied intelligence agencies in order to see if anything to lend credibility or substantiate these very serious allegations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, we saw that Senator John McCain had a role, the Republican senator, of course, from Arizona, had a role in this. How did he come into this, and does that tell us anything?
JOHN SIPHER: Well, Senator McCain, obviously, has a lot of experience working with the government on sensitive things and has always been a hawk on Russia issues. And I’m supportive of that. I think he’s been good in that case.
My understanding is the author of this himself provided information, this information to get to the FBI, through Mr. McCain, who got the information through the FBI.
And, obviously, other news places had it. What’s interesting is President Trump, President-elect Trump seems to think that the intelligence agencies themselves leaked this information, whereas it doesn’t seem to me that that’s the case.
The fact that you and others have had this for so long and actually held off on putting it suggests to me that this information has been out there for a while, and I think that’s why General Clapper and others briefed the president-elect on this last Friday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you add to that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, I think this is an incredibly important point.
So, when President-elect Trump today seemed to suggest that he believes the intelligence community leaked this, saying it would be a blot if they had done so, there’s absolutely no indication that the intelligence community is the source of the documents.
BuzzFeed, the organization that published this document, this is actually not even an intelligence community document. It is a private company. It’s not even classified material. And so a little bit, there is a suspicion that once again Donald Trump is using his personal attacks on the intelligence community a little bit to divert attention away from the substance of the allegations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly to both of you, how confident are you that we’re going to know eventually whether this is — whether any of this is accurate?
JOHN SIPHER: I have confidence.
Yes, I have confidence that the FBI is going to follow this through. My nervousness is that these kind of things are going to dribble and drabble out for the next several years and cause a real problem for this administration going forward.
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Because this is so important to the credibility of the president, we would really want to see him establish some kind of independent commission or council in order to really get to the bottom of these facts and provide some reassurance to the American people, not only that this is being investigated, but also that President-elect Trump himself is taking this matter very seriously.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, John Sipher, we thank you both.
Above: some useful idiots at a ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ meeting, London 2014. Present to hear a message from Borotba were Richard Brenner (Workers Power), Andrew Murray (then of the CPB) and representatives of Socialist Action and the RMT.
By Dale Street
Workers Power (now rebranded as Red Flag) hailed them as their “Ukrainian allies” and as “revolutionary socialists” who had taken the lead in “mobilising workers and youth on the streets to defy the neo-liberals and the fascist gangs.”
Scarcely a meeting of the “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” (SARU) took place without a Skype link to one of their members. They provided “the most moving contributions” to SARU meetings, which were “rightly met with a standing ovation”.
For Socialist Appeal it was “the revolutionary organisation that is playing a leading role in the struggle against fascism in the (sic) Ukraine.” Articles by this “left-wing group” were published on the Socialist Appeal website.
Andrew Murray (formerly of the Communist Party of Britain, but now a member of his local CLP) shared platforms with its members. The Morning Starhailed them as part of the “left-wing forces” fighting back against “the neo-Nazi juggernaut” and the “fascist-coup-installed President Poroshenko”.
But e-mails from the office of Putin aide Vladislav Surkov – dating from 2014 and published by Ukrainian hackers at the close of last year – reveal that leaders of the Ukrainian supposedly-socialist organisation Borotba were nothing more than propagandists for Putin.
According to an article on the Ukrainian “Reft and Light” website (covering the blurring of differences between sections of the right and left internationally):
“This mass of e-mails contain documentary confirmation of the co-operation of all leading figures in Borotba with the Kremlin – or, to be more exact, the work undertaken by Borotba for the Kremlin.”
And the Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky writes:
“It is now an established fact that Borotba, the left-wing party of Manchuk, Kirichuk and co., was working for Surkov. They claimed they were combating the oligarchs and big capital. In fact, they were working for oligarchs and big capital – not of Ukraine, but of Russia.”
The copious material released by the hackers contains e-mails sent in the summer of 2014 to Aleksei Chesnakov, a long-standing associate of Surkov with a record of promoting the Kremlin’s politics through media outlets. In 2014 his remit, like that of Surkov, included Ukraine.
Documents attached to the e-mails include lists of journalists and activists whose writings pursued an unremittingly pro-Kremlin line during the still unresolved conflict in Ukraine.
Names on the lists include the Borotba leaders Shapinov, Albu, Manchuk, Kirichuk and Bliuminov, as well as the lesser known Ivan Zelensky (who writes under the name Nikolai Lenivtsyn).
Kirichuk is on a list entitled “High Profile Individuals”. Manchuk and Albu are on the “Not-High-Profile Individuals” list. Shapinov and Bliuminov are on the “Individuals of Medium Effectiveness” list, as too is Zelensky.
The different headings under which the Borotba leaders are grouped are themselves evidence that these are not lists of individuals whose pro-separatist writings had been stumbled across by some petty Kremlin bureaucrat.
In fact, the list which includes Manchuk’s name goes a step further and refers to him as “kustovoi”, meaning, in this context, that Manchuk was a ‘cluster leader’ of the group around him and that he exercised an influence over it.
Some of the e-mails also contain “temniki”: bullet-point prompts about how particular issues should be written about (from a pro-Kremlin point of view). Articles written by Borotba leaders correspond to the “temniki”.
The clearest example are articles by Kirichuck about the shooting down of a civilian plane (by separatists, using Russian-supplied military equipment) in July of 2014. Almost word-for-word Kirichuk repeats four of the eight bullet points in the relevant “temnik”.
Kirichuk’s only innovation is that whereas the final bullet point in the “temnik” proposes drawing a historical analogy with the assassination of the Emperor Franz Ferdinand, Kirichuk prefers to draw an analogy between the conflict in Ukraine and genocide in Rwanda.
One of the documents – of no relevance to Borotba at all – published by the hackers is almost certainly a fake. The rest have been authenticated by experts. The hackers also went to the trouble of publishing copies of the Surkov family’s passports as proof they had hacked the e-mail account of Surkov’s office.
In one sense, the authenticity of the hacked e-mails is almost irrelevant. The e-mails only confirm now what was obvious then.
Throughout 2014 Borotba peddled the Kremlin line on the conflict in Ukraine, even going so far as to organise joint campaigns with overt Russian nationalists (Rodina) and anti-semitic and anti-immigration pan-Slav chauvinists (Slavic Unity).
One (ex-)member of Borotba – Zelensky – has responded to the scandal provoked by the release of the hacked e-mails with a “So what’s all the fuss about?” response:
“Find just one, JUST ONE, article, you bastard, where we breached communism and its ideas, bearing in mind that from the outset, you bastard, we said that the whole fucking Maidan would lead to civil war and the current sorry state of Ukraine.”
“Did we accept donations? Yes, we did. From whom? From everyone. We took donations from everyone, including Kremlin political functionaries. So what?”
“The ‘temniki’ listed the main events of the week, but we explained them in the only way possible for us. So what if it coincided overall with the Kremlin discourse? What all anti-imperialists in the world said (about Ukraine) coincided as well.”
Borotba itself has disappeared. Its paper is no more, and neither is its website. Kirichuk is based in Berlin, Bliuminov is somewhere in Asia, and Shapinov and Albu have found a home for themselves among Russian Stalinist-nostalgics.
Borotba had its moment of glory in 2014. Not in Ukraine, where it was always more of a name than an actual organisation. But on the western European ‘left’, where a plentiful supply of useful idiots boosted its counterfeit ‘anti-fascist’ credentials while ignoring its pro-Russian-imperialist politics.
The Morning Star‘s uncritical support for Assad and parroting of Putin’s propaganda throughout the Syrian war has been a disgrace that must call into question the financial support that this filthy, lying rag receives from major unions.
The only – small – thing to be said in the rag’s favour, is that it has published a few letters from a couple of readers who retain some shreds of human decency and critical thinking. As they don’t appear on the rag’s website, we reproduce them here:
December 3-4 2016 GIVEN that the United Nations estimated in October 2016 that there were no more than 900 Nusra Front fighters in Aleppo out of a maximum of 8,000 rebels in total, I’m confused by the recent Morning Star headline: “Thousands freed from jihadist grip in eastern Aleppo” (M Star November 30)
I realise the make-up of rebel groups in Syria is complex but I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest the rebels in Aleppo are all jihadists.
Furthermore, rather than cite the Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry as the article does, perhaps it would be wiser to focus on reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International which has called on Russia to “end indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks” in Syria, including the “use of cluster munitions and dropping unguided bombs on civilian areas.” IAN SINCLAIR London E15
December 7 2016 I HAVE read recent reports and an editorial on Syria in our paper with dismay. I note the use of such expressions as “solidarity with the nation’s struggle against foreign-backed aggression” but never is there any mention of the people of Syria’s struggle against the hated and feared Assad regime.
Has everyone forgotten that the conflict in Syria started when the people came out on the streets, in the tail end of the Arab Spring, in revolt against the brutal repression of President Bashar Assad and his torturers?
Of course, much has changed since then, with the intervention of many other forces in this complex war but there is overwhelming evidence that the Assad regime, aided by the Russians, has been bombing civilians, hospitals and schools: murdering Syrian civilians because they oppose the regime and then describing them as “terrorists”.
It seems convenient for some to forget what the Assad regime stands for, the repression and brutality, the torture used not just to extract information but to put fear into the population so that no opponents of the regime will challenge it.
Perhaps readers are not aware that, to give just one example, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in 2011 during a protest and then tortured, castrated and his body mutilated while in the custody of the Syrian government.
I support the position of the Stop the War Coalition which I believe is that there should be no intervention or bombing, including by Russia and that we must do everything possible to achieve a negotiated settlement.
There is no easy solution but surely we must not gloss over decades of appalling human rights abuses in Syria and express solidarity with the regime at the expense of the Syrian people? DAVE ESBESTER London SW19
If one is trying to force a large city into submission through the application of overwhelming and deadly force, as the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo, then it is logical to target hospitals in an attempt to make life unbearable for the rebels and the population they are living amongst. Furthermore, bombing hospitals significantly reduces the fighting capability of the opposition relying on the hospitals to patch up their wounded.
Surely it is the duty of all thinking and humane people to raise their voice in opposition to this illegal, murderous and morally depraved military tactic — whether it is carried out by Western/Western-backed forces or Syrian/Russian forces? IAN SINCLAIR London E15
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
The UN just announced Aleppo is fast becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ and residents risk ‘extermination’. Not one of our governments is in there saving lives, but an extraordinary group of Syrians are: The WhiteHelmets.
73,530 lives in fact. That’s how many people they have saved, rushing to the scene of bombings to pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety.
What’s amazing is these heroes are just ordinary people — bakers, teachers, tailors — who felt they couldn’t stand by, and threw themselves right into the line of fire. For their bravery, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the $1 million of critical funding it comes with — but they lost!
Forget the Nobel Prize — together we have the power to give the WhiteHelmets the recognition they deserve and the funding they desperately need.
Avaaz will send them 100% of funds raised — let’s give hope to these heroes, and a country in need:
For their heroic efforts, WhiteHelmets volunteers are often targeted — Russian and Syrian regime planes bomb civilians, then circle back to bomb the rescue workers who scramble to help.
It’s just a part of the picture of horror that’s rocked Syria for almost six years and killed as many as 470,000 people. It’s become harder and harder to stop — and has turned into the greatest shame of our generation.
As the conflict continues to spiral, the WhiteHelmets are doing work that no one else can, or will. They’re standing up as heroes while the world watches and fails to stop the conflict. But they’re constantly struggling to keep their work going.
If enough of us pitch in a few pounds or dollars, we can replace equipment they’ve lost in the bombings, buy tools to pull concrete slabs off people buried in the rubble, and provide medical care for the wounded. Let’s help them get their people’s million — join in now:
The WhiteHelmets aren’t from an international aid organization, and they need every dollar they can get. They’re succeeding where the rest of the world is failing — in giving hope to millions of Syrians. Our community can join them, and keep up the fight for a safe, peaceful future in Syria.
Danny, Ricken, Mais, Alice, Spyro, Nataliya, Nick, and the rest of the Avaaz team
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This is to ask you to think about your organisation’s alliance with Boris Kagarlitsky, the Russian political commentator who supports war in Ukraine.
In a statement of 19 October, the Stop the War Coalition (STW) described Kagarlitsky as an “anti-war activist” and a “leader and organiser” of anti-government protests. The statement, responding to an inaccurate article in the Sunday Times, acknowledged that organisations Kagarlitsky works for are funded by the Kremlin, and claimed that this amounted to only “one grant for research”.
The statement is wrong. It is full of untruths, half-truths and obfuscations. In reality, (1) Kagarlitsky is not an “anti-war activist”, but a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine. (2) Kagarlitsky has been involved in anti-government protests, but since 2014 has become a collaborator with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists, and is reviled by Russian and Ukrainian anti-war activists for that reason. (3) Kagarlitsky has accepted funds from the Kremlin via various channels since at least 2009, and probably since 2005 – not “one grant for research”, but many grants.
I write as a lifelong participant in the labour movement and, for the last 25 years, a researcher of Russian and Ukrainian history, politics and economy. I have no interest in supporting the Sunday Times and its witch-hunts against Jeremy Corbyn. But witch-hunts have to be fought with the truth, and your organisation is not telling the truth. Here are some details on the three points mentioned.
Kagarlitsky is a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine
When the eastern Ukrainian separatists took up arms – the vast majority of which were brought in from Russia – in May 2014, Kagarlitsky unequivocally greeted their military action. The editorial board of Rabkor.ru, a site of which Kagarlitsky is the chief editor, stated that there was “no way towards peace [in eastern Ukraine] other than resistance [to the Kyiv government]. If the Russian government is presently supporting this resistance, then this must be used. Never mind that this support is completely inadequate and not especially genuine”.
This statement, headlined “The emptiness of pacifism”, described the flow of armed volunteers from Russia into eastern Ukraine – most of whom were led by fascists and ultranationalists, or organised by the criminals and thugs who rule the Chechen republic – as “the self-organising movement of solidarity with Novorossia [the Russian nationalists’ name for south-eastern Ukraine] on the territory of Russia”.
Kagarlitsky’s writing style is rambling and convoluted, and it is sometimes hard to tell which side of an argument, if any, he is taking. But his support for military action in south-eastern Ukraine has been unambiguous. His implicit criticism of the Russian government – which has provided diplomatic, financial, material and most likely military support for the separatists – has been for not supporting this action strongly enough.
In January this year, another leading author on Rabkor.ru, Vasily Koltashov, published a key strategic statement that argued: “For Russia’s development, and to raise the living standards of working people, what is needed is not peace with the west, but victory over the west in Eurasia. In Ukraine what we need is not a ceasefire, but the liberation of the country and its unification with Russia [i.e. war].” Kagarlitsky declared publicly that he was in “full agreement” with Koltashov.
Do you really think it is OK for the so-called “Stop the War” campaign to work with a commentator who has so clearly supported one side in a military conflict that has visited ruin on working-class communities and claimed more than 9000 lives?
Kagarlitsky collaborates with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists
Kagarlitsky has at least since 2014 collaborated politically with Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists. He participated in a meeting of the “Florian Geyer” club, headed by the rightwing Islamist Geydar Dzhemal and frequented by Russian fascists. He was photographed sharing a meal and drink with Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, a prominent member of Aleksandr Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement; Yevgeny Zhilin, leader of a far-right militia; and other ultra-nationalist politicians. The Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO), headed by Kagarlitsky, co-organised a conference in Crimea in July 2014 with the extreme nationalist “New Rus” organisation (which hypocritically called for “peace” in Ukraine but made no mention of military action by the Russian-supported separatists). Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru web site has regularly featured sympathetic reports of prominent fascists and ultra-right-wing mercenaries active in eastern Ukraine (recent examples here, here and here).
To my mind, Kagarlitsky’s links with people and organisations who support Dugin are truly shocking. Dugin is one of the most prominent advocates of “neo-Eurasianism”, a militarist and fascist-type ideology. (Academic writers on the Russian far right consider him to be fascist, rather than ultranationalist. See here.)
In 2014 Dugin famously called for the south-eastern Ukrainian separatists to “kill, kill and kill” their enemies. Just this month – in an article on one of his English-language web sites that featured Russian fascists doing military training – Dugin reiterated: “War with Ukraine is inevitable, but so far we have done only half of the task. […] We have united with Crimea, we have provided help to Novorossiya, but we didn’t liberate Novorossiya.”
Kagarlitsky also writes on the site, which is full of militaristic imagery, and has commented approvingly about the movement behind Donald Trump there (e.g. “the defeat of financial capital [i.e. Hillary Clinton], no matter who brings it about [in the US election], would open a new era in the development of Western society, inevitably strengthening the working class, and reviving its organizations”, etc).
Kagarlitsky’s dramatic turn to the right is abhored by most Russian anti-fascist, anti-war and socialist activists, and those who worked with him in the past now do not. For example your statement claims that his IGSO institute works most closely with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (KTR). But friends who are active in the KTR have contacted me to say that there has been little contact since 2007; that from the moment in 2014 that Kagarlitsky declared support for Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine they have broken off all contact with him; and that neither Kagarlitsky nor any other IGSO participant takes any part in the unions’ activities.
My question to supporters of STW is: it turns my stomach to see someone who claims to be a socialist collaborating with the likes of Dugin. Doesn’t it turn yours?
Kagarlitsky’s organisations have accepted funds from the Kremlin not once, but repeatedly.
Your statement implies that the financial support given by the Russian state to Kagarlitsky’s organisations was a one-off. It was not.
In 2008-09, reports and rumours circulated among left-wing Russians that Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru site was being financed by the Kremlin. A lengthy article by an investigative journalist showed that funding and support for the site was arranged with the help of Vadim Gorshenin, a Kremlin-connected media manager who ran (and still runs) the pro-government Pravda.ru.
I heard about these reports in March 2010. Having been acquainted with Kagarlitsky since 1990, and having in 2009 had contact with him after a long gap, I emailed him to say that “various people, Russians and foreigners who know Russia, have said to me that Rabkor.ru is financed by the Kremlin, that it’s a Surkov project [i.e. inspired by the leading Putin ideologue, then deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov], and so on”. I said that I didn’t believe rumours and wanted to ask him for his comments.
His answer started: “Rabkor is financed from money that IGSO has managed to raised from various grants. We received funds from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation, from the Ebert fund, and also from the Soyuz fund, which is considered to be pro-Kremlin. And in November 2009 we received a grant from the Civic Chamber, which we use to rent an office. We never hid this, and essentially the source of the rumours is speculation about evidence that we ourselves gave completely publicly. We receive the grants for research and publications or seminars based on it, and then we re-distribute the amounts. And a condition for cooperation with any funds, including foreign ones, is non-interference with the political line of IGSO and Rabkor.”
I kept the text of this email exchange (downloadable here). I also replied to Kagarlitsky that I believed that taking funds from such state bodies as the Civic Chamber – set up with the explicit purpose of strengthening government influence over civil society – was extremely problematic. His response, if I remember correctly, was to express disappointment that his organisations had not been better supported by their collaborators in the west, and that it was after all necessary to raise funds from somewhere. I thought that further correspondence was pointless.
The point about this now is that, when STW states that Kagarlitsky’s organisation “has received one grant for research into trade unions from a government body, but is an independent NGO”, this is not true. His organisations received money from the Kremlin since before 2005 (according to Stringer.ru); from some time before 2009 from the Kremlin via the state’s Civic Chamber and the “pro-Kremlin” (Kagarlitsky’s words) Soyuz fund (according to Kagarlitsky’s email to me); and in 2013-14 (according to the STW web site).
My question to STW supporters is: given Kagarlitsky’s support for Russian action in eastern Ukraine, and his closeness to the ultranationalist Dugin do you not think that STW should ask Kagarlitsky to clarify the extent of the Kremlin’s financial support for his projects? And don’t you think that it’s important to tell the truth about these things on the STW web site?
These are not side issues. The question of how the anti-war movement relates to the Russian state, and to the ultranationalists and fascists in its shadow, is central. If it doesn’t get this right, it is not an anti-war movement at all.
If STW supporters or anyone else want to discuss the issues, please email me at simonpirani[at]gmail.com.
As he faces questioning in London, the liberal left must accept the significant role the WikiLeaks founder is playing in Trump’s presidential campaign
Donald Trump is the greatest threat to Western civilisation we have faced since the fall of the Berlin Wall. If elected, he threatens to jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He is emboldening the cranks and racists of the alt-right and destabilising the American people’s faith in their democratic institutions with his loose talk that the system is “rigged”. And, even though Trump represents a virulent strain of hard-right populism, he is being helped along by a hero of the libertarian left – Julian Assange.
Assange’s alliance with Donald Trump looks, on the face of it, like one of the most unusual political alliances in recent history. The players in this dangerous alliance may share a fondness for the conservative patriarchy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia but, for Assange, Trump is part of his calculations to escape his room in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge. A presidential pardon may stop him facing jail in the US (though no charges have been brought against him there so far), but it won’t stop his extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
Assange’s political influence only remains because too many on the left have made half a decade’s worth of excuses for him.
For a brief moment, Julian Assange looked like the future. The hacker-turned-activist had the vision to co-found WikiLeaks and turn it into the world’s number one whistleblowing platform. He was hailed as the spirit incarnate of the internet; a man willing to face prison to let people know the truth about corruption in their governments and corporations. It is easy to forget how influential WikiLeaks once was.
The organisation had an inner circle of highly skilled data analysts and journalists working across the globe on leaked documents. When WikiLeaks published US embassy cables on President Ben Ali’s pilfering of state assets for shopping trips in Paris, it helped trigger the uprising in Tunisia.
Assange inspired an era of whistleblowing, from Edward Snowden exposing illegal US and UK surveillance, to the Panama Papers that showed the extent of global tax avoidance. Assange was powerful, seemingly above the law, and attracting international attention. A minority of journalists dared ask the question: who can hold the whistleblowers to account?
On 20 August 2010, two women entered a Stockholm police station and asked police to ensure Assange took an HIV test. The women allege that Assange had committed rape and sexual assault, charges Assange denies. He was due to be interviewed by police on 14 October 2010, but instead fled Sweden for London in late September.
Wikileaks accuses unnamed ‘state party’ of cutting Assange’s internet
People around Assange began to trash the reputations of the two women involved saying they were motivated by “malice and money”. Others said the allegations were part of a sinister CIA plot to destroy WikiLeaks. Few of Assange’s celebrity friends were willing to ask the question, what if Assange had committed sexual assault.
The law in Sweden means the charge of sexual assault has already expired and the rape charge will expire in 2020. He is now due to be questioned again by Swedish prosecutors inside the Ecudorian Embassy.
By now, you may have expected a chorus of voices from the liberal-left calling for Assange to return to Sweden to face questioning. If he was innocent, why could he not be questioned on these serious charges? Instead, people made excuses.
The excuses continued when months later, Padraig Reidy and I exposed damning evidence that suggested a close associate of Assange had given top secret US embassy cables to the dictator of Belarus, which may have landed brave democracy activists in prison. At first, we heard nothing. It took a former WikiLeaks staffer, James Ball, to blow the whistle for us to be taken seriously: ironically, now leaks were exposing an apparent cover-up culture at WikiLeaks.
Trump wants Hillary Clinton to take a drugs test
It is because prominent people have made personal and professional excuses for Assange that he feels beyond reproach – even as he alienates those closest to him. Emboldened, Assange is going for his greatest ever prize: the US presidency.
WikiLeaks is leading the attack on Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, with leaks that have so far cost the job of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the former Democrat party chair. Just last Thursday, another 2,000 internal emails from the Clinton campaign were released. And moments after the infamous video of Trump allegedly boasting about groping women was put online, Wikileaks responded with leaked emails of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street banks.
Robert Mackey of The Intercept, a site that has done much to give whistleblowers a global voice, says WikiLeaks has “started to look more like the stream of an opposition research firm working mainly to undermine Hillary Clinton than the updates of a non-partisan platform for whistleblowers.”
It seems odd that the world’s most prominent whistleblowing website has leaked nothing on Donald Trump and his mysterious tax records, yet is leaking the personal details of Democrat party donors. It seems highly likely that Wikileaks received these leaked emails from hackers working for the Russian Government.
With ammunition from Wikileaks, Trump is hammering home his case that the first female nominee from a major party for the presidency is unfit for office. Trump has lavished WikiLeaks with praise, telling a rally in Pennsylvania, “I love Wikileaks”.
It is claimed that support for Wikileaks is rising among US right-wingers. FoxNews TV shock jock Sean Hannity went as far telling Assange in a live interview, “I do hope you get free one day.” This is perhaps Assange’s strategy – damage Clinton (who ran the State Department when Assange leaked the embassy cables) to secure a Trump win and a presidential pardon.
I’ve written at length about Obama’s war on whistleblowers and the appalling record of the Democrat party in prosecuting brave Americans who speak out about their government’s human rights abuses. I would support any campaign to prevent Julian Assange’s extradition to the US, where the law would prevent him from running a public interest defence for his disclosures and would likely see him placed in jail alongside Chelsea Manning, who has suffered disgracefully at the hands of the US government.
If Donald Trump becomes US President, it will be in no small way thanks to the efforts of Julian Assange. After they’ve defended Assange against allegations of rape and helping the dictator of Belarus, will the liberal left continue to defend him if he gets Trump elected?
Mike Harris is the founder and director of 89up and the publisher of Little Atoms magazine
These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late – George Orwell, Looking Back At the Spanish War, 1943.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments came after Labour’s Ann Clwyd urged those who care about the plight of Syrian civilians to gather outside Russian embassies across the globe until the country stops its bombing campaign.
Johnson also called for a war crimes investigation into the bombing of an aid convoy last month in which at least 21 people died.
Today host, Sarah Montague, began the segment on Wednesday morning by asking what the Stop the War Coalition was doing to oppose the conflict.
Nineham said: “We are we’re protesting with statements and our information that we’ve put out. We’ve condemned not just Russia but all foreign interventions into what is now an absolutely disastrous and horrible situation for the Syrian people.
“But we were set up as a coalition as a response to 9/11 and in response to the Western, British-supported drive to war back in 2001 and that is our focus.
“There’s a good reason for that…”
Montague interrupted, pointing out “we are in 2016 now” with a conflict raging in which “Aleppo is being destroyed”.
She added: “You have a Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, saying ‘where’s the rage, we should have two million, three million, four million people outside the Russian embassy…’
“Should people demonstrate outside the Russian embassy?”
Nineham replied: “This is not a serious argument being put [forward] by Boris Johnson, he’s characteristically trivialising the situation. If they want to protest outside the Russian embassy, they know where it is.”
When asked if Stop the War would get involved in such demonstrations, Nineham replied: “No we wouldn’t and the reason for that is that our focus is on what our government is doing.
“As I was saying, there’s a very good reason for this because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.
“But if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Putin does because we are in the West and we are in Britain.
“And not only that but a protest outside the Russian embassy would actually contribute to increasing the hysteria and the jingoism that is being whipped up at the minute to go against Russia… being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.”
Montague said: “So you would urge people not to demonstrate against Russia?”
Nineham replied: “We’re not worried about it but what we’re saying is that there’s a hysteria that’s being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.
“The real problem here is you have people who regard themselves as responsible politicians like Andrew Mitchell and John Woodcock and Boris Johnson to a lesser extent who are seriously saying that what Syria needs is more Western bombs, more Western munitions.
“And Andrew Mitchell actually came on this programme yesterday and seriously said it wouldn’t be a problem if RAF fighter pilots attacked Russian planes.”
Nineham went on: “The possibility now presents itself of there being a confrontation for the first time since the Second World War, between Russia and Western powers including Britain.
“And anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that…”
At this point Montague cut off the interview but Nineham managed to get in a last few words.
“… and that means opposing the West.”
The Stop The War Coalition has now confirmed what many of us have been saying for a long while: the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is now merely a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” lash-up with Putin, Assad and any reactionary force or regime that happens to find itself in conflict with the West.
The STWC has made a conscious decision not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action (the main political forces within the STWC) are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
Photo: Injured being treated in Aleppo, 25 September 2016, via @HadiAlabdallah.
From a call with Aleppo local council yesterday: SyriaUK:How are you?
Aleppo Council: This situation is the worst we have ever seen, a never ending nightmare, shelling is non-stop throughout the night when there’s no electricity or lights, people are unable to sleep. We also get shelled in the day, but less frequently.The bunker buster missiles used are causing massive shock waves; some buildings are collapsing without being targeted due to the effects of shock waves. These missiles are particularly designed to target underground shelters, so people have nowhere to hide. We woke up yesterday to a building that fell purely because of shock waves, forty people died.
To make matters worse, we are under siege, the markets are empty and we have nothing at all.
How can we help? What would you like us to do?
The whole world knows about what is going on in Aleppo, it is no secret. There was a special UN session about Aleppo today and world leaders kept rehashing the same lines. We know they do not care and will do nothing, but maybe if the general public are aware they would pressure their governments to do something. Make them aware how many types of bombs and missiles are being used against us. We are being shelled with five different types of bombs and missiles: napalm; phosphorous; cluster; barrel bombs; and bunker buster bombs.
SYRIAN GROUPS IN THE UK CALL FOR AIRCRAFT TRACKING, AIRDROPS, AND A NO-BOMBING ZONE
On Monday night an air attack by pro Assad forces destroyed a Red Crescent aid convoy and killed at least 12 people including Omar Barakat, Red Crescent director in Orem al-Kubra, Aleppo province.
The convoy had travelled from regime held territory into opposition territory so was known to the regime. A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence prior to the attack appears to show that the aid convoy was under Russian drone surveillance at some point before it was hit by an airstrike.
Both Russia and the Assad regime have denied responsibility.
The only area to receive UN aid today Tuesday was regime-held Deir Ezzor by World Food Programme airdrop. Deir Ezzor has received regular airdrops for months now (107 WFP airdrops up to 31 August) while no opposition held area has received a single one despite a UK-proposed and ISSG-agreed deadline of 1 June for airdrops and air bridges to several besieged communities.
The events around yesterday’s aid convoy bombing show the need for aircraft tracking, airdrops, and a no-bombing zone in Syria.
ON AIRCRAFT TRACKING, we have recently been briefing Foreign Office and DfID officials on this option. The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The need for this is clearly illustrated by Russian and Assad regime denials over yesterday’s aid convoy bombing.
ON AIRDROPS, the UK has the experience and the capacity to airdrop food and medical aid to besieged communities from its bases in Cyprus. The UK has the military might to deter attacks on its aircraft. Suitable partners on the ground are available through UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and others to coordinate drop zones and aid distribution.
ON A NO-BOMBING ZONE, it is approaching a year now since Jo Cox set out the case in Parliament for ‘deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.’
A no-bombing zone does not require boots on the ground; does not require air patrols in Syrian airspace; does not require bombing Syrian air defences; does not require coming into armed conflict with Russia.
A no-bombing zone requires giving the Assad regime an ultimatum to stop air attacks against civilians, and then answering any subsequent air attacks with carefully targeted strikes against Assad regime military assets. It is a measured, proportionate proposal to save countless lives and open the door to peace.
We have heard the ‘no military solution’ mantra repeated about Syria for over five years. We need a political solution, but diplomacy without pressure has failed again and again to deliver a political solution, and all that time the Assad regime backed by Russia has continued military action against Syria’s civilian population, driving people to flee and destroying any hope for an inclusive political settlement.
It is time to learn from over five years of failure and act to end the killing in Syria.
The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.