Eric S. Margolis

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in globally recognized newspapers and He appears as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC. As a war correspondent Margolis has covered conflicts in Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Sinai, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was among the first journalists to ever interview Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi and was among the first to be allowed access to KGB headquarters in Moscow.

Playing With Matches is Dangerous

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Truth is always the first casualty of war – and no less so than the current conflict in Ukraine. Russia insists it’s a localized police action to uproot a new Nazi uprising. Ukraine, which has become a US protectorate, insists it’s fighting to halt Russian aggression against a freedom-seeking nation. No mention that Ukrainians used to be called Russians.

For interesting contrast, go back to the first Chechen War from 1994 to 1996 and the second one from 1999 to 2009. The 1.4 million Chechen, a fierce Muslim people of the Caucasus Mountains, who had been battling Russian imperial expansion for 300 years, rose up and waged two David v. Goliath wars to regain their freedom from Russia.

In the first war, Chechen fighters routed Russian forces. Moscow agreed to independence for the Chechen Islamic Republic. But then hardliners, led by security chief Vladimir Putin, resumed the war after a staged fake bombing of Moscow apartments by the renamed KGB, the SVR that killed 200-300 people.

At that time, the US was actively supporting the Yeltsin regime in Moscow, particularly so with massive financial aid. Yeltsin had long-established links to CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.

The US refused to help the Chechen resistance or recognize its fight for independence. I know this because I was closely following this tragic story and trying to raise some support for free Chechnya.

As fighting raged in Chechnya, the US called on the then Chechen leader, Gen, Dzhokhar Dudayev, to negotiate with Boris Yeltsin. Dudayev was given a special mobile phone supposedly connected to one held by Yeltsin for the ’peace talks.’

As so as Dudayev and Yeltsin were connected, a covert US aircraft launched a missile that homed in on Dudayev’s phone receiver. The Chechen leader was blown to bits. With further help from US intelligence, the Chechen resistance was relentlessly ground down and eliminated. Chechens were arrested and tortured en masse in so-called Russian ‘filtration camps.’ A Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, was named ‘gauleiter’ of Chechnya. Chechen leaders were hunted down and assassinated by KGB or Kadyrov’s agents.

Chechnya was literally thrown to the wolves by the US. What a contrast this is to the current situation in Ukraine which has been flooded by $15-20 billion of modern US weapons in recent months and aided by a massive propaganda campaign directed by the US and Britain.

Unlike 1991, the US sees the war in Ukraine as a rare chance to tear a big chunk of Russia away or even go on to crush the Russian Federation into fragments. Many Ukrainians would be happy to see this outcome. The memory of how Stalin’s USSR starved or shot some six million Ukrainians in the 1920’s and 1930’s lingers among the older generation.

But younger Ukrainians must question what will happen if their war with Russia continues. Will Ukraine invade Russia and try to regain Crimea? Will the US or some European powers support an attack on Crimea? Poland and Britain are already deeply involved in the war. Who will be next?

The right wing of the US Democratic Party, now in power, is far more warlike and anti-Russian than most Americans realize. In fact, it’s the real `war party.’

If this half-baked war continues, the risks of a nuclear or chemical confrontation grow daily. So does an accidental clash in the Black Sea between Russia and the US. Off on the sidelines the Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Egyptians. Iranians and Israelis may be spoiling for a fight.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

Farewell Gorbachev

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It was an unforgettable evening in Moscow.

I was taken by Russian friends to the city’s then largest cathedral which had been closed for decades by Stalin’s orders.

Amid clouds of incense and the glow of countless candles, a chorus sang the old Orthodox liturgy. Most of the worshippers openly wept. This was the first time that Russians had been allowed to celebrate Orthodox Christmas mass since the 1930’s. Though not myself religious, I was swept away by the deep emotions and beauty of the moment.

The new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had allowed his nation’s churches to reopen. This historic act, and a host of other liberalizations, restored Russia to its cultural roots and brought a dawn to the benighted Soviet Union after the dark Communist times.

Mikhail Gorbachev, a soft-spoken bureaucrat from the rural Stavropol region, seemed unlikely to assume leadership of the mighty Soviet Union. But three previous chairmen of the Union had died from age-related infirmities. The Communist Party’s ruling circles decided that their nations needed youth, rejuvenation and a battle against corruption.

So Gorbachev was named the new party chairman. He wasted no time in unleashing a torrent of reforms known a ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika.’ Gorbachev was hugely aided in this revolution by the tough KGB chief of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze whose primary role in Gorbachev’s revolution was not understood by the west. We used to call him ‘Chevy Eddy.’ He enjoyed this sobriquet.

Gorbachev wanted a Europeanized, liberal Russia living in harmony with the western powers. He partly dismantled the fearsome KGB, guardian of the communist party. I interviewed the KGB’s two most senior officers at the notorious Lubyanka Prison and learned of their tentative support for Gorbachev’s reforms.

The most important action taken by Gorbachev was his refusal to use force against ethnic nationalists in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Central Asia and, increasingly, Eastern Europe. Force and fear had held the old Soviet Union together. Once removed, the union quickly began to disintegrate.

Gorbachev also sought to end the Cold War confrontation with the US and its allies, rightly understanding that the USSR could not sustain a ruinous military confrontation with the western powers. Russia at one time had 50,000 tanks and 5,000 nuclear warheads but no food in its miserable markets.

So Gorbachev bravely called an end to the Cold War and embarked on nuclear disarmament programs. He ended the hopeless war in Afghanistan and recalled the Red Army. As rebellions erupted in East Germany, the Baltics and Central Asia a bunch of drunken Communist Party bigwigs tried to overthrow Gorbachev in August 1991 while he was vacationing in Crimea. The coup was a comic fiasco, but it ended Gorbachev’s authority. Boris Yeltsin, secretly supported by the US and Britain, seized power.

The USSR collapsed, splintering into pieces. Gorbachev and his allies were unwilling to employ brute force to stop the process. Had they done so, nuclear war with the US and NATO would have been likely. While Gorbachev avoided war and allowed the historic reunification of Germany, the US invaded Iraq. Many Russians warned that the US was determined to destroy the Russian Union. Washington’s vows not to expand NATO east turned out to be untruths that delivered the final fatal blow to Gorbachev. He became the most reviled man in Russia, an outcast in his own country. His lovely, cultured wife Raisa was denounced as a snob, but she would form the model for modern Russian women, transformed from dumpy versions of Mrs. Khrushchev into stunning beauties.

Former President Mikhail Gorbachev died last week aged 91 after a long illness. Like the late US president Jimmy Carter, he struggled to spare the world from the threat of nuclear war. He made many mistakes, but Gorby was a great man, a great statesman and a great human being.

Rest in peace, Mikhail Sergeyevich. I salute you.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

The Great Million-Man Swim

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3 mins read

They used to call it `the million-man swim.’  That was the US Navy’s sneering dismissal of any Chinese attempt to seize the island of Taiwan by a massive amphibious invasion.

The US Navy’s strike carriers, submarines and surface combatants, backed by the Marines and Army in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Guam, would tear to shreds any Chinese invasion force.  That, at least, was a decade ago. 

Today things look very differently.  US naval and air power in the western Pacific have declined by about 20%.  America is tired after waging its decade-long war in Afghanistan, which cost $1 trillion and achieved none of the US imperial goals.  While the US was blowing up Afghan villages and paying off Afghan mercenaries, the Chinese were diligently building up their amphibious and air forces.  Their goal was conquering next door Taiwan.

I’ve been over some of Taiwan’s fixed defenses.  Many of the island’s beaches are amenable to amphibious operations.  Rugged mountains with many caves further inland.  In short, excellent defensive topography.  Taiwan’s armed forces are well trained and motivated. Most Taiwanese appear to prefer independence from Red China and their current democratic system.  Taiwan is also the world’s leading producer of high-tech computer chips.  The world electronic industry would grind to a halt without Taiwan’s chips.

China makes a huge noise over Taiwan as it tries to whip up nationalism.  In fact, not so many Chinese care about Taiwan aside from a few slogans and drumbeating.  But it has become the Pacific’s version of Alsace Lorraine, a permanent ‘casus belli’ that provides the politicians with grist for their mills.  Interestingly, whether Taiwan has ever really been a part of China – or maybe of Japan – is uncertain. 

However, the rugged island appears fated to become of Greater China.  Those other non-Han Chinese regions, Tibet, Mongolia, and Eastern Turkestan have been absorbed into China.  This leaves northern Manchuria as the last remaining region of the former Chinese Empire.  It is ruled by Russia – at least for now.  Interestingly, I once asked a senior Chinese intelligence general how long it would take for China to capture the Russian port of Vladivostok, Russia’s principal Far East port.

‘Two days,’ he replied.

Confrontation over Taiwan has simmered between the US and China since the 1950’s when anti-communist Chinese forces fled from the mainland to Taiwan, or Formosa as it used to be called.  War almost erupted in the 1950’s over the small, Nationalist Chinese offshore islands of Matsu and Quemoy.  This could happen again.

To understand just how angry US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s whistlestop visit made the prickly Chinese, imagine if a delegation of Chinese Communist officials went to the US state of Hawaii and proclaimed its ‘independence’ from Washington.  The US has a less than noble record in Hawaii.  American planters staged a coup that overthrew its legitimate Hawaiian government and annexed the territory – rather as the US recently did in Ukraine.

What will Chinese do next?  Probably huff and puff and impose a limited naval blockade on the independent island.  Taiwan relies on maritime and air trade so any punitive Chinese action would be highly painful.  A full blockade cutting off oil, food, medicine and spare parts would be catastrophic.

In the recent past, China would not have managed to effectively blockade the island.  Its ‘brown water’ coastal navy could not confront the mighty US Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait.  Hence the ‘million-man swim.’  By wasting billions on useless colonial wars, the US has seriously weakened its naval and air forces.  Washington’s Asian allies are not anxious to go to war with China over Taiwan.

As Soviet Brezhnev used to say, ‘quantity has its own quality.’  The US Navy is a superb, deadly military instrument.  But China now has more warships, subs and coastal aircraft.  Even so, its military forces would be decimated.  But they could also impose severe damage on US Naval forces, notably with their new DF-21 anti-ship missile – if it really works as well as advertised.  In this case, US aircraft carriers could be in jeopardy.  The same applies to Chinese submarines firing volleys of anti-ship missiles.

Having said that, I’ve been at sea on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and nuclear attack submarine Minneapolis St. Paul and can attest to their crew’s impressive skills and professionalism.  Those skills began at the battle of Midway and Guadalcanal in WWII.  The Chinese are still in day one of naval school. 

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022