In recent days, two pieces of news related to China have widely caught the eyes in Sri Lanka. Early this month, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sneaky visit to China’s TaiwanMore
China is the first official bilateral creditor to have taken the initiative to announce debt extension to Sri Lanka. This speaks to China’s sincerity and action to support Sri Lanka’s effort to achieve debt sustainability, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning yesterday told the reporters at Regular Press Conference.
The complete statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry is as follows;
Shenzhen TV: It is learned that the Export-Import Bank of China has provided Sri Lanka a letter as required, offering an extension on the debt service due in the next two years and saying it would like to have friendly consultation with Sri Lanka regarding medium and long-term debt treatment. Can you confirm this?
Mao Ning: On January 19, the Export-Import Bank of China, as the official bilateral creditor, provided a financing support document to the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies of Sri Lanka, saying the Bank is going to provide an extension on the debt service due in 2022 and 2023, which means Sri Lanka will not have to repay the principal and interest due of the Bank’s loans during the above-mentioned period, so as to help relieve Sri Lanka’s short-term debt repayment pressure; meanwhile, the Bank would like to have friendly consultation with Sri Lanka regarding medium- and long-term debt treatment in this window period; and the Bank will make best efforts to contribute to the debt sustainability of Sri Lanka. The Bank also noted that it will support Sri Lanka in its loan application to the IMF; in the meantime, the Bank will continuously call on commercial creditors (including the International Sovereign Bondholders) to provide debt treatment in an equally comparable manner, and encourage multilateral creditors to do their utmost to make corresponding contributions.
As we have said several times, as a friendly neighbor and true friend, China has been providing assistance for Sri Lanka’s economic and social development to the best of our capabilities. The financing support document is aimed at combining an “immediate contingency measure” and “medium- and long-term debt treatment” to rapidly, effectively and truly resolve Sri Lanka’s debt issue. As far as I have learned, China is the first official bilateral creditor to have taken the initiative to announce debt extension to Sri Lanka. This speaks to China’s sincerity and action to support Sri Lanka’s effort to achieve debt sustainability.
China calls on all other creditors of Sri Lanka, especially multilateral creditors, to take synchronized, similar steps and give effective, strong support to Sri Lanka to help the country emerge from its default status at an early date and eventually work out an arrangement for Sri Lanka to achieve medium- and long-term debt sustainability. China also calls on the IMF to take into full consideration the urgency of the situation in Sri Lanka and provide loan support as soon as possible to relieve the country’s liquidity strain.
Going forward, China will continue to support relevant financial institutions in actively working out the debt treatment. We will work with relevant countries and international financial institutions to jointly play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, ease its debt burden and achieve sustainable development.
The Taliban administration in Kabul known variously as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [self-declared] or Defacto authorities remained defiant over international and regional stakeholders’ request for observing universal human rights particularly towards women and the media. The Taliban claimed that the world must honor its culture and traditions which are based on interpretation of the Sharia by the top religious leadership led by Mullah Hibatullah, known as the Supreme Authority.
Numerous delegations from the United Nations, Organization for Islamic Cooperation, international and regional stakeholders visited Afghanistan in the month of January seeking the Taliban to open education for women and permit them to work in the NGO sector. A number of stakeholders visited Afghanistan during the month to appeal to the Taliban to mainstream with international human rights amongst other issues. The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous visited Kabul and met with the Taliban authorities to discuss Afghan women’s rights and other issues.
Minister Muutaqi expressed his gratitude and hoped that the UN delegation would portray Afghanistan’s true image to the international community. “Women are engaged in educational and health sectors in significant numbers whereas those who used to work in government offices are paid salaries at home. The number of female inmates has reduced considerably, and broad facilities have been provided in the business sector,” Muttaqi said. Muttaqi also reiterated that not recognizing the Afghan government, travel bans on the Islamic Emirate authorities and restrictions on the banking system have led to numerous problems. While the senior Taliban officials met the delegation and appeared ready to engage in a discussion on women’s rights, but there were no serious breakthroughs, or even major progress, on getting the country’s rulers to back down on their policies on women’s rights.
The Organizations of the Islamic Cooperation held an extraordinary meeting on Afghanistan in Jeddah aimed at “considering the situation in Afghanistan following the decisions taken by the de facto Afghan authorities to close down schools and universities to girls and women for an unspecified period and suspend women from working in all national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in violation of the purposes of Islamic law and the methodology of the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad.” Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) continued the distribution of aid to at least 47,400 vulnerable families in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has blatantly ignored the appeals by organisations and high officials as Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General for reversing the ban on education for women.
There has been only limited breakthrough in this direction as the Taliban continued to defy these requests. In the interim the Group has tightened conservative religious edicts and implementation such as public flogging for crime.
On January 28, Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education issued a new decree banning female students from taking university entrance exams (Kankor) this year in all public and private universities in Afghanistan. The international benevolence towards the hardline extremist Taliban regime is based on the empathy for the Afghan people who have suffered for the past many decades and in case ignored now may fall into the trap of extreme penury, human suffering and loss of lives of the most vulnerable essentially the children.
The aid and assistance to the Taliban includes packages of hard cash flowing in the country sustaining the economy and providing for the peoples livelihood to some extent despite a very harsh winter. There are apparently no signs of weakening of the Taliban resolve to maintain its ideological extreme beliefs even though some amongst them have from time to time called for a change.
These latter voices are few and far between and are coming mainly from officials who are in Kabul the capital whereas the ideological edicts have been issued from Kandahar the clerical headquarters of the de facto authorities. Under the circumstances hoping for a change of approach in Afghanistan soon is unlikely.
Source: Security Risks Research
Following a comment made by the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland’s during her visit to Sri Lanka, China said US should show some sincerity and actually do something to help the island nation.
Responding to Nuland’s statement that the terms extended by China to Sri Lanka for getting IMF debt relief are not enough, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said in a regular press conference on Thursday, that what was said by the US side does not reflect the truth.
The US Under Secretary said the US expects China, as the largest bilateral creditor to Sri Lanka, to give credible and specific assurance that matches IMF’s standard on debt restructuring.
The Spokesperson said the Export-Import Bank of China has already provided Sri Lanka with a letter to express support for its debt sustainability and Sri Lanka has responded positively and thanked China for that.
“Rather than jabbing fingers at China’s close cooperation with Sri Lanka, the US might as well show some sincerity and actually do something to help Sri Lanka weather through the current difficulties,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson retaliated.
Spokesperson Mao Ning said as a friendly neighbour and true friend, China has been closely following the difficulties and challenges facing Sri Lanka and providing assistance for its economic and social development to the best of its capabilities.
“As to Sri Lanka’s debt to the Chinese side, we support Chinese financial institutions in having consultations with Sri Lanka to seek a proper settlement,” she added.
When asked whether there is any conversation or talk between China and the IMF where the IMF has confirmed that China’s assurances are credible and enough for the IMF to disburse the debt relief financial support, the Spokesperson said China supports the Chinese financial institutions in having consultations with Sri Lanka to seek a proper settlement to its China-related debt issue.
“China stands ready to work with relevant countries and international financial institutions and continue to play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, easing its debt burden and helping it achieve sustainable development,” Spokesperson Mao Ning said at the regular press conference.
Nearly a year in, the war in Ukraine has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and brought the world to the brink of, in President Joe Biden’s own words, “Armageddon.” Alongside the literal battlefield, there has been a similarly bitter intellectual battle over the war’s causes.
Commentators have rushed to declare the long-criticized policy of NATO expansion as irrelevant to the war’s outbreak, or as a mere fig leaf used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to mask what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called “his messianic mission” to “reestablish the Russian Empire,” in a Washington Post opinion piece. Fiona Hill, a presidential adviser to two Republican administrations, has deemed these views merely the product of a “Russian information war and psychological operation,” resulting in “masses of the U.S. public… blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome.”
Yet a review of the public record and dozens of diplomatic cables made publicly available via WikiLeaks show that U.S. officials were aware, or were directly told over the span of years that expanding NATO was viewed by Russian officials well beyond Putin as a major threat and provocation; that expanding it to Ukraine was a particularly bright red line for Moscow; that such action would inflame and empower hawkish, nationalist parts of the Russian political spectrum; and that it could ultimately lead to war.
In a particularly prophetic set of warnings, U.S. officials were told that pushing for Ukrainian membership in NATO would not only increase the chance of Russian meddling in the country but also risked destabilizing the divided nation—and that the United States and other NATO officials pressured Ukrainian leaders to reshape this unfriendly public opinion in response. All of this was told to U.S. officials in both public and private by not just senior Russian officials going all the way up to the presidency, but by NATO allies, various analysts and experts, liberal Russian voices critical of Putin, and even, sometimes, U.S. diplomats themselves.
This history is particularly relevant as U.S. officials now test the red line China has drawn around Taiwan’s independence, risking military escalation that will first and foremost be aimed at the island state. The U.S. diplomatic record regarding NATO expansion suggests the perils of ignoring or outright crossing another military power’s red lines and the wisdom of a more restrained foreign policy that treats other powers’ spheres of influence with the same care they extend to the United States.
An Early Exception
NATO expansion had been fraught from the start. The pro-Western, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin had told then-U.S. President Bill Clinton he “[saw] nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed” with plans to renege on the verbal promises made years earlier not to extend NATO eastward, and warned that this move would be “sowing the seeds of mistrust” and would “be interpreted, and not only in Russia, as the beginning of a new split in Europe.” Just as containment architect George Kennan had predicted, the decision to go ahead with NATO expansion helped inflame Russian hostility and nationalism: The Duma (the Russian parliament) declared it “the largest military threat to our country over the last 50 years,” while the leader of the opposition Communist Party called it “a Treaty of Versailles for Russia.”
By the time Putin became president the day before the new millennium, “the initial hopes and plans of the early ’90s [were] dead,” a leading liberal Russian politician declared. The first round of NATO enlargement was followed by the organization bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, which was done without the UN Security Council authorization, and triggered Russia to cut off contact with the alliance. By 2000, the revised Russian national security strategy warned that NATO’s use of force beyond its borders would be seen as “a threat of destabilization of the whole strategic situation,” while military officers and politicians started claiming “that if NATO expands further, it would ‘create a base to intervene in Russia itself,’” the Washington Post reported.
Ironically, there would be one exception to the next two decades’ worth of rising tensions over NATO’s eastward expansion that followed: the early years of Putin’s presidency, when the new Russian president defied the Russian establishment to try and make outreach to the United States. Under Putin, Moscow reestablished relations with NATO, finally ratified the START II arms control treaty, and even publicly floated the idea of Russia eventually joining the alliance, inviting attacks from his political rivals for doing so. Even so, Putin continued to raise Moscow’s traditional concerns about the alliance’s expansion, telling NATO’s secretary-general it was “a threat to Russia” in February 2001.
“[I]f a country like Russia feels threatened, this would destabilize the situation in Europe and the entire world,” he said in a speech in Berlin in 2000.
Putin softened his opposition as he sought to make common cause with then-President George W. Bush administration. “If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” he said in October 2001, drawing attacks from political rivals and other Russian elites.
As NATO for the first time granted Russia a consultative role in its decision-making in 2002, Putin sought to assist its expansion. Then-Italian President Silvio Berlusconi made a “personal request” to Bush, according to an April 2002 cable, to “understand Putin’s domestic requirements,” that he “needs to be seen as part of the NATO family,” and to give him “help in building Russian public opinion to support NATO enlargement.” In another cable, a top-ranking U.S. State Department official urged holding a NATO-Russia summit to “help President Putin neutralize opposition to enlargement,” after the Russian leader said allowing NATO expansion without an agreement on a new NATO-Russia partnership would be politically impossible for him.
This would be the last time any Russian openness toward NATO expansion was recorded in the diplomatic record published by WikiLeaks.
Allies Weigh In
By the middle of the 2000s, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated, partly owing to Putin’s bristling at U.S. criticism of his growing authoritarianism at home, and to U.S. opposition to his meddling in the 2004 Ukrainian election. But as explained in a September 2007 cable by then-President of New Eurasia Foundation Andrey Kortunov, now director general of the Russian International Affairs Council—who has publicly criticized both Kremlin policy and the current war—United States mistakes were also to blame, including Bush’s invasion of Iraq and a general sense that he had given little in return for Putin’s concessions.
“Putin had clearly embarked on an ‘integrationist’ foreign policy at the beginning of his second presidential term, which was fueled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and good relations with key leaders like President Bush” and other leading NATO allies, Kortunov said according to the cable. “However,” he said, “a string of perceived anti-Russian initiatives,” which included Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and “further expansion of NATO,” ultimately “dashed Putin’s hopes.”
What followed was a steady drumbeat of warnings about NATO’s expansion, particularly regarding neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, much of it from Washington’s NATO allies.
“[Former French presidential diplomatic adviser Maurice] Gourdault-Montagne warned that the question of Ukrainian accession to NATO remained extremely sensitive for Moscow, and concluded that if there remained one potential cause for war in Europe, it was Ukraine,” reads a September 2005 cable. “He added that some in the Russian administration felt we were doing too much in their core zone of interest, and one could wonder whether the Russians might launch a move similar to Prague in 1968, to see what the West would do.”
This was just one of many similar warnings from French officials that admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO “would cross Russian ‘tripwires’,” for instance. A February 2007 cable records then-French Director General for Political Affairs Gérard Araud’s recounting of “a half-hour anti-U.S. harangue” by Putin in which he “linked all the dots” of Russian unhappiness with U.S. behavior, including “U.S. unilateralism, its denial of the reality of multipolarity, [and] the anti-Russian nature of NATO enlargement.”
Germany likewise raised repeated concerns about a potentially bad Russian reaction to a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia, with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel stressing that Ukraine’s entry was particularly sensitive. “While Georgia was ‘just a bug on the skin of the bear,’ Ukraine was inseparably identified with Russia, going back to Vladimir of [Kyiv] in 988,” Nikel recounted, according to the cable.
Other NATO allies repeated similar concerns. In a January 2008 cable, Italy affirmed it was a “strong advocate” for other states’ entry into the alliance, “but is concerned about provoking Russia through hurried Georgian integration.” Norway’s then-Foreign Minister (who is now the prime minister) Jonas Gahr Støre made a similar point in an April 2008 cable, even as he insisted Russia mustn’t be able to veto NATO’s decisions. “At the same time he says that he understands Russia’s objections to NATO enlargement and that the alliance needs to work to normalize the relationship with Russia,” reads the cable.
Almost Complete Consensus
The thinkers and analysts that U.S. officials conferred with likewise made clear that the anxieties of Russian elites over NATO and its expansion, and the lengths they might go to counteract it. Many were transmitted by then-U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns, who is presently Biden’s CIA director.
Recounting his conversations with various “Russian observers” from both regional and U.S. think tanks, Burns concluded in a March 2007 cable that “NATO enlargement and U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe play to the classic Russian fear of encirclement.” Ukraine and Georgia’s entry “represents an ‘unthinkable’ predicament for Russia,” he reported six months later, warning that Moscow would “cause enough trouble in Georgia” and counted on “continued political disarray in Ukraine” to halt it. In an especially prescient set of cables, he summed up scholars’ views that the emerging Russia-China relationship was largely “the by-product of ‘bad’ U.S. policies,” and was unsustainable—“unless continued NATO enlargement pushed Russia and China even closer together.”
Cables record Russian intellectuals across the political spectrum making such points again and again. One June 2007 cable records the words of a “liberal defense expert Aleksey Arbatov” and the “liberal editor” of a leading Russian foreign policy journal, Fyodor Lukyanov, that after Russia had done “everything to ‘help’ the U.S. post-9/11, including opening up Central Asia for coalition anti-terrorism efforts,” it had expected “respect for Russia’s ‘legitimate interests.’” Instead, Lukyanov said, it had been “confronted with NATO expansion, zero-sum competition in Georgia and Ukraine, and U.S. military installations in Russia’s backyard.”
“Ukraine was, in the long term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership,” stated the counsel of Dmitri Trenin, then-deputy director of the Russian branch of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a Burns-authored February 2008 cable. For Ukraine, he said prophetically, it would mean “that elements within the Russian establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S. overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving the United States and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.”
Indeed, opposing NATO’s enlargement eastward, particularly in Ukraine and Georgia, was “one of the few security areas where there is almost complete consensus among Russian policymakers, experts and the informed population,” stated a cable of March 2008, citing defense and security experts. Ukraine was the “line of last resort” that would complete Russia’s encirclement, said one defense expert, and its entry into NATO was universally viewed by the Russian political elite as an “unfriendly act.” Other experts cautioned “that Putin would be forced to respond to Russian nationalist feelings opposing membership” of Georgia, and that offering MAP to either Ukraine or Georgia would trigger a cut-back in the Russian military’s genuine desire for cooperation with NATO.
From Liberals to Hardliners
These analysts were reiterating what cables show U.S. officials heard again and again from Russian officials themselves, whether diplomats, members of parliament, or senior Russian officials all the way up to the presidency, recorded in nearly three-dozen cables at least.
NATO enlargement was “worrisome,” said one Duma member, while Russian generals were “suspicious of NATO and U.S. intentions,” cables record. Just as analysts and NATO officials had said, Kremlin officials characterized NATO’s designs on Georgia and Ukraine as especially objectionable, with the Russian Ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2011, Dmitry Rogozin, stressing in a February 2008 cable that offering MAP to either “would negatively impact NATO’s relations with Russia” and “raise tension along the borders between NATO and Russia.”
Then-Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin “underscored the depth of Russian opposition” to their membership, a different March 2008 cable stated, underlining that the “political elite firmly believes” “that the accession of Ukraine and Georgia represented a direct security threat to Russia.” The future, Karasin said, rested on the “strategic choice” Washington made about “‘what kind of Russia’” it wanted to deal with—‘a Russia that is stable and ready to calmly discuss issues with the U.S., Europe and China, or one that is deeply concerned and filled with nervousness.’”
Indeed, numerous officials—including then-Director for Security and Disarmament Anatoly Antonov, who is currently serving as Russia’s ambassador to the United States—warned pushing ahead would produce a less cooperative Russia. Pushing NATO’s borders to the two former Soviet states “threatened Russian and the entire region’s security, and could also negatively impact Russia’s willingness to cooperate in the [NATO-Russia Council],” one Russian foreign ministry official warned, while others pointed to the policy to explain Putin’s threats to suspend the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. “CFE would not survive NATO enlargement,” went a Russian threat in one March 2008 cable.
Maybe most pertinent were the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the time a veteran diplomat respected in the West, and who continues to serve in the position today. At least eight cables—many, though not all of them, written by Burns—record Lavrov’s expressions of opposition to expanding NATO to Ukraine and Georgia over the course of 2007-2008, when Bush’s decision, over the objections of allies, to publicly affirm their future accession led to a spike in tensions.
“While Russia might believe statements from the West that NATO was not directed against Russia, when one looked at recent military activities in NATO countries… they had to be evaluated not by stated intentions but by potential,” went Burns’s summary of Lavrov’s annual foreign policy review in January 2008. On the same day, he wrote, a foreign ministry spokesperson warned that Ukraine’s “likely integration into NATO would seriously complicate the many-sided Russian-Ukrainian relations” and lead Moscow to “have to take appropriate measures.”
Besides being an easy way to garner domestic support from nationalists, Burns wrote, “Russia’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia is both emotional and based on perceived strategic concerns about the impact on Russia’s interests in the region.”
“While Russian opposition to the first round of NATO enlargement in the mid-1990s was strong, Russia now feels itself able to respond more forcefully to what it perceives as actions contrary to its national interests,” he concluded.
Lavrov’s criticism was shared by a host of other officials, not all of them hardliners. Burns recounted a meeting with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Gorbachev protégé who had negotiated over NATO’s first expansion with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who warmly eulogized him years later as a pragmatist. The U.S. push for MAP for Georgia and Ukraine “‘infuriated’ Russians and threatened other areas of U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation,” Primakov had said, according to Burns, mentioning Primakov was asked later that day on TV about rethinking Crimea’s status as Ukrainian territory. “[T]his is the kind of discussion that MAP produces,” he said—meaning that it inflamed nationalist and hardline sentiment.
“Primakov said that Russia would never return to the era of the early 1990s and it would be a ‘colossal mistake’ to think that Russian reactions today would mirror those during its time of strategic weakness,” Burns’s cable stated.
This went all the way to the top, as U.S. officials noted in cables reacting to a famously strident speech Putin gave at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, which saw Putin assail NATO expansion and other policies as part of a wider, destabilizing U.S. abuse of its sole-superpower status. Putin’s tone may have been “unusually sharp,” Primakov told Burns, but its substance “reflected well-known Russian complaints predating Putin’s election,” shown by the fact that “talking heads and Duma members were almost unanimous” in supporting the speech. A year later, a March 2008 cable reported then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s farewell, two-hour-long meeting with Putin, in which he “argued strongly” against MAP for Ukraine and Georgia.
Any illusions this stance would evaporate with Putin leaving the presidency were quickly dispelled. Such warnings continued and, if anything, grew more intense after Putin was replaced by his liberal successor, Dmitry Medvedev as president of Russia, whose ascent sparked hopes for a more democratic Russia and an improved U.S.-Russian relationship.
Under Medvedev, officials from the Russian ambassador to NATO and various officials in the foreign ministry to the chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee made much the same warnings, cables show. In some cases, as with Karasin and Lavrov, it was the same officials making these long-standing complaints.
Medvedev himself “reiterated well known Russian positions on NATO enlargement” to Merkel on his first trip to Europe in June 2008, even as he avoided bringing up MAP for Ukraine and Georgia specifically. “Behind Medvedev’s polite demeanor, Russian opposition to NATO enlargement remained a red-line, according to both conservative and moderate observers,” one June 2008 cable reads, a view shared by a leading liberal analyst. Even critics to his right read Medvedev’s words as “an implicit commitment to use Russian economic, political and social levers to raise the costs for Ukraine and Georgia” if they moved closer to the alliance. The cable’s author, then-Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Daniel Russell, concluded he “agree[d] with the common wisdom.”
By August 2008, following the war with Georgia, Medvedev started to sound a lot more like his predecessor, threatening to cut ties with the alliance and restating grievances about encirclement. A cable from after the end of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia—which an EU-commissioned report would later blame the Georgian government for starting—stated that “even the most pro-Western political experts” were “pointing the finger at the U.S.” for jeopardizing the U.S.-Russian relations, with U.S.’s dismissal of Russia’s concerns over, among other things, NATO expansion being a key part of their analysis. Echoing Burns, one analyst argued that Russia finally felt “strong enough to stand up to the West” when it ignored its concerns.
Those concerns were central at a roundtable of Russian analysts months later— a January 2009 cable showed—who explained to a group of visiting U.S. congresspeople Russians’ “deep displeasure” with the U.S. government, and stressed the “bitter divorce” between Russia and Georgia would be even uglier with Ukraine. Pushing MAP for the country “helped the ‘America haters come to power’ in Russia and gave legitimacy to the hard-liners’ vision of ‘fortress Russia,’” said one Russian analyst.
Increasingly, cables show, such warnings came from liberals, even those who hadn’t previously viewed NATO and the United States as Russia’s chief threats. An August 2008 cable described a meeting with Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Ambassador Vladimir Lukin—described as “a liberal on the Russian political scene, someone disposed toward cooperation with the U.S.”—who explained Medvedev’s post-war recognition of the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions, which he had at first opposed, as a security-driven response to NATO’s drift toward Russia’s borders. Because escalations like the 2008 U.S.-Poland missile defense agreement showed anti-Russia actions “would not stop,” he said, “Moscow had to show that, like the U.S., it can and will take steps it deems necessary to defend its interests.”
The cable concluded that Lukin’s views “reflect the thinking of the majority of Russian foreign policy elite.”
Selling NATO to Ukraine
Other than Burns—whose Bush-era memos warning of the breadth of Russian opposition to NATO expansion and that it would provoke intensified meddling in Ukraine have become famous since the Russian invasion—U.S. officials largely reacted with dismissal.
Russian objections to the policy and other long-simmering issues were described over and over in the cables as “oft-heard,” “old,” “nothing new,” and “largely predictable,” a “familiar litany” and a “rehashing” that “provided little new substance.” Even NATO’s ally Norway’s position that it understood Russian objections even as it refused to let Moscow veto the alliance’s moves was labeled a case of “parroting Russia’s line.”
U.S. officials were similarly dismissive of explicit warnings—from Kremlin officials, NATO allies, experts and analysts, even Ukrainian leadership—that Ukraine was “internally divided over NATO membership” and that public support for the move was “not fully ripe.” The east-west split within Ukraine over the idea of NATO membership made it “risky,” German officials cautioned, and could “break up the country.” Ukraine’s three leading politicians all “took foreign policy positions based on domestic political considerations, with little regard to the long-term effects on the country,” one said.
Those very politicians likewise made clear public opinion wasn’t there, whether anti-Russian former Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogryzko of Ukraine, or more Russian-friendly former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych—later misleadingly painted as a Kremlin puppet and was ousted as president in the 2014 Maidan protests—who boasted to a U.S. diplomat that support for NATO had jumped under his tenure. In response, the cables show, NATO officials pressed Ukrainian leaders to take a firm public stance in favor of joining, and discussed how to persuade Ukraine’s population “so that they would be more favorable [toward] it.” Ogryzko later disclosed to Merkel “that a public education campaign is already underway,” and that Ukraine “had discussed the issue of public education campaigns with Slovakia and other nations that had joined NATO recently.”
This came in spite of acknowledged risks. Cables record liberal Russian analysts cautioning “that [then-Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko was using NATO membership to shore up a Ukrainian national identity that required casting Russia in the role of enemy,” and that “because membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics, it created an opening for Russian intervention.”
“Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war,” Burns wrote in February 2008. Russia, he further wrote, would then “have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”
Despite the dismissive attitude of many U.S. officials, parts of the U.S. national security establishment clearly understood Russian objections weren’t mere “muscle-flexing.” The Kremlin’s anxieties over a “direct military attack on Russia” were “very real,” and could drive its leaders to make rash, self-defeating decisions, stated a 2019 report from the Pentagon-funded RAND Corporation that explored theoretical strategies for overextending Russia.
“Providing more U.S. military equipment and advice” to Ukraine, it stated, could lead Moscow to “respond by mounting a new offensive and seizing more Ukrainian territory”—something not necessarily good for U.S. interests, let alone Ukraine’s, it noted.
Nevertheless, in the years, months, and weeks that led up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, successive U.S. administrations continued on the same course.
Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO has “deepened over time,” the alliance itself says today. By the war’s outbreak, the country frequently hosted Western troops at a military base, Ukrainian soldiers received NATO training, it planned two new NATO-linked naval bases, and has received unprecedented sums of U.S. military aid, including offensive arms—a former President Donald Trump policy his liberal predecessor had explicitly rejected, out of concern for provoking a disastrous response from Moscow. Three months before the invasion, Ukraine and the United States signed an updated Charter on Strategic Partnership “guided” by Bush’s controversial Bucharest declaration, which both deepened security cooperation between the two countries and supported Ukraine’s membership aspirations, viewed as an escalation in Moscow.
As U.S. military activity has increased in the region since 2016, sometimes involving Ukraine and Georgia, NATO-Russian tensions have ratcheted up too. While Moscow publicly objected to U.S. missions in Europe that experts feared were too provocative, NATO and Russian forces have experienced thousands of dangerous military encounters in the region and elsewhere. By December 2022, with fears of invasion ramping up, Putin told Biden personally that “the eastward expansion of the Western alliance was a major factor in his decision to send troops to Ukraine’s border,” the Washington Post reported.
None of this means other factors played no role in the war’s outbreak, from Russian domestic pressures and Putin’s own dim view of Ukrainian independence to the copious other well-known Russian grievances toward U.S. policy that frequently appear in the diplomatic record, too. Nor does it mean, as hawks argue, that this somehow “justifies” Putin’s war, any more than understanding how U.S. foreign policy has fueled anti-American terrorism that “justifies” those crimes.
What it does mean is that claims that Russian unhappiness over NATO expansion is irrelevant, a mere “fig leaf” for pure expansionism, or simply Kremlin propaganda are belied by this lengthy historical record. Rather, successive U.S. administrations pushed ahead with the policy despite being warned copiously for years—including by the analysts who advised them, by allies, even by their own officials—that it would feed Russian nationalism, create a more hostile Moscow, foster instability and even civil war in Ukraine, and could eventually lead to Russian military intervention, all of which ended up happening.
“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said in the lead-up to the invasion, as his administration rejected negotiations with Moscow over Ukraine’s NATO status. We can only imagine the world in which he and his predecessors had.
The Wall Street Journal reported from Tehran on Wednesday that “a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted anti-government street demonstrations … organised protests have largely tapered off.” The paradox is, this interpretation is widely applicable in the contemporary world situation, including many G7 countries. How can one pretend there are no “protestor grievances” in Britain or France today, and, yet, how come they are mute?
The western narrative never cared to admit that Iran is ruled by elected governments. The big question is, would such street violence have erupted in Iran without the covert support and coordination by foreign intelligence agencies? It is pointless to discuss Iran’s politics while in denial mode about the whole history of foreign interference in that country’s internal affairs.
Michel Foucault’s famous essay on the Iranian Revolution What Are the Iranians Dreaming About? begins with the author’s exchange with an Iranian activist in the streets of Tehran heaving with revolutionary fervour in 1978: “They will never let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.” I (Foucault) wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let go of you than Vietnam, because of oil.”
Today, four decades later, this historical reality continues. Arguably, it may now become even more complicated and intractable, as Iran’s oil and gas is set to combine with Russia’s, another energy superpower. Meanwhile, Associated Press reported today that Iran and Russia are also moving toward linking their banking systems, turning their back on the petrodollar.
Read the US Energy Information Administration data — here and here — to know why the AP report matters. Simply put, almost a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and around 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves may potentially be traded outside the western banking system if Russian and Iranian policies work in tandem, dealing a body blow to the “world currency,” American dollar.
Suffice to say, there is no question that the protests in Iran were a western reaction to the emerging alliance between Iran and Russia. Now that the protests over hijab have “tapered off,” the modus operandi will shift from colour revolution back to the classic mode of sabotage and assassinations (especially after Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel.)
The burgeoning military cooperation between Iran and Russia puts Tehran on Washington’s crosshairs. In the context of the Ukraine conflict, the West see Iran in a new way. Indeed, the Russian interest in getting Iran on board the Moscow-brokered process of Turkish-Syrian rapprochement underscores that the Kremlin has jettisoned whatever past reserve it would had about aligning with Iran in geopolitical projects.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a press conference with the visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Moscow that “Russia, Iran, and Turkey are members of the Astana troika, which has been handling the Syrian settlement. Therefore, I consider it absolutely logical that any further communication on bringing relations between Turkey and Syria back to normal will also involve Russia and Iran.
“As for the timeframes and specific formats of participation, be it at the military, diplomatic or any other level, they are currently being specified. We have a full understanding that it is necessary to move step by step, so that every step forward should yield specific, albeit minor, results.”
What the US and its Western allies (and Israel) will find particularly galling will be the warm words of welcome extended by Turkey to this development, which highlights the ascendance of “Astana troika” in the geopolitics of Syria.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin has said: “We are pleased that Iran is joining this process. Iran is an important side. I think it will be able to contribute to this process. The participation of Iran in the negotiating process, which is held with the mediation of Russia, will make it easier. As part of this process, we are talking about ensuring the security of our borders, the neutralisation of the terrorist threat with respect to our country, the return of Syrian refugees, a worthy and safe return.”
Kalin disclosed that a foreign minister level meeting between Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran can be expected “within the next few weeks.” Unsurprisingly, a convergence of interests between the US, Israel and Kurds (and Kiev) to settle scores with Iran is only to be expected.
The early signs are already there. According to Iran’s defence ministry, three drones were involved in the attack on Friday at about midnight on a military facility in the city of Isfahan. It said one drone was destroyed by air defence systems and two were caught by “defence traps”, causing minor damage to a building. There were no casualties.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig Gen Patrick Ryder promptly said the US military played no part in the strikes, but declined to speculate further. However, Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed “US officials and people familiar with the operation” as saying Israel had carried out the attack. The New York Times also named Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, citing “senior (US) intelligence officials”. (here)
Isfahan province is home to a large air base, a major missile production complex and several nuclear sites. Iran’s official Irna news agency said the drones had targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant. The BBC highlighted that “The attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and its supply of arms to Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
NourNews, which is wired into Iran’s national security establishment, disclosed on Wednesday that forensic experts have matched the body, engines, power supply and navigation system of the downed UAVs and “precisely determined their manufacturer and revealed important clues.”
A second report by NourNews on Wednesday went into further details according to which Kurdish terrorist elements based in Iraqi Kurdistan were deployed by “a foreign security service” to smuggle parts of the drones and explosive materials across the border through “one of the inaccessible routes” in northwest” Iran, which were later assembled in “an equipped workshop using trained forces.” It seems Iran’s security establishment had some inkling of such a terrorist attack on the basis of the interrogation in August of a terrorist Kurdish group working for the Israeli agency Mossad.
However, a stunning dimension to this sordid affair is that a top aide to the Ukrainian president Zelensky linked the Isfahan attack to the alleged supply of Iranian drones to Russia. An unnamed Iranian official has since reacted that unless Kiev disowned any such linkage, Tehran too may adopt “a new approach that is appropriate to the behaviour of the Kiev government.”
Not much ingenuity is needed to connect the dots in the Isfahan attack — Ukrainian and Israeli intelligence (and the American masterminds in Kiev) operated through the Kurdish groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have long-standing links to both the US and Mossad, and “sleeper cells” within Iran.
The bottomline is that today, almost anything concerning Iran’s security would have a foreign dimension — albeit hidden behind hijab or rubrics of democracy and human rights. That is what history testifies. No doubt, time present and time past are linked in such a way in Iran that both could be present in time future, and — to borrow from English poet TS Eliot — the time future can as well be deemed as “contained in time past.”
Pakistan’s acute energy crisis is the immediate backdrop against which Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari’s forthcoming talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow today need to be understood.
But then, Lavrov is a ‘Renaissance man’ in the world of international diplomacy and is sure to synchronise his watch with Zardari’s. For both countries, things have changed, old friends are leaving and life doesn’t stop for anyone.
The Russian Foreign Ministry press release on Zardari’s visit stated tersely, “The foreign ministers will discuss the state of bilateral relations, regional and international issues. Special attention will be paid to the development of trade and economic relations.”
The MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova subsequently disclosed that the Russian and Pakistani companies are “actively working to resolve the remaining issues” concerning the supply of Russian energy resources to Pakistan. She noted that the payment system is an issue, as Russia wants an arrangement in national currencies “or in the currencies of third countries that are protected from sanctions risks.”
Also, energy cooperation by its very nature involves substantial long-term investments and the fact remains that, as Zakharova put it, “the US currency is a soap bubble, unsecured money that is printed even despite America’s huge public debt.”
Importantly, Zakharova highlighted that the two countries have also decided to “discuss a comprehensive plan for energy cooperation, which provides for the construction of infrastructure and the supply of energy carriers” within a framework that holds the potential to “ensure the sustainable development” of Pakistan’s gas industry. A Russian gas pipeline to Pakistan is in the making.
Zardari’s visit to Moscow comes within 3 weeks of a tripartite gas cooperation arrangement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan making headlines in the news cycle. The termination of Russia’s decades-old energy ties with Europe, including gas supplies via pipelines, motivates Moscow’s search for new markets, Asian markets being a priority.
Thus, late last year, Moscow proposed a gas union with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan offering to help out the two Central Asian states that are struggling with gas shortages. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan signed two separate agreements with the Russian giant Gazprom cementing the new partnership. A new vista is opening for Russia to use the existing gas pipelines in these two countries to export gas to their domestic market in immediate terms.
Albeit in a bilateral format, this arrangement also positions Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan potentially as transit countries enabling Russian gas supplies to the regional and world market, especially China, South Asian countries and the ASEAN region. (Russia has proposed a similar arrangement to Ankara to route its gas to the European market via an energy hub in Turkey.)
All energy projects are “geopolitical,” as the recent destruction of Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines, masterminded by the US, would show. But this one is a “win-win” for both Russia and the two central Asian states, as the income accruing to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan out of transit fee will be very substantial and long-term, whilst Russia gains access to new markets.
Enter Afghanistan. On January 11-12, Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov came down to Kabul and held in-depth consultations with the Taliban leadership in pursuit of “Moscow’s unwavering commitment to developing a comprehensive dialogue with Kabul.” The Russian Foreign Ministry press release stated that the focus was on “mutually beneficial cooperation in such sectors as energy, agriculture, transport, infrastructure, industry, mining, in particular, the organisation of regular commercial supplies of Russian fuel and agricultural products to Afghan companies.”
The press release said, “As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, domestic economic operators may participate in the construction and operation of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India gas pipeline, as well as in the restoration of large infrastructure projects built on the territory of Afghanistan during the Soviet era.”
Most important, the MFA added that “During the consultations, considerable attention was paid to the prospects of political and diplomatic recognition of the current Afghan Government by the international community, including by the Russian Federation.” It concluded that “The leadership of Afghanistan highly appreciates the efforts of the Russian Federation to assist the Afghan people in building a peaceful, independent and economically self-sufficient State.”
Interestingly, in a TV interview soon after his return to Moscow, Kabulov openly alleged that the ISIL in Afghanistan is nothing but an Anglo-American project with an agenda to cause instability in the region. Indeed, the regional setting is changing dramatically. Russia has become intensely conscious of the burden of history and realises the imperative to strengthen its leadership role as the provider of security for the Central Asian region. The western threat to Central Asia and North Caucasus is continuing.
Russia hopes to lead a regional effort to stabilise the Afghan situation and counter extremist groups, which act as a geopolitical tool for Washington. Russia (and China) increasingly deals with the Taliban rulers as the established government of Afghanistan. Fundamentally, terrorism is a major concern for Russia (and China).
Moscow estimates that the Taliban has the political will to act against the ISIS optimally, but lacks the financial resources. To be sure, Afghanistan will figure in Lavrov’s talks with Zardari. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval will also be visiting Moscow shortly for consultations on Afghanistan.
This is an appropriate time for India to improve its relations with Pakistan. Fortuitously, the SCO-related events will bring Pakistani leaders to India. PM Modi has announced that India’s G-20 Presidency “will be grounded in the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or One Earth, One Family, One Future.’” Conceivably, India should invite Pakistan to the G20 Summit in Delhi in September as a special guest.
At a pragmatic level, the TAPI gas pipeline project dovetails with the tripartite gas union that Russia is putting together with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote recently that Moscow has high hopes of extending the Central Asian gas grid to the South Asian region and to the ASEAN region in the medium term.
Andrei Grozin, head of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries and senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Russian daily that “This is already a new state policy of Russia, and it is obvious that neither Astana nor Tashkent will be able to refuse to participate in this project. Experts agree that by the middle of this century, Southeast Asia will become the main energy-consuming region. No matter how fantastic the expansion of the gas pipeline network to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China may sound now, it will soon become a reality. Therefore, it is necessary to promote our raw materials to the southern markets today.”
Of course, such a mega project will raise hiccups in Washington. It comes as no surprise that the US Undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland (who midwifed the 2014 regime change in Kiev and openly gloats over the sabotage and destruction of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline) is arriving in Delhi this week.
Washington is upset that Western sanctions pressure on Russian oil exports has led to a significant strengthening of India’s energy ties with Russia. Not only is Russian crude sold to India twice as cheap as world analogues, but the Russian production of petroleum products is actually transferred to India.
After the entry into force of the European embargo on Russian oil products w.e.f February 5, India is set to become the main supplier of refined Russian oil to Europe with a potential export turnover in tens of billions of dollars. (Please see Russia gives India the supply of Europe with petroleum products, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Jan. 16, 2023) Exports of diesel fuel from India are already increasing.
Technically, this does not violate EU sanctions against Russia. But it annoys the Biden Administration, which had anticipated that there would be potential to boost US exports to replace Russian petroleum products in the lucrative European market.
The US will be uneasy about a “gas union” betwixt Russia, Pakistan and India. But India has vital interests in safeguarding its energy security. The western hegemony in the world order is ending. Russia’s “gas union” in Central Asia signals that the time has come for regional states in South Asia to respond with a unity of purpose.
Palestine Embassy in Colombo appeals to all believers of Justice and Humanity to raise your voice in support of Palestinians who are presently under a bloody Israeli attack
The Embassy of the State of Palestine presents its compliments to the Members of Parliament from all Political parties in Sri Lanka, Human and Civil rights organizations, the Print and Electronic Media and Friends of Palestine and has the honour to urgently inform, that Israeli apartheid forces in a criminal and bloody operation which is still ongoing from the early hours of this morning, have killed at least nine Palestinians including an elderly woman and wounded over a dozen others in an outright massacre in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership has warned the world that this extreme and racist new Israeli government had a clear will and intention to commit such crimes against Palestinians. This government from day one highlighted its racist agenda and apartheid policies in all spheres to make the lives difficult for Palestinians, ranging from political, economic, invading holy places, confiscating lands, building settlements and increasing the arrests of innocent Palestinians.
This volatile escalation will fracture the stability not just in Palestine but also in the region and around the world.
Therefore, we appeal to all responsible governments, States and supporters of justice and humanity in the world to not just only condemn the Israeli apartheid regime and its ruthless crimes of violence against Palestinians but also to take the much-needed steps to protect the lives of Palestinians and end the apartheid regimes acts of brutality. The international community’s deafening silence makes Israel feel that it is above the law and can commit its violations without being held accountable and do as they please. Israel should abide by international law and international humanitarian law and be held accountable in all its crimes against humanity.
The Embassy of the State of Palestine avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Members of the Parliamentary of all Political parties in Sri Lanka, Human and Civil rights organizations, the Print and Electronic Media and Friends of Palestine, the assurances of its highest consideration.
Statement issued by the Palestine Embassy in Colombo
Democracy has a dream-like character. It sweeps into the world, carried forward by an immense desire by humans to overcome the barriers of indignity and social suffering. When confronted by hunger or the death of their children, earlier communities might have reflexively blamed nature or divinity, and indeed those explanations remain with us today. But the ability of human beings to generate massive surpluses through social production, alongside the cruelty of the capitalist class to deny the vast majority of humankind access to that surplus, generates new kinds of ideas and new frustrations. This frustration, spurred by the awareness of plenty amidst a reality of deprivation, is the source of many movements for democracy.
Habits of colonial thought mislead many to assume that democracy originated in Europe, either in ancient Greece (which gives us the word ‘democracy’ from demos, ‘the people’, and kratos, ‘rule’) or through the emergence of a rights tradition, from the English Petition of Right in 1628 to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. But this is partly a retrospective fantasy of colonial Europe, which appropriated ancient Greece for itself, ignoring its strong connections to North Africa and the Middle East, and used its power to inflict intellectual inferiority on large parts of the world. In doing so, colonial Europe denied these important contributions to the history of democratic change. People’s often forgotten struggles to establish basic dignity against despicable hierarchies are as much the authors of democracy as those who preserved their aspirations in written texts still celebrated in our time.
Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, a range of struggles developed against dictatorial regimes in the Third World that had been put in place by anti-communist oligarchies and their allies in the West. These regimes were born out of coups (such as in Brazil, the Philippines, and Turkey) and given the latitude to maintain legal hierarchies (such as in South Africa). The large mass demonstrations that laid at the heart of these struggles were built up through a range of political forces, including trade unions – a side of history that is often ignored. The growing trade union movement in Turkey was, in fact, part of the reason for the military coups of 1971 and 1980. Knowing that their hold on power was vulnerable to working-class struggles, both military governments banned unions and strikes. This threat to their power had been evidenced, in particular, by a range of strikes across Anatolia developed by unions linked to the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), including a massive two-day demonstration in İstanbul known as the June 15–16 Events that drew in 100,000 workers. The confederation, established in February 1967, was more militant than the existing one (Türk İş), which had become a collaborator with capital. Not only did militaries move against socialist and non-socialist governments alike that attempted to exercise sovereignty and improve the dignity of their peoples (such as in the Congo in 1961, Brazil in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Ghana in 1966, and Chile in 1973), but they also moved out of the barracks – with the bright green light from Washington – to quell the cycle of strikes and worker protests.
Once in power, these wretched regimes, dressed in their khaki uniforms and the finest silk suits, drove austerity policies and cracked down on any movements of the working class and peasantry. But they could not break the human spirit. In much of the world (as in Brazil, the Philippines, and South Africa), it was trade unions that fired the early shot against barbarism. The cry in the Philippines ‘Tama Na! Sobra Na! Welga Na!’ (‘We’ve had enough! Things have gone too far! It’s time to strike!’) moved from La Tondeña distillery workers in 1975 to protests in the streets against Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, eventually culminating in the People Power Revolution of 1986. In Brazil, industrial workers paralysed the country through actions in Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo, and São Caetano do Sul (industrial towns in greater São Paulo) from 1978 to 1981, led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (now Brazil’s president). These actions inspired the country’s workers and peasants, raising their confidence to resist the military junta, which collapsed as a result in 1985.
Fifty years ago, in January 1973, the workers of Durban, South Africa, struck for a pay rise, but also for their dignity. They woke at 3 am on 9 January and marched to a football stadium, where they chanted ‘Ufil’ umuntu, ufile usadikiza, wamthint’ esweni, esweni usadikiza’ (‘A person is dead, but their spirit lives; if you poke the iris of their eye, they still come alive’). These workers led the way against entrenched forms of domination that not only exploited them, but also oppressed the people as a whole. They stood up against harsh labour conditions and reminded South Africa’s apartheid government that they would not sit down again until class lines and colour lines were broken. The strikes opened a new period of urban militancy that soon moved off the factory floors and into wider society. A year later, Sam Mhlongo, a medical doctor who had been imprisoned on Robben Island as a teenager, observed that ‘this strike, although settled, had a detonator effect’. The baton was passed to the children of Soweto in 1976.
From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Chris Hani Institute comes a memorable text, The 1973 Durban Strikes: Building Popular Democratic Power in South Africa (dossier no. 60, January 2023). It is memorable in two senses: it recovers an almost lost history of the role of the working class in the fight against apartheid, in particular the Black working class, whose struggle had a ‘detonator’ effect on society. The dossier, beautifully written by our colleagues in Johannesburg, makes it hard to forget these workers and harder still to forget that the working class – still so deeply marginalised in South Africa – deserves respect and a greater share of the country’s social wealth. They broke the back of apartheid but did not benefit from their own sacrifices.
The Chris Hani Institute was founded in 2003 by the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Chris Hani (1942–1993) was one of South Africa’s great freedom fighters, a communist who would have made an even greater impact than he did had he not been assassinated at the end of apartheid. We are grateful to Dr Sithembiso Bhengu, the director of the Chris Hani Institute, for this collaboration and look forward to the work that lies before us.
As this dossier went to press, we heard that our friend Thulani Maseko (1970–2023), chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholders Forum in Swaziland, was shot dead in front of his family on 21 January. He was one of the leaders of the fight to bring democracy to his country, where workers are at the forefront of the battle to end the monarchy.
When I reread our latest dossier, The 1973 Durban Strikes, to prepare for this newsletter, I was listening to Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ (‘Coal Train’), the 1974 song of migrant workers travelling on the coal train to work ‘deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth’ to bring up wealth for apartheid capital. I thought of the Durban industrial workers with the sound of Masekela’s train whistle in my ear, remembering Mongane Wally Serote’s long poem, Third World Express, a tribute to the workers of southern Africa and their struggles to establish a humane society.
– it is that wind
it is that voice buzzing
it is whispering and whistling in the wires
miles upon miles upon miles
on the wires in the wind
in the subway track
in the rolling road
in the not silent bush
it is the voice of the noise
here it comes
the Third World Express
they must say, here we go again.
‘Here we go again’, Serote wrote, as if to say that new contradictions produce new moments for struggle. The end of one crushing order – apartheid – did not end the class struggle, which has only deepened as South Africa is propelled through crisis upon crisis. It was the workers who brought us this democracy, and it will be workers who will fight to establish a deeper democracy yet. Here we go again.
Newsletter of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
“It is often stated that it is the 13th Amendment that gives India the legal authority to intervene on behalf of the Eelam Tamils. It is not the 13th amendment, but the Indo- Lanka Accord rather which gives India the legal authority to intervene with respect to its provisions, including the recognition that the Northern and Eastern provinces must be merged and are the traditional homeland of the Tamils where they must have control over their own affairs,” Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) said in a statement.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pledge to Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar on January 19, 2023, that he will implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which was legislated 36 years ago, reminds us of Wickremesinghe’s uncle, then- President J.R. Jayawardene signing of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord and subsequent introduction of the 13th Amendment, the statement added.
When the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord was opposed by Sinhala hardliners, Jayawardene said to them, “You will oppose me for a few days, but then you will appreciate me forever”. Jayawardene used the 13th Amendment to drive a wedge between India and Eelam Tamils. It is a cruel irony that his nephew, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is using the same 13th Amendment to drive a wedge between India and Eelam Tamils.
Sri Lanka has never implemented the 13th Amendment and the 13th Amendment does not at all fulfill Sri Lanka’s pledges in the Indo-Lanka Accord to recognize the North East as the traditional homeland of the Tamils and to allow them freedom of action in their own space.
The deception of Sri Lanka is apparent with respect to the merger of the Northern and Eastern Province. The Indo-Lanka Accord explicitly recognized that “the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking people”.
Jayawardene did not include the merger in the 13th Amendment, which required a two thirds majority to change it or into the Provincial Council Act No 42, 1987, but he did it under Emergency Regulations. Thus, when the merger was challenged in 2006 by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (J.V.P.) in the Supreme Court, the Court stated the merger has no legal validity. Following the Court’s decision, the Sri Lankan government could have brought back the merger through simple legislative action with a simple majority, however, no Sri Lankan government has ever done so.
“What has been most disappointing is that the Indian government, which has a legal obligation to “underwrite and guarantee the proposal” under the Indo-Sri Accord, has not asked, nor put any pressure on the Sri Lankan government to give concrete legislative meaning to the Indo-Lanka Accord to pass legislation for the merger.”
The malafide of the 13th Amendment was captured well by none other than Dr. G. L. Pieris, academic and politician, when he stated, “… I would like to stress once again the importance of sincerity, the perception of sincerity, a reality of sincerity. The 13th Amendment in the present form is the anathema of sincerity in that powers which are ostensibly devolved can be reacquired by the Centre by the use of disingenuous mechanisms, such as a description of anything under the sun as a matter in respect of which the formulation of a national policy is required”. ( ‘Towards Effective Devolution’, G. L. Peiris (Inaugural Address at the Indo-Sri Lanka Consultation on Devolution, March 4, 1995); SRI LANKA: THE DEVOLUTION DEBATE – ICES 1996:
Irrespective of the deficiencies of the 13th Amendment, the Sri Lankan government has a legal obligation to implement the Amendment, let alone a political and moral obligation. Having failed to fulfill its obligation for the last 36 years and now pledging that it will do so in the future, Wickremesinghe’s promise being is portrayed as a big breakthrough is hard to understand. What a strange world we live in!!!
It is noted when the LTTE, the embodiment of the Tamils’ political and coercive power was on the scene, the Sri Lankan government talked not only about the 13th Amendment, but also the 13A Plus. Now the LTTE is no longer here, the 13A Plus discourse has disappeared into thin air. For every political move you need power. Power does not necessarily mean military power. The justness of the cause, the legal basis of the claim, the victimhood, the support of the international community, the goodwill of the 80 million Tamils across the globe, the geographic location, etc. are components of power. The challenge before the Tamils is how to strategize and exercise that power.
The reason for non-implementation of the 13th Amendment is not the lack of will or ability. It is the nature of the Sinhala polity which is permeated with entrenched and pervasive racism that will not allow it. That is also the situation with accountability for international atrocity crimes. That is why 2015’s HRC Res. 30/1 called for a hybrid justice mechanism with both domestic and international judges. As long as the same polity persists, neither the 13th Amendment nor even a 33rd Amendment will be implemented.
Tamil National Leader Vellupillai Pirabakaran said in his famous 1987 August 4th “Suthumalai speech” with respect to the Indo- Lanka Accord stated that “the Sinhala supremist daemon will gobble up any solution whatsoever”. How realistic he was, he asked.
On January 18, 2023, the government of Burkina Faso made a decision to ask the French military forces to depart from the country within a month. This decision was made by the government of Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who staged the second coup of 2022 in Burkina Faso in September to remove Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power in a coup d’état in January. Traoré, now the interim president of Burkina Faso, said that Damiba, who is in exile in Togo, had not fulfilled the objectives of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, the name of their military group. Traoré’s government accused Damiba of not being able to stem the insurgency in the country’s north and of colluding with the French (alleging that Damiba had taken refuge in the French military base at Kamboinsin to launch a strike against the coup within a coup).
France entered the Sahel region in 2013 to prevent the southern movement of jihadist elements strengthened by the war in Libya, prosecuted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the past few years, anti-French sentiment has deepened in North Africa and the Sahel. It was this sentiment that provoked the coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and then in Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022). In February 2022, Mali’s government ejected the French military, accusing French forces of committing atrocities against civilians and colluding with jihadi insurgents. Burkina Faso has now joined Mali.
The ejection of France does not mean that there will be no NATO countries in the region. Both the United States and Britain have a large footprint from Morocco to Niger, with the United States trying to draw African countries into its contest against China and Russia. Regular trips by U.S. military leaders—such as U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley (commander of U.S. Africa Command) to Gabon in mid-January – and by U.S. civilian leaders—like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia—are part of a full-court press to ensure that African states forge closer ties with the United States and its allies over China. The designation of Russia’s Wagner Group—which is said to be operating in the Sahel—as a “transnational criminal organization ” by the United States and the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in mid-December, are both attempts to draw African states into a new cold war.
Almost half of the Burkinabé population lives below the poverty line, and “more than 630,000 people are on the brink of starvation,” in the country, according to the UN. The country is, however, not poor with its gold export reaching $7.19 billion in 2020. These gains do not go to the Burkinabé people but go to the large mining companies. Ejection of the French military will not be the answer to these deep-seated problems faced by Burkina Faso.